Death of Freedom
by Christopher W Gamsby
Joseph Freedom was a hard-boiled detective working the streets of Metroplex City in the Angel Corps Homicide division. Even now he rode the subway to another murder scene. He started sipping bourbon from his trusty lead flask to handle the messier cases but it seemed like he ended up drinking every day. He rode the subway to not drink and drive, which was the responsible choice. He opened his tan trench coat and fumbled with returning the flask. Joe rested his hand on a special belt. The plate was designed with a dozen red plus sign adorned lead plates. Joe lifted his holster's strap and slid his .38 a few inches to clear a way to his inner pocket where he inserted the flask.
Joe was a beat cop for ten years before making grade and transferring to homicide for the last 5 years. In those 15 years he saw all manner of murder, accidental death, and everything in between. Sometimes he came across bodies floating in the west side river system. Foolish teenagers drank along the river bank and sometimes got so plastered that they fall into the waterway and drown. Passerby’s occasionally found disembodied body parts on the shore, a result of people who've seen too many motion pictures where criminals hide a corpse in the river. Children playing on the sidewalk outside their houses were gunned downed in drive-by's meant to kill some gang banger or another. The worst of the worst happened near skid row where working girls meet Johns to earn a little money. Losers paid for sex and thought that gave them the right to take out all of life's aggression on those women's bodies.
Metroplex City was once just a small town on an island. After the city grew to cover the whole land mass and the buildings could no longer expand out, they expanded vertically. As the city swelled, so did its excesses. Drugs, prostitution, gambling, and smuggling all became normalized. Every street corner peddled a different flavor of debauchery but those vices were traditionally an underground pursuit. That was until three years ago when marijuana was legalized in Cranston Province and everyone's dirty secret moved mainstream. Last year marijuana became legal in Metroplex City and bars, clubs, and dens sprung up.
Most stores and dispensaries struggled to secure product because local dealers refused to supply their new competition and wide stream legal distribution wasn't readily available. Madam Mary Jane's became an overnight sensation amongst those clubs because of an ample supply of high quality product. Eventually the legal speak easies and bars beat out the street gangs. Drug dealers either opened their own shops, changed product, or just went out of business. This lead to minor instability in the local crime market.
I really hope gang violence isn't a part of this case.
Thirty minutes later Joe entered Madam Mary Jane's and surveyed the unfamiliar terrain. The marijuana den was much nicer than the hole in the wall Joe frequented while off duty. The Traitor's Tavern was little more than a few pool tables, scuzzy plastic covered booths, and bar stools. MMJ's in contrast had red velvet covered benches and recliners that encircled the main room's walls. Small tables with bongs, pipes, and hookahs sat beside each chair. Joe walked behind the counter and surveyed the various flavors of marijuana. The blends had strange names like Blueberry Bash, Tea Garden Summer, or Wolf's Bite. In addition to the traditional pipe weed, THC enhanced food was for sale in the counter. Chocolate pastries drizzled in a raspberry sauce wafted a freshly baked aroma. There were also more mundane treats like chocolates and lollipops. A black half skull branded lollipop caught Joe's eye, since it seemed out of place in such a cheerful setting.
Joe walked to the den's dance floor and stood under a wall of speakers. At night the speakers must have blasted a wall of bass and music, which the high patrons probably loved. In the daylight the den was eerily silent and a corpse danced alone on the dance floor. Its blood streaked on the floor. A policeman's shoe tracked blood for a few steps. Patrolmen searched the kitchen for a weapon and sounds rumbled and crashed which sent shivers up Joe's spine.
Ugh, nothing is more disgusting than sloppy police work.
Joe bent over the corpse of Temperance Smith, a cocktail waitress from Madam Mary Jane's. She wore a blue sequin dress with thick straps over her shoulders. Even in the middle of the day, the dress shone in waves with every slight movement.
I bet the clientele must have loved that dress.
The corpse lay on its left side and Joe examined her back. At least a dozen stabs and slashes poxed her skin. Some wounds penetrated deeply into flesh but others missed their mark and superficially cut along the surface.
“You can only be so violent with someone you love.”
The nearby detectives gave Joe a queer look and he elaborated.
