Simon Cruz
Dec. 2nd, Morning
I had just run down the steps and was rounding the corner into the parking garage. My plan was to head back to the alley behind the Café Bolero, making a pit stop at Max’s place en route. Jorge was checking out whether or not any of his suspects might have been in the area of the alley a few weeks ago.

As I got into my car, I noticed that there was more gas in the tank than I remembered. I shrugged it off. I haven’t been sleeping well, so I chalked this up to just another reason why I needed to get my head examined. I pulled into traffic, which was very light and only seemed to get lighter as I went. I easily found a parking spot right in front of Max’s bike shop. It was as if he reserved that spot just for cops.

I stepped into the shop’s showroom and was greeted by a strange sort of quiet. The only sound in the showroom was the music coming from the earphones on one of the clerks Max hired recently to keep shop while he worked in the garage. I didn’t recognize the clerk behind the counter, a white boy dressed in gothic clothes with a distasteful crucifix on his neck. This must have been the kid Jenny was complaining about. He hadn’t noticed me yet, as he was engrossed in the garbage pouring out of his earphones, and he was reading some sort of a thick comic book. This punk couldn’t even be bothered to pretend he was working.

There were a few crotch rockets, a Suzuki and a pair of Hondas, alone one wall towards the front of the showroom. They weren’t Max’s favorite sell, but with the economy in such a morbid state, he didn’t have much of a choice but to pander. I made my way around the counter, still unnoticed by the worthless kid behind the counter, and walked toward the door to the garage.

I was temporarily blinded by the glare of a welding torch, so I threw one hand over my eyes and waited for the glowing orb of lingering light in my eyes to fade away. For a moment, just briefly, the afterglow seemed to take on the shape of a sinister looking face. I shook my head, making sure not to look into the welding torch’s searing glow again, and moved into the garage.

I found Max standing in the middle of the bay, working on the front fork of a bike with just a pair of welding goggles on, rather than his normal full-face mask. I could see why. He had a really uncomfortable looking neck wrap with some heavy padding on one side of his neck. There were some flecks of sanguine red visible on the inner edges of the gauze. I waited until I noticed a pause in his welding and hollered out to him, “Cut yourself shaving?”

He lifted the goggles onto his forehead and dropped the torch to his side. It was like his fingers couldn’t hold the weight of it anymore. “Simon! It’s been too long since you visited this old grease monkey,” he said, a big, silly grin on his face. “And it’s not a shaving cut… you know me, Jenny would kill me if I cut myself shaving. No, this… muffler burn… hurts like hell.”

I moved closer. The wrapping did look consistent with a muffler burn, but it would be difficult to tell with all that padding in the way. He was sluggish and pale, but he didn’t seem uncomfortable with my approach.

“Looks like you did a real number, hey,” I said, reaching out to shake his hand. I noticed that his handshake was weaker than normal, and his hand was far colder than it should have been coming out of that insulated welding glove.

“Yeah,” he agreed, wincing, “It wasn’t the smartest move I made. But hey, it brings home the bacon, doesn’t it?” He moved back to lean against his toolbox, and it looked like it was the first rest he had gotten in a long time. “Gotta keep Jenny in the things she likes…”

“She don’t need ‘things,’ Max. She needs her husband,” I said, leaning in to whiff the air near him surreptitiously. I was hoping to catch a hint of alcohol on his breath, which might explain his clammy skin and lazy gait, but no. There was a hint of copper, along with the oxyacetylene and grease smells that always filled the garage. “You’re not lookin so hot, buddy. Let’s get us a coffee, huh? Ruth’s gotta have her muffins out on the counter at the diner by now. Hmmm? Apple cinnamon? Maybe some of those fruity flavored coffee creamers you refuse to admit you love?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’d like that, man. It’s been too long since we’ve had time together.”

“True that, bro. Let’s get some daylight and fresh air in them lungs. Hah…,” I said, letting him lead the way. He put the torch as ‘away’ as it ever got in his garage, then he headed out the door and toward the diner around the corner. I paid attention to the way he moved, and his walk wasn’t quite as strong or confident as it usually was. His feet weren’t dragging, though, and his steps, while heavy, were sure and straight. His posture and the weight of his feet as they hit the sidewalk told the story. He wasn’t drunk, or high, or concussed. He was exhausted.

