Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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Dead Men Tell Too Many Tales

by Daniel Kamin




I hate jewelry. Could never understand why someone would want to draw attention to themselves. Might as well be saying, “Hey, look at me, come steal this crap from me, come kill me, come kidnap me.” At least it made my job easier this time.

I was walking down Randolph street, past Daley Plaza and the Federal Magic Registry building when my cell phone buzzed. I’d like to chuck that thing into the river. The only good calls I get are people asking if I would like a home security system installed, and for free, if you can imagine that.

“Jim here,” I said, pressing the phone between my ear and shoulder.

The voice on the other end came with growls, came in so low and hard I looked to the L tracks and thought a train might be passing by. “Have another case for ya.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything else. The more the merrier, I always say.”

“There’s nothing merry about this.”

I sighed and scratched my head. Werebears were not known for taking the night off and heading to comedy clubs. “Not what I meant Rashar. What’s it this time?”

“A missing person of the night.”

Pulling off to the side and standing under a building’s entrance, I pulled out a paper and scribbled down some notes. A zombie, not the PC name if you want to know, went missing. Probably just stumbled off looking for a good meat stand and forgot what he was doing, also far from PC.

“Alright, go on.”

“His name is Mark Jalmerson. He has a wife and two kids. She last saw him yesterday morning before he went to work. Never came home.”

Sounded like a boring case. I scribbled the notes, the bracelet on my wrist jingling as I wrote. But a case was a case, one step closer. “Where does he work?”

“A Bank of America. He’s a manager there.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes.”

I sighed and stuck my notepad away. “Alright then, I’ll get on it.” As I hung up, my bracelet vibrated and glowed a dark red. Rune markings appeared in the silver, humming and spinning. A heat, like a hand warmer strapped to every inch of me, wrapped around me. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, waited for the bracelet to fade, and made a note to ask Rashar if they could magic up the damn thing to make it be cold in the summer.

I turned and hiked back down Randolph. Next to the Federal Magic Registry, the old Raindancers Temple shimmered like a hologram placed over the plain, brick building. It was still hard to get used to, even after five years of this life. A werewolf passed by, long, fur-covered snout sniffing at a sandwich, and behind him a regular guy walked without a care in the world. I hated that guy. Not that I knew him personally. I just hated he had a normal life, sans magic and every supernatural entity in the book. I hated more that I could never go back to that life, no matter how much I wanted it.

The Bank of America was like every other Bank of America around, and I hated it just for that alone. You never notice the smell of these things until you are inside them. I swear, I think they just rub the money on the slick carpets all night just to hang it over your head how much they have and you don’t.

I came up to one of the tellers, a nice girl in a pink shirt and shiny nametag. She almost seemed proud of it, glancing down every so often at her name. Must have been new, but I still took note of it. No one is happy working a customer-end job. God, let me tell you.

She had a nice smile, the kind that could shine up like a flashlight in the eye and blink away before you could get your bearings straight. Those are the dangerous types. Too practiced. Too methodical. No one smiles like that without staring in the mirror a few hours a day.

“How may I help you today?”

“Withdraw.” I pulled up the picture on my phone and pressed it against the glass. “Some information.”

“Oh.” Her face pulled into a frozen stare trying to be confused. Trying the key word here. She hadn’t practiced that one as much as she should.

“I’ll take it you know Mark Jalmerson.” I reached in my pocket and pulled out a badge. It said Chicago PD, and that was true, in the weakest sense of truth. “Just need to ask a few questions. You happen to see him yesterday?”

“Well, sure, he’s the manager.”

“And I’m a PD. Now that we have that out of the way, when was the last time you saw him?”

She began to fluster: a twitch of the lip, a quick flip of a strand of hair dangling just over her ear, a few rapid-fire blinks. I couldn’t help but smile. Maybe I was the one who needed to stand in the mirror and practice some more.

“I–uh–gosh, had to be before lunch?”

“And not after?”

