“Fair enough,” Captain Hitchcock replied, typically, as he sat his coke down on Smoke’s desk and looked at him with an expression of concern. “Look, I know this is a sore subject for you, but unfortunately we’re all out of vasoline so I’ll just get right to the ass-fucking. As much as I don’t want to get the Feds involved with this, we don’t have the equipment necessary to handle this sort of case. Hell, we had a hard enough time getting a fingerprint match let alone trying to do any sort of blood analysis or any of that jazz. Most of its being sent out to labs in other jurisdictions which means they’ll put the ‘let’s move slower than molasses’ sticker on it and get back to us in a week.”
“Give me 24 hours,” Smoke replied. “I still have a reliable source in the bureau that could help us out. She owes me a few favors anyway.”
“Sounds kinky,” Captain Hitchcock burped as he raised his bushy grey eyebrows in conformation of it being a good out. “You’ve got 18 hours. I don’t need another one of this city’s residents or, God forbid, a vacationing tourist dying at the hands of this psychopath because you want to play Sherlock Holmes.”
“This is a town,” Smoke corrected while wondering who in their right mind would want to vacation in Bethlehem let alone in the month of October. “And it shouldn’t take me more than eight hours to get what I need. I said 24 hours originally in case I needed to butter my source up first, grease her palms if needed, but, as you said, we’re all out of vasoline.”
“I trust you, Smoke. Don’t make me question that. Better yet, don’t make this city question its trust in us, the BCPD. When was the last time you slept? You look horrific.”
“I can’t remember, doesn’t matter. I’ve got work to do.” Smoke said as he closed the manila folder, tucked it under his arm, and headed for the door.
“Hey, the wife is cooking a pot roast tonight. She would really like it if you stopped by. Hell, I guess I would too. I know it’s hard to get sleep with everything that’s going on but a man shouldn’t go hungry too.”
Smoke stopped in the doorway. Captain Hitchcock and his wife, Bertle, had been like parents to him the past three years. They never had children of their own and Smoke had lost his parents sixteen years ago. They weren’t dead. He had literally lost them. Or so they thought. He knew exactly where they were but they wanted nothing to do with him, which they made abundantly clear by packing up, moving, and leaving no forwarding address on his 18th birthday. They had never wanted children but did not believe in abortion or adoption. So, they raised him and on the day that the law said their obligation as parents had been fulfilled, they disappeared, leaving only a letter that said ‘Our obligation is fulfilled. Good luck son.’ Smoke would later discover after joining the bureau that they had moved to Arizona and had opened a pet shop. It went bankrupt within a few years because they couldn’t seem to keep the animals alive. Smoke would send them money now and again to help cushion the blow from their pet shop failure. Part of him thought he did it to show them that at least he was not a failure while the other part of him just felt obligated.
“As much as I’d like to Captain,” Smoke said regretfully, “I doubt I’ll have the time. But I appreciate the thought.”
“Bertle said you’d say that and she told me to tell you dinner is at seven.”
Smoke smiled, “Seven it is then.”
Smoke had called his contact in the bureau almost immediately after leaving his office. As luck would have it, she transferred to the Cleveland field office and was available for lunch. Smoke was ready to drive the 201 km to Cleveland, however after his contact heard that he had been awake for more than 43 hours she told him she would come there instead. Either way, Smoke was not going to able to sleep. He revisited the crime scene to check for any missed evidence while he waited for his contact to arrive. The rain had been turned down to a light drizzle but the sun was playing hide and seek behind the clouds which made the inevitability of the cool fall temperatures that much more apparent. As Smoke had expected, the preliminary forensics report indicated no fingerprints or any other discernable evidence on Brutus Ackerman’s body or the chess piece.
The killer watched from afar as Smoke poured over the crime scene. He had not returned to do as Smoke was doing and recover evidence. He was there to ensure Smoke would find the evidence he put there for him. The killer was not a fanatic fan of Smoke’s and did not collect newspaper clippings of all of his cases nor did he idolize Smoke in any way. The funny part was, he did not hate him either. The killer recognized that the only difference between him and Smoke was the blurred line of the law. Sure, they had differing moral aptitudes, but they were both doing a job that had to be done. If the killer felt anything at all for Smoke, it would have been respect.
