Hartliss Detective Agency
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Capone's 'Outfit' operates out of South Chicago with impunity, handing out stacks of green to keep everyone minding their own damn business. And if the green ain't green enough? A couple pounds of lead in your belly ought to do the trick.

One of the only men with the moxie to stand up to the Outfit is Hymie Weiss — 'The Perfumed Burglar'. But moxie only gets you so far. Weiss' North Side Gang is the mom-and-pop store to Al Capone's Sears Catalog. Capone's got the muscle, the cash, and — unlike Weiss — hasn't managed to piss off nearly every crook in the Windy City. He's got Weiss on the ropes — and that's made Weiss desperate.

And if there's one thing desperate men are good at, it's filling up morgues.

Place stinks of chemicals. I pull out a foil-sleeved stick of gum from my pocket, unwrap it, and shove it into my mouth. Meanwhile, Dr. Dalewood — Chicago's pre-eminent forensic pathologist — makes his way toward the large metal plates that line the wall. He disengages the locking mechanism on one of them, then casts a glance back my way. "You sure you're up to this?"

I mash the gum against the back of my mouth. "You sure you want that twenty?"

A week ago, a stoolie set to testify against one of Capone's boys ended up in the hospital over a case of 'acute lead poisoning'. Four slugs in the brain. Doctors didn't expect him to make it through the night. Suddenly, Hymie Weiss shows up with his own personal physician. Two days later? The stoolie walked into the courtroom and sang his little heart out. Must have been a stressful performance — he croaked the next day. 'Brain aneurysm'.

The doctor grabs hold of the handle and heaves back. The tray rolls out with a loud, obnoxious rattle — revealing a shrouded corpse stretched across the slab.

Two days ago, Capone sent a specialist to 'ventilate' one of Weiss' Northboys. Witnesses claimed the bastard ate over twenty rounds before buying it. Police are keeping it hush hush, but Mr. Gallant has it on good word that the corpse was still crawling two hours later. They eventually just set the damn thing on fire.

Dr. Dalewood pulls the sheet back. He has to work at it; some of the linen sticks to the corpse's face and chest. Underneath are the burnt remains of Mr. Charles Montgomery — one of Weiss' personal body-guards.

Not much to work with. But I've done more with less.

I fish the wad out of my mouth and walk on over to the body, sticking the gum to the side of the tray. Then, reaching down, I squeeze Mr. Montgomery's blackened, blistered cheeks. Bits of charred flesh crack and splinter under my fingers. His jaw pops open like a released spring, exposing crooked teeth inside of a still-pink mouth.

The doctor takes a few steps back. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him making the sign of the cross.

Words never meant to be spoken by a human tongue leave my mouth. I follow them with a question to Mr. Montgomery: "Who gave you life beyond life?"

I lower my head and kiss his melted lips, breathing warmth into his lungs.

My hands go to his chest. As I pull back, I push down against his sternum. Bones creak and pop — something gives. A surge of fetid air gushes out from him, accompanied by a raspy whisper.

Volo… dya…

Satisfied, I retrieve my gum and step away, poking the wad back into my mouth. But then I hear Dalewood cry out.

"Mother of God!"

I turn. Mr. Montgomery seems to have regained his zeal for life. His upper torso convulses; he's trying to breathe on his own.

I grab the bone chisel from the surgical tray next to me and slam it down between his eyes. It sinks in about an inch. He keeps jerking. I seize a nearby hammer and start beating at that chisel, forcing it deeper. After the seventh hit, his convulsions have dwindled to tiny spasms. After hit number sixteen, he's just a twitching heap of cooked meat.

"God in Heaven." Dalewood mumbles a prayer to himself. Meanwhile, I hold the hammer up, ready to strike again.

Twitch. Twitch. Twitch.

Nothing.

That's when I see it. Something wriggling inside of his mouth. At first, I think it's his tongue — but it's the wrong color. A sickly, pearl-like white. Too pale, and too long. Leaning forward, I narrow my eyes and get a closer look.

A segmented worm pokes its head out from the back of his throat. It looks like a bloated, over-sized pupa. The thing stretches and undulates, squeezing bulges from its tip down to where it's gotten stuck — trying to push itself free. I tap Mr. Montgomery's mouth shut with the hammer.

Dalewood's looking a little green around the gills. He's flattened himself against the far wall, staring at me and the corpse.

"Alright," I tell him. "We need to stitch his mouth shut, quick. Also, you got an incinerator down here?"


After I clean myself up and pay Dalewood for his trouble, I climb the steps back up into the police station and use their phone to call the number Mr. Gallant gave me.

September's voice responds: "Mr. Hartliss. You'll take the case?"

"Ten dollars a day to cover expenses. Three hundred when the job is done. And I'll need a hundred up front, right now."

"Those terms seem rather excessive."

"The case is excessive. You're asking me to take on a lot of risk." I glance around to make sure none of the flat-foots are listening in. "I can track Weiss' new ally for you, but it won't be easy. Whoever they are, they're dangerous."

"You already have a lead?" She sounds surprised. I savor it. September isn't the sort who's easily impressed.

"Yeah. It ain't the Spirit. How much do you and your boss know about Sarkicism?"

The line goes quiet for a while.

"September?"

"You suspect Sarkic involvement."

"I don't 'suspect' a goddamn thing. I know. I've also got a name: Volodya. You recognize it?"

Again, quiet.

"Look, lady, I don't deal with dramatic silence that well. You familiar with the name or not?"

"We are familiar with Iga Volodya's work," she tells me. "I'll have my office forward you our information on her, and wire the money to your account. We'll need daily reports from you — you are to locate her and determine her involvement with Mr. Weiss. Nothing else. Are these terms agreeable?"

