The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event – Noir: A Celebration of Detective Fiction. Please enjoy.
Mark Hamilton went missing the day we found Shayla’s baby.
They said Shayla’d been raped by the Carter boy and had cut town four days ago, only didn’t tell anybody, and didn’t take her baby. If our jurisdiction was closer to the heart of Kansas City someone would’ve complained, the screaming, the smell, but out in Buckner the houses are spread out enough, well….
It wasn’t a homicide, but I got called in anyway, because I was the closest, out on my rounds. I’d ranked high enough, long enough, to skip all that shit but I liked doing my rounds. There’s enough evil in Buckner to hide the devil. It’s good practice to be on the streets.
We stared at the tiny corpse for five seconds then called in the cleaners.
My partner, a rookie named Campbell, looked to be sick.
“Be grateful,” I growled at him. “Not so bad when it ends with a corpse. Sometimes the corpse is just the beginning.”
An hour later Mark’s mother was telling us how she’d noticed him missing that morning, which meant the kid had probably been missing for days. She stood on her porch in cutoffs and white t-shirt—no bra—and talked around a cigarette.
“He d’ain’t no come home las night.” She shook her head. “He dunned get kidnapped by that new shit in town.”
“New shit in town” was the local nickname for the make-believe cult everyone was talking about to keep themselves busy. Gypsies camped on the Missouri river, animal sacrifices, but there was nothing that fancy in Buckner. Just drunks and gamblers and Mark Hamilton, who probably was holed up somewhere getting fucked on meth he’d traded for stolen TVs.
“We’ll find him, ma’am,” I said.
“What they call you fer, Davids, this ain’t no murder.”
“You know I love my town, just want to help out.”
“Why are we on this case?” Campbell asked me once we were back in the cruiser.
“Force don’t got the manpower to separate the homicides and the missing persons anymore,” I told him.
“Missing persons are fucking high, lately.”
“It’s Buckner,” I told him. But he was right. It was bad, even for Buckner.
The radio crackled as we cruised into the warehouse district.
“Got a sight on a possible suspect. Caucasian. Male. Six feet. Blonde hair. Wearing a light gray and blue sweatshirt. Seen walking towards building five-oh-two. Over.”
I snorted. “Johnson? The fuck’s building five-oh-two?”
“The old tire factory, Davids, Jesus, don’t you know code?”
“I been on the force since you were suckin your mama’s titties, Johnson. Fuck your code.”
Campbell laughed, and turned our cruiser toward the old tire factory.
The devil’s asshole, I thought. We tried to be quiet searching the first floor but there were so many broken bottles, syringes, spray paint cans, it was impossible. We climbed over old rusted steel equipment. Hooks hung by chains from the ceiling. A couple years ago a girl had died on them. High on acid, she’d been swinging from the chains, lost her grip, fell, and one of those hooks caught her before she hit the ground. I’d cleaned it up. I’d cleaned up a lot of this town, not that it made a difference.
“Up here,” Campbell stood by the remains of a concrete staircase. On the second floor we passed junkie nests, bundles of dirty blankets, mounds of dried human shit. No junkies, though. That was odd. I felt a shudder pass up my spine and tried to ignore it. My hand twitched first towards my piece, then towards the pack of Winston’s in my pocket. Where was everybody?
“Here we go,” Campbell muttered. We’d reached a dark, windowless corner room on the second floor. My hand twitched again and this time settled on my .40.
A soft rattling came from the dark corner.
“Alright, now,” Campbell called. “Don’t want no trouble, just looking—”
A man shot out of the darkness. Campbell cried out and I jumped back and drew my piece faster than I knew I could. I bolted, chased the figure across the second floor of the building. I heard Campbell’s feet finally pick up behind me, thank God, cause this guy was young and I’d never catch him.
“HALT!” I cried, but it was wasted breath. The figure, clad in dark clothes streaked with something wet, something red, hit the stairs and jumped, down past steel equipment, to the first floor. Twenty feet, I thought, and watched with horror as he hit, rolled, and kept on running. We would never catch him. That was not Mark Hamilton.
Campbell caught up to me in the parking lot, but the guy had near twenty yards on us. We crossed the pavement, passed our patrol car without stopping, ran till my lungs felt like they’d burst through my chest. At the edge of the lot we bled into another, ran this time towards what used to be the steel factory and I realized in a rush this guy was headed for a dead end. My blood pumped like fire. The man turned the corner of the building, into a closed alley. We followed.
Campbell whooped. The figure in front of us didn’t slow down, though. I would look back on that moment for a long time, mostly in nightmares. He didn’t slow down. He kept on running.
The man didn’t leap up the wall so much as stepped up it, until he was parallel with the ground. I thought for a second he was going to flip over and fight us but he kept running, up, straight up.
I felt more than saw Campbell fall to the ground in shock. I myself stopped running just short of the wall, and watch the man run straight up, seven stories, then disappear over the roof’s edge.
He left dirty footprints on the brick.
We sat in the cruiser for a long time.
“The fuck was that, detective?”
I was quiet, then, “let’s get back to the station. We’ll call in—”
“Jesus!” I jumped from the car, almost fell to the concrete. A young, scrawny body had flung himself onto the hood, hard enough to shake the frame and turn Campbell’s face white as paper.
“H-h-help,” the boy hissed, and clutched his gray and blue sweatshirt, one with a Royals logo across the front, now half soaked in blood. Mark Hamilton slid sideways off the hood of the cruiser, and was dead before he hit the pavement.
I knelt beside the body, in a trail of blood that came from the steel factory. I was numb with shock. Campbell was talking.
“What’d you say this morning? Bout a corpse being just the beginning?”
But as I held Mark’s cold hand I thought about something else from that morning, something I hadn’t said out loud. There’s enough evil in Buckner to hide the devil.