Authors note: All posted excerpts are rough, uncorrected text only.
Story excerpt 1:
Who knows the nature of dragons? Not fire breathing medieval flying reptiles but myth made flesh. That which is so terrible, and does such harm that it deserves no other title. That which destroys. That which is better extinct.
The awful, stinking, corrupt, fundamental and bloody truth of dragons, is that dragons are human. All of them. No exceptions. Murderous, stinking creatures that leave nothing but waste in their passing.
Chief Inspector Veeta Parnay, EuroPol special crimes division, stared at the bloody shredded mess in the hopper, her gorge rising. This was the end of the line for the victims. Probably all female, probably all slave prostitutes found to be an embarrassment to their masters. Disposed of like so much garbage via this slaughterhouses industrial mincer. Probably still awake and breathing. She shuddered. No one deserved that. How many of the poor kids in the brimming stainless steel disposal truck? Capacity six hundred kilo’s at maybe fifty to sixty kilo’s per? Twenty three, twenty five? Oh Vishnu. The childhood prayer for deliverance arose without her bidding.
We call on Agni, on the trees lords of the forest, herbs and plants,
Indra, Sūrya, Brihaspati: may they deliver us from woe.
We call on Vishnu, Bhaga, on Mitra and Varuna the King,
Ansa Vivasvān we address: may they deliver us from woe.
We call on Savitar the God, on Pūshan the establisher,
Tvashtar the foremost we address: may they deliver us from woe.
Gandharvas and Apsarases; the Asvins, Brāhmanaspati,
Aryaman, God, by name we call: may they deliver us from woe.
This word of ours to Day and Night, and to the Sun and Moon we speak,
All the Ādityas we address: may they deliver us from woe.
Vāta, Parjanya we address, the Quarters, and the Firmament,
And all the Regions of the sky: may they deliver us from woe.
From all that brings a curse may Day and Night and Dawn deliver us.
Being a whore shouldn’t carry the death penalty she thought. It was just a means of making a living for the low skilled. For others a career option that fed a high sex drive. A fallback on the only commodity they had in time of hardship. Yet here were at least the remains of how many? DNA might give them an ID on a third. The rest would be Non-Cits. The undocumented. No passports, no ID, no records. Maybe they’d flag up if a near relative had reported them missing. Maybe not if they’d been baby farmed for this single purpose.
Of course they’d catch the footsoldiers, the disposers, low on the food chain perps only fit for permanent incarceration, or better still, shot while evading arrest. That could be arranged. The real question was; would she catch the real villains, those who actually gave the orders? Those who watched and smiled as evil was done at their behest. The real sicko’s.
The sound of retching again echoed around the soundproofed building. Sergeant-Investigator Mykovsky was being sick again in a corner. His Metropolitan Police hardened guts burning with the horror. Even the hard bitten evidence team were showing signs of being green around the gills.
End of excerpt
First chapter from MSS of ‘A falling of Angels’.
What is the meaning of Death? If the halting of key human biological processes can have meaning. What is the significance of the cessation of Me? What price the victory of entropy? An end to life’s electrochemical activity and tiny bundle of tightly clenched anxieties? An abrupt shift from the vibrant, singing of alive to most certainly, and incontrovertibly not?
What remains of life when the body ceases function? Are all that’s left quantum shadows, drifting on the wind between the here and not here long after the body that sustained the Me is rendered inoperative? Is there substance? Or are the dead only delusions in our dreams? Do blessed souls really find some everlasting Nirvana or Heaven for their conscientiousness and good deeds? Do the less virtuous or aware go from their tiny frightened little something back to the big dark nothing, or somewhere far, far worse? Yeah, and why does it have to be me who hears them?
Newly promoted Detective Sergeant Paul Calvin was pondering all these questions while holding the scene of crime team at bay with a single upraised index finger. Pausing for thought was always a good idea while taking a first look around at newly dead victims. This particular one was the freshest casualty of the current spate of gang killings. A security guard had heard a shot and bustled around outside the old Ashmead Road warehouse, at a safe distance of course. Then waited ten minutes for all the perps to scatter before calling for police assistance. Then after half an hour, an unarmed two man response team had spent an unhappy hour keeping rats the size of Terriers at bay, exhausting their pepper sprays until Paul and his scene of crime circus could arrive.
The still oozing corpse with half her face a bloody crater gave him his usual jolt to the stomach. Then professional coldness took over, stepping back from the emotional edge, staring dispassionately at the face down body. Female. Mixed race. Twenty five malnourished kilos wringing wet. Reddish brown blotches on inside of neck, both sides, from repeated and badly applied pressure injections. So, a serial abuser then.
