Friday, October 1, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 589 - J.F. Juzwik

GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN - J.F. JUZWIK

He knew the woman was dead before she hit the ground. Even though her throat had been deeply slashed, the amount of blood still surprised and sickened him. As he watched her fall, he realized he too was being watched. He turned and ran from the darkened alleyway onto the busy thoroughfare, narrowly avoiding the oncoming traffic. Horns blared, brakes squealed, but he found safe harbor in an unlocked delivery entrance to one of the many downtown food suppliers’ warehouses. He glanced quickly through a crack in the door, and saw he had not been followed. No one would know that it was he in the alley. He took his handkerchief from his shirt pocket, wiped his face and blotted his shirt and pants to remove the blood that had splattered when she was first cut. Perhaps he should just walk home instead of taking the transit; less noticeable that way. He put his handkerchief back in his pocket so he could discard it at home; leaving it here would only bring disaster to his doorstep. They would be on him within the hour because of the DNA. He decided he would wait a few more minutes before he ventured back out on the street. He reached for his wallet to see if he had enough coins for a coffee from one of the sidewalk dispensers, but found his pants pocket was torn and his wallet was nowhere to be found. He frantically turned all his pockets inside out, but knew exactly what had happened. When he had turned to run down the alley, he had run into a pipe sticking out of the wall and got his suit caught up on it. When he had pulled to free himself, the pocket had torn and his wallet had fallen out.  His wallet, with his identi-card inside, that contained his name, address, photo, fingerprints, DNA strip... Now there would be no just walking away.

*

“You need to take this call, Mo, but you might want to take a sip of that lighter fluid you drink first. This one’s a real cutie. Make sure you don’t cover that screen though; you know the fine for one occurrence is more than you make in a year.”

Betts shuddered, and turned around to watch her boss’s face as he accessed the call on his Identifone. The face on the screen was not something to be taken lightly, or at least not without strong drink, so early in the morning.

“Mo Pollniak,” he said quietly, drinking in the horror that was most definitely not going to be his next client. “What is it you need, ma’am?”

He figured the caller probably was a woman, one whose husband had disappeared and she would be trying to hire him to find the poor sap. There is no way, he thought, that I’m going to find that poor jamoke and return him to her. I wouldn’t return a small farm animal to what’s on the other end of that phone line.

“I need you to find my husband,” she began to sob. “I haven’t seen him for a couple of days. I thought he was just out drinking and would come home since he always has in the past. But, now it’s been a couple of days and I have no idea where he is. I just know something terrible has happened to him. I know the government kidnaps people and experiments on them and then takes their body parts. I just know that’s what happened to him. I can’t pay you too much, but maybe we could work something out. Know what I mean?”

When Mo saw her wink, his stomach lurched. He decided he’d better terminate this call soon if he wanted to keep his breakfast down.

“Ma’am, trust me, those are just crazy rumors since all the restructuring. There’s no plots against people and all that crap. I’m sure your husband will be home before long. I’m afraid, though, that I am really booked up at present, and don’t have the time to devote to another case. I’m really sorry, but don’t worry. I’m sure everything will work out just fine. Thanks for calling. Bye now.”

Mo quickly disconnected and looked at Betts, who was shaking her head.

“You know something? Being your secretary slash receptionist slash assistant never has a dull moment. I won’t even ask why you didn’t take her case because I saw her too. Hopefully, the government did kidnap her husband and is experimenting on him. That state would certainly be a step up for him. There wouldn’t have been much of a payment either. Although, she sounded like she might like to work out a trade...”

Mo put his finger to his lips.

“Don’t say that out loud, Betts, ever. As it is, I’m going to have a hard time getting that picture out of my mind. Let’s pack it up for the day. Maybe I can drum up some paying clients tomorrow.”

“You’ve been saying that every day for as long as I’ve known you,” Betts smiled. “But, I guess anything can happen. See you in the morning.”

Betts got her purse and lunch tote from her desk drawer and started toward the door when the man walked in. She looked him over from head to toe and suddenly wished she was twenty-five and single again. No one that good-looking and dressed half that well had ever set foot in Mo’s office before, let alone in this area of the sector. Why did it have to be five o’clock?

“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re getting ready to close for the day,” she began, but Mo waved her off.