Her eyes darted around and then stopped. “No. Yeah, that’s right. It was kinda weird. He always shows up all the time, but he never came back after lunch.”

“Anything else he mentioned?”

She burst out laughing and had to cover her mouth when a man a few windows down stopped from scribbling on his withdrawal slip and stared our way. There have been a lot of times where I’ve met people who are less than honest. Scumbags is the nice way of putting it. Their laughs are wretched things; sometimes, I would hear them and think a seal was being strangled to death. I’ve always thought that’s what happens when you mix bad and joy, but, I suppose that’s a whole nother topic. Needless to say, this girl was pure…maybe a little on the slow side…but a good gal all the same.

“When doesn’t he talk?” She suppressed another laugh. “Mark’s a great guy and all, but sometimes.” She rolled her fingers around, and her eyes soon followed.

Course, a talker. That seemed to be the only kind that got themselves in trouble. I sighed. “Alright then, what did he say yesterday? And skip the parts about what he ate for breakfast and what time he shat.”

“Oh, well—” She laid her hands flat on the counter as if to brace herself from falling. Took a little longer than I thought. The police come, they snoop around, and you have a shot of adrenaline, a boom, let’s go and do this. Then it fades. Then there is the realization that the police are actually there. She pulled out a breath that scraped the glass. “Ok, he, like, said he was having lunch with someone. A–a friend. No, that’s not right. A business associate!” She slapped the counter. “Right, and I was all thinking ‘Is he getting another job’ but then he was talking about a bet he made.”

I held up my hand, and her rambling trailed into a stuttering stop. “A bet? What bet exactly?”

“Oh, well, he’s a gambler.”

God damnit. I started to wonder how many pieces he had been chopped up into. At least they could stich most of ‘em back together and he could still get around. I leaned forward. “Now, this is the kinda information you start with. And you happen to know where they were having their little luncheon?”

“Just the Chipotle down the street I think.”

Nothing said heads rolling like a burrito thicker than your hand.

She whispered, “Is he gonna be ok?”

“Probably nothing to worry about. I’m sure he’ll just shuffle through this all no problem.”

She wanted to say more, but I had already turned and worked my way past a line of disgruntled customers. I glanced back at the counters. Two tellers sat in the back, talking and pretending to fuddle over some important papers. Typical couldn’t even begin to describe it.


*****



The Chipotle yielded a sloppy burrito and not much else. I asked around, prodded some workers and found my way to the back. I regretted eating the burrito before getting to work.

One thing, besides the overflowing garbage can with the subtlest of movements, stuck out: everyone who worked there was real quiet. Either that or dumb. As I prodded around a shelf, knowing I wouldn’t find much but damned curious if I would find a few roaches, I turned. The workers slow-hurried their way through the midday slump. Brushing up the trays. Cleaning the counter. Sweeping around the front. Alright, so they could have been a real useful crew. Go-getters or what not.

But I was in Chipotle.

I tucked my pen and notepad back in my pocket and slipped to the front, behind the swinging door and just out of sight. If one of ‘em came in, I’d have a broken nose at best, but I had a feeling they wouldn’t be.

It was just the sweep of a broom or the chatter of the few customers by the window. If only the woman in the yoga pants would shut up about her kid. Could barely think let alone sniff around with her blabbing away.

A wet rag slapped down on the counter, then some shuffling, then muffled voices. Hands over mouths by the sounds of it, and I doubted this was an attempt at stamping out another e-coli outbreak.

“I–na–if–ri–he–ca—”

A hush came, enough to stop Ms. Yoga Pants. Blessings always come with curses.

I snuck out and went further in the back, found a nice spot near the back door with a puddle of…God only knows. It smelled somewhere between old sour cream and piss, and it very well could have been a mixture of the two. Glancing down at my wrist, I jingled the bracelet and grimaced. Damned jewelry and the things you had to do to get rid of it.