On the way to the Eleven City Diner, only about a block and a half from Max’s shop, I texted Jenny: WITH MAX. GETTING COFFEE @ DINER. YOU’RE RIGHT. HE’S NOT HIMSELF. TTYL

As we entered the diner, Ruth smiled at us and waved us to our usual booth. As I sat down, I thought for a moment that I saw someone standing in the street, looking into the diner through the window. When I looked, though, there was nobody there. Ruth must have made one of her usual, abrasive pleasantries, because Max gave her that same, uncomfortable laugh he always did whenever she would open up with an off-color, vaguely racist joke. I received a reply from Jenny, which I read under the table.


“It has been altogether too long since my two handsome young lads came in,” Ruth said, not bothering to put menus down. “So, what’s it going to be, gents? The usual?” “You even gotta ask, Ruthie,” I replied with a wink, leaning back and glancing out the window once more. The shadow of the flag waving on the roof of the deli next door… for a moment, looked like a person standing in the street. I smirked and shook my head. Max chuckled at Ruth as she cackled in her not-very-attractive way and hustled off, shouting obscenities at the cook in the back in a pidgin-bastardization of Polish and English.

“So, catch me up, Max,” I said, lacing my fingers in front of me. “What’s going on with you?”

“Oh, same old, same old,” he replied. I noticed he was avoiding eye contact. “Times are pretty hard, with the economy the way it is… nobody wants to buy new anymore. So, I’ve had to scrape by, picked up a few more repair jobs. You know. Put food on the table.”

“Yeah,” I said, leaning in with a smile. “Money. Food. Got it. Now, how about you tell me what is going on. Don’t bullshit me, Max. We’re buds. I know what your bullshit smells like, and…” I sniffed the air. “Yep. That’s yours, alright.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and I noticed that two of those flavored creamers he secretly enjoyed were empty next to his cup. Funny, I didn’t remember him taking them.

“Look,” he said, finally making solid eye contact. “I wasn’t kidding… I had to take a few odd jobs to make ends meet.”


“And… there’s a new… gang.”


“Or something, I don’t know. They said that I had to help out or they’d put me out of business. The mentioned they had officials in their pocket, Simon. Officials that could put Jenny out of work for good.”

“Jesus, Max,” I said, leaning back and folding my arms.

“I know…,” he said, slumping with exhaustion. I could tell he had been wanting to tell someone about this for a long time. This secret… the stress of it alone was killing him. “I’ve had to work some extra nights… it’s not good, man. But, I can’t do anything about it… I didn’t want to tell Jenny because…”

“Yeah,” I said. I totally understood. Max had been acting strangely, but in his own way, this was vintage Max.

“You know me,” he continued, grinning weakly. “How can I go begging her for help? I gotta make sure she keeps her job…”

“Muffler,” I asked, glancing at the wound on his neck. Under the table, I began to text Jorge:


“Yeah,” he replied. “You try repairing four bikes a night on two hours of sleep with an upset wife and see how many mistakes you start making.”

“Alright,” I said with a concerned frown. “Just making sure these hoods didn’t give you any physical incentive to help them out. Speaking of…” I got out my notebook and flipped it open. My cell buzzed audibly and I glanced at the message:


“Your new employee. He one of these guys,” I asked, shaking my head and whispering, ” Jesus, Jorge, you illiterate fu..” Max cocked his head at me curiously, wincing when his bandage pulled at him.

“No, no… he’s just a nobody I picked up to mind the store when I’m in the back repairing the bikes.”

“It’s not unusual for organized criminals to plant people in places where they can keep an eye on their victims.” Max didn’t like being referred to as a victim. Who would? While I was looking down at my notepad, he seized the opportunity to dump a third creamer in his coffee. I smiled and shook my head, and he laughed a bit. “Guilty pleasure, I guess,” he said. I pursed my lips and nodded. At that point, Ruth came up to our table with breakfast. Toasted and buttered apple-cinnamon muffin for Max, blueberry waffles for me. I looked Ruth over for a moment. She worked in the neighborhood, so I thought maybe this gang might be rousting her, too, but she looked perfectly fine. For a grumpy Polish woman, anyhow.

“Anything interesting or different about these jokers,” I asked. “Gang colors? Language? Anything distinctive?”

“I don’t know…,” Max said, exasperated. “They travel in packs? What’s different about any gang?”

“Be surprised,” I said, taking a mouthful of waffle and exhaling from my nose while rolling my eyes back in my head. Seriously, this was the best breakfast in Chi-town. Period.