“Wha’ ‘chu looking at wit does binoculars meesta?” A voice said from behind the killer.
The killer immediately tucked away his binoculars and turned to face a short, smiling oriental man with a flat billed baseball cap that had the word ‘SMILE’ embroidered on it. The killer walked off briskly and left the little oriental man standing with a look of stunned glee.
“Hey! Where you going?” The oriental man called out then looked in the direction the killer had been looking with a strained squint. “I know that man! That meesta Smoke. HEY MEESTA SMOKE!” he said while waving his arms wildly.
Smoke recognized the voice instantly. It was Mr. Ken Yokohama, Bethlehem’s only Japanese resident and an invaluable confidential informant as Smoke had found out two years earlier during an investigation into the local heroin ring. Due to Mr. Yokohama’s broken English, most people make the mistake of assuming he cannot understand English when, in fact, he understands it perfectly; it was the speaking part that gave him trouble. Such was the mistake of a couple of heroin dealers who tried to get Mr. Yokohama to be their mule which he gladly agreed to then delivered the goods straight to the BCPD. Smoke was able to convince Mr. Yokohama to wear a wire and do a couple more jobs as a mule after every other cop in the BCPD had failed in doing so. This was, in part, due to the fact that Smoke had taken a few Japanese classes in college, but was in the same boat as Mr. Yokohama when it came to the language: He understood it, but had trouble speaking it. Mr. Yokohama found Smoke’s attempts at Japanese to be very admirable and agreed to work solely with him. The investigation as a whole only turned up small fish, but one name was given which Smoke believed was the big fish in the heroin ring: John “Far-shanks” Doyle. The investigation is ongoing and few arrests have been made.
“What you doing here meesta Smoke. No see, long time!” Mr. Yokohama called from the second story fire escape, two buildings away from the alley behind Brutus’.
Smoke waved, but waited until he was under the fire escape to engage in conversation. Yelling that far seemed unnecessary given the circumstances. “How are you doing Mr. Yokohama,” he asked once he was under the fire escape.
“Oh, me? I just fine.” Mr. Yokohama replied with a wide grin and a brush-off hand wave. “Like my cap say, SMILE! That what I do. I hear there is murder! But I still smile.”
“Have you heard anything else?” Smoke asked as a shot in the dark.
“No. But I see. There was tall man standing here watchinga you wit hees binoculars. I saya to him ‘HEY! Wha’ ‘chu looking at wit does binoculars?’ But then he run off.”
Without moving, Smoke looked around from building to building trying to sense which way the man might have run. “Are you sure he was watching me?” he asked, considering the possibility of Mr. Yokohama overreacting. “He could have been bird watching and maybe you startled him.”
“Ha, Ha. Thata funny one meesta Smoke. Maybe you a bird, because he wasa watchinga you! You come up here and see.”
Smoke climbed up the rickety, tetanus-waiting-to-happen fire escape and stood beside Mr. Yokohama. The only thing that was visible from where they stood was the taped off crime scene behind Brutus’ bar and the backsides of brick buildings with no windows. At that point, there was no doubt in Smoke’s mind that he was being watched. He stood there for a moment, beside Mr. Yokohama who was still smiling as though he had won the lottery, and stared at the narrow cobblestone alley behind Brutus’. He had that nagging feeling of forgetting or missing something important, kind of like when coffee drinkers forget to turn off their coffee makers and remember after having already left their house. Since he knew his troublesome feeling had nothing to do with a coffee maker, due to the lack of owning such a machine, he could confidently narrow it down to something about the crime scene. As he continued to survey the scene from above, he noticed something out of place: A pristine area of brick wall above the horizontally running, steaming air ducts of Brutus’ bar which was only evident from an elevated position.
