Death of Freedom
by Christopher W Gamsby
Joe approached a three story coral building with a coarse stucco facade. A black sign's main heading wrote 'Benton Arm Modeling Agency' in a golden cursive, complete with a subheading that read 'Men and Women suitable for any arm' in silver block lettering. Rows of windows displayed good-looking men and women walking around, conversing, laughing, and generally having a pleasant time.
They spend a suspicious amount of time near the windows. I guess this is free advertising. What better way to show your future, than by showing them enjoying themselves now.
Joe visited the agency under the pretense of a Fairness case. Fairness was shorthand for an 'investigation complaint with The Fairness in Citizens Act.' Five years ago a serial killer murdered a string of prostitutes; and not escort prostitutes like Chastity, but rather woman meeting Johns on the streets. The killer met his victims, brought them to a secluded alley and choked away their life. After finishing, he'd throw their bodies into a nearby trash bin and continue his day like nothing happened. The police investigated each incident, but the only witnesses were prostitutes, and they fled every time an officer approached.
Historically, tribunals in Metroplex City didn't care how criminal activity came to light, and if a person witnessed a crime while committing a crime, they too were punished. The stifled police emboldened the murderer, and he killed multiple times a day. Eventually, after the body count rose high enough, the public became aware of the crimes. Metroplex's citizens began demanding justice, but the police were completely helpless.
Something completely unexpected happened after the outcry. The city council and mayor convened to pass The Fairness in Citizens Act; a seemingly unilaterally altruistic bill meant to help people. The bill made it so that any crime committed by a witness to a homicide, can not be tried based on evidence collected in the homicide investigation. The only exception is if they turn out to be the murderer, then any crimes they've committed are fair game. That's probably why Legit shot me. Since I didn't say he had Fairness and talked openly about his drugs, he must have thought he was a suspect.
The law worked, kind of. We caught the killer, almost right away. He was apparently well known by the prostitutes, from before he started killing them. Immediately prostitute homicides dropped by 70%, drug dealer homicides dropped 25%, and the conviction rates for these murders tripled. Strangely right after the law passed, the homicide rate for the wealthy and powerful's servants, during a time when their masters were committing serious crimes, increased by 3,500%. Coincidentally if they were under investigation, all evidence predating the homicide mysteriously disappeared. Then, 'in order to protect the integrity of the law and with a strong sense of justice,' judges dismissed the cases. Even such a seemingly well-meaning law can be abused by the influential.
Joe sighed as he approached the building's main doors. He pushed through the large oak double doors with stained glass hearts adorning the front. He approached the main receptionist's desk. The lovely woman wearing a fashionable and revealing, yet professional-looking outfit smiled to Joe as he approached.
I see they even have models working the front desk.
“Good morning officer. Are you looking for an escort to the policeman's ball? Want to impress the squad house?”
“Thank you for the offer miss, but I don't plan on attending the policeman's ball this year. I'm actually looking for your boss, Miss Hanely.”
“Miss Hanely? She's not in at the moment; I can probably help you schedule a date if you want.”
“No, thank you. I just need to speak with Miss Hanely.”
“I'm sorry. She's busy at the moment, you WILL NOT be able to talk to her.”
“That's fine, I can just wait here, alllll day and overhear every single conversation.”
The secretary fumbled for a response. A pair of eyes peered through a break in the horizontal blinds covering the window on the nearby office's door. The blinds snapped shut again, and the door opened. A tall, thin, and stunning woman approaching middle age sauntered through the open door.
I know the fashion industry favors the young, but I can't understand how the most attractive woman I'll see all week could be considered over-the-hill. It's inexplicable.
“Come in Joe. Sorry for the poor welcome, but she's new and doesn't know who you are.”
Joe smiled and winked to the confused secretary. Joe investigated the murder of another escort at the modeling agency. He handled the case discretely, and since her death was unrelated to her employment at the agency, his report didn't include any mention of Benton Arm Modeling Agency or its side businesses.
“Have a seat, Joe. How have things been since, you know.”
“Not bad Miss Hanely, the life of a homicide detective isn't as interesting or glamorous as all this. I just investigate a murder and then wait for the next one.”
“Please Joe, call me Milley. You need a hobby; you know that. Find something you enjoy and stick with that!”
Joe blushed at her informality, and she smiled at his childish manner.
“It's true, I have things I like, but nothing you could call a hobby. As much as I'd like nothing more than to sit and talk to you, I'm afraid we have more pressing matters...”
