Frankie Bray has something; something that gives him an edge. It’s where he gets his power, his fight, that look in his eye like he knows what you’re thinking, and he will do anything to keep it. Detective Joe Forney wants nothing more than to take it from him and end his reign over Carrada’s streets, but he will have to battle every made guy, goon, crooked cop and useless politician to do it. Ray Moreno is just starting out. A heist gives him his in and now he must climb the greasy pole to the top while trying to stay alive.
The cold hit him like a rabid dog, sinking its teeth in and biting to the bone. The breath misted in front of his face as he stepped from the foyer and his patent leather sunk into a slushy pile of almost-snow. The ice water seeped through the seam and into his sock. He cursed. The shoes were brand new, the first leathers he’d ever owned. He shook his foot and cursed again and set off into the night, turning up his collar against the wind.
He watched the last stubborn rays of light disappear behind the brick and iron behemoths of the city as he walked. It was a favourite pass-time of his, the saving grace of the night shift, and he watched with bated breath for what would happen next. For a long while it was nothing and he trudged through deepening darkness, through thinning crowds and shutting shops, hands in pockets and chin turned down. But then it came. A flutter and a blink and then it was on; the first light of the night.
One by one, the rest followed, illuminating his path, warming his cockles, cheering his mood. Electric lights, they still amazed him. Almost a year and they still hitched the air in his chest. He’d lived his whole life in spitting distance of downtown Carrada, but Eastpoint had no electric lights. It had none of this; none of the autos cruising down the road or the heating in the buildings, none of the lights, none of the warmth, none of the theatres or shows, nickelodeons or clubs. If you wanted to see after dark in Eastpoint, you had to hope some schmuck had lit a trashcan on fire. They usually had.
The city had its own problems. The beam of a new light cut into his path and threw up the sight of a bum on the street. He was eating something, it looked like a rat, and yellow teeth snarled behind a bristling beard as their eyes met. The bum barked like a dog at him and sunk his fangs into his furry feast. It twitched. He shook his head and turned away. A million tiny suns shining in the sky, but all they did was better show the shit on the ground. There was a metaphor there, but he was too fucking cold to figure what it was.
The station lights were on, throwing shadows at thin, ragged curtains. Outside, two men smoked, leaning on their police autos and aiming superior looks at those on foot. Assholes. He pulled out a cigarette of his own and pushed it through gritted teeth, heading their way. The wind whipped at his face but he pulled his lighter and conjured a flame. The lighter was a good one. It had been his Pa’s before he’d died and his Ma had hidden it in her boot when the bailiffs had come for his old debts. He remembered Pa coming home with it one night when he was a boy, said he’d won it in a card game. That was his Pa; always winning card games, never seen with a deck. He’d heard Jimmy Borden’s brother talking about a lost lighter in church next Sunday. Even as a kid, he’d known to keep his mouth shut. He’d say this about his Pa, he had balls. Jimmy Borden’s old man was a made guy. Schmucks like his Pa didn’t rob made guys.
“Hey, Joe, how’s your nurse broad?” an asshole shouted. “I ain’t seen her since last night, she missing me yet?”
“Yeah I got a message from her.”
“Yeah, she said it ain’t a mole down there, it’s your dick. Doctors made a mistake, they never seen one so little before.”
Joe smiled into his collar and flipped him the bird. That was beautiful ‘fuck you’. He’d said it like a joke but he’d meant every bit of it. Joe got him every time, he didn’t know why he still bothered. Asshole.
The station’s warmth chased the cold from his bones and he breathed a contented sigh as he reached his desk. He shed his fancy new coat and threw it on his chair but didn’t get chance to join it before someone ran up to him.
“Joe, Schwartz wants you,” Pournikov said, half-whispering it like the juicy gossip it would soon become.
“Yeah, his office now. I don’t know why. I’d go quick though buddy, he seems pissed.”
Schwartz always seemed pissed. He’d got a cake in June for twenty years on the force and he’d glared at it like it had slapped his mother. Someone had later told Joe that it was his favourite. He nodded to Pournikov and headed to Shwartz’s office, straightening his tie and pretending like he didn’t see the other detectives eyeing his path.