“A lot of them wore leathers, like a biker gang,” he said. I nodded. Biker gangs weren’t huge in Chicago, but they weren’t rare, either. “There were a few right bastards in suits, though. Good English for thugs, too.”

“Suits,” I repeated. That seemed really out-of-place to me. I texted Jorge again:


“What do you have to give them, and how often?”

“They come by every few nights after the whole shop’s emptied out,” he said. He took a few moments to enjoy a few bites of muffin. I could tell just sitting down and talking about this was helping him out. He probably hasn’t felt ‘normal’ in so long. Jorge texted me back:


Funny. I nodded to Max, hoping he would give me a few more details.

“A lot of it is car maintenance. Bikes. No money, though. Actually, they pay me for my trouble, but it is a lot of work, man. I don’t understand why I can’t hire on some extra help, but they just want me working on their kit.”

So, they forced him to work, paid him for the work, but at really odd hours and with ridiculous demands of his time and effort…

“When did they first approach you?”

“Gotta be back in August… the work’s gotten worse lately. Later nights, but it’s not too bad,” Max said. Victims of protection schemes often placate themselves by saying things aren’t so bad, or that they could be so much worse. “Usually I’m in bed before I even realize how tired I am.”

“Guys in the suits did all the talking,” I asked. “Did you hear any names?”

“Aside from ‘Max do this, Max do that?’ No, they were pretty careful about that.”

“You have any of their stuff in your shop now,” I asked, wiping syrup from my chin and taking a drink of coffee.

“Yeah,” Max said, looking out the window. “I was working on one of their forks when you came in and scared me half to death. Looks like someone hit it with a dump truck, and I have until tomorrow to get the thing rebuilt.”

“They’re picking it up, or you’re dropping it off?

“They always pick up,” he replied. “I wish I could just ditch the bikes when I was done with them, but with my luck it’d be out in Evanston and I’d have no way to come home to Jenny.”

“What time do they show,” I said, scribbling all this information down in my notebook as fast as I could. My notes were usually a jumble of English and Cantonese that even I would have trouble reading later. These notes, however, I kept in pristine order. “How long after lights out?”

“Who can tell these days? It’s dark all the damn time. Two? Three? Sometimes earlier.”

I just nodded and started into my breakfast. Something about what he just said… bothered the hell out of me…

It’s dark all the damn time.

“Ain’t nobody running you out of town, Max. Let’s finish this up so you can get back to work.”

He nodded and dug in with a will, as though it were his last meal. I soon found myself back at the garage, with little recollection of the rest of the meal. I couldn’t even remember who paid for it.

“Max, listen,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. “I can’t pretend to know how this all feels, but I can promise you, relief is coming. I’ll figure this 粪 out, pal. I promise…,”

“I…,” I started, again… “Is it some sort of holiday or something?”

I glanced out onto the streets. Still light traffic. In fact, barely any cars on the road.

“Weird for the Christmas approach, yeah,” Max said, agreeing with me that the lack of traffic was an odd occurrence. I grabbed my radio:

8815 to dispatch.

(muffled munching sounds)Dispatch here. Go ahead, 8815.

Traffic’s been real light all day, BK. Any major accidents?

Hold… No, only accident in the greater Chicagoland area is Jorge’s face, 8815.


“That’s weird,” I said, as much to myself as to Max. “Usually by this time, there’d be at least half a dozen fender benders.”

“Maybe everyone’s given up trying to drive and is taking the el,” Max suggested.

“All at once? No…,” I said. Then, I smiled, shaking my head. “Know what? Bigger fish to fry. I’ll see you later, Max. Keep the faith, buddy. We’ll get this 粪 resolved.”

He nodded stoically and said goodbye, and by the time I got out of the garage, I could hear the sounds of welding resuming behind me. I made it back to my car, slumped into the driver’s seat, and sent Jenny a text:


I grabbed my journal and jotted down everything that I had just discussed with Max. I was done writing before Jen replied:


I laughed. “Hot date? Sure, if that’s what you wanna call it, Jen,” I said, texting her back:


I started the car and began to make my way toward the Café Bolero. I called Jorge on the speakerphone and heard a wet thud right after the line picked up.

“What’s up now, esse,” those words obviously meant for the perp he was interviewing. “Hello friend Simon. How can I assist you on this wonderful noontime?”

