Hey, guys, just so you know, this fic is, like, totally not safe for work and probably not safe for life either, so you probably shouldn't read it. Thanks.
Dames are trouble. Tall, leggy brunette dames in green dresses that slither through your office door like silk over a razor blade are definitely trouble. And when the dame in question is also your sister-in-law, that's Trouble with a Capital T.
"Al." She closed my office door with the toe of a high-heeled snakeskin boot that clung to her calves like the snakes were still alive and trying to swallow her knees. "Been a long time, you ugly fat fuck."
"Not long enough, you cold-blooded tramp," I sneered.
She shrugged out of her overcoat and tossed it on top of that endless pile of empty pizza boxes that were forming a new geological strata on what had once been a beat up, flower-print couch. "Aren't you going to offer me a chair?"
"There's one right there. Help yourself."
Her tongue flicked over her lips like a cobra's as she showed me her pearly white teeth. "A gentleman would have pulled a chair out for a lady," she said, as the seat (like too many men) groaned and squealed underneath her skim-milk thighs.
"I'm no gentleman, and you're no lady. Cut the shit, Lily. I'm caught up on my child support for once. I'm staying 500 feet away from your sister and niece, like The Judge said. Hell, I even went to church this morning. So why the fuck are you trying to bust my balls?"
Lily's reply was to pick up her purse, open it up, take out her silver cigarette case, put it on the desk, put her purse back on the floor, open up her cigarette case, carefully pull out a single black-wrapped kretek, and fit it into a cigarette holder that was about as long as a samurai sword. "Got a light?"
"Ask the Devil for one. I hear you two are acquainted. Cut the crap, Lily."
Then I had to wait as she picked up her purse again, opened it up, fished around for a while looking for a lighter, muttered to herself for a bit, took her keys out and laid them on my desk, finally found what she was looking for, put her keys back in her purse, put the purse on the ground, thought better of that, picked the purse back up, closed it, put it back down on the ground, flipped open her lighter, snapped the wheel a couple of times, got even more annoyed, shook it up a bit, and dropped it onto my desk. "I'm out."
I opened up my desk drawer and tossed her a half-used book of matches from the Zis Boom Ba Nightclub.
She picked up the matchbook, carefully opened it up, tore off a paper match, tried to light it, failed, bent the match, tore off a second one, tried again, finally got that one to light, used it to light her goddamn clove cigarette, snuffed the match out, tossed it into my overflowing ash tray, put that cigarette holder to her lips, took a deep drag, and exhaled a big cloud of fragrant spicy smoke at my face. "I want to hire you."
"Not interested. Get the fuck out."
"I didn't tell you what the job is."
"I'd rather fuck a bratwurst."
"The job," Lily said, smoothly crossing her legs high above her knees, "is to rescue the daughter of Senator Raymond Hammett. The niece of Judge Chandler Hammett. The only man who can relax the restraining order and let you see my niece. Your daughter."
The words hung in the air like a piece of raw meat being dangled before a hungry Komodo Dragon. "And what if I say no?"
"You won't." Lily licked her lips like a lioness sighting a baby antelope rolling around in a pool of ketchup.
"What if I do?"
"Then I'll just have to offer you three thousand dollars in cash to make sure you say yes," Lily said. "And if you say no to that, I'll be reducing my offer to five cents in lead."
"Then I guess I really don't have any choice, do I?"
"No. You never did." She pulled a small, thick envelope from her purse and tossed it unto the desk. "All the information I have is in here. Plus two thousand. You'll get one thousand more once you bring back the Senator's daughter. Two thousand more if she's still alive."
"That's five thousand, not three."
"I know you, Al," Lily said. "You'll find some way to fuck this up. You always have."
"Then why the hell come to me? Why not go to Shakur?"
"Because Shakur would talk. You, at least, know when to keep your mouth firmly shut." She ground the remains of her cigarette out in my overflowing ashtray. "I'll tell my sister you send her your love."