“Wha’ ‘chu looking at meesta Smoke?” Mr. Yokohama asked while trying to peek over Smoke’s shoulder.
“I’m not sure yet,” Smoke replied as he began to descend the shoddy fire escape ladder then stopped. “What are you doing up here?” he asked realizing it had not occurred to him to do so earlier.
“Me? Oh, I live righta up there. I move in two weeks ago,” Mr. Yokohama indicated one story above with his pudgy finger. “It’sa how you say…Jeep. ‘avery jeep place to live.”
“Yes, thatsa what I say. A jeep place to live. ‘Avery jeep.”
Smoke smiled then began to descend again and stopped again, “You didn’t happen to see what this man that was watching me looked like by chance?”
Mr. Yokohama stroked his well-groomed beard and thought, “He wasa tall. Asa tall asa you. But he have no hair. He wasa white. That’sa all I see before he banish like a magician. But he have a strange thing with him. On hees back.”
“A backpack?” Smoke offered.
“No, no, no. Kinda yes. But eet have lots of hoses and switches and gauges on eet. Bery strange.”
“Well, D?mo Arigat?, Mr. Yokohama,” Smoke said with a smirk and a clumsy bow. “If I need anything else I’ll give you a call.”
“You a funny man meesta Smoke,” Mr. Yokohama replied with a big grin. “Don’t forget,” then, without finishing his sentence, he pointed to the single word on his hat: SMILE.
Smoke clambered down the fire escape ladder and walked back over to the taped off crime scene. The pristine spot on the wall was nearly four meters off the ground which was one meter too high for him to reach without a stool or utility ladder. Although Brutus’ almost certainly had a ladder he could use, the bar was locked up tighter than a church’s offertory on account of the owner’s untimely decapitation and Smoke did not feel the use of a ladder merited breaking into a dead man’s bar. It was a matter of respect at that point. The local hardware store was less than a block away which Smoke was more than willing to walk in spite of the rain; the light drizzling mist was refreshing to his tired eyes and helped keep him on an even keel, or at the very least helped him from keeling over.
Smoke was able to borrow what he needed after a brief haggling debate with the scraggly old hardware store manager about commandeering a ladder for police business which ended with the promise of losing a couple of parking tickets for the manager. He quickly made his way back to the alley and set up the ladder under the steaming air ducts. He climbed to the top and examined the pristine area of bricks that he had spied earlier. Smoke removed a digital camera from his jacket pocket and snapped a few pictures of the area. The bricks looked as though they had been recently pressure washed, thus restoring them to their original fire engine red tint as opposed to rusty fire engine red of their surrounding counterparts. Upon closer examination, Smoke noticed a folded piece of paper wedged between a crack in the mortar of the restored bricks. He removed a pair of tweezers and slipped on a latex glove from his ‘just-in-case’ case (which contained one pair of tweezers, one pair of latex gloves, and one evidence baggie, all neatly packaged in what was originally a plastic on-the-go wet wipe container) then carefully removed the piece of paper from the crack.
Smoke unfolded the piece of paper which had a curious message typed in 12 point font, all capitals, and centered perfectly on the page:
LOOK BEHIND YOU
Smoke did as the note said and first scanned the ground below him; there was nothing but rain soaked cobblestone. His eyes rose to an even, horizontal line of sight and he saw what the note had wanted him to see. There, on the second story fire escape two buildings away from Brutus’ bar, was Mr. Yokohama on his knees and slumped over. Smoke jumped most of the way down the ladder and raced over to the fire escape.
“Mr. Yokohama!” He called up but received no answer. A knot tightened in his stomach as he noticed a thick pool of blood collecting on the asphalt below the fire escape. He climbed up to the second story and pulled out his .38 revolver. He checked all of his corners, in all directions and saw not a soul. Smoke slowly approached Mr. Yokohama and knelt down beside him. It was then that he realized Mr. Ken Yokohama’s hat which simply said ‘SMILE’ was sitting, not on his head, but on the bloody stump where his head once sat. Smoke removed the hat and choked back a gag at the sight of the headless body. As with Brutus, an alabaster horseman from a chessboard was lodged in the grotesque wound.
