Death of Freedom
by Christopher W Gamsby
Joe decided to visit the apartment of Michael Strauss while still in the Central Station area after visiting Morton Goleman. Strauss lived on the ninth floor of a ten story building covered in light blue reflective glass.
This building looks better suited for a corporate headquarters than the loft apartment of a famous artist. Maybe this is some kind of performance piece like he's living in such a cold building to contrast the heat of his work. Maybe he's just pragmatic, and the apartment fit his needs. I'll have to play it straight until I figure out his angle.
Joe entered the building's main concourse, and a security guard at a desk rose from his seat.
"Excuse me, sir. There is no solicitation in this building, please leave."
"Solicitation? Oh, right, sorry, I'm Detective Joseph Freedom, and I'm here to see Michael Strauss. "
Joe opened his coat and displayed the badge. The guard turned up his nose and accompanied Joe to the elevator.
"I'm sorry, you don't look like a detective, and I know you aren't a resident here."
" Really? You know everyone here well enough to know I don't live here? For sure? That's wonderful! You must have an amazing memory! Do you remember all of Mr. Strauss's female guests?"
The guard laughed.
"Trying to butter me up, Detective? Let me put it this way if you were a young woman I just would have called upstairs."
“Even if I looked like an escort?”
“Especially if you looked like an escort.”
The guard inserted a key into the elevator control panel and turned. He pressed the nine button and used his body to stop the door from closing.
"His apartment is number four. Please don't bother any of the other residents."
The elevator reached the 9th floor. Joe found apartment four and knocked on the door.
“Just leave the package, thank you.”
“I'm sorry Mr. Strauss, but I'm not a delivery boy. My name is Detective Joseph Freedom, and I'm here to talk about a case.”
“Are you with narcotics?”
“No, I'm not. I'm with homicide.”
“You'd have to tell me the truth, right?”
“No Mr. Strauss. I could lie to you if I wanted.”
A moment later a chain on the back of the door rattled, and the deadbolt slid open. A gaunt, strung out man with disheveled hair opened the door.
"Come in Detective. You just woke me up coming by this early in the morning."
“It's 4 pm...”
“Well, I stay up late, so it's morning to me!”
Michael lead Joe into his apartment. 10 foot wide by 5-foot tall canvasses dotted the interior of the loft apartment. Multicolored abstract shapes and blotches of color danced around the canvases. Joe stopped at a picture of a single blue circle drawn in the center of a white frame. Joe stared closely at the canvas to search for hidden patterns.
“Do you like that one detective? $500,000 and it's yours.”
Joe gagged and stepped away from the painting. Michael laughter boomed.
“Really? For this? Wow! This really isn't my taste. I'd prefer some nice landscape, maybe a view of a woman standing next to a cliff, staring off at a boat sailing in the distance. Something that makes you feel when you look at it.”
"Knowing the type of art someone prefers, tells you a lot about that person. For example, that tells me you are a romantic and possible long for something you can't have. Do you know what that painting says to their owners?"
“I like circles?”
Michael laughed again.
"It says, 'I'm rich, and others need to know.' These works aren't the ones I like to make, but people buy them. Maybe because they are inoffensive and people don't need to think when they see that picture."
“I'd have to admit Mr. Strauss, you are very different than I imagined. A lot more...pragmatic than I expected.”
"You mean cynical? Artistically speaking this work is stifling, but if I sell two paintings like the one you were just looking at, I don't have to worry about money for the next three years. Then I can make what I want! Anyway, Detective, now that you've ruined my morning, why are you here?"
"Of course, I'm sorry, you're right. Unfortunately, I'm here to inform you that Chastity Gregory was found dead in a hotel room this morning. Before you ask, yes this is a fairness case, and so any involvement you had with her can not be used against you in a court of law, as long as you are not the murderer.”
Michael chuckled, but his laughs were subdued compared to before hearing the news.
“Thank you. My fondness for the fairer sex isn't exactly a secret, but the legal coverage is nice. You'd be surprised at how many politicians, businessmen and women, and even police are active at these agencies and clubs. If the police ever decided to enforce the law, the whole city would shut down.”