"You know that's not true."
"But she'll believe it. I'll see you around, Al."
The door closed behind her like the last bell at Sing-Sing. I picked up the envelope and started reading.
I start every case the exact same way. First I cuss a lot at the shit I've gotten myself into. Then I take the cash advance and put it in the safe behind the couch, taking out one hundred bucks to pad out my wallet. Then I toss my Walther into my coat pocket and head down the block to the Last Chance Diner, where I say hi to Amber, take a seat in the corner booth closest to the bathrooms, and review my facts while waiting for Sal to bring me my clam chowder, toast, and Rumford's Own (black, no sugar).
It was all extremely simple. Mister Senator Raymond Hammett was in town for the Fourth of July Weekend, visiting his brother the Right Honorable Judge Chandler Hammett (and coincidentally taking a moment to grease a few palms and raise a few votes for his upcoming run for the Presidency). Along with Mister Senator Raymond Hammett came Mrs. Senator Raymond Hammett and their lovely young daughter, Iris Hammett. After a couple of obligatory appearances at various dinners and clambakes, Miss Iris decided to spend an evening with some old friends.
Details on what happened that evening are sketchy. Beer and wine coolers were involved. So were some nice young men with big smiles and fast cars. At the end of the evening, most of the other ladies remembered having a nice time and doing a few things that their parents wouldn't approve of.
The one thing none of them could remember was where the hell Miss Iris Hammett ended up.
I had a feeling I knew, especially when the words "Crimson Butterfly" came up on the police report.
It was time to have a talk with Konstantin Drakovich.
Those were the words that went through my head just before the madman burst into the diner.
He looked like he'd just spent the night in the dumpster. His lab coat was stained with some sort of horrible-smelling slime. His hair was caked with what was probably bat guano, and there was a big gash across his forehead. "Clef!" the madman screamed randomly. "Oh, thank God, Clef! I've found you!"
He ran across the diner, scaring the hell out of the waitresses, and collapsed into the seat across from me. "Clef! It's me, Lament!" he shouted, babbling nonsense words. "Clef, it's all gone wrong! They were trying to remake it, but it broke! Everything broke…"
"Look, buddy," I said, slowly reaching into my coat pocket to palm my Walther. "I don't know who you are, but you need help."
"I do need help!" the madman shouted. "Your help! Clef, the timeline's trying to fix itself, but it's shattered, and the pieces don't fit! You need…"
"Look, you've made some kind of mistake. I've never heard of this Clef guy."
"But… Clef! It's you! Alto Clef, from SCP Foundation!" The madman was clutching his hair like a blue-haired church lady clutching her purse.
"I have no idea who the hell you're talking about. My name's Al Clanton."
The madman's face twisted up like a church fair donut. "Oh God… you're integrating. You're fitting into the new timeline. Clef, you have to come with me right now. We have to find Nobody!"
He grabbed my sleeve, so I punched him in the nose and pulled my Walther, screwing the barrel of the pistol as hard as I could into his cheekbone. "I've got no idea who the fuck you're talking about, but you've got five seconds to get the hell out of this diner before I pump your goddamn skull full of lead!"
The madman's face turned the color of an altar cloth, and he let go of my sleeve, holding his hands up where I could see them. "All right," he said. "I won't take you anywhere. But you have to find Nobody. There are echoes everywhere, but the real one is here! Get him to the other side and meet with the others! We have to—"
And that's when a camera flash hit me in the eyes, and the bastard must have hit me and run for it, because by the time I could see again, he was gone.
Sal wanted me to call the cops, but I had to get a move on. If things were as bad as I thought they were, I was running out of time to find Iris Hammond.
I left Amber an extra-big tip and hopped the trolley downtown, past the docks and into Little Russia. Down to a little nightclub called the Crimson Butterfly.