Entrance wound in nape of neck, execution style. A puckered red circle ringed with speckled powder burns and blood spots, now drying caked light brown dreadlocks and neck hair into blackened lumps. Victim had been kneeling, blood marks and dust scrapes on knees from abrupt contact with cracked concrete warehouse floor. No muzzle bruising, so point blank but not contact. Lower cheap and grubby denim clothing studded with chain and cheap studs still intact, so no sexual assault.
Usual voiding of bowels and bladder at time of death. Customary rich and foetid ammoniac stink of unwashed body. Spray of exit wound reddish brown material partially hidden in a still stickily spreading pooling of blood. Wrists roughly tied together behind her back with anonymous grey duct tape. Remaining eye wide, dilated pupil staring emptily at the dusty ground. Lips shrunk back from bleached teeth. Poorly made up face muddied with her last tears. Just another dumb kid.
Weapon of choice looked like a heavy calibre handgun or small bore shotgun. Although he wouldn’t know for certain until his forensic ravens had finished picking over this corpse for clues.
Not that old, maybe fourteen, maybe as old as sixteen, no more. Nose and lip piercings with crude blue ink gang initiation tattoos on face and neck. From what he could tell, just another one of so many lost children from the travellers ghetto to the south of town. Probably the disused Industrial Estate down by Avonmouth docks where Uniform only went armed or in full tactical. A rats nest of the unwanted that made the notorious Sink look like a care home for the elderly. A place where much happened, but little got told. Even surveillance drone cover had been withdrawn.
He could hear her tiny quantum shadow whimpering in the back of his head as it began to fade. All she had ever been in her last seconds before the gunshot ripped through her head and took her from alive to not. A small packet of poorly defined misery / shame / self pity about to be erased from existence. Her fading essence couldn’t even tell him her name.
Paul stared around for other clues, footprints that weren’t Police issue footwear. Cartridge casings, nub ends, lost jewellery. Discarded anything that might tell him who the perpetrators were.
Whoever the victim turned out to be, murder was murder. He already had an idea who was behind the killing. One of the local untouchables. If only he could scare up some court admissible proof.
This was ‘King’ Vics turf, and Paul knew where that particular sociopath would be at this time of day. Holding court with his friends down at the St Lucia community club in St Paul’s, an illegal drinking establishment in one of the older parts of the city. Making sure he was seen a long way from here. Establishing his alibi. Not that he was here anyway. Vic was a hands off kind of guy. He had ‘people’. People who paid off favours, obtained credit, scored their daily pleasure for ‘odd jobs’ like this.
The scene of crime team watched impassively as the pilot jacket wearing Paul took a wide circle around the cooling body. The Uniform team watched him, or more accurately what he was looking at very carefully. All of Western Division knew about Paul’s conviction rate, and the ambitious both envied and wanted to emulate him. Although having a third of your brain destroyed and rebuilt might not be a price they’re willing to pay. Paul reflected idly as he picked up the fringes of their jealous little thought fragments.
After a few long seconds, he stilled the anger that always rose in his soul and walked back to the scene of crime team, giving them a nod to get going.
He stood back to make a call. “Jed?” He said.
“Who wants him?” Paul recognised the drawling, defiant tone which meant Jed had company of the ‘wrong’ sort.
“An old mate. Needs something good.”
“Cool with it. Watcha got?” Jed’s tone relaxed. That was their code for ‘I can’t talk right now’.
“Okay. Next Tuesday?” Another code. Two hours, call you then.
“Slap it.” Delivered with a chuckle. Gang slang for ‘Of course’.
“Hike it. Chill babe.” Paul said. More code. Safe house up in the ‘burbs. Jed knew the one. See you in a couple of hours.
Paul turned back to the waiting scene of crime crew. “Okay. All yours.” The photo drones buzzed over and began taking holographic coverage. One had already identified the shot impact and stray projectile fragments on the stained floor, small items highlighted by low powered lasers from the little discs underside, scanned and logged. The orange and white band coveralled Scene of Crime team moved in to meticulously retrieve the identified samples.
Uniform had already flipped the one witness statement to his ePhone, for all the good it was. No descriptions that would stand up in court, and a quick background check on the guard flagged up a not guilty verdict of an unspecified sex offence. Paul grimaced. Even though it was probably for taking an ill advised piss in a public place, there was no sense letting some gleeful defence brief chew the poor sod to bits on the witness stand. Even if he had been found not guilty, the mere insinuation would be enough to undermine the guards credibility. Real evidence would have to come from elsewhere.