With a yelp, I stepped in the puddle, threw my hands in the air, and fell hard on the concrete. My shoulder flared, and my side wound up in a snake coiling pain. Any second it would bite. I screamed some more for good measure, the pain helping make it real. The snakes finally bit and I balled up and hugged my sides.

One of the workers, a young man with strangely hair and a face long, dashed out and hovered above me like some clown vulture. Either help or run. Course, this one had picked statue mode. I tried to push up and fell down, good acting on my part…that’s what I would say if my head hadn’t done a few cartwheels and spun kicked me to the floor.

“You…you ok?”

“Wonderful.” I groaned and finally found my feet without so much as a hand. The smell filled me, could’ve been a bottle of Fragrance for Hobos. I straightened out my jacket, avoiding the wet parts. “Real tight shift you guys keep here.”

“Sorry, sir, really, we try but sometimes the bags leak.”

“Ya don’t say?”

“It was Keith’s job to clean up back here but he said he would after you left, and—”

I held up a hand. “Lucky for you, I’m not the suing type.” I moved my head to the side and gripped it in and groaned. “Or, maybe I am. You hear that?”

He glanced around. “Hear what?”

“Those chains jingling. See, that’s my lawyer getting off his leash. Real bastard that one is. I heard once he looked at Google and they tossed money his way.”

“Uhh, well, I mean, corporate could—”

“Corporate will push all the fault down to you. Who should have been cleaning up back here when an innocent ole detective was just trying to do his job.”

“They gotta have insurance or something.”

“Believe me, kid, they have this much loyalty to you.” I made a zero with my thumb and finger. “They will toss you to the hounds before blinking twice. I hope you have wonderful insurance and an even better lawyer.”

His face ashened; there was my white flag. I held back the grin, watching as he shifted from side to side, going to some boxes and opening and closing the lids, over and over, as if maybe the next time he opened it, all the answers would be right there waiting.

“I’ve always wanted an early retirement.” I lifted my hands with a shrug, and my bracelet jingled. My eyes dripped closed for a moment, and God how those words raked me apart. “Sun-soaked beaches,” my voice shivered, though just a little. I doubted he would notice in his crazed open-and-close-box state. “A pinna colada in my hand. I always like the sweet drinks. Not manly, I know, but hell are they good.”

“Ca–can–can’t we like work this out?”

I rubbed my side. A director would be yelling at me to cut, that I was hamming this up too much. But I was gonna make this one Christmas dinner to remember, ham times ten. “Jeez, kid, I don’t know. I was working a case, looking for some guy named Mark who came in here yesterday for lunch, probably with someone, but, hey, they’ll give that case to someone else. Hawaii sounds nice. Or Tahiti.”

“Look, dude, anything.” His eyes sharpened, and he gave nods, his throat gulping down the wads of saliva that must have been filling his mouth. “I mean it. Anything.” He took a step forward and reached for his belt. This was definitely not the direction I was going. Maybe the ham had piled too high.

I held my hands. “Easy. Hold on. Alright, I’ll make you a deal.”

He nodded.

“Just tell me a little about this guy that came in yesterday, and I’ll think it over. Deal?”

“Yeah, sure, yeah, whatever. That’s great!” His smiled beamed out, more relief than a soldier who had just run through no man’s land and lived to talk about it.

“Alright then, you remember this man?” I pulled my phone and showed the picture.

“Yeah he was with…ummm… a guy.”

“Uh huh.” I pulled my phone back and moved my fingers along the glass. “Oh no, my fingers are slipping. Uh oh! It’s my lawyer’s number. Oh boy, here we go dialing—”

“No! Wait!” His head jerked around and then back to me. The nerves were like a straight jacket. He bit his lip and whispered, “Look, we aren’t supposed to talk about this.”

“And people aren’t supposed to slip on rat piss. The world is full of aren’ts.”

He leaned in closer, the bean-baked breath a blow. “Ok, just, don’t tell anyone I told you, ok?”

“Scout’s honor.”