“Got anything for me, yet,” I asked.

“I have a hint,” he said proudly. “One of these churros was screaming ‘Pop, pop, pop!’ I thought he was begging for stopping, so I kept going. But I think he was maybe talking about some gunfire in that area.”

“Gunfire?” I subconsciously felt for my pistol.

“I don’t think he was involved,” Jorge clarified. “He’s coughing up some low-grade drugs you see closer to the heart of the city.”

“Anything about new gangs, of the be-suited variety,” I asked. “Specifically anywhere near Evanston? Probably unrelated, but worth checking into.”

“I will check into this, for you. Suits with gangs are not special to me,” he said. I shook my head. What?

“That’s normal, then? Or not? Speak English, you big ape! I’m gonna floor you when we spar, just for that attitude,” I said. He laughed boisterously in response, and I heard another thud.

“Not normal at all. About as normal as you flooring me. Got to go. This fish is getting swimmy with me.”

“Teach that fish some manners. Later. Thanks, man.”

I hung up the phone and found myself filling the silence with my own voice. Once, I might have made a bigger deal about talking to myself. Nowadays, I did it all the time, and I didn’t even think twice about it.

“Okay,” I said. “Stolen journal pages. Missing time. Missing memories. Shots fired in or around this alley. Weird drugs for that area of the city. Pop, pop, pop. About 12 blocks away, new gang mixing with suits. Threatening bike shop owner to fix broke-ass cars and bikes in off-hours, alone and quiet. Says they know folks who can take Jen down. Guys in suits. I’m in a suit. Cops wear suits. That means diddly. Lots of people do. But cops mix with gangs. That might mean something.”

I yawned loud and shook tears from my eyes. “妈, I need to get more sleep.”

I stayed quiet the rest of the way to the Café. As I pulled up, it was very empty in this area of town. Not even a bum on the street.

“Too Goddamn quiet, today,” I said to myself, again, while I keyed the mic on my radio.

8815 to Dispatch. I’m 10-20 at 102 W. Belden. Over.

Dispatch to 8815. 10-20 Acknowledged. You mind picking up a whopper on your way back in, 8815?

Get your own, BK. Have it your way while you’re at it. Over and out.

Before I got out of the car, I tried to piece together my memory of that night. I parked in more or less the same spot I did last time. I briefly flashed to a figure leaving my car and heading into the alley. I heard a brief, faint echo of a ‘Pop, pop, pop,’ and then I saw a shadow flickering in the alleyway.

“Who…,” I said, blinking out of the hazy blend of memory and dream. At least some of that had to be imaginary. Honestly, I couldn’t fathom how I could forget something like this. I got out of the car and looked across the street and into the alley. I ducked behind the café and saw a flickering light splaying off the pavement, a myriad of trash strewn about. I stopped, took a breath, and listened. I glanced around for anything special or weird about the trash, looking for anything that didn’t quite belong. I looked for graffiti. I looked for blood.

There was a bag of trash that seemed like it was forcefully shoved into a corner. I moved toward it, cautiously. I was aware of the fact that there may be cats or rats, and so I steeled myself against sudden jerks of fright if my approach startled something. I flicked on my flashlight and, because I had prepared myself for it, I was not startled by the dismembered rat pinned to a storm drain. I peered through the gore and saw two things: a small graffiti mark on the corner of the grate, and a glint of metal underneath the drain.

I took a picture of the graffiti with my cell camera, then tried to get a closer look at the drain. I tried to see whether it looked like an animal got to the rat, but it actually looked like someone carefully dissected the 妈 thing. I remembered the noise. Pop, pop, pop. I looked inside the drain and, sure enough, it was a bullet casing. I snapped a picture of the rat, tagging it ‘dissected?’ and another of the bullet casing where I found it, in the drain. In order to get to the casing, I would have to move the rat.

“Goddammit,” I cursed, then pulled out an evidence bag and evidence collection glove, using the glove to remove the rat and place it into the bag. I then removed the glove and grabbed another, reaching into the grate in order to retrieve the casing. I managed to get to the casing, but not before the heel of my glove tore on the drain cover. I tried not to freak out, and looked down to see whether or not my hand was cut. It seemed unscathed, but it was a close call. It almost knocked the casing out of reach, but I was finally able to retrieve it. Deciding to examine it later, in the light, I placed the casing in another evidence bag and stood back up. I noticed a bit of brick dust from where a bullet might have ricocheted when my radio squawked:

Dispatch to 8815. Come in, 8815.