Images flipped into his inbox, including a computer reconstruction of the projectile. Home made, crudely rifled slug. Home made gun, then. Another dead end. Those things could be churned out by anyone with basic metalworking skills and enough nous to use basic machine tools. Failing that, the specs might have been downloaded to a dodgy 3D replicator from the DarkNet and turned out as a cheap one off.
No doubt the weapon in question was already rusting in pieces, sinking slowly into river mud. Somewhere between here and whatever human sewer the hitters lived. Because that’s where they always lived. The media myth of the well heeled hit man was, at least every time he’d seen it, a myth. The truth was that the real face of evil was low grade banality. The desperate or simply unscrupulous in pursuit of short term gain and a cheap fix. Sure, there were the gang ‘enforcers’ who would happily break legs or dispose of rivals if told, but nothing like a murder incorporated or guns for hire. Fortunately the real hard men, and occasionally women, were few, and did more threatening than real killing. Normally another gang would pay off another by disposing of the stupid or simply unlucky. Never outside the gang structure. Too many intelligence stings and undercover Europols to snag the unwary.
Just the gang members. Loyalty was everything, and no-one refused or grassed on pain of exile, beatings, death, or sometimes all three. Their currency was favours, and whatever largesse their leaders cared to dish out. You could bet your life it was never credit or anything the Revenue could track. Reputation and barter were king in the low rent district. When you didn’t have anything, favours were all you had to trade. All else could be stolen.
Which is where we come in. Even the thought wore a badge.
Two: Finding the fallen
Two hours later, out past operating Crimecam coverage, Paul shambled down a run down suburban street wearing a stained and badly rewaxed hooded canvas jacket, sweats and cheap imitation ‘Sprinter’ trainers. He looked the part of one of the local unemployed, pounding pavement, looking for work, any work to pay for a meal and shelter for the night. Swinging with a feigned pigeon toed wide boy stride down a narrow, stinking walkway punctuated by broken plastic fencing, discarded and smashed bottles, dog and even human turds, he skipped through a gap in a fence under a poorly trimmed rhododendron hedge and into an overgrown tiny back garden under a sagging rain awning. The back door wasn’t locked.
Checking a scan tagger he kept in his pocket for hidden surveillance devices, he entered the kitchen to the smell of highly illegal tobacco cigarettes. A dark skinned figure, anonymous in similar waxed canvas jacket and sweats, sat on the cracked and graffiti spattered kitchen counter smoking, swinging his feet idly. “Yo, bro.” His aura was mostly pale greeny blue with a shifting patch that drifted red through orange to pale yellow. Jed was alert but confident of their safety. He blew a bitterly perfumed smoke ring and grinned.
“Hey, Jed.” Paul greeted undercover Detective Constable Jedediah Erasmus Carter.
“The girl, huh?” Jed said non-committally.
“Not much. The kid was a carrier, a runner. Strictly small time.”
“Snuffing a runner? Why?” That didn’t make much sense, unless Vic wasn’t as secure on his scabby gangland throne as he made out.
“Bad news bunny. Vic had her snuffed. Don’t know the hitters. New guys. White supremacists from East Brum. Rage heads. Bad news crazies.” The girl had given ‘King’ Vic news he hadn’t wanted to hear, then talked back at him when he’d gotten mad at her. So Vic had her killed by some heavy guys, ‘Rage’ addicts from just outside Birmingham’s savage suburban sprawl. Probably to pay off a couple of favours. All rumour of course, and no good as proof in court, but better than nothing. All the Police could do was break the links. Disrupt the chain enough and evidence would surface. It always did. Whether it was usable or not was down to the lawyers.
“Who was she?”
“Nobody. Bad luck kid with an ego problem and bad parents. Camp fodder.”
“We’re all that.” Paul nodded ruefully, staring at the graffiti scabbed wall with gaping holes where wiring and pipes had been stripped out for the copper.
“Say that right.” Jed agreed. “So, what’s the word?”
“From the top?” Paul sniffed. “No go. Stats.” The higher ups didn’t care, and Ben Wallace had already handed Paul the news with an apology in his eyes. There were other, more important cases to crack.
“Shit deal.” Jed sagged. “How ’bout from you?”
“A brick from the wall.” Another link in the chain that would eventually pull the gangland king off his soiled throne. Cut the chain of supply. For a little while. Until the next supplier moved to fill his niche.
