Death of Freedom
by Christopher W Gamsby
Joe drank an 8-year-old whiskey at the counter in the Traitor's Tavern. Plastic lining covered Joe's cheap uneven stool and every time he moved his body to look around the bar, it creaked, and cracked and stuck to his raincoat. The bar's vinyl sheet flooring wasn't in much better condition; concrete subfloor peered through occasional gouges in the drawn on tiles. The whole building reeked of booze emanating from uncleaned spills, vomit from demons who spent all night drinking and urine emanating from the poorly ventilated bathroom.
Groups of angels and demons played bar games around the building's expansive floor. Most of them didn't sleep in Independence, or even rent apartments to return to at night, so they were as proficient at parlor games as any professional. Patrons smoked and drank while calling shots on stained pool tables. Colliding pool balls clanked on a raised floor on the tavern's rear. Others threw darts at boards scattered around the outer walls. Games ended after one thrower reached 1,000 points, 10,000 points, or even 100,000 points. Normal people played to 500. The same happened at card games played on felt tables. The end scores were doubled, 10x, or 100x, just to let the participants spend time while the rest of the world slept.
Although most of the patrons were shifters; occasionally a normal person braved entering the Traitor's Tavern. Sometimes, a night owl saw the open bar and frequented the establishment for a late night drink. Most angels and demons accepted those people, as long as they left the shifters well enough alone. Sometimes, a person came just to see how sleepless shifters spent their evenings, and most of the angels and demons hated those people. Shifters didn't want to be spectacles, and they chased out the tourists. Joe didn't mind conversing with people that held misguided and hyperbolic views on powers and shifters. Their absurdity could be entertaining. Joe was speaking with one of those tourists, a lecturer in cross-world theory from Metroplex City University, named Dr. Smallwood.
Smallwood drank beer since sunset and by 2:00 am he stammered, slurred, and stumbled over his words.
“Shoo you fram Monolith? Wut did u member?”
"I don't remember much, to be honest. I lived there freely until I was 13 and came to Independence for the first time. After that, they moved me to Monolith's Tabernacle School, where I learned about Independence and Monolith. Eventually, I had to decide where to live for the rest of my life. It was an unfair decision since back then I lived in the country, outside a small farming village. I only knew my family and the two close-by neighbors that actually had children around my age; Jimmy Olton and Janice Flanders. We'd explore the nearby fields and forests and pretend that we were demons waiting to use our powers. We had our customs, but nothing you'd really call a culture. Independence was full of bustling cities and exciting nightlife, so when I turned 17, I chose to live in Independence. I haven't been back to Monolith since.
“Wut you mean? Wut tradishun schticksh out to you?”
"Well, I mean, each year for someone's birthday, we'd give them a different type of cheese. Some years people got cheddar, and some years people received pepper-jack. I've got no idea how that tradition started, or even how common it is in Monolith. People in the cities probably don't care about dairy products, but I guess I'll never really know now. I can't really say I ever liked cheese, which might be why I remember it so much.
“Don't chu git to go back?”
“ I don't get to visit Monolith proper. I have an apartment in the government's Angel quarters, but while I'm there, I can't see anything of the outside world."
“ In Monolith, I'm locked in the apartment. The door's barred from the outside. There's no way to open the main hall door, just shy of breaking it down.”
“Wut is a-partment laik?”
"Well, 'apartment' really is kind of generous. It's more like a single gray room with a bed and some random provisions. There is a reclining chair, though, and that's nice. I can sit back and watch movies or television on the VHS player, but I can only bring in tapes from Independence. There are some videos I can request from Monolith, but they don't allow anything political or topical. For some reason, they don't want you to know the state of the world. I've mostly been watching this TV show about a family in the Dresden City. The father is a police officer, the wife is a hairdresser, the kids are in high school, and they have this annoying neighbor. The show doesn't address anything more complicated than who Sally wants to accompany to the school dance, but it's fun just the same.
I have crates full of food, bullets, and lead plates stacked in the closet, as well as some extra clothing. Except for a bed and some pictures on a nightstand, there really isn't anything in the room to speak of.”
“Wut you do, if you need shometing?”
“I can bring things from Independence to Monolith, that's how the stores get refilled. Since I can't just leave, I get help from a guard that roams the hall. If I hear him moving around outside, I can bang on the door and request something. They usually will, which is nice of them, because I know they don't really need to."