The words rang out with more truth than Joe intended, and Milley understood his meaning. She pulled a tape recorder from her desk and placed it on the tabletop. She hit the record button and then nodded to Joe.
“This is Detective Joseph Freedom of the Angel Corps Homicide Division, investigating the death of Chastity Gregory at her place of employment, Benton Arm Modeling Agency. Her body was located at a hotel frequented by prostitutes, which makes this a Fairness case. I'm discussing the case with the agency's proprietor, Mildred Hanely, who is currently not a suspect in the investigation. Any self-incriminating evidence she offers can not be used for governmental prosecution.”
Mildred was satisfied with the proclamation. She stopped the tape recorder and returned it to her desk.
“Chastity? Really? I can't imagine anyone wanting to hurt her. I recruited her personally. I just saw her at the supermarket, and she looked like everyone's little sister, ex-girlfriend, neighbor, and I knew there'd be a clientele.”
“Really, you go to the supermarket?"
Milley giggled at the question.
“That's what you chose to ask me about? Oh course I do, how else would I get food?”
“You're right. You're right. I'm sorry. I just thought maybe one of your secretaries or assistants would do that type of work for you. So you just asked her if she wanted to be a prostitute?”
“No, of course not! First I brought her here to see her talent as a model. Then we had her do legitimate escorts to see how she reacted to a client's attention. She showed signs of being alright with sex, so then I talked to her about the 'special' jobs. She actually didn't hesitate at all. I think she might have been a little lonely. What happened to her Joe?”
“All I know for now was that she asphyxiated in a hotel room. She might have choked, had an allergic reaction, was poisoned, maybe even strangled, if they found a way to hide a bruise. Whoever she was with fled, so I need to know who she saw today.”
“Today? She wasn't working today. I have no idea who she could have seen.”
“She was going freelance?”
“No, nothing like that. I'm pretty sure. She was far too honest of a person to try and go out on her own like that. Plus I don't think she'd have the nerve to hunt down new clients in this big scary city. She probably fell into the classic trap for women in our profession; falling in love with a client.”
“Is love really so dangerous for you?”
“In homicide, I'm sure you know exactly how dangerous love can be.”
The tension broke for a moment as the two laughed.
“I guess that's true. Could you give me a list of her regulars? They are most likely going to be her lover.”
Milley walked over to a filing cabinet sitting on the far wall. She opened the top drawer and flipped through folders until she found Chastity's. She flipped through the pages.
“There's three: Morton Goleman, Michael Strauss, and Harry Winterman.”
“Each one is pretty well known.”
“Like I said, she'd be popular.”
“Did she have any friends here?”
“There's Betty and Christine. Betty works as a filing clerk in one of the offices. Christine is an escort, JUST LIKE Chastity. They are both in the building today. I'll have Jill at the desk call around and have them meet you at the 2nd-floor break room.”
Joe nodded and rose from his chair while Milley called the front desk. Joe hesitated before reaching the door.
“So tell me, did she ever have a chance? Of actually becoming a model?”
“Honestly? No, she didn't have any talent.”
"That's a shame."
Joe puckered his lips and nodded as he somberly walked from the room. Joe closed the door and moved to walk away, but he was taken aback by a noise emanating from the office. Light sobs came from inside the room with a light sound of nose blows.
She must have held that back this whole time.
Joe marched past the secretary, found the stairs, and ascended to the second floor. The building's interior on the second floor didn't match the grandeur near the building's windows and first floor. The stale corporate feeling of any business replaced the feigned decadence. On his way to the break room, Joe nodded and greeted beautiful models as they passed. He eventually found the break room nestled in the second floor's far corner and entered immediately.
A petite dark haired teen, with silken smooth skin, brown eyes and subdued manner nursed a cup of coffee next to a larger woman with blemished skin wearing a generic pantsuit.
“You must be Christine and Betty?”
The pair nodded in affirmation. Joe sat across the table.
“I'm very sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but your friend, Chastity was found dead this morning. “
Christine, the dark haired teen, began bawling into her cup of coffee and Betty's eyes reddened in a blank expression, despite not openly crying.
They obviously aren't hardened like Milley.
“Do you know anyone that might want to hurt Chastity?”
Christine shook her head.
“Noooo, everyone liked her, but that doesn't mean she was safe. People like us are always getting hurt. Sometimes it's a jealous patron, some crazy person that just wants to hurt us, a wife or husband, business partners or clients who want their associate to stop. Anyone like that could have killed her.”
