Tycho City Detective Frank Parker is having a bad day: his partner is dead, his wife is suing him for divorce, and his vigilante antics are about to cost him his job. When his circumstances demand he take a private investigation job for a man of dubious motives, he is forced to walk a delicate line between serving the interests of his new employer and staying true to his complex, but immutable policeman values. Can he protect his family from the relentless pursuit of the notorious Lunatic street gang? If he can't, how will he ever live with himself?
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"Diaz writes the story with crisp, fast pace that utilizes every word, creating a believable universe that draws in the reader … Parker serves well as a sympathetic anti-hero, who hopes to get out of a bad mess that's only growing worse."– Amazon Review
Tycho City handed out murder verdicts the way some places handed out parking tickets. So it was no surprise that the gallery in the courtroom trying the killer of a prostitute no one cared about, in a city full of prostitutes no one cared about, was empty save my partner and me. But we were used to being the only people who cared.
On this day, however, we weren't handed a verdict. We were handed something far worse. "Your Honor …" Lacy Wilkerson was the prosecuting city attorney and a striking woman with mocha skin and slender frame. She wore a gray skirt suit. "… In light of the recent developments, the state has no choice but to dismiss the charges."
I looked at Kelly "G" Gordon. He sat upright with his hands folded on the defense table. The monster I knew hid behind his gray suit and stoic face of bronze skin. His slight frame belied the ferocious physicality of his abuse, but, like most bullies, his power rested more in the fear of his victims than his own physical prowess. That, and a really sharp knife.
I knew the real Kelly Gordon all too well. I'd taken reports from the girls he'd beaten. I'd talked to the girls he'd raped. I'd seen what was left of the girl he'd killed.
"However," Wilkerson continued in vain, "I would like to reserve the right to refile if our witness reconsiders her decision."
"This is your witness's best chance, Counselor." Judge Harvey Gilcrist was a scumbag magistrate who should be sitting next to the few felons that were somehow convicted in his kangaroo court. "If she won't testify, there is nothing this court can do but free the defendant with prejudice."
And there it was.
My partner and I exchanged a look.
Rick Sanchez wore the same long-sleeved, dark blue dress uniform I did, and I saw my disgust and impotent rage reflected in his ebony features.
I stood while Gilcrist was still talking. I didn't give a damn what he had to say.
Rick followed behind me.
I pushed through the door into the hallway and unleashed a string of curses.
One of the court officers, a for-hire mercenary from a company called Third Region Security, gave me a stern look.
I glared back in defiance, but he didn't move.
"Don't," said Rick. "I can't have you getting suspended again. Last time they stuck me with that asshat, Scholar. Working next to him is like a goddamned prison sentence."
I kept scowling at the TRS guard. "I'll behave. It's just—Wilkerson!"
Rick gave me a grim nod of agreement.
The doors to the courtroom opened again and Lacy Wilkerson rushed out. She glared at us and stopped. "Next time, bring me a witness with a fucking spine."
"What do you expect, Lace?" said Rick. "We asked for protection."
"I can't protect every whore in the Lower City."
Neither could we.
I gave a resigned shrug. "Well, we can't charge their rapists, either, or we'd have put this asshole away long ago."
Wilkerson turned in defense of her wounded pride. "Don't start that shit with me, Parker! These people have to do something to help us! Dropping their fucking britches for every John who walks into their life for their next score of M-plant isn't the way."
M-plant, the drug of the season, was designed to interact with a user's pReC. A pReC, or personal retinal communicator, was an implanted computer that communicated directly to the brain through an organic neuro interface. It fed electronic data received over-the-air into the brain, stored electronic files to be referenced later, and could be the source of some very intense personal entertainment. M-plant was a half designer drug, half computer virus that gave its user an extra-sensory high beyond any mainstream drug to come before it.
"Bring me a better case next time." Wilkerson turned and started to hurry away. "Then we'll put this fucker away."
I frowned and cast my gaze at Kelly Gordon just as he cleared the courtroom threshold. He was sporting a broad grin a lizard could bask under, and I had a brief, satisfying fantasy of pulling his head back by his brown dreads and using a knife on his throat.
Next time … Rick and I both knew what next time meant: some girl would have to be sacrificed on the altar of G Gordon's rights.
I tensed and leaned into the step I was contemplating.
Rick put a gentle hand on my shoulder and stopped me. "It ain't worth it, Frank."
He was right. But that didn't mean I liked it. "Yeah."
O O O
Charlie's sandwich shop was located on the Fifth Level. It was four whole levels and several city blocks beyond the boundaries of our precinct, but sometimes you had to go where the case took you.