8815, I have a requested 10-25 for a ‘hot date’ at the station.

10-4 Dispatch. En route. Over.

I thought Jenny must have been done with her meeting, and was waiting to meet me at my desk. I didn’t think she’d use the term ‘hot date’ with dispatch, though. Also, I would have thought she would text me, instead of making it official like that. Something was up. It distracted me enough to make the next ten minutes of searching a complete waste of time.

I got back in my car, tuned the stereo to some city jazz, and cranked the volume up while I drove back to the station. I was trying very hard to push the darkness of that alley away from me. As I looked back, it seemed like the shadows from that 妈 alley were like claws gnashing and reaching for me. But I flooded the car with jazz, making the drive back to the precinct marginally more enjoyable. I managed to escape the worst of the darkness by the time I got back to the station.

I worked my way into the station proper, heading towards my desk. Seated on the desk was a rather striking woman, blonde, with short hair, wearing a smart, gray suit. Her body posture suggested that she was rather annoyed. I walked past as if it wasn’t my desk, heading two desks over and leaning onto the desk as if I was looking at papers. Really, I was checking her out. I didn’t know her, but everyone in the office seemed to be giving my desk a wide berth. She was rather attractive, in an ice-queen kind of way. At that point, I was guessing she was a lawyer. I walked over and sat down at my desk, noting that she was not wearing a wedding ring.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, miss…,” I said, trying to look like I was not paying much attention to her.

“You’re late, Detective Cruz,” she said, slapping her business portfolio on the desk in front of her. “Ten minutes late. I do not like being kept waiting.”

“And I don’t apologize twice for the same mistake,” I said, less politely. “Now, to whom am I speaking, and what can I do for her?”

“The name is Catalina Muroe. I’m with Internal Affairs,” She paused, with a curt smile, as though to judge my reaction. Lawyer would have been better. All the attraction I had for her just seeped away.

“Okay, Ms. Muroe. Now, for the second part of my question. What can I do for you,” I said, flipping through papers on my desk, as if her presence was not that important to me. She seemed to be rather annoyed at this, and put on a rather sweet tone.

“You could, perhaps, explain to me why someone might file a complaint of suspected corruption, citing your badge number?”

“Oh, lots of reasons,” I said, dropping the papers and looking her in the eye. “None of which includes me being corrupt. You need the number to my union rep?”

“Is there some reason you need to hide behind him?”

“First of all, sloppy. That’s not the way I’d approach this interview at all. Get to know your suspect, then prod the weaknesses. Something to hide? That’s kindergarten level. So please, Ms. Muroe, spare me the insipid tactics and ask your ill-founded questions.”

She looked severely hacked off now. “Alright, Mr. Cruz, if that’s how you want to play it… where were you on the night of August 8th?” “Check the duty logs,” I said, trying very hard not to betray my shock at her mention of that particular date. From her reaction, I could tell my ruse was successful. She wasn’t prepared for this level of insubordination. “You see this unseemly pile of folders on my desk? I’m swamped with cases. All us REAL cops are. So, you’ll excuse me if I don’t have instant recall of where I may or may not have been on a particular night. Also, I don’t have time to help you with your investigation when I barely have enough time to handle the ones right HERE.”

I stabbed my finger down on the pile of folders and stood up, grabbing a pen and writing down a number as I talked to her. “(312)744-2925. Jon Farley. Next time you want to ask me anything, ask him instead. Good day, Ms. Muroe.”

She almost sneered at me with disdain. “We’ll be in touch, Mister Cruz… this isn’t over.”

“Always a pleasure.” I said with a smile. She stormed out, and I got a smattering of applause from those around your desk, along with a few cat-calls. I called after her, finally, “And it’s Detective Cruz, not Mister!”

I sat down at my desk and grabbed my phone, dialing Jon Farley’s office:

“Hello, this is Jon. How can I help you today?”

“Whoa, you answered! Slow day, Mr. Farmer?”

“You have no idea, Simon,” he replied, unenthusiastically. “I swear, it’s like I’m watching turnips grow. What the hell do you need?”

“Hah… turnips. Hey, I just got a visit by one Catalina Muroe. You familiar?”