"Nothing about this is agreeable, September. But it'll do." I hang up.


Finding out that Weiss' silent partner isn't the Chicago Spirit is a relief. Guys like Capone and Weiss will spill your guts, sure — but a guy like Richard Chapell? He'll putrefy those guts, blend 'em into a milkshake, then make you drink while your family watches.

Not like the Sarkites are much better, though. They're older than dirt and use words like 'quaint' and 'rustic' to describe acts of cannibalism. They've got dynasties spanning back hundreds — if not thousands — of years. Their only saving grace is that they're too old — modernity baffles them. I once watched one struggle for ten minutes to figure out how to answer a goddamn telephone.

After a night of rest, I arrive in the Polish Downtown. Crowded tenement housing looms on either side of the street; the scent of sauerkraut and boiled hot-dogs wafts from a nearby food-cart. A newsboy stands on the corner, trying to pass yesterday's papers as today's news.

I reach into my coat pocket and squeeze my pistol — taking comfort in its weight.

The Gallant Society has been keeping tabs on Iga Volodya since the 1800s. September's file on her reads like a pastiche of half a dozen horror stories. Mothers giving birth to bulbous knots of mandrake root — their unborn children snatched from their very wombs. Babies sown into blood-drenched soil, only to grow into sobbing saplings that bleed when cut. Human heads sprouting from the branches of trees.

Y'know, basic Sarkic stuff.

Volodya was born in Russia, but left with her kids and grand-kids for Poland. Immigration papers describe her as 'a simple turnip farmer'. To everyone else, she's Baba Yaga. September's files hint that she's had a hand in everything from Rasputin's rise to power to the influenza pandemic of 1918. Whoever she is, she's a fully ordained Karcist — the Sarkic equivalent of a Catholic Cardinal.

In other words? I'm to her what a card-sharp is to Harry frigging Houdini.

But even a card-sharp can pull a fast one on a master when the master isn't paying attention.

I slip past the store-fronts and tenement complexes, making my way through the alleyways that weave in and out of the spaces in-between. Closing my eyes, I walk and breathe — counting back from a hundred. The scents and sounds behind me shrink away. Little by little, the world dissolves.

Most people who live here only see one city. A few can see two or three. If you're real clever, you know there's more than can be counted — each stacked on top of another, like an infinitely nested Matryoshka doll.

I hold my breath, peel back Chicago's layers, and open my eyes.

The alleyway is now crooked and wrong. Pink veins snake through the walls to my left and right; they pulse with a hidden heartbeat. In the distance, a heavy, yellow smog obscures the skyline. What was previously a dead tom-cat is now alive and growling, lazily grooming its spilled entrails.

I pull out my .45 and start walking.

Volodya immigrated here from Poland in 1921. She claimed she wanted to spend time with her family. Five bucks says Weiss — a Polish immigrant himself — is part of the family she was referring to.

Finding her won't be hard. I tuck the .45 under my sleeve and follow the veins, tracing them back to their source. They lead me around a corner — past a bakery where all the pastries are stuffed full of glistening viscera — past a man selling toys with blood on his hands.

All the veins stretch out to meet a single building. It's a slouched 3-story tenement in the poorest part of town. As I approach, I can hear the faint beat of a heart. It's getting louder with every step.

I slip in through the back door and up the stairs. The railing is made of cracked, splintered femurs; they are fastened together with wet, slick sinew. On the walls, a symbol is scrawled over and over again — a crooked spiral of yellow. The boards under my feet whimper with pain.

The heart-beat is deafening. I enter the hall; the walls and floors are made of pale, pulsating flesh. Root-like fibers dangle from the ceiling above. The door where all the veins converge is a misshapen, bulbous thing; it's covered in tumors and pustules, each throbbing with the pulse.

I breathe. The world around me shudders and collapses. I am standing in an ordinary hall, in front of an ordinary door. There is no one with me. I reach out and knock on the door.

No answer.

I knock again. "Ma'am? This is Officer Dalewood, with the Chicago PD. I was hoping to ask you a few questions."

Still no answer.

I give the hallway another look-over — still no one around. Then, I take a step back and slam the heel of my boot into the space directly beneath the lock. After three solid kicks, the wood splinters. After the fifth, it snaps and gives.

The door swings open. I step in.

Iga Volodya's eyes meet mine.

She's tied to a bed on the other side of the room, surrounded by a dozen or more sticks of smoldering incense. The space is filled with stacks of glass cylinders framed in brass — each filled with a pale yellow liquid. Segmented worms are suspended in the fluid — the same kind of worm I found in Mr. Montgomery's throat. Numerous medical textbooks litter the floor, with surgical equipment arranged neatly on a nearby tray.

The incense is for the smell, I'm guessing — but it's not nearly enough. Iga Volodya is split open from throat to pelvis, folds of flesh pinned back with needles; her organs throb with every beat of her still-functioning heart. Inside of her, more of the white worms — smaller pupae — wriggle and twist inside of her guts. She stares at me from where she's bound, watching me with those pitch-black eyes.

She's not the one helping Weiss. She's being used — harvested. Someone's kept her locked up here, using her to grow and cultivate these things.

Her cracked lips peel back to expose yellow, broken teeth. She opens her mouth, starting to make a wheezing sound — is she trying to speak? It looks like her tongue's been carved out.

No, she's not trying to speak.

She's laughing.

I see the length of loose tripwire on the floor. I see where it attached to the now broken door. And then I see the grenade bolted to the wall to my right — the grenade that's missing its pin.

As the world explodes around me, I suck in a breath and dive deeper into Chicago than I've ever dived before.


Next: The Long Goodbye

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