The Crimson Butterfly was owned by a nasty customer called Konstantin Drakovich. Russian Mafia with connections back to the old country. Ran drugs, guns, girls, booze, and muscle, but his real passion was photography. Namely, naked photographs of women. Some of them were even awake to be photographed.
I pounded my fist on the naugahyde-upholstered front door, and a little shutter slid open, revealing a tiny window made of bulletproof glass. A moment later, the door opened up, and a human rhinoceros of a man opened the door.
"Fernand," I said by way of greeting. "How's the leg?"
"Hurts. How's the arm?"
"Not bad." Fernand and I had gotten into a disagreement a few years back that had ended with him breaking my arm with a barstool, upon which I made my counterargument with my Walther. No hard feelings on either side. Just business. "I need to see Konny," I said. "Right away. Concerns a girl."
"Most things do." He stepped aside and let me enter the darkened nightclub, gave me a quick patdown and put my Walther under the counter for me to pick up on my way out.
The Crimson Butterfly was one of those thoroughly nasty places that seem to crop up wherever immigrant communities gather. People, especially poor, down on their luck people, need a place to get drunk and forget about how poor and down-on-their-luck they are, and the Crimson Butterfly delivered. It also delivered low-grade heroin and cocaine, and most of the 'waitresses' didn't do much waitressing, except on their backs in the rooms upstairs.
I headed up to the office, where Konny was waiting for me. The fat bearded fuck was sitting behind his desk, flipping through a bunch of eight-by-tens while sipping a vodka on the rocks. "Here," he said, tossing them to me. "Tell me what you think."
I picked up the photos and was relieved to see the girl in them was a brunette, and not a platinum blonde. Then I took a closer look and felt my stomach churn. "Why the hell would you stick that in there?!"
"Eh. There's a market for it. I provide what my customers want," he said.
I tossed the photos back onto his desk and threw myself into the tattered leather chair across from him. "I've got a photo for you, too," I said, passing one of the wallet photos to the Russian.
"Pretty girl," Konny said. "Would like to have her in front of my camera. Looks familiar, though."
"Iris Hammond," I said. "Blonde girl. About yay tall. Blue eyes. Last seen in your club wearing a blue dress and drinking cosmopolitans with a couple of friends. I want to know where she is."
Konny tossed the photo back into my face. "Sorry," he said. "Can't help you."
"Can't or won't?" I asked.
"Same thing. Now get out."
"She's the daughter of a U.S. Senator," I said. "If anything happens to her, the Feds are going to be on top of this place like lice on a mutt. You know something, Konny. I want to know who has her and why."
"Nobody has her. Now get out," Konny repeated.
I felt a knife edge of pain stab through my skull, like a bullet through a chipmunk's ass. "What did you say?" I winced.
"I said, Nobody has her. And you have five seconds to get out my club before…"
"You're the second person today who's said something like that to me. What the hell is going on?"
"Dmitri!" Konny shouted. "Get this pig out of my club!"
"There's something dirty going on in this town, and I want to know what!" I insisted. "Who the hell is Nobody, and what does he want with Iris Hammond!?"
Konny reached under his desk, so jumped over it and punched him in the face before he could grab the shotgun I knew was hooked under his desk. He toppled over onto his back like a tipped cow, bellowing something in Russian. I grabbed him by the collar and slammed his head against the hardwood floor. "Who is Nobody!?" I shouted. "Tell me!"
The door opened, and a gigantic, scar-faced Russian walked in, carrying a PPD-34 submachinegun. He hesitated to shoot me, seeing how his boss was right next to me, so I very slowly put up my hands and got up, letting Konny get to his feet.
Konny stood up unsteadily and wiped a bit of blood from his nose with a grubby handkerchief. "You don't go looking for Nobody," he said. "He finds you. But maybe I make sure you not go looking for him."
He nodded to Dmitri, who put away his machine gun and pulled out a pair of brass knuckles instead. I winced and prepared to become the bass drum in the first movement of Symphony in Pain in F Major, by Dmitri Strelnikov.