“There's something about you that I just don't understand. Don't you artist types get a lot of free sex? You could probably take home a different girl every night, why bother even paying a prostitute, let alone frequenting the same one several times a month?”
Michael's boisterous laugh returned.
"You are full of surprises. I didn't think you were so crude! This may sound cliche, but there is no such thing as free sex. Every woman has a price she expects you to pay. Sometimes it's shallow like spending $1000 on a night on expensive drinks and food and clubs. Sometimes they want big favors like introducing them to an art dealer and vouching for their works. Sometimes they don't want money, but they want all my time. We have sex once and then the phone calls start. Ten times a day they call or just start showing up. It's almost impossible to find just a normal relationship.”
“Is that what you found with Chastity? A normal relationship?”
"Sort of. She didn't want to talk art. Had no ambition to become an artist. She never once called me, let alone left ten messages a day. We'd meet here and watch a movie or go to the zoo and watch the animals. Get cheap, greasy food on the way home. Really I was paying for the illusion of normalcy, simplicity. When she left, I got back to my work until I called her again, and we took up the fantasy where we left off. I'll miss that, but I can probably find someone else that's good at pretending."
“Did you used to drink wine on these dates?”
"Ick. I can't stand the stuff. I normally drink beer and whiskey and smoke marijuana. Sometimes I'll do some harder drugs if I'm in a mood."
“Did Chastity ever join you?”
“She'd drink beer or smoke marijuana, but never that much and nothing harder.”
“Did she ever mention a lover or a rival that might want her dead?”
"She was talking about retiring at some point in the near future. That usually means a rich lover has professed their ever-enduring infatuation. She never said who she wants to 'retire' with, though."
“You sure that was as straightforward as it seems? Could it have been a ploy to get more money?”
“No, she tried introducing me to more 'models' from the firm, like her friend Christine, but she was too typical. She just tried saying things I might want to hear. She talked about art and love and other lofty junk.”
- - -
Joe sat on a bench on the side of the road across the street from Harry Winterman's house; drinking a warm cup of coffee and listening to a portable radio. The row-house was only a few blocks north of the Benton Arm Modeling Agency. The dinner time news segment ended at 7 pm, and Joe waited on the bench for the last two hours. The sun set in the western sky as a tan coup pulled up to Winterman's house. A hunched over man dragged himself from the car and headed toward the house.
Wrong color car, but witnesses are always wrong about those types of details.
Joe shifted the cup of coffee and radio back to his apartment in Monolith and approached Winterman before he entered his home.
"Excuse me Mr. Winterman. My name is Detective Freedom, and I'm with the Angel Corps Homicide Division."
Winterman's face dropped, and he scowled. The front door flung open and Harry's wife, Mary, burst out in a $1000 designer house dress.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“ I was about to explain that ma'am. It would probably be best if discussed everything inside.”
“Do we have fairness protection?”
“Why? Do you need it?”
The woman balked at the question.
“Well.... I just ..... I mean.... well, I just want to know where we stand.”
"This is a fairness case, and by law, you have protection, as long as you aren't the killer. I think we should go inside now."
Harry brought Joe into a sitting room with comfortable couches, a small coffee table and a record player in the corner.
“What a lovely home you have here! This is just like what you see in the movies!”
Mary hovered around her husband, who sat in the room's main arm chair. She scowled.
“Why are you here detective!?
“We'll ma'am I'm here to discuss the death of an associate of your husband.”
“Stop playing games detective! Who died, tell us everything you know!”
"Well, I'm afraid I don't know much as we sit here now. I don't even really know if it is murder, yet. We found an escort in a hotel dead..."
"You don't even know if this whore was murdered, and you are here talking to us!? My husband would never even...."
"Excuse me ma'am, but this is clearly upsetting. I think it's best if your husband and I talk. This conversation will only become more uncomfortable for you.”
If she doesn't leave, this talk is likely not going anywhere. How can I know why she is so against talking...
"I will not leave! This affects me to! Think of the scandal! You should..."
Harry breathed an exacerbated sigh and faced his wife.
“We are going to have to have a long talk later, but for now I need to talk to the detective, alone.”