Smoke flipped open his cell phone and called 911 then called Captain Hitchcock.
“Captain Hitchcock,” the old man’s voice rattled.
“You might want to call your wife and tell her we’ll be late for that dinner.”
October 1st, 2010
Smoke had barely moved by the time the medics had arrived. Not that they were needed. There was no one there that could be saved. When the cavalry finally showed up, (i.e. forensics, other detectives from Smoke’s unit, and wild Bill himself) a media flashbulb feeding frenzy had broken out. They were like hungry sharks that smelled the freshly spilled blood. Reporters from as far away as Columbus had travelled to Bethlehem in hopes of getting an exclusive interview or privileged information on the homicides. It was, as Captain Hitchcock would eloquently describe, a Colonel Custer cluster fuck.
“This is a Colonel Custer cluster fuck, you know that Smoke?” Captain Hitchcock said as he watched the forensics team set up shop around Mr. Yokohama’s corpse. “Let me guess, no sign of Mr. Yokohama’s head?”
“Nope,” Smoke replied dryly.
“Two murders in less than 24 hours? I don’t see how we have any other choice BUT to get the feds involved. Man oh man, this city’s gone to hell in a harrier.”
“You’re overreacting,” Smoke said calmly while trying to ignore Captain Hitchcock’s incessant misrepresentation of Bethlehem as a city, “and isn’t it ‘gone to hell in a hand basket?’”
“Usually, but a harrier is a lot faster. It’s a jet for christsake! And that’s my point! This city has gone to hell in less than a night! Overreacting, my ass! I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation.”
“No disrespect intended sir,” Smoke replied with a tinge of irritation, “but I don’t think you understand the implication of the situation.”
“Are you a poet all of a sudden?” Captain Hitchcock asked with a recoiled look of disbelief. “Speak plainly.”
“What he means,” said a silky female voice from one story above Smoke and Captain Hitchcock, “is that the killer has been and, more likely than not, still is watching your every move.”
Smoke and Captain Hitchcock looked up with synchronized gazes of startled incredulity. A light-framed, light-skinned, light-haired woman in a professionally tailored suit hung out over the third story fire escape that was connected to Mr. Ken Yokohama’s apartment.
“Agent Soren,” Smoke said while trying not to stare at the female’s erupting cleavage that was also hanging out over the fire escape railing. “Just in time.”
“You never were very good at keeping things simple,” Agent Soren retorted playfully. “Looks like you’ve got your hands full.”
“Holy mackerel! I’d say so,” Captain Hitchcock exclaimed while staring directly at Agent Soren’s bosoms then non-discreetly whispered to Smoke, “YOU know that pair of beautiful, bouncing,” Smoke elbowed Captain Hitchcock in the ribs before he could finish. “Blue eyes,” he said with a muffled groan.
“Captain Bill Hitchcock,” Smoke said with a cordial introductory tone, “meet Agent Marin Soren, my reliable contact in the bureau.”
“The pleasure is all his, I’m sure,” Captain Hitchcock retorted with a nod toward Smoke. “I’m married.”
Agent Soren giggled then replied, “The pleasure WAS all his, many years ago, but he married his job instead of me.”
Captain Hitchcock returned the rib jab to Smoke, “Idiot,” he murmured.
“Well, Cillian,” Agent Soren said as she descended to the second story of the fire escape, “I won’t be your reliable contact for very long. The bureau has already caught wind of this and will be sending down their top agent to assist in the investigation.”
Another knot tightened in Smoke’s stomach, “Their top agent?” he said inquiringly.
“I refuse to believe that YOU are not their top agent,” Captain Hitchcock interjected with a broad smile and a wink directed at Agent Soren.
“Cillian here WAS the best of the best,” Agent Soren said.
“And that’s all ancient history now,” Smoke growled as he began to walk away then stopped and turned to Agent Soren, “Just tell me it’s not Flemming.”