THE COLLECTORS UNDERGROUND
(1) Scene 1
Mike W McCoy
<>1<> Room 206.
“Swell, dead again.”
Memories are damn tricky when you’re dead. You can’t always recall names, exact places, times or tastes. But the emotional vibes? Those can slam and shred your humanity with
the lightest touch, like an angel’s wings. ‘Disappointment’, that’s cutting me deep now. More sharp knives are waiting alongside, like ‘Disgust’ and ‘Depression’.
I’m having the same sensations as last time, and almost the same damn view. There’s a slow mocking rhythm of fires in the sky, but the angle is distorted by the escaping bubbles of my
last breath. I’m drowning, and I feel all warm and numb inside this cold-water remix of regret and justifiable anger. The only thing I hear is the wounded muscle inside my chest beating
slower and slower.
At least I didn’t die alone. Some big names are drifting down into the ocean depths beside me. Not that it means much anymore, but somebody might care, and reshuffle the deck before
the next game. Hopefully faster than I did, then maybe my death, and all the wasted flesh, would have value.
These 1st thoughts recall with a hint of institutionalized incompetence. I had next to no patience left on that wet moonless night.
Los Angeles, October 2074. The rain had just started again. Big drops, loud and slow, like free-falling bullets, hit the roof of my old gas guzzler. The nearby 105 freeway was
quiet at 3 a.m. I was already at work, and had been since 9 the day before. As an LAPD homicide special detective, I did 24/7 until someone or something punched my ticket.
Almost funny, that’s exactly what happened.
Officer Perez had called my personal line. “Nothing through the office,” he’d insisted cryptically. “Your eyes only, copy?”
Yeah, I did. Perez had wanted to partner up with me since I’d mistakenly saved his newbie-ass a couple of years ago. He was about to be stuffed into a 55-gallon oil drum. Pure
chance I stumbled across that scene, or was I sent there? Either way, I’m not confessing it to him.
Sitting in my Cadillac, sweating from the oppressive humidity, I was looking at some boxy 22-room two-level motel. The amber glow of the pole-mounted lights cast an eerie strip-club glaze
across the soggy broken asphalt. Me and the parking lot were both hemmed in by a crappy chain-link fence and dead grass.
Several other cars sat in the lot, a matched pair belonged to cops, like me. But not quite like me. Why was I called to direct this scene? The place had a flavor of candy-ass,
cheap, domestic anger. I saw that easy, and I was still sitting behind the wheel. I didn’t want to be there, but Perez had rolled the dice, and the game was on.
The dark black-and-gold-trimmed uniforms, buttoned tight over a layer of new styled flexible body armor, made the street level Bronze look like fat cockroaches. They scurried door to door for
statements, and such, which would most likely to be irrelevant, lost, or forgotten.
The half dozen occupied rooms had witnessed nothing. The sort staying at those no-credit bug traps don’t want to hear anything. Even if they did, they would convince themselves the
something that sounded like gunshots, or screams underscoring a bloody beating, was not what they heard. It was always the same--denial for survival.
With the windows up and the AC on, I still felt a vibe. Not especially a who or a what, but the glow of light cast by the open door of Room 206 pulled into something big. Like
the click of the hammer before the bullet exploded out of the chamber.
Sighing deeply, I climbed out slow, and straightened my gray suit. I leaned against my antique ride, and I searched for a smoke. I got lucky on my 3rd pocket. A damn expensive
habit, but I was on that new set of lungs ‘GeneCo.’ had cloned for me 3 years ago, so I could afford the old ways. At least I thought I could.
Sparking up, I grabbed my shaved .357 snub nose, and dropped it in the old cross-draw holster riding my left hip. Some called it an elevator gun, and that’s Ao for its range and power, but in
my hand, it was a damn deadly piece. I like the final action up close and personal. I want to see my target drop, and Mr. Colt knew my preferences. Besides, my service Ruger .45
was in the trunk. Miss Rebecca was her name, and she was all bitch.
Halfway down the cigarette, I moved off and approached the concrete stairs. The faceless Bronze scampered away, pretending to do something important. I paused at the landing, looked
towards Room 206, inhaled one last time, and went up the steps like a man going to the gallows.
