THE COLLECTORS UNDERGROUND
Mike W McCoy
<>1<> Room 206.
“Swell, dead again.”
Memory is appallingly tricky when dead. You can’t always recall names, exact places, time or tastes. But the emotional vibes? They can slam and shred your humanity with the
lightest touch of an angel’s wings. ‘Disappointment’, that’s the big one now. ‘Disgust’ and ‘Depression’ are sharp knives alongside.
I have the same sensation as last time and almost the same damn view; a slow mocking rhythm of fire wheels in the sky, but it’s distorted by the escaping bubbles of my drowning last breath.
Feeling all warm and fuzzy, the wounded heart inside my chest beat its final melody, with cold water remixes of regret and justifiable anger.
At least this time 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 solve this puzzle a
little faster than I did. Maybe that would make this death worth all the wasted flesh.
This first memory replays with an institutional incompetence that ate away what little patience I had left on that moonless night.
Los Angeles, October 2075. The rain had just started again. Big drops fell on the roof of my old gas guzzler; they hit loud and slow, like free falling bullets. The
nearby freeway was quiet at 3 a.m. Not that it would last, being Tuesday morning after all. I was already at work, had been since 9 a.m. the day before. And as a working L.A.
homicide special detective, its 24/7 until someone or something drew my ticket.
Almost funny, that’s exactly what happened.
Officer Perez had called on my personal line. Nothing through the office, he insisted cryptically. He always wanted to partner up since I mistakenly saved his rookie ass from being
stuffed into a 55-gallon oil drum one body part at a time. Pure chance I stumbled across that scene. Or was it? Either way I’m not telling him.
There I was, sweating in 88 degree heat at some small 22-room split two-level motel alongside the 105. The orange glow of pole mounted lights cast an eerie strip-club glaze across the soggy
broken asphalt hemmed in by a crappy chain-link fence. It was a small turnout for a homicide scene. Several other cars sat in the lot, 2 of them belonged to cops, like me. But not
like me. That made me mad at first. Why was I needed to call this? This had a feel of candy-ass cheap domestic anger and futility. I didn’t want to be there, but the dice
had rolled, and the game was on.
Dark black and gold LAPD uniforms, buttoned tight under a layer of new styled flexible body armor, made the street level bronze look like cockroaches. Going door to door they got statements
that would later only be read in retrospect. The half dozen occupied rooms had heard nothing. The sort staying at these no-credit flyspecks don’t want to hear anything. And even
if they did, they would convince themselves the something that sounded like gunshots, or screams underscoring a bloody beating, were nothing like that. It was always the same--denial for
With the windows up and the AC on, my instincts still felt it? Not especially a who or a what, but the glow of light cast by the open door of Room 206 led to something big. Like the
click of the hammer before the bullet exploded out of the chamber.
Sighing deep, I moved out slow against my antique ride and searched for a smoke. A damn expensive habit, but I was on that new set of lungs ‘C-company’ cloned 2 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 an old cross draw holster riding my left hip. Some called it an elevator gun, and that’s swell for its range and power, but in
my hand, it was a damn deadly piece. I like the action up close and personal. I want to see the lights dim off, 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 outside concrete stairs. The faceless bronze cops scurried away, pretending to do something important. I paused at the landing,
looked towards Room 206, inhaled one last time, then went up the steps like a man going to the gallows.
A shadow of the motel safety railing cut across the outside cracked walkway of the second story. The drizzle appeared to make it move with the undulating fashion of a snake, no a worm.
Death’s shadow was like that, low and ugly, crawling where you least want it.
Room 206 waited.
The open door dropped a half crescent of sickly light on the wet landing. Keeping my gaze down, I noticed I wasn’t the only one with the outdated habit. The first clue, a used smoke lay
beside the open door, below the sealed and a barred window. Weird thing that half-used cigarette, 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 scent from inside
“Find something?” The question brought me on track. The squeaky voice belonged to Officer Perez. He said it with a sly smile below a thick black mustache trying to add years to
his fresh face.
Pocketing the mysterious puzzle piece, I glared over at Perez. 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 it. I had helped him on the first. Good to see he learned something.
“Uum, Detective Thorn,” he started again with a timid tone behind his outstretched hand. “It’s in here.”
I accepted the 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.