“So, we have a guy that comes in—”

“Name.”

“Dre’sean. He’s tall, like, a few inches more than me, and bald and has darker skin, but not like black or anything.” Definitely not PC, but I was far from the first who would jump on him for it.

“Middle Eastern then?”

“I guess?”

“Lot of hair?”

He thought about it before nodding. “Bunch, actually.”

Werewolf. The pieces were starting to come together. Werewolves were generally good guys, and gals, except for the Black Moons. Real rough group. Like to run gambling rings for the underworld folks. They also were not known for their leniency.

“And anything else? Like where they might be headed after lunch?”

“I don’t know man. They were quiet, and we aren’t supposed to listen in.”

“Let’s hope you did.”

He shrugged. “They might have talked about heading down by the river, ya know, the walkways down there with the restaurants?”

“A romantic stroll by the river.” The Black Moons had to be running something out of there. I nodded. “And he takes all his dates there.”

“From what I hear.”

I nodded and patted the kid’s shoulder. “Alright kid, I’m feeling better. But clean this shit up.”


*****



It was hotter by the river; I’m really not sure how that is possible, but stranger things have happened…well, they do. Most people just don’t see them.

I was sitting on a long outcropping of steps too big to step up but just perfect for lounging and eating lunch. It was too bad I already ate. Boats passed, the sightseers on top gawking at the buildings. A merman rested near the river, tail splashing in the water. Just another quiet day. Peaceful almost.

A zombie couple, not PC, I know, strolled by in their shambling saunter; they looked my way, sparks of knowing raising their eyebrows and twitching up the decayed flesh hanging from their lips. It was weird sometimes. Not the hanging flesh, though, I gotta say, it did still get to me. No, it was weird being in this secret community where everyone knows who’s in and who isn’t. The world was one big club, and I had been yanked into it screaming and kicking. I gave ‘em a quick nod, the kind where you aren’t sure whether someone had nodded or just glanced up at a passing plane.

I staked out the area for a while, though stakeout would be one of saying took a long break and let my ass have a good ole rest. The late lunch crowd drifted into the mid-afternoon slumber, and that soon drifted into the pre-rush hour buzz. The restaurants by the river began to fill, more and more seats taken up; even the steps were crowding up.

A werewolf passed by in the hurried steps of someone important who has somewhere even more important to be. That wouldn’t be out of place here. Every businessman, sorry businessperson, has that stroll, even when they ain’t moving fast. And considering werewolves tend not to care for the heat and sun, I wouldn’t have thought much to it either. If it wasn’t for that twitching nose.

You could have said it was sniffing. Dogs sniff a lot, and that means jack. But this one, nah, this one was looking for something. I’d watched plenty of dogs and dog-like people to know the difference. I stretched and leaned back and yawned, and in one easy motion, stood up and took a few slow hops down the big steps. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a man who had sat too long now taking a walk.

I stayed a distance behind, and luckily for me, the crowds were at their after-work fill. The werewolf bumped into a man and grunted before taking off toward one of the shops. I adjusted my tie, loosened it up a little, and untucked my shirt. Had to be comfortable for this sort of stuff. Someone should’ve told James Bond.

He passed by a group and went into an ice cream shop. Not a big place, more a storefront than anything. I paused, pretended to check my phone, and then glanced up. The werewolf skirted past the young girl working the front desk, and she didn’t so much as glance up. Used to the traffic. I worked my way in, past the line waiting, pretending I was going to sit at one of the small tables just inside. I didn’t hesitate, didn’t glance back, just kept on walking, smacking the swinging door open and going into the back.

I ran my hand through my thinning hair, for a moment annoyed by how little was left up there. God, I should just shave the damn thing and be done with it. As I scratched a particularly itchy spot, which only added to my budding anger—getting sunburned on the top of your head is far from fun—I inspected the room. There were refrigerators and coolers, boxes and shelves and an area for preparing food. It was the size of a bedroom, maybe a bit smaller. And that was it. No doorways. No stairs. A bunch of nothing. And unless that werewolf had curled up into a freezer for a little siesta, then I was missing something.