“Simon, I can’t keep track of all the two-bit hussies in this town. Jorge can help with that, he knows where the streetwalkers sleep. Why’re you pestering me?”

“She’s IAB, is why.”

“No shit, really,” he said. He really didn’t know. He’s PBA, for Christ’s sake. Shouldn’t he know the names of all the pencil pushers at Infernal Affairs by now? “What the hell did she want you for?”

“Usual IAB crap,” I said, trying not to reveal how upset this visit made me. “She’s saying my badge number was brought up as part of a corruption case. It’s BS, but I figured I better get you guys involved, just in case. Better safe than sorry, hey?”

“Yeah, no kidding,” he agreed. His tone changed. He seemed far more empathetic now.” I’ll look into it, Kid. Don’t worry. If I had my way, I’d shut those bastards down seven ways from Sunday.”

“You and me both. But, I’d wait until after they got you-know-who. Oh, also, I riled her up something good for you. Wasn’t even that hard.”

It wasn’t. IAB detectives aren’t usually frustrated so easily. She must be new. Explains why Farmer never heard of her, either.

“You love making my job easier, don’t you?”

“Sorry, sir. If you meet her, you’ll get it. She’s asking for it. Anyway, thanks, Mr. Farmer. You’re the best.”

He muttered something and the line went dead. I looked up to see Jenny’s concerned face looking over at me, and she rushed over. “So what was your Hot Date all about?”

“Lunch time,” I asked her, smiling and hoping she would get the message. Not here, Jenny. Not now. She nodded and smiled, understanding completely. I silently gathered myself up and walked down to my car. I let Jenny into my car and drove us to Hamlin Park. I grabbed two hotdogs from the street vendor and grabbed a bench facing the fountain. We both sat out in the cold, but the junk dogs made it much more bearable.

“What’s going on, Simon,” she asked through a half mouthful of lunch.

“IAB’s asking me about the night I…,” I swallowed and paused. I don’t know for how long. “…the night I can’t remember. You know what? Forget that. Let’s focus on something more important.”

“More important than you losing nights of memory,” she asked. The look of concern on her face was genuine and warm, and terrifying to me. I love you. God! Did I say that? No? I just thought it. Good. Dammit, Simon, don’t slip up and accidentally say that.

“Max is getting a lot of pressure from a protection scheme being run by a new street gang. One with suits. One that says they could get you tossed out of your job if he doesn’t do some extra work for them on the side. He’s working his fingers to the bone, literally, to keep them from coming through with their threats.”

“…that poor dear! That’s why he’s been so stressed out lately,” Jenny said, staring at a small black bird pecking seeds near the fountain. “I could have sword he was… I don’t know… drinking… or seeing another woman… or something…”

“I thought of all that,” I said, nodding and taking another bite of my hot dog. “It’s not booze. He’s walking tired, not intoxicated. His eyelids are heavy, but his pupils dilate properly. No drugs. He’s trapped in this situation, and that’s why he’s acting weird. And I don’t know if it’s pride, love, stupidity, or some combination of the two, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell you.”

I finished my hot dog and wrapped an arm around her, shaking her gently.

“Don’t worry, Jen,” I said, confidently. “We’re getting him out of this mess. Tonight at 1:30, I’m staking out his garage. I’m gonna see who comes and goes from his place, I need you to requisition a night vision camera. I want to see these punks, follow them to their hideout, and find out who’s in charge. I also want to find out what, if anything, they have on you. You got any ideas on that front, kiddo?”

That bird… the one that was just eating the seeds by the fountain. It just… I could have sworn it just dove into its own shadow and disappeared.

“Did you… nevermind,” I shook my head and laughed. I am hallucinating. What the 他妈的 is wrong with me?

“You’re worrying me, hon,” Jen said. “I can get you the camera, and anything else you need. I really appreciate you checking on Max. But, what if we can’t find out what’s going on? I’m not going to lose Max, am I?”

I looked her right in the eyes and said “No.”

“Check this out,” I said, changing the subject after a few moments of silence had built up too much tension in the air. I pulled out the evidence bag with the bullet casing. “Found this in the alley.”

“You went rooting around,” she frowned as she took a look at the shell casing. “That’s strange… at least you know they weren’t professionals that were there that night…” I took a closer look at the casing, determining that it was 9mm ammo, and that it looked pretty 妈 close to police issue ammunition. I took out my spare clip and removed a round from it, holding it up against the bag. The casings looked similar, but in my current state…

“I need to get to the range and fire off a few rounds. I want to get CSU to tell me if my gun fired this round.”