As my hand trailed along the motel’s safety railing, I watched its shadow cut across the outside walkway. The drizzle appeared to make it move with the undulating fashion of a snake, no, a
worm. Death’s shadow was like that too, slow and ugly, crawling where you least wanted it.
Room 206 waited.
Keeping my gaze down, I noticed I wasn’t the only one with the outdated habit. A used smoke was beside the open door, below the sealed-and-barred window. It seemed weird, that half-used
cigarette, and at $50 a pack I thought what a waste. The idea made me wonder more about my fellow club member.
Had he been standing right there where I was, watching the parking lot, waiting on some action inside? Or was it a random accident, a hurried minute interrupted by something or someone?
Maybe it was Mr. Death who dropped it, a territorial marker to keep the action fresh for me, to throw off the smell from inside Room 206.
“Find something?” The question brought me back to the felt. Officer Perez had said it with a sly smile below a thick black mustache trying to add years to his fresh face.
While pocketing the smoke in an evidence bag, I glared at him. The look on my square-jawed mug must have been answer enough. He lost the smile and snapped a salute.
At 5’10”, a decent height for a Mexican, excuse me El Salvadorian, he had a bull neck and bulging arms, mostly machine made, as the crisscross of scars could prove. His LAPD badge had a few
award pins below. I had helped him get started, and it was good to see he had learned to add more by himself. I accepted his grip, strong and dry. Gave back what I got, and added
just a touch more. His brown eyes relented, giving up on the piss and vinegar show.
“Uum, Detective Thorn,” Perez started again with a timid tone. “It’s in here.”
“So, what you got?” keeping my tone neutral. He hesitated behind a cough.
“Desk jockey is a CI of mine. He called me in. Seems a limo, with a thug behind the wheel, blocked the door, keeping him inside the office.” His eyes indicated the vomit smeared
over the short tile foyer. “That’s his.”
Bypassing the mess, I stepped inside and instantly regretted my move. Straight ahead, past the open bathroom door, was the source of the vibe I had felt down in the car. The solitary
bed propped up the scene nice and neat. Murder.
She’d been a ‘10’ once, but now you couldn’t sell her for chum. The well-toned alabaster arms were staged beside the black on blue hair. The long slice started just above the diamond
navel stud, and slid straight up between her tits. It stopped at the line of the deep counter-stroke, which had laid open her neck, nearly severing the head from its shoulders.
Bled out on her back, so said the pillows and cheap cotton sheets, now dyed a wet crimson color. The hair was matted in a twisted man-handled fashion, as if someone had lifted her face for a
last kiss. Both dark brown eyes were half open, and sparkled with a smudged edge, probably from Smile or some other designer dope.
I stared for a moment and tried to suppress another feeling of waste, like the smoke. Her body was nearly naked, clothed only in thin black lace and clear heels. The blue painted
toenails matched her hair, fingers, lips, and eye shadow. The color pulled at my eyes so much I almost missed it, the killer clue.
Tied to her right ankle, with a short length of cheap twine, was a handwritten price tag, 6 figures high. The calligraphy was exacting, yet showed me a feminine flare with bold sure strokes.
“Detective Thorn.” Officer Perez grunted, while stepping to my flank.
He was pointing to the only other piece of furniture in that rat hole. Not exactly at the worn overstuffed high-back arm chair, but to the lifeless body sitting slightly slumped
forward. I had seen it on entering, but had ignored it in favor of the girl.
I could tell, even from a long distance, the tuxedo was expensive. The jeweled tie pin and cuff links glinted upwards of at least 40 karats each. The man inside the dark gold-flecked
material had slightly pudgy cookie dough-like white skin. His manicured fingers were clasping the worn cheap calico fabric in a grip of panic. Stepping closer, I saw the bullet hole was
centered just left of the bridge of his nose, small and unobtrusive, no bigger than a dime, but the exit wound was big, based on the amount of gore, anyways.
I knelt low to more appreciate the still-damp Pollock decorating the wall behind the body. The spray pattern of blood, brains, and pain, fanned out and upwards with only a few splashes of
gore coloring outside the lines, almost like afterthoughts. But the main thrust went up straight and true, a single masterstroke that signed the wall of Room 206.