I heard the shuffling, the hot, hurried breaths passing over my neck, too late. A blow hit the back of my head.


*****



A copper taste filled my mouth, and before I opened my eyes, I spit a few times. Hated metal, anything to do with jewelry. Bad enough the stuff was caked to me, but I didn’t want to taste it too.

When I tried peeling back my eyelids, it was like sandpaper running over them. And then the belt sander fired up. It roared in my temples and grated me from the inside out. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to lift my hands, but they were tied. That shouldn’t have been surprising. The pain shouldn’t have been either. When you get into these situations as many times as I have, you think you’d be all set. No problem, been hit enough times to be on the permanent concussion protocol list. But that wasn’t the case. Pain was pain, always fresh and there, waiting to snap you up and carry you along its wild ride.

The throbbing drummed down into a dullness I could tolerate, so I ventured opening my eyes again. Thank God it was dark. The little things are what keep my going sometimes. Hell, maybe all the time.

It was another storage room, this one bigger, junkier, boxes spilled on the side, some stacked, shelves leaning against the wall, some brooms and mops and buckets, and a deck of playing cards on the floor. I managed to sit up and scoot until my back touched the wall. Well, a deck of cards could mean a lot of things, but in my line of work, it meant some bored thugs had to spend time back here. Sans phones. Guard duty. Which could only mean I was in the pseudo prison of the Black Moons. As my mom always used to say, every problem comes with gold lining. Or maybe silver. Or maybe that was Dr. Phil. Again, one too many concussions.

A door groaned and slapped against a wall, and footsteps, heavy, not trying to hide, came in.

They weren’t the kinda guys you’d expect in this kinda place: young, first of all, young enough I wanted to snap at them to get off my lawn, and thin and lanky, arms like spaghetti noodles dripping to the floor, faces full of metal, spiked hair, and tattoos that around the neck. Moons and wolves, of course. Very original.

The one with blond hair and a mole nestled in the crook of his nose came and leaned over me. I would say towered, but the kid couldn’t had been more than five feet tall. I almost laughed then, thinking he was a grower, not a shower. Not PC in the slightest.

“Drake Michealson,” he said, a voice whiny and pitched like a mutt about to yip, “CMPD. A detective too.” He kicked my leg. “What is a thing like you doing stalking around our digs?”

“Trying to find a bone.”

He kicked my gut this time, and the wind pulled out of me. I coughed and spat, and more blood filled my mouth.

The other one came over. “We don’t like your kind around here.”

“A–and I th–thought.” I swallowed and caught my breath, finding some strength to sit up again. “That everyone in the Par community was so accepting.”

Blondie growled. “You know what we mean.”

“If it makes ya feel any better, I ain’t here about the Black Moons.”

“Funny, cause this is our digs and here ya are.”

“Hysterical. Woulda believe I just stumbled on down here?”

The darker haired one groaned. “We ain’t dumbass ball-lickers. Now, ya gonna answer our questions or we gonna get rough?”

I was wondering what cards I could play at this point and soon realized I was out. My deck was a bust a long time ago. Wincing as I pushed into the wall, I licked my lips, felt the blood and dried skin there, and sighed. “Don’t have much of a choice. I’m here looking for a missing person of the night. A guy by the name of Mark Jalmerson.”

They looked at each other, heads turning to the side. In unison they said, “Marky J?”

I couldn’t tell whether that was a good or bad sign. Least I was at the right place. Making a detour and getting the car banged up is pointless if you don’t get something out of it.

Blondie scratched at the back of his head. “And not here about us or nothing?”

“Cub Scout’s honor.” I shrugged. “Sorry, that’s as far as I ever got.”

They whispered for a bit, some snaps, some nods, a whole lot of me wondering if I was gonna be taken out back and put down or if they might keep digging for details. It’s not every day you get a detective coming into your hideout.