“Wait,” Jen said, putting her hand on my forearm. “Are you saying you were in that alley that night? Firing your gun? At what?”

“I don’t remember, Jen. Anything. That night is a total wash for me. I remember… I remember the shadows moving. I think I remember… pop pop pop. That’s 3 shots, but I spent 20 minutes in that alley and only found the one casing and a dead rat. I can’t remember what happened that night, and my journal pages are missing… and now, IAB says my badge number got brought up during a corruption case, and they are asking about that night.”

Wait a second…

“Pop pop… pop…,” I repeated. Jen’s head crooked to the side a bit. I grabbed my phone and tapped out a hasty text to Jorge:



“Jorge was asking around for me, and one of his ganglets said he heard three shots,” I said.

“It sounds like you have worse problems than Max and I…,” Jen replied. I shook my head.

“No, Jen. Nobody effs with my partner and her husband. That’s my #1 priority. But until tonight, there’s not much I can do about it. I need to somehow squeeze in some sleep, too, because it’s gonna be a long night. But that always…”

I sent Jorge another text:


“Why not get some sleep now? I’ll just phone in your patrol, and you can catch some sleep.”

“No, I still got a lot to do. I got to get to the range… I gotta talk to that ganglet… and I want another look in that alley before dark. I know there’s more there. There has to be… I remember when being a cop seemed like a good idea.”

“The alley can wait, Simon. That’s a lot to do before it gets dark.”

I let out a resigned sigh. She was right, of course.

“And don’t think like that…,” she said. “The forces of darkness are always marching onwards, and we have to hold them back. We’re the only ones who can.”

I zeroed in on her when she said darkness, and kind of glanced away as she continued. She gave me a quizzical look.

“It’s nothing,” I said. “Shadows move just to keep us guessing.”

“For without Shadows there would be no light.”

“I guess,” I said, exhaling loudly. “I just wish they would leave me the 他妈的 alone for a while. Sorry, Jen. I’m just cranky.”

“I know… all the more reason for you to get some rest now. I can get Jorge to detain the ganglet on trumped up charges… or get him thrown in the drunk tank for a night. Nothing pressing.”

“Yeah. I… yeah. I’ll drop you back at the station. Head home and grab a nap.”

“You need to get more sleep Simon… it’s not good for you to be like this.”

“Thanks, Jen.”

I don’t really remember driving her back to the station, or driving back home, but before I knew it, I was heading up the walkway to my apartment, and I found a package waiting for me outside my door. It was incredibly unusual. I hadn’t ordered anything, but it was plainly addressed to me.

“Alright,” I said out loud for no reason, picking up the package. There was no return address visible. The box was about the size of a book. I glanced around. Nobody seemed to be watching me. If it was a trick of some sort, I couldn’t tell. I brought it in and opened the package in the kitchen.

Within the package was a rather sleek looking smartphone and a letter. Opening the letter revealed the following statement:

Dear Sir/Madam,

You have been randomly selected by the Consumer Research Panel to test the newest communications device, not released for sale to the public! You will be the envy of your friends, neighbors, and enemies! Congratulations!

This phone will recieve periodic firmware updates automatically, to increase it’s functionality and user friendlyness. This phone is yours to keep. Please enjoy it’s 10 MegaPixel camera, 4GB of On-Board Memory, Coupled with Unlimited Internet Access and a built in Bulletin Board service!

We will periodically collect small bits of information about the usage of the phone so we can better serve you. Do not be alarmed. This information will not be personal in nature, but rather detail how you are using the device. This is to improve it’s functionality.

Please feel free to use this device for any purpose you see fit. We have started a Bulletin Board Thread (BBT) to facilitate any questions you may have about this device.


The Management (CRP)

“Consumer…” I used my own cell to Google the company and see if it seemed legit. They did have an online presence, and they did seem to do product trials, but I couldn’t find this one in particular on the site. I shook my head and turned the phone on. I was greeted with a rather sparse interface, but the phone seemed to have all the standard features, as well as a Bulletin Board application.

I decided to check the Bulletin Board out, but it didn’t seem like there were any posts yet. I sighed, dropped the phone on the counter, and soon found myself asleep on the couch.


The Dark Queen of the West RaseCidraen gaaran