Charlie's was good, as such places went: clean and neat with friendly staff. The sandwiches were good, but the gold standard of these hole-in-the-wall diners was the coffee. Charlie's was local, hydroponically grown; nothing compared to the freeze-dried stuff imported from Earth I'd once had. But, since the real stuff was over a thousand bills an Earth kilo, I was gonna have to enjoy this watered-down home-grown wannabe.
Our mass transit train system was on the Sixth Level, just ten meters above our heads. I could glance up and see the bottom of the trestle that ran above the narrow gorge we called McGuire Street. A train rumbled past, bound for the western wall. The café shook and rattled from the heavy train's mass. Outside, the light coat of dust was kicked up and drifted through the air, filling the narrow street in a mini dustbowl. I noted the time: two fifteen.
I took a sip and looked through the window at the foot traffic beyond. The Fifth Level was uptown compared to the ratty conditions on the Floor. The layer of moon dust was thinner, and more of the streetlights worked. There was even bonus light from the Street, fifteen meters above, but it was still the Lower City. Poverty marked every threadbare garment that walked by. Girls and boys still sold themselves and others as party favors.
Rick and I watched some of those girls and boys as we ate.
"You think this'll play?" I took a sip of the coffee.
Rick studied the street beyond the window with an intensity I hadn't seen in him before. "Eddie's smart, but he's also a coward. We got him where we want him."
"Yeah, but his act with Perry was pretty convincing. You know?"
Alanna Perry was a detective from the 11th Precinct, the authority having jurisdiction here on the Fifth Level. She'd interviewed Eddie in an effort to locate his number one boy, Kelly "G" Gordon.
Another of G's girls, Allison Kramer, had been cut to ribbons. She'd survived and was pointing fingers. We needed a little facetime with G to make sure his path of human destruction came to an end and to make sure we weren't relying on the testimony of a scared, cut-up prostitute.
"Perry's a buffoon! We both know better than to take that piece of shit Eddie at his word. What's the real problem, Frank?"
I looked through the window and smiled. Leave it to Rick to know something was wrong with me before I did. "Maybe I should be asking you that. Everything okay with you?"
Rick turned from the window to look at me. "I just wanna get back on the David Carson thing, that's all."
David Carson was a dead DJ from a nightclub called The Revolution. The nightclub was run by the Lunatics street gang and was the headquarters for one of their fastest up-and-comers, Giovanni "The Rock" Rocamora. Rick had actually volunteered us to pull an extra weekend and nights for the privilege to work the case. Which wasn't odd in itself, he had done that kind of thing before, but usually only for cases where there was a previous connection, like Kelly Gordon. I didn't know of any common thread on this one.
"Yeah, what the hell was that all about? You working to get transferred to the gang unit?"
There was a grim wariness in Rick's face. "No."
"We gotta be careful on this one, partner."
I looked at Rick and tried to make sense of his mood. "You know something I don't?"
I shivered and looked through the window. I hadn't noticed anything, but I knew better than to question Rick's instincts.
"We'll see this through," said Rick. There was no doubt or compromise in him. I guess there wasn't much in me, either.
"Yeah," I said.
Rick smiled that cock-sure grin only he could manage. "I just wanna make sure this bastard goes down. You know?" The smile dropped and he looked back out the window. "No telling how many more Allison Kramers there'll be if Kelly slips away again."
I gave a grim nod and looked back through the window. I was no doe-eyed virgin.
That's when "Fast Eddie" Perkins sauntered into view. I guffawed away most of the heavy mood that had settled over us.
"What the fuck is he wearing?" said Rick.
Eddie dressed with the flair appropriate for a man of his profession: a bright blue suit over a bright powder-blue shirt, which was half-hidden by a green and gold paisley vest. An obnoxious red ascot clung to his neck under an assortment of thick gold chains. A gold ring adorned every finger. He wore a red beret on his head and a long red trench coat was draped over his shoulders.
"His Majesty is here," I said.
"His Majesty? You mean the fucking court jester!"
I laughed again, and we stood as one.
Eddie was a three-time loser, a drug and flesh peddler who once operated on the Second Level of our fair city. Rick and I liked to claim that his move to the Fifth Level was due to our harassment. But it didn't matter, there were plenty of other "Fast Eddies" to take his place.
We walked through the front door and out onto the street.
Eddie had an iron grip on the arm of one of his girls. "You think you can try that shit with me? Bitch, you know who I am?"
That's when her eyes met mine, and I saw the terror in them. Eddie was no Kelly Gordon, but he was still a petty, mean-hearted pimp who beat his girls just to remind them who was boss.
