Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Prologue to "Inherent Flaws"

It started at 240 Centre Street. Police headquarters, once upon a time. Middle of the night. Middle of winter. Middle of Lower Manhattan. Middle of everything around me going to hell. Streets empty because it’s too late. Line of cars parked along one side near this row of ugly brick buildings going two, three, five, seven stories up. Rickety fire escapes dripping down the front of the tallest one, like a cancer, making even its arched windows want to hide from it. Stores on the ground floor hidden behind rolling security panels. All silent and dark. Even here, the city’s never been safe.

My girl was parked right under one of those fire escapes. The roof down on her Caddy convertible, even though it’s close to snowing. You could smell it in the air. Smell her perfume. So beautiful. It’s like she wanted me to see her, wanted to make sure I knew I wasn’t alone. Put an ache in my heart to know that she cared so much, especially after all I’d put her through.

I shouldn’t of gone into the old HQ. Should’ve just got in that Caddy and let her drive me to my mom’s to change out my uniform, or...or home, or anyplace else but there. And I thought about it for half a second. It’s just, I didn’t realize how bad off I was. Didn’t realize that if I did go into that building, like I’d been doing all week at this time of night, the life I had would end. Completely. Totally. Forever.

But like a robot I started across the street. And once again, those old, baroque, snotty windows seemed to be glaring down on me like I was some piece of trash blowing past in the wind. They were in the process of shifting operations to the new building, a few blocks away, and I was glad. This damn thing takes up the whole narrow block, with its columns and half-hidden windows and sort-of balconies, and the iron railings along the sidewalk to keep you from dropping into the gullies that dipped down to the basement’s emptiness. Even the stupid dome on top make it look more like a capitol building than a place too old to work in the modern world, anymore, and would’ve added to the attitude except I heard bats squeaking in its friggin’ belfry overhead, invisible in the black, black sky.

It looked like what it was -- close to abandoned and going to trash. Nothing but a couple low-key, bare-bones offices left inside, one of them happily involving me. After that was done -- after I was done -- the city’d try to figure out what to do with the piece of crap. Maybe tear it down and sell the land. Not a bad idea, in my opinion.

Climbing the steps to the main doors wasn’t easy, thanks to the cracks and chips missing in them. So I began to shake and had to hold onto the banister. That meant I had to push through crumbled up bags and broken bottles and newspapers flapping against the posts. And that night, it seemed like half the lights were either busted or missing, making being there feel like a Hitchcock movie.

It was even older and darker, inside. More lights burned out. Trash on the floors. Shadows everywhere. The only guy around was this big brusque cop at the half-circle of a reception desk, like always. Would be till the last day. And like always, he didn’t bother to look up as I entered and said, “Hey,”

“Lombardini. How ya doin’?” was all he said.

“I -- I been better,” I said my voice cracking. I could hear it, even if he couldn’t. “But thanks. Been a long day. All these lights missin’ -- don’t maintenance care, anymore?”

He just grunted and kept working. He had a lamp on his desk so he was set. I sighed and staggered down a corridor, aiming for the lockers next to the office that was crushing my life. Finally began to notice how quiet it was, and how it seemed like nobody else was around. Had they already moved everybody over to the new place and not told me? That’d be crazy...but wouldn’t surprise me, not the way things’d gone the last couple days. Besides, I was lower than the lowest man on the totem pole, when it came to info sharing. So I kept on going.

I swear to you to this day, that corridor seemed to grow longer and darker as I went. And there were these shuffling sounds, fresh and new, echoing from everywhere. My breathing got sharp. My eyes darted about, wary. Why were so many fixtures missing light bulbs, completely? That didn’t make sense, unless they’d been removed. Deliberately. Make it harder to see into the darkness. Into the shadows. Perfect for an ambush.

I hesitated by the first door on the left. Undid the safety harness and checked my pistol then peeked into the area. Nothing but a couple rows of freestanding units meant just for the few people left in the place. It was so dark and dirty and empty and quiet, even my breathing seemed to echo.

Or was it mine I was hearing?

I started to shake more. I’d been doing that a lot, lately, once I’d realized what I’d got myself into. But no way was I backing down. I carefully slipped inside and crept past row after row of lockers, getting closer and closer to mine. I saw nothing. No one. Just shadows filling the room.

I was sweating now, even though the building was cold. I could actually see my breath whispering in and out, like it was trying to escape. They weren’t even bothering with the heat, anymore. I finally reached my locker and leaned against it, and looked down at my shaking hand...and saw a thin trail of blood whisper over its skin.

Aw, no -- no -- I’d been hit? I’d been shot? Dammit.

I almost fainted but caught myself by slamming my head against the locker. Twice. Again. It hurt, but I was back in control, I fumbled with the lock’s combination, running through it three times and smearing blood all over it before I was able to work it right. When it popped open, the noise bounced off the walls.

I heard that shuffling sound, again, and froze to listen. Nothing but silence. Not even breathing.

I slowly pulled off my coat. It didn’t hurt, but something was pulling sharp against my left shoulder. I checked it and saw the shirt to my uniform was soaked with sweat -- and blood. I wiped my face. Blood smeared over it.

God, I wanted a shower. I wanted a shower so bad. Clean the blood off and warm me and --

I heard the shuffling sound, again. Closer. I started to quake, inside. But then I thought, Maybe it’s my partner come looking for me.

“Bobby?” I called. “Bobby, that you?”

Nothing. Not even the shuffling. Until a whisper of a sound came from my right. I turned to find a gunman standing at the end of the lockers, raising a pistol!

Everything clicked into slow-motion as I yanked out my service revolver, dropped to one knee and fired at him.

My first shot hit his left knee. The second ripped through his thigh. Two more hit an arm and a shoulder.

He got a couple of shots off at me and I felt something punch my side, but then he crashed against an office wall and landed in a sitting position, his leg twisted under him.

I rose slowly, carefully, in complete disbelief, and inched up to him, pistol ready but shaking in my bloody hands, barely under control and hoping to God he wasn’t gonna make another move. I heard voices approaching. Footsteps running. Echoing. So far away and I wished they’d get here, already and --

The guy lifted his gun, unsteady.

I fired, again. The bullet exploded through his skull.

Blood splattered over me. Covered me. I collapsed, about ready to pass out -- and then I saw it.

I saw the gunman’s gold shield.

He was a cop.

A detective!

A uniform had just shot a top dog in police headquarters!

“Man, there’s gonna be hell to pay for that,” I thought as I dropped to my knees and quietly drifted towards darkness.

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