“It’s okay, Betts, I can stay. You go on home and I’ll take care of this gentleman.”

Mo gestured for the man to sit in one of the chairs in front of his desk, and held out his hand.

“Mo Pollniak, Investigator, at your service. Now, what is it that I can do for you?”

Mo noticed Mr. Smooth-As-Silk hesitated for a split second before offering his hand. Odd. Not accustomed to being personable. Interesting.

“Mr. Pollniak,” the man began, “my name is Jack Stelling and I am in need of your services. I don’t know if you are aware, but you have quite the reputation for locating runaway people using your instincts alone, where even the most technically-equipped firms have failed. That is why I am here. I need you to locate my younger brother. Let me explain.”

‘Runaway’ people, not ‘missing’. ‘Locate’, not ‘find’. More interesting. He had also called Mo ‘Mr. Pollniak’. Mo told everybody to call him by his first name, but this one? His gut told him to keep some distance there.

The man went on to relate how his younger brother had had a falling out with their father after their mother had died and how he had left for parts unknown. Then, their father had become ill and died too, and the man expressed great concern for his brother’s welfare and safety since it seemed likely he was residing in one of the confinement sectors and living among criminals. He had not been able to find any record of him in any of the public sectors, and didn’t feel he would be able to locate him in such a setting.

‘Locate’ again, not ‘find’. This was bordering on intriguing.

The man handed Mo a photograph of his brother, which looked like it had been copied from something. The young man had little, if any, expression on his face, like an ID shot. He then took out his wallet and placed a handful of 50-dollar bills on Mo’s desk.

“I hope this will cover your basic expenses, Mr. Pollniak. I’ll be keeping in touch with you, and if you should need more, just let me know. I don’t want to upset the rest of my family with this, so I’ll contact you. Do you think you would be in a position to assist me?”

Mo envisioned actually being able to pay Betts some of the salary he owed her and maybe get a new desk chair. There was also what his gut was telling him. There was something really sour about this fella, and Mo was determined to find out just what kind of a game he was playing.

“Certainly, Mr. Stelling, was it? Let me see what I can do for you. Why don’t you give me a call in a couple of days?”

After Mo had settled in for the night, he thought about the meeting he had had with the man who called himself Jack Stelling, and the cash advance he had provided. Mo’s clients never paid in advance; fact was, most of them never paid what they owed him because they couldn’t. The man obviously had money, so why not hire one of the more prestigious investigators with all the high-tech gadgets that Mo wanted no part of? If the damn Identifone wasn't required by law, he wouldn’t even own one of those. He didn’t care so much about being seen, but dealing with some of his potential female clients literally face-to-face at times was a burden in itself. But what exactly was Mr. Slick really after? And where in the hell did he get his shoes? Dad had always said that you could tell about a man by the look of his shoes, and the old man was never wrong about anything. And looking at Mr. Suave’s shoes made Mo shudder.

His father had started the business. Mo remembered his dad as someone who could find anyone, regardless of how hard they tried to disappear. He also had the wisdom to make the decision as to whether he should tell his client he had found their loved one. Sometimes people were better off gone, he used to say, best to let them just stay that way. Damn, how he missed that old man, but better he left this world before it had gone straight to Hell. Things had been bad enough with the petty biases, the rampant crime and the senseless wars. And now? The world was divided into quadrants, each quadrant divided into sectors, everyone carrying around their DNA profiles to protect them--but, from what, he wondered.

All police officers had been reclassified as federal enforcers, prisons had been eliminated and certain sectors had been designated for specific levels of criminals. Those who had committed relatively minor crimes could move freely from a minimum security sector to open sectors during specified daylight hours. If found to violate their curfew, however, they would be transferred to a medium security sector, where the restrictions, as well as the environment, were considerably harsher. The only sentence beyond medium security was death. Mo remembered how prisoners would linger 10, 15, and even 20 years alone in a death row cell before being put out of the state’s misery.