"We know who you are, Eddie," I said.
Eddie released his whore like she was electrified. "Detective Parker! What are you fellas doing here? I just talked to your associates this morn—"
Rick and I moved as one—I went right, Rick went left. We looped our arms under his and dragged him backward into the tiny service alley that ran between some kind of pawn shop and a bar called the Velvet Whistle.
"Hey! What are you doing?" Eddie offered resistance, but there was a resigned quality to it. He was no doe-eyed virgin, either. His red trench coat and beret fell in a clump onto the dirty alley floor.
We dragged him all the way to the dead end and tossed him onto the dusty floor like any other sack of garbage.
Eddie grunted and winced up at us from his back. He coughed up moon dust and rolled on his side. His voice came out strained and tight with pain. "When are you gonna let this go?"
Rick knelt and looked Eddie in the eyes. "When you straighten up or die, Ed."
"Look, man! I told your boys everything this morning! I don't know shit about shit!"
I glanced at Rick.
Rick grinned up at me from the alley floor. "Don't know, Frank," he said. "What do you think?"
I looked back at Eddie. "The Candy Watkins murder is still open. Eddie, here, looks pretty good for that."
"Y-you guys know I didn't have anything to do with that!"
I pretended not to hear him. "He was her pimp. Half a dozen girls saw him slap her around. Got it on camera, even."
"You're right," said Rick. "That's enough to get a street rat like him sent back to Pandrom" Pandrom was our prison here on the Moon. "He might even walk the plank."
"With his record," I said, "no doubt about it."
Eddie shed real tears of terror. "I'm her handler! I say that shit to all the girls to keep them honest! You know that!"
"Keep them honest. Right. What do you think, Rick? You think maybe he'd wanna keep us honest?"
"Nah," said Rick. "We're not scared, strung out little girls."
I thought of the terrified expression of the girl on the street and turned back to Eddie. "What d'ya say, Ed? I'll leave Rick out of it. You maybe wanna slap me around a little? Teach me a lesson? Keep me honest?"
"You can't do this to me! You know I was nowhere near that girl when she died!"
"Was killed," I said.
He was right: we knew he didn't do it. The video placing him in Pedro's Pool Hall on the other side of town from the murder was "misplaced by administrative error." We had no intention of ever charging him with the still-unsolved murder, but he couldn't afford to call our bluff. It made for a cooperative and motivated, if unwilling, informant.
"Look! I-I might have heard something!"
I stared hard into Eddie's soul. He looked at Rick for some sign of gratitude or appreciation. But Rick's face was like stone. "We are looking for Kelly Gordon. Are you going to help us, or do we have to take your case to the City Attorney?"
"Word is G has a real sweet piece that lives out here in the West End, F-fifth Level!" Eddie's words came out in a terrified rush.
"The West End is pretty big up here, Eddie. You want us to go door-to-door?" I said.
"That's all I know!"
I reached down and snatched him up off the floor. It was easy enough in the weak Lunar gravity. "Call patrol, Rick. I'm done fucking with this guy."
Rick gave me his best "if you say so" shrug and reached for his radio.
"No! No! No! Wait! Wait!" Eddie's voice was pure panic.
I stopped and pinned him against the wall. I leaned into his face. "I mean it, Eddie! G carved that girl's face and left her for dead!" I bashed him again and showered him with spittle and rancid breath. "Split her eye like it was a grape! She'll never see out of it again!
"So don't make the mistake of thinking I have one fuck to give about whether you did Candy Watkins or not. Someone is going to jail today. You decide: is it gonna be you or G?"
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Eddie's words were lost in his sobs.
I battered him into the wall again. "I didn't catch that, Eddie. What did you say?"
"He's in the Number Ten Tower! Milly! The bitch's name is Milly!"
"The bitch's name is Milly." I stepped forward with my left foot and shoved Eddie to the side. He tripped and toppled hard to the floor, but not hard enough for my taste. Dust bloomed around his impact and he started coughing.
"Piece of shit," I said.
"Don't hurt him, Frank." Rick wore a broad smile. "We need his statement for the writ."
I looked down at Eddie like I might puke. "It's a special day, Eddie. You get to be an upstanding citizen … for once."
O O O
The shabby flat door splintered beneath the hammerblows of the ram.
"Tycho City Police!" rose from the throats of every member of the task force. The TCPD tactical response team swept into the tiny hole of an apartment.
"Don't move! Don't move!" was followed by "Gun!"
The low hum-thrum of non-lethal immobilization bolts echoed from the room.
Shouts of "Clear!" followed.
I looked at Rick, who looked back at me.