“Business as usual, huh?”
“You got that.” Paul glanced sidelong at Jed. “Anything?”
“Chain of evidence?” Jed asked.
Paul shook his head. “What was the bad news from the bunny?”
“Word is about some special deal. New stuff coming, all the heeled party kiddies want their thrills and Vic’s a primo supplier. Word is, someone busted a shipment and Vic had heavy cash running on it.”
“Shame.” Paul commiserated insincerely. “New stuff?”
“Big new thrill.” Jed confirmed.
“Tells me nothing.” Paul wrinkled his nose.
“Implants. Little gold pellets. That’s the gossip. Sniff ’em up and instant party pants. No after effects. No guilt. Guaranteed.”
“Shit.” Paul swore softly. His eyes widened in annoyed surprise, half handsome features twisting into a scowl.
“Rings a bell?”
“Big fucking Ben scale.”
“That’s not so good.”
“You know that job I got involved in eighteen months ago. In the Smoke?”
“The big secret thing?”
“Yeah. Implants. Same thing.” Paul said cryptically.
“What did they do?”
“Make people superhuman. Make even a total psycho Rage-head look like a day old kitten.”
“I missed that story.” Jed seemed startled by the news.
“So did the press. Oh, and you didn’t hear it from me. Official secrets. Europol and SIS level only. Do not pass on.” Paul added.
“You got that.” Paul suppressed a nightmare shudder remembering the girl in the bare interrogation room. How easily she’d surged out of secure K-strap restraints with murder in her eyes.
“You know buddy, that sounds like super shit. Don’t you need a serious lab and some heavy brain power to make it? High tech don’t come cheap or easy.” Jed remarked.
“Yeah. I’m going to talk to some people. Wherever it’s coming from, we have to shut that source down, and fast.” Paul grimaced. This was serious bad, the worst news of all. Even if the implants simply carried highs, not mayhem, they were still only a few molecules away. Maybe SIS hadn’t ‘deep stored’ all the Gaians like Hertford had indicated. ‘Threat neutralised’ my cute and furry arse. The technology would be all over the DarkNet by now.
“Met-heads?” Jed broke into his train of thought.
Paul shook his head. “Bigger friends.”
“Ah. What makes you think they’ll listen?”
“Because they owe me. Big time.”
Jed half understood Pauls recent involvement with SIS. He nodded guardedly. “Gotcha.”
“You said it.” Paul confirmed.
“Hey!” Jed said softly, eyes looking upwards as a board stealthily creaked above them. Paul reacted by half closing his eyes and letting his mind drift upwards towards the source. “Just a kid.” Paul whispered, rolling his eyes upwards until only the whites showed. Then he opened his eyes properly again and nodded upwards.
“How..” Jed said softly, his face screwed up in disbelief. How’d he know? Looks freaky when he does that. Well creeps me out.
“Trust me.” Paul whispered as he caught Jeds astonished thought, returning a crooked half smile, sidestepping as quietly as he could out of the tiny kitchens doorway. Jed watched him catfoot across a gaping hole in the passage floor towards the remains of the stairs. Catching Pauls ‘keep talking’ finger spin gesture, he glanced upwards again and nodded.
“You got that right, bro.” Jed continued aloud as Paul stretched across two missing treads, trying to think himself silent and invisible.
As Jed monologued to keep up the distraction, ahead of him he could feel the little bundle of anxious curiosity focus on a hair thin gap between floorboards. Another blob of anxious energy hid in the next room. Ferals. Runaways from a traveller camp by their foetid smell and primitive thought shapes. They also had a dog with them, a frightened mutt, raddled with mange and half a dozen other canine ailments, owners desperate hand clamped over the poor half starved animals muzzle to stop it barking.
Reaching the top of the stairs, Paul simply positioned himself in the doorway, leaning casually on the one side, watching their watcher with an air of amusement. He stopped trying to think invisible and smiled at the ragged figure with its head to the dusty cracked boarding. Another figure looked up from the next doorway, eyes wide and startled from across the bare, dusty floor. The dog whined and struggled. Yellow flared and crackled across dirty brown auras. The figure on the floor rolled expertly to its feet, the sudden gleam of a knife blade in its hand. The gesture said threat. The aura and a trembling leg told another story. It stank of week old urine.
“Fuckyer!” The ragged kid made to lunge. Paul could easily see the colours of fright and indecision and didn’t react.
“Well, fuck you too.” He leaned against the door jamb and smiled back. “What you doing in my place?”