“So what you got?” keeping my tone neutral. He hesitated behind a cough.
“The desk jockey called it in. A limo did a pit stop, blocking the door, keeping him inside.” His eyes indicated the vomit smeared over the short tile foyer. “That’s his.”
Ignoring the mess, I stepped inside and instantly regretted my move. Straight ahead, past the open bathroom door, was the source of the smell I had felt down in the car. The solitary
bed propped the scene nice and neat, murder.
She had been a ‘10’ once, but now you couldn’t sell her for chum. Strong muscled alabaster arms were staged seductive below long black on blue hair. The first slice started just above
the diamond navel stud, slid straight up between her tits, and only stopped at the line of the deep counter stroke, which had laid open her neck, nearly severing the head from shoulders.
Bled out on her back, no doubts, so said the pillows and cheap cotton sheets now dyed a wet crimson color. Her hair was matted in a twisted man-handled fashion, as if someone had lifted her
face for a last kiss. Dark brown eyes where half open and sparkled with a smudged edge, probably from Smile, or some other designer dope.
Stepping gingerly closer, I pulled the sheet covering the legs. Her body was nearly naked, clothed only in black lace and clear heels, both of which were still in place. The blue
painted toes matched her fingers, lips, and eye shadow, and they pulled at my eyes so much I almost missed it.
Tied to her right ankle, with a short length of cheap twine, was a handwritten price tag. Six figures high, all zeros, except the first, which was close as you can get. The calligraphy
was exacting yet showed me a feminine flare with bold sure strokes.
“Detective Thorn.” It was the timid voice again, standing on 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 the dead body sitting slightly slumped forward.
I could tell, even from a 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 skin like cookie dough. His manicured fingers were clasping the worn cheap calico fabric in a grip of panic. A 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 enough to put my fist through.
I knelt 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,” the new player continued on, forcing me to straighten up and glare in his direction.
“What’s that, Officer Perez?”
“No weapons,” his hands swept the room. “I did the search myself. Nada.”
Fumbling with my pocket for another hit of my habit. “The motel’s 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. He flinched as if it was a gun shot.
“Our Mr. Tuxedo here 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 game. Either way, he
slices her up like a River Bass. Takes a seat, contemplates his options. Getting nowhere, Bang! Game over.”
“I don’t think so, sir,” he added, growing a spine in mid-sentence.
Good, he was thinking for himself. He really wanted to be a detective. I prompted him with a breath of smoke. He gave no response, so I continued.
“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
Still no response. I slowly inhaled another deep drag. “So, what did happen?”
Officer Perez finally looked me square, holding the stare until I broke. Then walking around the small crime scene, he started softly upping his tempo with each new line.
“There was a third person. The real killer. I don’t like the lack of splatter on Mr. Tuxedo, but we can get the geeks to blood-match the room.”
“Swell, sounds good to me,” I mumbled, bending down to face level with the comfortable corpse.
I remember I couldn’t stop myself from reaching out and tilting the dead guy’s head up. The eyes looked tired, but the frozen expression, that last moment of his life, appeared as a confused
mix of fear and relief. I had seen that look before. Hell, I think I just died with the same stupid grin on my own mug.
The room got quiet then, and now looking at Mr. Tuxedo’s after-party got boring real fast. Ao, it was unusual, and I admit an interesting crime scene, but in my experience this little drama
was a rerun. Nothing stood out beside the obvious money angle. So what if the dead 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 again. 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 corners of my eyes. Instead of answering with his 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 shirk sound that a blade makes when pulled from a
scabbard. He walked carefully across the vomit smeared foyer, closing the door with a shotgun bang. I watched silently, enjoying the theatrics as he entered the tiny bathroom, and threw
back the curtain with a quick violent thrust, sounding like the burn of a tire over a gravel drive.
“Thorn, I did find something.” I noted the drop of rank, but said nothing, now totally interested in where this was going.
“This was why I called you 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. I wondered for only a split moment, looking at the well-worn garment, 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 blood painted 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 back 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.”
And with those few words the game changed. That simple statement would race down a twisted road straight out of the Twilight Zone, and finish up on a puzzle so complex in its simplicity as to
be almost perfect.
I should have felt it then. I should have been more careful. I should have forgot about the whole damn business and walked right out of 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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