“You see these wounds, they show a personal touch. If you kill someone you don't know well, you just stab them once, maybe twice if the first one didn't work. You have to really hate someone to stab them a dozen times and you can only hate someone that much if you once loved them.”
There's something poetic about what I just said but why are they looking at me like I'm stupid....
Joe reached for Temperance's hand and inspected her nails and finger tips. There were no tears in the skin or a trace of her killer under the nails.
She didn't put up a fight. It must have been a surprise attack.
Joe brushed aside a sequin strap and inspected her shoulders. Light red specks covered her shoulders.
Tracks. She must not be satisfied with pot. Not a convenient spot to shoot up. I guess she needed to hide the evidence and this dress is too revealing otherwise.
Joe watched her face and something seemed off. He reached down and stroked just below the eye and caked on make-up wiped away to reveal a partially healed black eye.
Well, she's been fighting with someone.
Joe continued searching the body but didn't find any other clues. The store owner Madam Mary Jane stood with a pair of uniformed officers watching Joe examine the body. MJ was a tall brunet, not exactly sore on the eyes, but a tad thin. She had the air of someone who wouldn't talk to Joe unless her life depended on his help. Luckily for him, she didn't have a choice.
“So Mary Jane, is that your birth name? That's a nice coincidence.”
MJ rolled her eyes.
“That's Mary Lou Shirley. I just go by Mary Jane for the customers.”
“Tell me about Temperance, what was she like?”
“She was an OK worker I guess. Nothing special, but she showed up for work on time and the customers liked her well enough.”
“That's wonderful news! She might win employee of the month, but I don't think that's much use for me. Can you tell me about her friends and family?”
MJ gave a sour reproachful look but she seemed to think better of talking back to the police.
“Well, hmph, she had a sister, Scarlet and a boyfriend named William. I've never met Scarlet but William would come by often. They'd have terrible fights. Sometimes it got physical, but nothing like this...”
“So you saw him? Do this?”
“No... no, of course not. I'm just saying I've seen them fight before. I wasn't here when she died. I came in after that. I've definitely have never seen Scarlet though.”
“Is there anyone else that might have meant Ms. Smith some harm?”
“Well... maybe, there is this one person. His name's Legit and he used to sell dope out here before it became legal and I opened up shop. He stops by sometimes and threatens to smash up the place, but in the end, he always just quietly leaves.”
“Except this time, huh doll?”
- - -
Joe stood in front of the apartment of one Scarlet Smith who lived in a two hundred square foot loft above Boutique Shoe Store in the posh central station area of Metroplex City. Joe couldn't know exactly how much she had to pay each month in rent but it had to be ungodly expensive. Joe knocked on the side door and stared up at the building's front.
What a waste of money.
The door cracked open and a woman's voice came from inside.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
“Well ma'am, my name is Detective Freedom and I'm afraid I have some bad news for you Ms. Smith, could you please let me in.”
Scarlet hesitated at the door for a few moments but finally came to her senses and shut the door. A chain rustled on the door's other side and then scratched along the inside. The door fully opened and Scarlet waved him inside. Joe entered and followed her up the flight of steps and into her apartment. The loft was little more than a bed, bathroom, and kitchen counter. Joe waited at the kitchen counter and eyed a strange container of lollipops.
“I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but your sister Temperance is dead.”
Scarlet showed no reaction to the news, but not in the manner of shock that Joe has seen a hundred times in his line of work.
“If you don't mind me saying, you seem rather unmoved by this news.”
Scarlet made no effort to show crocodile tears or even to show more emotion.
“Our relationship has been fairly rocky for a long time detective. We both grew up poor in Metroplex city and we both had to work for every scrap we ever got. Temperance, though, was the golden child who could do no wrong. She'd show up to school hungover or even drunk sometimes and skate by with an 'A' and our parents would say 'why couldn't you be more like Tempie'. I'd work double shifts to scrape together a few coins and she'd sleep with drug dealers and wear the best clothing and jewelry and eat at fancy restaurants.”
Joe fingered one of the lollipops. When Scarlet broke eye contact for a split second the candy in his hand disappeared.