While Mo had never agreed with the age-old practice of wasting the government’s money keeping garbage alive, he had to seriously question the current disposition of those convicted of qualifying crimes. Within 30 days of conviction, the order for execution was carried out. Neat, sweet and incredibly humane--lethal injection having remained the preferred method all these years. He viewed the extra 30 days given the prisoner as a twisted joke. They were supposed to use that time to set their affairs in order, visit with family and/or friends, etc. Trouble was, most of them had no family or friends; at least, none that wanted anything further to do with them. And what kind of ‘affairs’ did a multiple murderer or serial rapist have to set in order anyway? Semi-banishment and a no-appeal death sentence hadn’t made a dent in the crime situation any more than the old ways of life imprisonment and work release programs. Mo figured the world had always been a crazy place, and it sure wasn’t getting any saner with each new day.

Betts went ballistic when Mo handed her the cash from last night’s client. She let him know right away that she was taking some of that money. Betts had worked for his father and stayed on after he died. She got paid when there was something to pay her with, which wasn’t often, but she was a gem and a half, and Mo adored her. He told her to keep it all if she needed it, but just put enough aside to buy him a new desk chair. That’s all he needed. She just laughed, but put all the money in her bag except for one bill. She told Mo she’d order him a new chair today. Life was good.

Mo decided to start his search for the young man with Estelle. Estelle had been sentenced to the minimum security sector at least 47 times in the past couple of years, and she was truly a delight and a veritable fountain of information. If there was anyone that seemed in the least bit out of place, Estelle knew them and knew where to find them. He found her having coffee at one of the food distribution centers. When he showed her the photo, she told Mo the young man looked familiar, like she had seen him once or twice, but she couldn’t recall where or under what circumstances. He had seen the flicker of recognition in her eyes, but let it slide. She would give him whatever information he needed when the time was right, of that he was certain. Estelle told him she would let him know if she saw the young man again. He was sure he wouldn't have to wait long--for the young man’s sake, he hoped not. Something just wasn’t right in all this.

Mo knew connecting with Estelle had been the right thing to do. It didn’t take more than a couple of days before he found an envelope that had been shoved under his office door. It contained the photograph he had left with her and a note that said the man’s name was Daniel Stelling. Estelle wrote Daniel was afraid, but that she had told him Mo could be trusted to help him. She convinced him to meet with Mo in three days at midnight in the warehouse closest to the western dock in her sector. Mo expected the one who called himself Jack Stelling to be following up with him soon, and decided he’d speak with Daniel first to see just how badly he wanted to be ‘located’. He also wanted to find out what it was that scared him, but his gut was telling him he already knew.

As expected, Mr. Concerned Big Brother strolled in the next afternoon to get an update. Mo told him he was following a couple of leads and might have something for him in a few days. He asked him to call in four to five days and he might have something for him. The man left without a word. Mo noticed, different shoes. Different, but he still shuddered. He thought about how he was going to approach Daniel, but decided he’d take an old friend for coffee and a little conversation first. Yes. He would definitely need to do that first.

While on his way, he decided to swing by the minimum security sector and slip Estelle a few bucks. She could always get a few extra rations or maybe some warm blankets. The nights were getting colder and she wasn’t getting any younger. When he arrived at the food distribution center where she received her dinner rations, she was nowhere to be found. That wasn’t like her at all. If there’s one thing you could count on like the sun rising every morning, it was Estelle trying to negotiate an extra portion of whatever they were handing out. He saw a couple of men standing off to the side, and one of them was holding a bag that looked remarkably like hers.

“Excuse me, gentlemen, but I noticed your bag. A dear friend of mine, a lady by the name of Estelle, had one just like that. Would either one of you, by any chance, know where I might be able to find her?” Mo watched them both go very pale and dreaded their answer. One of them spoke very softly.

“Someone killed her, sir,” he said. “Someone killed her. Cut her throat and left her in the street to die.” He turned away, and the other man with the bag followed him.

Mo knew what he had to do. Need to meet with my old friend, he thought, and I need to do it right now.

*

It was close to midnight when he arrived at the warehouse. He expected the area to be deserted at that hour, but that did nothing to erase his feelings of dread. This was, after all, a minimum security sector with non-violent offenders, but the warehouse area by the dock was close to the line that crossed into the public sector, so anyone could go back and forth unnoticed. He found an unlocked door and went in.

“Daniel?” he called. “It’s me, Mo Pollniak. Estelle’s friend. She said you were willing to meet with me? I mean you no harm, Daniel. I only want to help you if you’ll give me the chance. Daniel?”