“Do either of you know about her family?”
“She talked about them sometimes, but they lived far away. They were overseas in Bradley Island, that's about as far as you can get from here. I don't think they've ever visited her here, but I think she talked to them regularly. I know she wanted to go back home at some point, but I don't think she planned any further than that.”
“Did she have a lover? Anyone more serious than a client?”
Christine looked up from her coffee.
“I think so. She never said so directly, but you could tell on some days. She'd come in much happier than usual. That's always a good sign that someone's in love. She even introduced me to some of her clients, but people interested in her, aren't really interested in me.”
“Could that lover be a client or someone she met elsewhere?”
Christine and Betty shrugged.
I guess I'll start looking at the clients. Much better than hunting some phantom boyfriend.
- - -
Joe reached the Goleman Financial Corp building in the Central Station area of Metroplex District. Robin's egg blue marble tiled the building's exterior. Guards watched two marble pillars inlaid with gold leaf. The entire exterior was designed to convey that the owner had more wealth than anyone looking in from the exterior. Joe entered the building and moved to the main reception desk.
“I'm Detective Freedom, and I have a matter to discuss with Mr. Goleman.”
“Yes, of course, Detective. He's expecting you. Just enter the elevator on your left, and I'll send it to the penthouse.”
Expected? I guess there is little that happens in this city that a man like Goleman wouldn't know about.
Joe walked to the elevator and entered. The doors closed and the light for the penthouse lit up. The elevator rose to the 6th floor, and Joe exited. Foyer immediately outside the elevator was a gigantic conference room with one long table. Amenities like a coffee station, bar, food cart, and anything a person could possibly need during a meeting, lined the room's walls. Joe stepped onto a burgundy rug, lined with gold drawings. A single door set into the conference room's rear wall.
I bet that's Goleman's office and it probably makes this room look quaint in comparison.
A middle-aged man in a black imported cotton suit sat next to a woman in thick rimmed glasses with her hair drawn tight in a bun around her head. The man's serious demeanor portended a contentious interaction.
This is going to be a tough discussion.
“Good Afternoon detective, I'm Morton Goleman, and this is my council. What is your name?”
“Pleased to meet you Mr. Goleman, Ma'am, My name is Detective Joseph Freedom. I'm here to talk to you about the death of....”
The woman raised her hand and cut off Joe. She slid a paper across the table and beckoned for Joe to come.
“Before you continue Detective, I'll need you to sign this release, stating that Mr. Goleman is not a suspect in whatever case you wish to discuss and that any irrelevant incriminating statements will not be recorded and any relevant incriminating statements will not be used in court.”
Joe read the paper but was immediately confused by the confounding legalese. He understood enough to get the gist and signed the paper. The lawyer reviewed the signatures.
“Alright detective you may continue your statements.”
“Thank you, ma'am. Now I’m here to discuss the death of Chastity Gregory, she's an escort with the Benton Arm Modeling Agency.”
Morton's scowl turned to a frown.
“So it's true then, she's dead. That's a shame. I had nothing to do with her death, Detective, and I expect that I won't be mentioned in your report.”
“Mr. Goleman, did you even care about Chastity?”
The question hit Morton, and he sat stunned. He sighed and slouched in his seat.
“Look, Detective, I think you have me all wrong. I guess you could say I liked the idea of her. She reminded me of a childhood love, from a time before I moved to Metroplex and life became so dour. These days everyone I know has an angle. They want a loan for their business, they want insider information, they want my personal wealth or something. Chas was simple, when we were together we just pretended that life was that easy again.”
That's probably the most complete answer I'm going to get from him.
“But you were paying her for sex, weren't you? Does that mean she was using you as well?”
“If you go to the movies, are you paying $5.00 to sit in a seat? Do you get mad at the theater for charging you? No, you're paying to be lost in a movie, and sitting in the seat, is just the act that lets you get lost in the story. Sex was just the act that brought me back to a happier time, and the money was the fee I paid.”
“What about blackmail?”
“Chas? I don't think she was capable of blackmail. If anything her biggest fault in life was that she's too genuine. She'd wear her heart on her sleeve and just accept what you had to tell her. It's not that surprising Metroplex eventually swallowed her up.”
“You're married, right? What would your wife think about you spending time and money with a prostitute.”
Morton turned to the lawyer sitting at his side.
“Well honey, what did you think of Chas.”
“She seemed like a nice girl, but kind of.... plain. Her friend Christine is far more my type.”
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.