Mary stomped out of the room.
“An escort named Chastity Gregory died.”
Harry slouched further in his seat.
“You don't seem surprised.”
“You said before that an escort was found dead, she's the only escort I've ever used...”
Maybe. I did let that slip before, so it's possible.
“ How far did your relationship with Chastity go?”
“Oh, wow. I'm really glad Mary isn't here for this discussion.”
That's why I asked her to leave.
“Why is that?”
"She's demanding and overbearing at times, like what you saw before. She's just obsessed with climbing to the next social rung. I don't know when she became that way! She was completely different when we first started dating. I met her at the supermarket. You see I'm kind of clumsy and dropped my wallet, and all my cards fell on the ground. I was bent over cleaning them up and she literally fell head over heals. At first, she was angry and cursing at me. She claims she just thought I looked so pathetic cleaning up the cards, that she couldn't stay mad.”
I bet when she saw 'Trent' on your cards that made her stop...
"She was just so kind while we dated, even though she did push me into going to balls or celebrity parties. Then we got married, and she started trying to control my life. She always pushed me into the most boring situations if she thought there was something to gain.
Chastity was basically the opposite of Mary. She didn't mind what we were doing, as long as we were together. She also cared deeply about meteorology and excited to discuss weather, which is rare in random people."
"Could that have just been a ploy? What could an escort care about predicting weather?"
“She wasn't always an escort! Definitely not one who slept with her clients. Once, she lived in Bradley Island, which is an island full of amateur meteorologists. You see, Metroplex is a very temperate climate. The weather doesn't change much from day to day. Either it will rain, or it won't. Maybe it will be 2 degrees warmer or cooler than yesterday. Nothing exceptional but the weather in Bradley Island changes dramatically on any given day. Off shore volcanoes create erratic, turbulent air systems that can suddenly form tornadoes in winter or blizzards in summer. People in Bradley live or die based on guessing the weather."
“Once again, how close was your relationship with Chastity?”
"...we were in love. The last few liaisons were even free trysts. The first time I met her, she was a paid escort, which made the sex not feel like an affair. It wasn't cheating any more than hiring a masseuse. Once we started having sex for free, it became an exciting affair. It was getting serious, and I even thought of leaving Mary for Chastity and heading off to Bradley Island to research the unique weather."
"I'm sorry, I'm so thirsty right now. I haven't been able to get a drink for hours since I was waiting outside for you to come home. Can we go to the kitchen and get a drink?"
“Uh, sure, it's this way.”
Joe and Harry passed through a hall with an elongated decorative rug covered in a mural of the Metroplex cityscape during a red sunset. Harry pushed open a swinging door and entered the kitchen with Joe on his tail. Mary stood near the fridge with a shocked expression.
“What is HE doing in here!”
“He's thirsty from waiting. We are just going to have a quick drink.”
Mary stormed out of the room. Harry shook his head and walked over to a coffee maker sitting hear the main gas stovetop.
“See what I mean detective. It's like this all the time.”
“That must be tough...”
Joe surveyed the kitchen until he saw a small wine cooler sitting in front of a stainless steel backsplash next to an ivory colored refrigerator. The cooler was large enough to hold three bottles of wines. Joe peeked in through the cooler's glass door. The top and bottom openings held bottles, but the center container was empty.
“What type of wine do you have?”
"Well the top rack is a 13-year-old wine from the Vineland Plantation, and the bottom rack is a 21-year-old spiced wine from the Cranston Brothers Vineyard. I was just going to make some coffee, do you want wine instead? I normally only use those on special occasions."
"Oh no, no, of course not. Coffee is fine. To tell you the truth, I couldn't tell you the difference between a 21-year-old spiced wine and a two-year-old supermarket discount wine. Those sound expensive, and it would be a waste for me to drink."
"You're not alone, Detective, most people can't tell the difference between a good wine or even a wine that's been watered down. Here you go."
Harry placed an antique, gold lined coffee cup in front of Joe and he sipped. He poured himself a cup, and Joe asked him a question bluntly.
“Did you see Chastity today?”
Harry couldn't bring himself to look up from his cup.
Next Part IV
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.