“Get in here,” a terse voice shouted while his first knock was still ringing.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Close the door and sit down, Forney, you’re fucking late.”
Joe was twenty minutes early but he didn’t argue. He dropped into a wood chair and stared at the top of Lieutenant Schwartz’s balding head. He’d been writing when Joe had come in and hadn’t looked up yet, scribbling frantically on a scrap of paper then scrunching it up and throwing it in the trash. He repeated the process several times while Joe sat and waited, trying not to let his eyes wander around the office. It was big but spartan; bare walls, bare floor, bare desk. The only decorations were a dead plant in the corner and a battered old gramophone on the shelf. Schwartz clearly hadn’t upgraded to a wireless. Neither had Joe but you didn’t make that sort of green on a rookie detective’s wage.
He turned back to Schwartz and was struck by piercing blues beneath bushy eyebrows and receding hair. He was a thin man but tough, a bulging vein in his neck and wiry strength in his sinewy arms. Smoke hung around him like flies around shit, trailing from a thin cigar, clasped in thin fingers. It had withered to a stump but another would be lit while that one still smouldered. Joe had never been in this office, he’d barely said two words to Schwartz, but the old hands had given him the lowdown the second he’d walked through the door: don’t cross Schwartz, don’t talk back to Schwartz; Schwartz is tough, Schwartz is a bastard, Schwartz don’t trust guys who don’t smoke but don’t you fucking dare light up in Schwartz’s office.
“You’re on my team,” Schwartz said.
“Er, no I’m not, sir.”
“What did you fucking say?”
Don’t talk back to Schwartz.
“I’m with Captain McGinty, sir.”
“I say you’re on my fucking team, you’re on my fucking team. I’ll tell McGinty.”
McGinty outranked Schwartz but Joe wasn’t stupid enough to say something like that.
“What team is it, sir?”
“A fucking good question, at last. You’re from Eastpoint, right?”
Joe’s guard was up. Nothing good came out of Eastpoint, everyone knew that, and he didn’t spread his hometown around. But he didn’t hide it either. He straightened his back in his chair.
“Don’t get defensive kid, I don’t give a fuck where you’re from. But you know the area, you know the guys?”
There it was – the guys. It was always about the fucking guys in Eastpoint and everyone knew which guys they were. He didn’t want it; he came here to get away from it. You couldn’t touch them, god he wished you could, but you couldn’t.
“It’s a simple fucking question, Forney. The guys, you knew them? The wiseguys.”
Fuck you. That’s not me, I don’t want to know the guys. Yeah, I’m from Eastpoint, but Eastpoint ain’t me, not anymore. “Yeah, I know ‘em. Some of ‘em.”
“Your old man was a crook.”
Joe bristled at that.
“My Pa wasn’t in the fucking mob. He worked hard. He lost it all in the crash so yeah maybe he took a few things to survive but he never-”
“Don’t you fucking curse at me, Forney. I don’t take that fucking language from anybody, least of all a fucking rookie.”
It was tough but Joe pulled his expression to chastised and waited for Schwartz to go on.
“I didn’t say he was in the fucking mob but yeah, you get where this is going. I’m putting a mob taskforce together and you’re in it. You know the town, you know the crooks, you got an in with them. More than that, so far as I can tell, you ain’t crooked. Maybe you’re just too fucking stupid to know a bribe when you see one, maybe not. I don’t give a shit but I don’t take crooked cops on my team. Half the guys in this precinct, half the politicians in City Hall and all the fucking crooks in Eastpoint have Frankie Bray’s green in their pocket and I’m fucking sick of it. The fucker’s going down and you and me are taking him there.”
The Lieutenant’s words struck Joe like he’d been hit by a champ. The guy was crazy, he’d cracked like a china wrecking ball. You didn’t take on Frankie Bray. There wasn’t a wiseguy in the family who’d got so much as a parking ticket these past few years, the boss himself? There wasn’t a witness who’d testify, there wasn’t a jury who’d convict. Shit, there wasn’t a judge who’d take the case; Frankie owned every one of them.
“You can’t take down Frankie. I wish you could, but you can’t. He’s untouchable.”
He braced himself for the ton of bricks but it never fell. Schwartz leaned forward instead, a smile on his face and steel in his eye.