“S’ours!” Was the defiant comeback.
“Like fuck it is.” Paul said amiably. “Mine.”
“We wuz’ere fust!”
“My turf.” Behind him, he could feel Jed edging up the stairs. “Whose you?”
The answer was a sullen silence and the knife tip quivered between them in mute defiance. Paul quietly wished he could do the projection thing like Megan. Send this defiant kid running, a nightmare on his tail, but hang on. He craned his chin forward. The other, the one hiding just out of sight trying to keep the mutt quiet was sick. Really ill. Older sister with a broken leg, and worse. How she was staying conscious with that much pain was beyond him. He kept his eyes firmly on the kid, while calling over his shoulder. “Jed, call the Paramedics and get lost. Give them my cell.”
“No ‘bulence!” The kid fearfully half shuffled towards him. Knife wavering.
“I’m gone.” Came Jed’s reply. Then his footsteps moved downstairs and the outside door rattled briefly.
“No ‘bulence!” Snapped the kid. Paul straightened up and stared the defiant little tyke down. Hope he doesn’t realise I’m bluffing, but so’s he. The kids aura flared fright yellow, but this time eyes and thoughts betrayed his indecision. He knew his sister was hurt, but didn’t know how badly, but was determined to keep her out of the hands of ‘the Soshal’. They’d run away from, oh shit. Paul’s gorge rose as he saw the surface memories flicker with the stabbing brightness of pain and hatred. It must have shown in his eyes, because the tip of the knife drooped. “No Social Services.” Pauls agreed with a small nod, meaning every syllable. God alone knows how I’m going to fake that one out. The Social are going to be buzzing around these two like flies around rotting bin bags. Obviously physically and sexually abused. The whole package. Today just gets better and better. He watched the kid standing his ground, waiting for the moment to strike. Only I know exactly what you’re thinking, you little sod, and you’re not using that rusty piece of scrap on me. Paul too stood quite still, staring the kid down, not giving any ground. His ePhone vibrated. “Yeah.” Not taking his eyes off the kid with the rusty blade he answered. It was Jed again. The Paramedics were on their way, no sirens. Twenty minutes.
“We’ve got twenty minutes, so put the sticker away and back off, kid.” He said sternly. Jeebus, he’s only six, same age as Emma. Paul felt a sensation of gnawing disgust as vile overloaded memories spilled out of the kids consciousness, then realised that under the filthy rags, matted hair and streaky dirt grimed features was a little girl. He clenched his teeth with suppressed rage as he felt what had been done to her and her sister by that filthy pigshit of her mothers current boyfriend. Steady Calvin, get even, not mad. Went his inner monologue.
He let the kids mind roll back to her home in a broken down double decker transit unit they and two other women lived in with their kids. In territory the ‘Soshal’ wouldn’t normally be seen dead in. Not without a full tactical team. Not even ‘rescuing’ abused kids like this. Besides, Ferals were no good for adoption. They tore up foster homes and families more often than not. Too many ‘issues’, and most often ended up progressed from one foster home to another on their inevitable path to a secure facility after graduating from ‘care’. Very few licensed foster carers would touch them, so if the ‘Soshal’ got hold, these two would eventually disappear into the ‘secure unit’ system. Which pissed him off mightily. Although his coppers cynicism rapidly weighed in with; down boy, it’s not for you to fix the world. Just do what you can.
The rules said; notify Social Services, fill in the reports and pass it on, pass it on. Engage in the inevitable and interminable game of message tag. Let the Social do their job. Set the machine in motion and get out of the way. There’s nothing you else can do. Rules, follow the rules or be disciplined. Stinking bloody unforgiving rules.
Yet seeing these two, broken and tainted as they were, raised the ghost of parental outrage. Their grubby faces morphing into those of his own children, Emma and David. His two little anchors in the storms of life. When Addie allowed him access. Which was getting more and more infrequent.
For these two he did know someone who might help. Someone who’d do it just to pay off a favour. Someone who didn’t like being beholden to a copper. Someone who could probably handle these two pieces of system fodder. Might take time and effort, but perhaps today the machine could be cheated. No doubt the boss would make his usual cynical comment about him and ‘waifs and strays’, but Ben Wallace didn’t have kids, so what did he know?