Blondie leaned over. His hand went from pink and hairless to long, hairy, and dark, with nails the size of pens. I wanted to say I kept my eyes open and faced my end like the good ole soldier I am…well, let’s just say I did that.

The tape around my wrist snapped, and a paw wrapped under my arm and helped me up. I swayed, leaned into Blondie, and finally found some balance. “Thanks. I hope.”

“This way.”

He led me out of the backroom. The hallway stunk of chemicals and whiskey, and I stepped in more puddles than I could count or care. Music throbbed somewhere in the distance, and voices came, the intermingling of shouts and laughter, the sounds of a party that never ends. If they were worried about me spilling the beans about their parties, that wouldn’t be an issue. The hell if I cared. As long as it wasn’t my upstairs neighbor, who already must have been wearing clogs and doing sprints throughout the night; music and dancing would not help that situation.

It was a long room, and we came out on the balcony above the game floor. Paper moon lanterns swung on the bannisters, multi-colored lights sprayed the floor, and candles on every table made for a bi-polar feeling, from wanting to seizure to wanting to take a nap. It seemed quieter here, even though the talking had to be louder. Men and women and zombies, werewolves, of course, some vamps, witches and warlocks, djinns, fairies, and even a mummy. Even though my eyes were still clouded, full and I guessed bloodshot and wobbly looking, it wasn’t hard spotting commotion around the craps table.

Blondie nodded to the craps table, to one particular zombie in the midst of the commotion. God, I should have known. I nodded and hobbled my way down the stairs.

“Mark Jalmerson?” I tapped his shoulder and he stayed watching the bone dice roll. “Mark Jalmerson,” I said louder.

He turned and began to wave me off. “Drinks on me, just have to ask Raeth at the—”

“CMPD.”

That stilled the room. The games silenced, the people turned, the guards moved in, their bodies beginning to bulge with fur. That might have been a mistake. I quickly raised my hands.

“Not here to ruin the fun folks, just looking for this guy. Here to play some games too once I sort out my business with Marky J.”

The guards backed down but stayed close, and a roar came from a blackjack table and soon the room was back to its usual buzz. I tugged on Mark’s shoulder and took him to the side of the room.

“Am…am I in trouble?”

“Trouble is one way of putting it. I was told you were missing. Have a worried wife who made a call or two.”

“O…oh.”

“Just remembered you have a family, huh?”

He tossed up his hands and waved them around. “No, well, I just. Look, can you please not tell her about this? I just got so excited I won the last bet, and it was huge, like, loads of money, that I…well…”

“Forgot to come home last night?”

The skin that dangled off his cheek twitched. “Yeah.”

“And lost all the money I take it.”

“No way!” He grinned. “I’ve been on a roll. I’ve tripled it, even after paying for drinks.”

I sighed. “Then I don’t think she’ll be that upset. I’d just leave out the details.” Looks like I had a phone call to make. I leaned up against the wall and let my head hit against the concrete. Hell, I already had a concussion, a little bounce might jiggle things back into place. “Then do me one favor.”

He was already heading back to the craps table. Stopping, he turned and asked, “Ok, what is it?”

“Have someone bring me a couple glasses of whiskey on the rocks and some advil.” I walked toward a poker table. “And maybe you can cover my first round here, how does that sound?”

He nodded and went back to the craps table, waving over a waitress and pointing at me. I slipped in an empty seat and gripped my head and watched the dice rattle in the bone cup. Maybe the call could wait a couple of hours.



THE END


2019 Daniel Kamin

Bio: Daniel's first novel, RUBY OF THE REALMS, was published by Black Rose in 2010. Since then, he has published a couple of short stories, the most notable being in eFantasy’s February 2013 edition. He has a master’s degree in Writing and Publishing and is an active member in both the Chicago Writers Association and Editorial Freelancers Association. He also is a full-time freelance writer and editor.

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