So, what have we learned?
Don't piss off a Russian on his home turf? Also, the front steps of my apartment building are surprisingly comfortable to lay on after a pair of Russian goons drive you over there and dump you onto the sidewalk. Considerate guys.
Both good lessons. But I'm thinking of what Draki said just before he called in Strelnikov.
You don't find Nobody. Nobody finds you.
Not the exact words, but the meaning is close enough.
I need help on this.
You know who to go to.
I just hope she'll help me.
For now, you should probably pass out.
Yeah. Just for a little bit. Until I'm ready to get going again…
There are few things that will draw more attention than staggering into a police station at 2 in the afternoon, wearing a bloody shirt and sporting a huge shiner. Thankfully, the person I needed to talk to wasn't far from the entrance.
Karen Edwards was a secretary at the local precinct. She'd helped me out once or twice. We'd first met after she helped me out with the Armenian Avenger case, back when I was on the force. Seeing me, she greeted me with her usual warmth and decorum.
"Jesus, Al. You look like shit. What the hell happened to you?"
I leaned against the booking desk, wincing as I bumped my bruised ribs. "I had a run-in with Drakovich. I need help, Karen."
"I'll say you do. Starting with a doctor."
"I mean with a case. I need anything you've got on a guy calls himself 'Nobody.'"
Karen flinched at that name, but her eyes didn't widen: she'd heard the name before, then. "… I can't help you there, Al," she said.
"It's about the Iris Hammond case," I interrupted. "And I think time might be of the essence."
Karen's lips flattened into a thin, hard line as the duel between her inner crusader and her inner bureaucraft raged on. "Wait here," she finally said. "I need to talk with upstairs."
I made use of the time to wet my handkerchief at the drinking fountains and dab at the dried blood over my left eye. Pretty bad, but I'd definitely had worse. Dmitri must have been in a friendly-type mood.
There was a cough behind me, and a familiar-sounding voice said, "Al?"
The voice belonged to a tall, bald, and boring type in a grey flannel suit. Charlie Ogden Greer. Detective Charles Ogden Greer, of the San Carlos Police Department, to be exact. My old partner… and the current head of the SCPD Major Crimes Unit.
I felt another piece click into place in the Erector Set of my mind. "This is about the Reds, isn't it?"
"Not here," Charlie said. "Upstairs. In my office."
"We've suspected a link between the Children of the Scarlet King and the Russian Mafia for a long time," Charlie explained, after we'd settled in with a couple of glasses of scotch. "We'd never been able to prove it, though. Until recently, when we confirmed that some of the girls being snuck in from the old country are being diverted to the Children for their religious practices."
"I knew it!" I slammed my fist against the arm of the chair, causing my whisky to spill. "I told you years ago there was a connection, and you didn't listen!"
"We didn't," Charlie admitted. "But it wouldn't have made any difference if we had. We didn't have enough evidence to make an arrest. But the investigation has been making headway. Just last week, we managed to bust an attempt to smuggle girls into the city by cargo ship… including one slated for the Children."
"How did you manage that?" I asked.
"We didn't. The evidence was dropped onto our doorstep in an anonymous envelope. Signed 'Nobody.'"
I felt that cold ice pick dig into my brain once more.
"There's more. The week before that, New York PD reported a breakthrough in the murder of a girl in Queens. Someone literally dropped the murder knife off in an envelope. Again, signed 'Nobody.' Then there was last month, with the murder of those fox hunters in Philadelphia. Or the samurai sword murders in Chicago. My point is, this Nobody guy has been showing up for the past year, providing crucial pieces of evidence to police departments all around the country. And no one knows who he is or why he's doing this."
"You're saying this is a serial killer case? Or something weirder?"
"I'm not sure what this is," Charlie said. "But whatever it is, we're stuck in the middle of it."
I felt a chill run down my spine.
Then the wall exploded into a giant pile of dicks.