“Looks self-made to me, sir,” I heard Perez muse. “Strange thing though, very odd,” he continued, forcing me to straighten up and glare in his direction.
“What’s that, Officer Perez?”
“No weapon,” his hands swept the room. “I did the search myself. Nada.”
I fumbled with my pocket for another hit of my habit. “Your informant desk jockey said a limo, right?”
“So he claims.”
“Ao, then that’s the answer.”
I lit up a fresh stick, and turned on him with my best annoyed look. “A murder-suicide gone sideways.” I closed the lighter loudly, and Perez flinched as if it was a gun shot.
“Our deceased here,” I continued, pointing with the cigarette. “He was looking to have some fun with an extra high-priced Barbie Doll. Maybe he gets excited. Maybe he gets
mad. Maybe it’s all just a joke. Either way, he slices her up like a river bass, takes a seat, contemplates his options, and getting nowhere, bang. Game over.”
“I don’t think so, sir,” he replied, growing a spine.
Good, he was thinking for himself. He must really want to be a detective. I prompted him with a breath of smoke. He gave no response, so I persisted. “Yeah, maybe you’re
right. That’s too simple. Sure the boys at the office would like it. Close the book nice and neat, move on to the next case. But we both know that didn’t happen.”
Still no response.
I slowly inhaled another deep drag. “So, what happened?”
Officer Perez finally looked me square, holding the stare until I blinked. Then walking around the small crime scene, he upped his tempo with each new line.
“There was a third person. The real killer. I don’t like the lack of splatter on our Mr. Tuxedo, but we can get the geeks to blood-match the room.”
“Swell, sounds good to me,” I mumbled, squatting to face-level with the seated corpse.
I couldn’t stop myself from reaching out and tilting the dead guy’s head up. The eyes looked tired. The frozen expression, that last moment of his life, appeared as a confused mix of
fear and relief. I had seen that look before, too damn many times.
The room got quieter then, and looking at the after-party got tedious real fast. Ao, it was unusual, and I admit an interesting crime scene, but in my 32 years of experience this little drama
was a rerun. Nothing stood out besides a possible money angle. So what if the dead man’s face looked maybe famous or was it infamous?
Officer Perez was feeling the vibes I was radiating, like a broken toaster always set on burn. So when I stood and turned on him, I really didn’t need to voice the question, but I played my
part and delivered the line, keeping my SAG card and all that. “So why am I here?”
“Sir?” The scripted response.
“W. H. Y.” I spelled it slow with each letter twitching the corner of my eye.
Instead of answering in a squeaky voice, he did something unexpected. Moving quickly, assuredly, and somehow hinting with rehearsed moves, Officer Perez secured the crime scene. The
blinds closed with a swat, and the door with a slam bang. I watched silently, enjoying the theatrics, as he entered the tiny bathroom, and threw back the curtain with a quick violent thrust.
“Thorn, I found something.” I noted the drop of rank, but said nothing, now totally interested in where this was going.
“This was why I called personal. Why I’ve kept this scene off the crime channels at the office. Those guys outside are mine, and they don’t know about this.”
Then with a dramatic salesman’s flourish, Officer Perez displayed a full length leather coat. Looking at the worn garment, I wondered for only a split moment, and nearly smiled. It was
cut straight and tight, high collared, wide-cuffed, and the creases had a sandblasted look. It was big, tailored for someone my size and shoulder width.
“I found this under the bed.” He brought it closer.
I fingered the aged soft black leather, and noted the fresh crimson across the bottom hem.
“Swell work, Perez.” Like him I kept out the rank. “You found a blood-splattered coat. Odds are it belongs to one of them.” I glanced at the sliced and diced ex-beauty
queen. “Hell, officer, I got one just like it.”
His smile was criminal. “You don’t understand, Detective. This is your coat.”
With those few words the tables changed. That simple statement would start a race down a twisted road straight out of the Twilight Zone, and finish up on a puzzle so deceivingly complex
in its simplicity as to be almost perfect.
I should have felt it then. I should have been more careful. I should have walked away from Room 206, gone home and slept for days. But that’s not the man I was. Maybe I
should have been. Then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be dead. Again.
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