His ePhone buzzed again. Crimerep was messaging him about an illegal firearms maker. Normally Ben filtered all this stuff to his dwindling staff of detectives, but they had a forensic link from this mornings killing to a 3D printing shop in the Western region down the old M5. Someone had downloaded specs for machine pistols from the DarkNet, and was churning out copies of working sub-machine guns for the local gang lords. The rumour mill said there was an inter-tribal war in the offing, and it was part of his job to shut it down before the shooting started. Never rains but it pours. Still, he’d get these kids sorted before having a sniff around the back door of the 3D printers and setting up some remote surveillance.
Keeping a suspicious eye on the little girl with the rusty blade, he made out a swift online warrant request for surveillance. He’d need to borrow a semi autonomous drone package from somewhere, and park it inside the building. If there was something dodgy going on, the drone would give him a direct camera eye which, with the right warrant, would be admissible in court. He hoped. If he could get the warrant, and if this stupid kid didn’t give him whatever disease by sticking that savage piece of scrap in him.
Paul settled himself comfortably, back against the stairwell wall, a metre back from the upper room doorway. The kid relaxed a little. Her aura settled, and a speculative look drifted across her face. She knew something about him, but kept it behind the mask of her face. Not even giving voice to the thought. “Yore ‘im, encha? Copper wot nicks yer forts.” She said at length. Paul didn’t react. “You get in people’s heads, yeah? Mum sez you ain’t a total cunt. You know my mum?”
Paul shook his head, then reached a little and caught a half familiar mental image. Someone vaguely familiar. Someone before…. Before I lost a third of my brain to that bomb blast.
“Mum sed yer woodent know. She sez yore okay.” The rusty piece of steel had disappeared. It seemed a truce of sorts had been agreed. His ePhone buzzed. The Social weren’t coming. It was after four on a Friday, and the weekend duty guy was on sick leave. The kid looked at him speculatively. “No social services.” Paul said, and the atmosphere instantly relaxed. “Get your sisters leg fixed. I got a friend.” Although the mutt would have to go to the local Animal shelter. They might get it back. Or not. Poor bloody creature.
Another buzz. Paramedics were outside and wanted to know how to get in. He switched to voice. “Side door lock’s broken. DS Calvin on scene. Upper floor, watch the stairs. Two casualties, juniors.” He heard the outside kitchen door creak cautiously open.
“Up here. Broken leg.” He glanced apology at the ragged girl. “Abuse cases.” He said to his ePhone. Her face scrunched up, and she sniffed. She seemed to have mastered the full body shrug. “Ev’s.” Was all she said and seemed to shrink a little. The dog yapped and struggled. She went over to sit with her sister.
The lead paramedic, a fortyish woman in dayglo green striped orange coveralls and cap, wrinkled her nose at the smell, expertly sidestepped the ragged girl at a nod from Paul, and gently pushed the dogs muzzle aside, giving it a reassuring scratch with a steri-membrane gloved hand as she set to work checking the older girls broken leg. Her partner, a larger man in his mid thirties, stayed in the doorway, saying nothing, passing equipment from his large tote bag at a gesture from his partner.
Paul watched the Paramedics careful emotional control and focus with interest. They spoke quietly in soothing tones, with almost instinctive mutual understanding. Their thoughts were mostly shapes, with little flickers of words as punctuation. Observations, numbers, pain suppressor settings. A hand held out, a shared look. Paul stayed leaning against the stairwell wall, exchanging what he hoped were reassuring glances with the two anxious girls.
While the Paramedics were busy, Paul stepped back from the door into the rext room, avoiding a gaping hole in splintered floorboards. He dialled a number from his ePhones secure link list. “I have a message for Mister Hertford.” He said quietly to the knowing silence on the other end of the line. “It’s regarding our business last year. You have my ID.” Then closed the voice only call.
A moment later he was startled by a Europol Central ID buzzing back at him. “Your call has been referred to EuroPol Central.” Said the smoothly modulated automatic voice. The line went dead. WTF? He stared back at the little square of glossy plastic, vaguely annoyed at being fobbed off by some automated system.
What bugged him was how impersonally an urgent matter had been answered. It also raised the question of what had happened to Hertford? He didn’t like the man much, but liking didn’t mean you couldn’t respect the spook for what he did. Another series of calls to Veeta Parnay’s and her offices was treated exactly the same way. Criminal Investigation Service seemed, like SIS, to have suddenly dropped off the map. Even Ben Wallace flagged up as ‘not available’. What in hell was going on? He flipped onto a news channel. Nothing, just the usual half informed fluff and celebrtity gossip. Yet a building knot in his gut told him something important was rapidly going pear shaped.