Mo felt a hand on his shoulder and turned around so fast he made himself dizzy. He grabbed at the figure in front of him and was ready to take a swing when the figure spoke.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Pollniak, I’m sorry if I startled you. I’m Daniel. I’m not armed or anything. Are you okay?”

Mo took a deep breath. This kid really needed lessons on how to greet visitors.

“Yes, Daniel, I’m fine. Is there somewhere we could sit down and talk? Something very peculiar has been going on and I believe you are a part of it. Estelle led me to believe you were in the middle of some trouble, so maybe I can help you if you tell me about it. Alright?”

Daniel immediately felt at ease with Mo. Estelle had told him he could trust this man and he had trusted her. They sat down on a couple of benches near the entrance and Daniel told Mo how he had just finished work and decided to take a shortcut through the alley. He had heard yelling, and when he saw a man and a woman arguing, he had stepped back into the shadows, figuring he’d wait until they left and then continue on his way. But, they didn’t stop. The man hit her, she was crying, and he was calling her a slut and saying since he was a Grade IV Enforcer, no one would believe anything she said against him.

Then she threatened to go to his superiors and talk about something Daniel couldn’t make out, and that's when the man pulled the knife. He started slashing at her hands and face, she started gasping, and then he grabbed her by the hair and ran the knife across her throat. Daniel said he knew he had to get out of there before the man saw him, but as he turned to run to the street, he bumped into something sharp and the man heard and saw him, so he just ran.

He thought he would be okay, but later found his pocket had torn when he bumped into the pipe and his wallet had fallen out there in the alleyway, so the killer knew exactly who he was and where he lived. He said he left his home and all his belongings and had been hiding in the minimum security sector trying to figure out what to do, when he met Estelle. Daniel said she had offered him assistance, and set up the meeting with Mo. Daniel asked if there was something Mo could do to help. Mo was planning to tell the kid he’d accompany him to the Supervising Inspector’s office to tell his side when suddenly all the lights in the warehouse came on. The kid jumped to his feet and immediately got behind Mo, who stood and turned toward the door. Thanks for keeping me front and center, kid, he thought, but I have the feeling I’m not the star attraction this evening.

Mo didn’t like the look of the weapon being pointed at him. He had never actually seen one up close and personal before, but he had read an article about them in one of the government’s bulletin updates. One of those damn new gadgets again; this time, one the Feds were issuing to all their street goons. Mo remembered the accompanying disk containing the cutscene showing the gun being test fired. Fucker’ll take your head off at the knees, he thought. This is not good, not good at all.

“Well, well, well, if it isn't Mr. Pollniak and my missing ‘little brother.’ So you found him after all, I see. Pleased to meet you. My name is Matt Hannow, Government Enforcer Grade IV. How have you been, Daniel? Witnessed any murders lately? I suppose he’s told you everything, Mr. Pollniak. Wait a minute. ‘Maurice,’ isn’t it?”

Mo winced. His mother was the only one on the planet he’d ever permitted to call him by his formal name.

“You’re lucky you have that gun, boyo. It’s Mr. Pollniak to garbage like you.”

“Now, now, there’s no need to be so rude right before you die, is there?”

Mo didn’t care much for where this conversation was going.

“How do you figure to get away with killing us both? I don’t know about this poor kid, but anything happens to me, my secretary will hunt you down like a dog.”

Mo hoped he would piss the guy off enough to keep him talking.

“Why did you kill Estelle? What did that lady ever do to you? The worst thing she’d ever done was shoplift a bit of food and some clothes here and there. And that girl in the alleyway. Why’d you slash her up all to hell? Big strong enforcer like you could’ve taken her in all by yourself.”

“Shut your fucking mouth." He aimed the gun directly at Mo’s face. “Estelle? Your snitch? That piece of crap saw me going into your office and asked me why I was bothering you. She said she knew I was an enforcer, but not in my uniform. What was I trying to pull with a good friend of hers? She was going to tell you who and what I was. Now, I couldn’t have that, could I? You’ll be glad to know she suffered. I made sure of that.