We strode into the disgusting, dirty flat. The smell of unwashed human, urine, and feces blended into a multilayered aroma that offended more than the nose. I tried to take slower, shallower breaths. It didn't seem to help, but it didn't hurt, either.
The entry hallway was short, cramped, and dark. The light bulb had been removed from the ceiling fixture, throwing the dingy corridor in shadow. Several bags of days-old trash had collected here; one of the bags hadn't even been tied. Its contents lay strewn across the stained, threadbare carpet.
I tried to pick my way across the floor, but it was an impossible task. "I'm gonna have to burn these shoes."
The team leader, a short fellow with Latin American features, grinned. The name on his armor said: Rodriguez. "You think you got it bad. Wait'll you see Benny."
I smiled and took another ginger step over something that might have been a stain or something worse.
A dark-skinned female officer ushered a pale, emaciated woman by the elbow. The woman was naked, and I was convinced she hadn't seen soap or water since the last election. Her cuffed hands were cupped over her womanhood, but her flabby breasts sagged as if they'd melted and run down halfway to her navel.
"Wait," I said. I looked at the scarecrow woman. "Do you know G?"
The woman looked at me as if I was stupid. "Nah, I've just been banging some stranger for the last month."
"I don't doubt it." I looked at Rodriguez. "Get her a meal." I leaned in and whispered. "And a shower."
The woman glared.
I motioned with my head, and the female officer herded her toward the door.
I waited till she'd been led from the room. "That's a 'sweet piece,' Rick. I bet you wanna get all in that."
"Even I have standards, bro."
"Not that I've ever noticed," I said.
Rodriguez laughed like that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.
I grinned and turned toward the dingy light at the end of the tunnel-like hallway. It opened into a cramped, one-room flat. A lonely mattress sat on the floor. A half-broken plastic crate that had been serving as a table lay on its side. A shadeless lamp lay in the corner, its dirty yellow glow half-obscured by the mattress. A bucket of foul-smelling liquid had overturned on the stained carpet. A lake of filth spread from the spill site.
One of the cops rose from the cluster of armored policemen kneeling on the suspect. The cop was looking at the left leg of his trousers. It was soaked. He wore an expression of pure disgust. Benny, I presumed.
He walked in stiff, wide steps, his arms held out to either side. No part of his body touched another.
I gave the man a wide berth and rested my eyes on the suspect who had been pulled from beneath the mass of kneeling cops and propped against the wall.
Kelly Gordon was naked, his hands cuffed behind him. Bleary brown eyes looked out from a bronze face, but they were clearing as I looked on. Dirty dreadlocks hung to his pierced nipples. His scrawny legs were spread wide apart, baring his crotch for all to see. The oozing lake of waste crept toward his left foot.
One of the writ squad held a Kholar ten-mil knockoff by the barrel. She pulled the magazine, rendering the gun inert, and stepped aside. Her squad mates did the same, taking care where they stepped.
I made a show of looking in the shallow closet nestled next to the entrance at the foot of the mattress. I moved the door with an outstretched gloved pinky and wiped the finger against the others.
Rodriguez gave a command and the squad started to file from the room.
Rick waited until it was just the three of us. "It's quite a place you have here, G. And, that girl! Woo-hoo!"
Gordon looked at Rick. Clarity returned to his eyes.
"You know," said Rick. "That pretty little girl you carved up … Allie? She made it. She's never gonna have a singing voice and that eye ain't ever gonna be the same, but she made it. Tough break for you."
A trace of that smile from the courtroom touched Gordon's lips, but he didn't speak.
"I know what you're thinking, G: Poor scared girl like that. She may not have the courage to testify."
The room was quiet for several long seconds.
Rick broke it with something akin to a chuckle. He looked at me. "I think we've got a fix for that this time. Don't we, Frank?"
I looked down at Gordon and put as much disgust as I could on my face. "We sure do, Rick."
I reached into my jacket and drew out a plastic bag with a knife in it.
All traces of a smile fell from Gordon's face. "What the fuck is that? I never saw that before in my life!"
"Sure you haven't, G. Sure you haven't."
Rick and I descended on Gordon like birds of prey.
I went low.
Rick went high.
We flipped him onto his face and pivoted his head so it faced the pool of human waste. Rick's knee was on Gordon's back and he held Gordon's hair in his left hand. He dumped the rest of the waste bucket with his right. It poured over Gordon's face.
We all gagged.
I had a knee across his legs and a foot on the floor. I pulled the knife from the bag and clamped a few of Gordon's fingers around the handle. I stood and put the knife in a convenient corner. It already had Allison Kramer's blood on the blade. With any luck, she wouldn't have to testify.