A ‘power saving’ warning flagged up on his ePhone. Paul wrinkled his face in annoyance. Domestic power for this area was going to be cut off in ten minutes as part of the local electricity management plan. Shops without independent power supplies would be shooing out their remaining customers, getting ready to shut doors as security systems went off line. No one wanted to be caught out by the shoplifting gangs.
Those willing to invest in their own backup power supply would keep trading. All it took was a large enough generator and inverter. And an affordable fuel supplier, black market or not. Most of the fast food restaurants ran off leftover cooking oil on modified diesel generators. Even if the practice was supposedly illegal. The City Council were supposed to be in charge of environmental enforcement, but they didn’t really like the risks. Besides, Local Authority officers could be bought, intimidated, beaten up, or even ‘disappeared’. Hell, there were whole areas in the poorer area of town these Energy Inspectors wouldn’t even enter.
Not that there were enough Police to protect these deeply unpopular Environmental officers, whose job it was to enforce the contradictory cocoon of power supply regulations. It would help if there were enough power to give them some light to work in. The world was increasingly full of deep shadows. EU mandated ‘Green Grids’ simply couldn’t deliver enough electricity. Even with rationing and structured power outages.
On top of that, all generators had to be licensed. Then there was the taxes on fuel and generator sets. The Revenue, ever under pressure to fill perpetually depleted public coffers, didn’t like anything they couldn’t track, and they always yelled for help with raids on unlicensed premises. Again, there were never enough bodies in uniform to help enforce all the rules. Especially when front line services were being cut, yet again. Yet how much did the Western Region Police Commissioner get as a pay rise this year? Paul sighed heavily.
The Paramedics had finished their work and were carrying the older girl with an inflation splinted leg delicately down the stairs on a lightweight stretcher. Her aggressive little sister followed, the mutt whining as it picked its way past the gaping holes in the stairs in frantic pursuit of its mistress. There was that call to make. Time to move. He followed them to the Ambulance. Both girls were coaxed into the back. “I made the call to Social Services.” Paul lied to the Paramedics. “Flip me the treatment ID and I’ll follow up.”
“Really?” The male Paramedic eyed Paul sceptically.
“Truly. Hey, it’s a long weekend, and that means no cover until Tuesday at least.” Paul continued. Some of which was true, but he’d have these two safely out of the system by then, and the overworked Social Service case officers would have already archived the paperwork. If they hadn’t bulk deleted his messages first thing Monday morning like nearly always. No harm, no foul, right? “I’ll follow up. DS Calvin.” He flashed his warrant card.
The lead Paramedic shrugged as his partner fastened their mobile passenger, oddly compliant, facing her sister across the aisle of the Ambulance. Paul winked at her deadpan, and received a tiny nod for his trouble. The girl glanced at the dog, whining and scratching at the Ambulances rear door, and Paul caught the flicker that she was expecting him to look after the mutt. Part of their unspoken deal. The upper door closed and he grabbed the loose skin at the back of the skinny mongrels neck as it scrabbled at the ambulance door. It whined, struggled and snapped at his restraining hand as the Ambulance whirred away.
“You’re with me.” He dragged the resisting animal, desperate paws scrabbling at concrete, inside the safe house and shut the door while he cut a length of cord from a broken roller blind. The little animal whined pitifully and cowered in the corner as he fashioned a makeshift collar and leash. “Sorry pooch, but I’ve got no place for you right now.” Paul said aloud. Looping the cord around its neck, he tied it at the back, away from frantically snapping yellow teeth. Another length of cord formed the leash.
With the little mongrel straining and choking on the makeshift leash, Paul began the long walk back into town. He called in the favour about the girls to Fat Mary, a licensed child minder who specialised in problem kids. Heart of gold and permasharp mind. If she couldn’t handle these two, no-one could, and they’d get lost forever in the abusive labyrinth of the care system.
Mary owed him for semi officially getting rid of a stalker ex by getting him posted on the official sex offenders register. Stalker Ex, listed as a borderline Paedo, was now forbidden from contact with children under the age of sixteen. Paul had also walked her through getting a civil injunction against abusive Ex. For that alone she said she owed him, even if he was a lousy black hearted copper, so today he was going to see how much currency that debt was worth.
It was getting towards dusk when he arrived at Mary’s place. Tying the dog at the gate of a small suburban front garden, he walked the few toy discarded paces to the front door. Before he could knock, Fat Mary opened the door. “Well look what the cat dragged in.” Said a loud voice with braying overtones. “Detective Sergeant Calvin. What have my little dears done this time?” Fat Mary, a tall skinny dark woman in her late twenties, wearing a long heavy Kinte cloth dress, arched a painted eyebrow at him, an amused glint in her remaining african goddess eye.