It was a challenge. Schwartz leaned back in his chair and stared Joe down, daring him to argue. He didn’t, of course, he wasn’t a fucking idiot.
“There’s something out there, kid,” he finally continued. “Something new. I don’t know what it is, but you’re gonna find out and we’re gonna use it to put a fucking end to Frank Bray.”
He couldn’t help it, he leaned forward. Schwartz flattened his cigar and pulled out another, grinning in the haze while Joe stared at him, perched on the edge of his seat. He wanted this, he wanted it so bad he couldn’t get his lips to form the question.
“How? What do you mean, something out there?”
“I don’t know.” Still, he grinned. “It’s a whisper, a fucking hint of rumour of a whisper, but it’s real. Frankie’s smuggling something or he’s got something and he needs it, he needs it like a baby needs a tit. That’s where he gets it from: his power, his fight, that look in his eye like he knows what you’re thinking. And we’re gonna take it from him.”
“It’s crazy. The two of us against the mob? Impossible.”
“There might be one or two others, that’s not for you to know. All you need to know is this: you’re going back to Eastpoint and you’re gonna find me Frankie’s weak spot. And then I’m gonna stick a knife in it and fucking twist.”
The others bugged him for the rest of his shift. What did he say? What was he doing? Was it true he was leaving the team? I can’t say. I can’t say. Yeah, maybe, I can’t say. The stares followed him through the night, the whispers, the looks. He was starting to feel like he’d joined the mob himself, but that wouldn’t have thrown nearly this much suspicion on him. There was a tension too. They knew Schwartz’s reputation. He was a shit stirrer. Something big was going down, they knew, and they knew Joe knew what it was. The clock ticked to the end of his shift like a blessed saviour.
He threw on his coat and strode to the door. Things had changed that night in ways he didn’t quite understand. But he knew the station was a dangerous place for him now; there were whispers and hints of rumours of whispers. Talk of special jobs, of rookies stirring shit and messing things up, and Joe didn’t make it to the door.
A hand on his shoulder, firm and rough, aggressively friendly, with a smile to match. Joe looked up to shark’s eyes and a liar’s smile, the face of Sergeant Tyrone. A cop so bent he could touch his toes. Not a detective, a uniform, one who spent twice his salary every month and no one batted an eye. There’d been a file on him once, or so he’d heard, but nothing ever stuck. No witness would testify, no jury would convict.
“Forney, I thought we’d have a little talk.”
He was led by the shoulder to a quiet corner of an abandoned hall and spun around to face the sergeant.
“I just wanted to catch up, Joe. I hear you had an interesting morning. A conversation with Schwartz. What was that old bastard after?”
“I can’t say, Sergeant. Lieutenant’s orders. You know how it is.”
There was ice in his words. He was an Eastpoint man, he didn’t need to take shit from some smarmy cop with an attitude and an open palm. Fuck him and fuck the rest of them. He was doing this, let them try to stop him.
“There’s a balance here, Forney.” Tyrone’s tone had changed, his eyes had narrowed. “You’re new, you don’t understand it. But if you ruin it, it will ruin you. You’re a good kid, I don’t want anything to happen to you. Or your fiancé. Betty, right?”
That was a mistake. Joe seized his arm and swung him around, slamming him into the wall and clenching a fist. Tyrone just smiled, tapping his stripes with one hand and stroking his revolver with the other.
“We could be buddies,” he said. “Don’t let this business with Schwartz ruin things for you.”
The smile returned and that was that. Tyrone walked from the room like a man without a care and, after a minute, Joe followed after him.
Betty was there in the atrium. She looked like a vision, like a beautiful dream, dressed in white. And she was talking to him. Sergeant Tyrone smiled as he talked, until he spotted Joe and widened his grin. Betty followed his eyes and met Joe’s gaze. She moved to him, ruby lips pulled back in a smile and chestnut hair bouncing as she ran. She threw her arms around him and he replied with gusto, kissing her lips and wrapping her in a hug. He closed his eyes and breathed her in and when he came back to the station, he and Betty were alone. They walked out together without saying a word, but Joe couldn’t help but spare a glance back, looking for Sergeant Tyrone.
Chapter 1 by Chris Wright
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