Joe's conversation partner slept with his head on the bar. Joe smiled and sipped his whiskey.
- - -
Joe yawned as he fiddled with the coffee maker's buttons. Sometimes he liked skipping sleep before arriving at work, to pretend like the tired feeling was a hangover. Joe never felt sick, hurt, or depressed. Most forms of pain were completely alien. Tired was one of the few states an Angel could feel and tired was more interesting than nothing. These types of idiosyncrasies were common with angels and demons, who wielded immense power, but longed to try a normal life. The coffee maker whirled, buzzed and whistled just before a steady stream of piping hot liquid poured into an orange mug that read 'Angel Corps Intramural Softball Team.' Joe lifted the mug and sipped. The liquid burned the inside oh his mouth, but he didn't even notice the pain."
I don't even get the slight buzz of the caffeine.
Joe sighed and walked toward his desk. Tracey, his personal secretary, entered the office clutching a silver scaled purse, which shimmered in the fresh sunlight entering the room's bay windows. Tracey gingerly removed a pair of driving gloves and placed a fur lined hat on her desk. Joe sat at his desk with a low groan.
“Another late night I see.”
“Yes, well, you know, just trying to pass the time.”
“Good news then! I ran into Lt. Lucas on the way into the building, and he said he has a case for you."
“You couldn't have said anything before I sat down?”
Joe rose from the desk and walked to the main hallway carrying his mug of coffee. The three-person-wide hallway meandered through corridors of dull white walls contrasted with sullen brown oak doors and a bright red carpet. Every closed door gave the hall an unwelcome, lonely feel. Joe turned left as the hallway looped and moments later Joe arrived at a pair of glass double doors set into a glass wall. Joe pushed open the entrance to the Angel Corps Vice Squad.
The Vice Squad only employed one angel and one type 3 demon, so unlike Joe and Tracey who shared an office, their secretaries sat in the main common area. Joe approached a secretary sitting at the largest desk among the three in the common area. The man looked up from a bulging screen as Joe arrived at the Vice Squad's commanding Officer's main door, and motioned for Joe to enter.
"Good morning Detective, Lt. Lucas will see you now."
Joe nodded and entered the office's main oak door. A stern-faced man in his late thirties or early forties sat pouring over expense reports, investigation status reports, and officer time-sheets. The man's eyes left the papers, eyed Joe, and he sat back in his chair.
“Sit down Detective Freedom.”
Joe dutifully obeyed and sat in an empty chair facing the lieutenant's desk. Despite the temporary break from work, the lieutenant didn't relax in the slightest.
If he doesn't relax, he isn't going to live to retirement.
“I've called you here today because I received a report while I came in this morning. There was a murder, obviously, that's why you're here. This morning at approximately 8:30 am, staff at the Summer Orchard Hotel, on Graham Street, checked the room of a delinquent patron.”
The Summer Orchard Hotel sounds like a nice place to stay, but it's really a dive. The kind of place you pay by the hour. Still, the sleaziest hotel in the second nicest neighborhood in Metroplex City must see all kinds of action.
"The clerk found a half-dressed woman, dead in the room. He called the police, and they arrived at the scene. The officer found her purse, and in turn checked her ID. Her name was Chastity Gregory. She's an escort with Benton's Arm Modeling Agency. Her name came up as a part of my investigation, so the officer called my office. Since this might be a murder, I called you in personally.
I just want to remind you that Benton is a very affluent section of the city. You need to tread lightly and discreetly, since this case is going to involve high profile people."
What he means is, 'there are people I'm investigating, and I don't want you ruining my case.' Luckily I'm fluent in bureaucrat.
Central Station section of Metroplex District was the richest area in Metroplex City, but not everyone liked high-rise apartments, and so many affluent socialites moved into brownstones and townhouses in Benton.
“This will be a Fairness case. Keep that in mind.”
Joe nodded and Lt. Lucas waved him away.
- - -
Joe walked down a red cobblestone pedestrian road toward the Summer Orchard Hotel. Couples and groups strolled down the cobblestone street; each person caught up in their own thoughts and desires. Every two-story store and house on the historic road felt like a quaint reminder of the past since most of Metroplex's modern buildings towered over the street. Food stalls lined the road, and an occasional traveler stopped for popcorn, tacos, or candy. Joe turned right on Graham Street and found himself again surrounded by high-rise buildings. Cars zoomed by as Joe waited to cross the street. He eyed the hotel as he waited.