“I’d like a word.” Paul went along with the act. “Can I come in?” He could feel curtains twitching all around.
“Got a warrant?” She demanded loudly.
“No, but I don’t want to discuss it for all the neighbours to hear.” Paul raised his voice a little. Just to make sure the wrong people got the idea he wanted them to have.
“Please yourself, I’m sure.” She said tartly, stepping back to let him in.
When the door shut behind them she dropped the act and gave him a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. “Leave your coat there, love, it reeks.” Mary instructed in a softer voice, her aura red tinged pinks and greens. She was happy to see him.
Paul roughly slung his coat on a hook at the bottom of the stairs. “Sorry about the mess, day care’s always a sod to clean up after Friday’s.” She led him into the kitchen, angular pattern shaved scalp looking like brown and black warning chevrons.
“I know.” He said.
“Ain’t it the truth. What can I do for you?” She indicated a seat at the dining area table. He sat down and made himself comfortable, gazing thoughtfully out over her broken toy populated back garden. It was scruffy, but possibly a hell of a lot better than where they were from.
“Two ferals. Girls. Abuse cases.” He gave her the bare bones.
“Camp fodder?” Mary looked at him briefly as she busied herself with the ritual of kettle and teapot. Paul nodded, her aura returned to its usual glittering turquoise, speckled with bright yellow pings of minor anxieties. It didn’t shift much as she took in his statement. “I don’t know. Those Ferals tear a place up before you get ’em gentled. Full of mischief and hard on the pocket. I take it this one’s to be off the books?” She glanced over a brightly clad shoulder, that spark of mischief in her remaining eye. She’d do it. Mary couldn’t have children herself, Stalker Ex had seen to that when he’d stabbed her twice in the belly and gouged her left eye out three years ago, but she loved them all regardless. She wasn’t just good at taming other people’s kids, she was a sly enchantress with a razor. A fairy godmother toting a pitchfork.
“That’s about the size of it.”
“Thought so. What makes you think I can do it?”
“Mary, there’s no one I know like you with kids.”
“And you’re calling in a favour? You’re a bastard, Paul Calvin. A golden hearted bastard, who’s as soft as mush for all your hard man act.”
“You got me.” He spread his hands wide and conceded a grin.
There was a long lip chewing pause whilst the kettle boiled. Mary sat down on a childishy painted kitchen chair at the table and held her hand out. Paul handed over his ePhone, and let her view the vid he’d taken. At length she nodded and handed it back as the kettle boiled. She put tea bags in cups and poured boiling water. “Scabby little tykes.” She commented after a moments thought. “Doubt if they’ll take kindly to washing.”
“Waifs and strays Mary. We’re all stray mongrels when it comes down to it.”
“Whose dog are you, Detective Sergeant Paul Calvin?” Mary teased.
“Oh, I’m a mutt. Currently without a collar.” He said, playing along.
She laughed a rich fruity laugh. “Addie was a fool to kick you out. You’re a good one.”
“Tell her that.”
“I did. Out loud. Right in the middle of Food Depot last week. Her new boyfriend didn’t like it much.” Ex-wife Adeline and Mary had been in the same year at school and bitter rivals. They didn’t fight any more, not with fingernails and claws like they used to. Mostly they fenced with words. “She said you were shagging every slut in town.” Mary continued with a raucous giggle. “So I said; ‘Oh, so you’re still sleeping with him, then’. I tell you she almost kicked off right next to the frozen pizza’s.”
“Thanks, Mary.” He said sardonically. “Next thing I know I’ll have a restraining order against me. I’m still having a job simply seeing my kids. Don’t make it impossible.”
“Sorry, but Addie is sometimes soo easy.”
“All the same.” Paul warned. “Don’t get caught up in my battles.”
“All right.” She conceded, patting his hand.
“I’ve got enough problems.”
She laughed again. “Sure. I won’t start anything if she don’t.”
“Thanks.” His ePhone buzzed. An ‘urgent’ icon flickering over the display.
“See you in a minute.” Mary took the hint in his eyes and left the kitchen.
Paul read the message with unease. Recall? All officers? He snorted in annoyance. Mary reappeared. “Bad news?”
“No.” He hastily pocketed his ePhone.
“Well it’s got you spooked.” She observed.
“You take care of the paperwork, and get those two to me. I’ll see them okay.” Mary quickly changed the subject. At least there was that much he could do. He left.