“And the whore in the alley? No great national security breach issue there. She was my twice a week good time until she decided she was going to be my seven day a week good time. There’s no way I was going to let some slut fuck up my marriage or my career. She got what she deserved and now, there’s going to be a terrible mishap. We’re all going to take a walk across the line to the public sector by one of the warehouses there. Then, our star witness here, who I have been trying to find because he’s the alleyway killer--he dropped his ID at the scene--finds Mr. Pollniak here snooping around and shoots him. I happen upon the scene and, in defense of my own life, shoot and kill Mr. Stelling. Thus, a murderer is put down, and I receive a commendation.

“Any questions? No? Good. Now, let’s all just step outside and we’ll cross to the public sector down the street a bit and get this over with. I’m late for an appointment with a medal.”

He motioned with the gun for them to leave the building. Daniel made his way to the door and Mo followed. As they stepped out into the crisp night air, they were suddenly hit with a wall of white light. Mo thought the voice on the speaker was deafeningly loud and most comforting.

“Matt,” the voice said, “put your weapon down and step away from the doorway. Do it now, Matt. Don’t make us put you down.”

Mo grabbed Daniel by the shoulders and pushed him into the flood of lights.

“It’s okay, kid,” he said, “it’s gonna be okay now.”

Matt lowered the gun and shielded his eyes.

“Ron, is that you? Thank God you’re here. I don’t know what brought you here, but I caught the bastard that killed that woman the other night and I was bringing him in. This investigator is a friend of his and was trying to help him get way when I found them.”

“Matt,” Ron said quietly, “there’s no need to keep this up. We heard everything loud and clear. Mr. Pollniak was wearing a transmitter and we have the receiver/recorder out here. The gentleman over here is a reporter for the Daily Bulletin’s Crime Forum, and he came to us with an interesting story. He said one of our own was a murderer and if we wanted proof, all we had to do was to show up and wait. How could you, Matt, with all your years of service on the force? How could you?”

Ron walked up to Matt and took the gun from his hands. Matt looked to Mo like he was going to go into shock.

“What is going on? I’ve been set up? Pollniak, you fucking moron. You’ve got a transmitter/receiver pack? You were wired? That’s the only reason I hired you to begin with, you loser. You don’t use any of the available resources, so you’re basically under the radar. Of all the fucking times to decide to get technical. How did you know anyway? I got to that bitch of a sell-out before she had a chance to tell you anything.”

“Your shoes, my man,” Mo smiled. “It was your shoes.”

“What the fuck? My sh...”

One of the lieutenants shoved Matt Hannow into a lockup van. Mo wondered if he would ever figure out the thing with his shoes. Well, he would have at least 30 days to try, wouldn't he?

He found his reporter friend buying coffee from one of the sidewalk dispensers.

“So, Toody, my friend, what do you say you come over to my office in the morning and help me explain to Betts that this gadget you got for me is going to set me back three months worth of her salary.”

Toody shook his head.

“Are you nuts? I'm sticking with the easy gigs--setting up multiple murderers. Where Betts is concerned, you’re on your own.”

Mo had to laugh. Life was good.

BIO: J. F. Juzwik has had a crime fiction novel, a horror short, and several crime shorts published. She is a member of several writers’ networks and maintains a blog for both writers and readers at J.F. Juzwik’s Blog. Information on all her projects can be found on her website at J.F. Juzwik - Author.

6 comments:

ajhayes2 said...

Old time radio right there in your eyes. The FatMan, Philip Marlow PI and The Shadow crackling through the midnight airwaves. Me snuggled up under the covers listening and letting the words take me away. Thanks Joyce. Great story telling.

Richard Godwin said...

This grabs you from the word go. It's tightly told and has great atmosphere and that classic Joyce ending.

Joyce said...

Thanks so much, AJ. So glad the mood came through. Perhaps the future, perhaps yesterday... Could have occurred whenever. People are, after all, people, and they don't change. Glad it took you, and glad you let it. That's what a story should do. Thanks again.

Joyce said...

Richard, Thanks so much for taking time to read and especially, to comment. I wanted to create an atmosphere that would apply to any time. I had a lot of fun with that ending. So glad you enjoyed it.

Paul D. Brazill said...

I thought I'd commented on this already! Classy and rich with atmosphere.Great ending,too.

Joyce said...

Thanks much, Paul. Glad you enjoyed it and I really enjoy writing these characters. There's a couple of novels around them planned down the road--different time period though. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.