The four-story contemporary stand alone adorned the intersection of Graham Street and Bear Street. Red clay bricks covered the building's facade, and a short gray brick wall encircled the building on three sides with a rod iron fence in front. One break on the fence's right side allowed cars to enter and exit. Parking in the rear of the building blocked prying eyes from spying who frequented the hotel.
The traffic light changed from lavender to pink, which signaled the cars to stop. Joe checked both directions for traffic and crossed the street to reach the hotel. He entered through the iron gate and walked up to the main entrance. Just inside the hotel, Joe met a receptionist at the check-in desk. The hotel employee flipped through the pages of an obscure book while Joe stood at the counter. Joe waved, but he didn't notice. Joe forced a fake cough to draw the man's attention.
"Geez, who died? Calm down; I'll be with you in a second."
“The person who died is a prostitute named Chastity.”
The receptionist placed his book face down on the counter.
“He he... that's just a phrase. Here's the key to room 214, it's one of the hourly rate rooms... make sure to use some gloves.”
“I know how to handle evidence, thank you.”
“Not for the evidence...”Joe grimaced.
“Were you working when she checked in?”
“Yes, I spend way too much time working here.”
“Did you see who she arrived with?”
“No, I didn't look up from my book until she approached the counter. By then I only saw a brown, or maybe dark red car pull around back. No one else came through the front that I didn't see before.”
“You didn't find that strange?”
”Oh no! You're right! You should give me your phone number, and I'll call you every time someone here tries not to be seen cheating on their wife or husband.”
I kind of deserved that.
“Have you seen the girl before tonight?”
“I'm not sure. She's very pretty, but has one of those faces, you know, that when you see someone and you feel like you've met them before, even when you are sure you haven't.”
What on earth is he going on about?
“I'll bring this key back when I'm done, but the coroner will be here for the body, and the clean up crew will be here for the other evidence, so don't go in the room.”
“I'm not sure I'll ever be able to go in that room again.”
Joe picked up the key and walked the elevator. He pressed the call button and waited. Loud screeches joined the pulley system's engine and gave the elevator an ominous and dangerous sound. The elevator dinged as the fourth circle lit up and the noises continued. Joe gave up and ascended the stairs to the second floor. The crusted carpets crunched as Joe walked down the hall. Roses polka-dotted the wall and green stems made hypnotic swirls which made the wallpaper seem to sway. Joe counted cheap white plywood doors until he reached room 214. A policewoman leaned against the wall opposite the entrance-way. Joe waved to her and entered.
A chestnut dresser and oak armoire adorned the rooms right side. A large woman's handbag sat next to a pile of perfectly folded clothing. A white cotton sweater with long puffed out neck, plain black leggings, and teal undershirt were well maintained but inexpensive. Joe dumped the purse's contents onto the empty dresser and didn't find anything unusual mixed in with the condoms, tampons, wallet, makeup and other typical sundries. Joe picked up a perfume bottle and sniffed around the spray nozzle.
Lilac and vanilla? Very plain scent. Nothing she has suggests a high-class escort.
Joe walked over to a hot tub sitting in the room's corner facing a television. He placed his hand in the bath and felt around.
Dry. They never had a chance to use this. I doubt they were here very long.
A king sized bed covered in a comforter that matched the hallway's floral pattern sat under a ceiling covered in mirrors. A young woman, no older than 25 laid across the bedding wearing only a black and red negligee. Her pale face contorted into both a cry and whimper. The bedding around her body laid almost completely undisturbed except for a pillow that sat between her and the nightstand. Joe placed her chin in his hand and lightly tilted her face back and forth to examine her neck.
She's pretty. The attendant was right; she's pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way. I can think of 5 people I grew up with at Tabernacle that I might confuse her for if I saw her on the street. She barely struggled, and there are no marks on the neck.
Joe finally moved to the nightstand next to the bed. The hotel's gray phone and blue stained glass Tiffany lamp remained in their original location. An uncorked wine bottle and two glasses of wine rested nearby. Wine filled one glass to the top, and the other glass was still half full. Lipstick smeared around the half-full glass's lip.
Part II coming next week!
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.