“We only grew further apart once I moved to Kingly City to attend Cranston University. I moved back here two years ago to find out she's some dope fiend working at a marijuana den. I'm just not really surprised something happened to her, that's all.”
“I see, have you ever been to that den? It's called Madam Mary Jane's.”
“Of course not. I have better things to do than that.”
“Ok. That's probably a good idea, that place is terrible for your health. So you said she dated drug dealers before? Did she date one named 'Legit'?”
“I have no idea detective. I also haven't met that current boyfriend of hers.”
“Thank you very much, you've really been a great help and have cleared up many things. I'm actually going to pay him a visit right after leaving here.”
- - -
Freedom stood before Transworld Porters, an organization of angels and demons who transport packages anywhere in the world within a few minutes. Inside the building clerks typed at computers to check current delivery times. After a customer paid, an employee picked up the package and poof, an employee at the destination location received the goods and sorted the package for delivery.
What a trivial use for such extraordinary power.
Joe approached the counter and the clerk interrupted before he could ask a question.
“Good afternoon! Porting is currently less than 5 minute transportation time to all provincial offices, and a sub ten minute transportation time for all regional offices except for Hazeton, Grandsberg, and Cross City, which are down due to employee sickness. What is your package destination?”
“I'm looking for William Martin. Is he working?”
“William is sorting packages for local delivery, but you cannot see him yet, as per company policy. The next scheduled break is in 30 minutes, or you can see him on his personal time.”
Freedom parted his trench coat and showed the badge hanging from his holster.
“Am I supposed to notice the gun or the badge?”
“I'd be much obliged for your help, either way.”
“Right. I'll go get him.”
Freedom waited at the counter while the clerk walked behind a curtain and talked to the employees moving packages. Freedom only made out a few choice words like 'pig', 'angel', 'jerk' and 'get rid of him'.
I'm going to have to remember to check if that clerk has parking tickets.
A towering hulk of a man exited the back room and approached Freedom.
“You the detective?”
The man nodded and motioned for Freedom to follow.
“We'll speak outside.”
Joe unstrapped his .38 just in case he needed to shoot off a few rounds, but he was afraid that he needed a bigger gun. William led Joe to the side of the building where he looked around to make sure nobody was nearby. William removed his gloves. His hands were scratched and scraped. He reached into his pocket and removed a pack of cigarettes.
“No, but go ahead. That's one of the few vices I never picked up myself.”
Joe reached into his jacket pocket, removed the lead flask and began drinking while William lit a cigarette.
“I guess what they said was true.”
“Guilty as charged I'm afraid, but I'm not here to talk about myself.”
“What you here to talk about?”
“Temperance. She's dead.”
Freedom's words deflated William, and he shrunk away from Joe. William's brow lowered while he grimaced and sighed in deeply.
“She was stabbed in the back, repeatedly.”
“At Madam Mary Jane's.”
“That much I don't know, or who either. I was hoping you could help with that.”
“Help? No clue who'd want her dead. She wasn't important enough for enemies.”
“Who would love her enough to kill her?”
“Maybe, I'm thinking those scratches on your hand go with her black eye.”
“You right, but I didn't kill her. I loved her and she loved me but we were bad together. She'd get high or drunk and the filter'd go. She'd attack me and sometimes I'd fight back. We shouldda broke up years ago, but it's a lonely world.”
“You fight at Madam Mary Jane's earlier?”
“I've been here all day if you want to check.”
Oddly enough I believe him..
“Why'd you two stay together if things were so bad?”
“I don't know. We known each other since we was kids, I guess we thought we'd know each other our whole lives.”
“Since childhood? Does that mean you know her sister Scarlet?”
“Yeah, course. Tempie and Red are so different. Tempie just liked to drift around and do whatever feels good. Drugs, drink, party, whatever. Scarlet always had a plan. Worked hard to graduate high school. Worked hard here to pay for college.”
“Have you seen her recently?”
“Yeah, she comes several times a week for packages. She's always in a hurry. Don't spend much time talking. Looks good though.”
If you liked this short story, you should consider reading the Shift World novel.
Please do not reproduce this short story without my explicit permission.