Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Soul Stripper 3




3


"Who are you and what are you talking about?"

The lady in the grey suit didn't move, still held her hands out.  "I'm Eyre and we don't have time for games," she said.  "Things are fast tipping out of balance."

Frank shook his head, frowned.  "What does that mean?"

Eyre dropped her hands and walked toward Frank.  "Surely Strangiato has mentioned me and the others?  Jimmy Cavanaugh?  The Chondria, Brahmen, Ben Rose?"

Frank narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to the left, processing everything.  She put her hands on her hips.

"Okay," he said.  "You know some things, some names.  How do I know you're really one of them?"

"Them?"  Surprise in her voice.  "You really don't have any idea."  She smiled then as if looking at an idiot child.

Frank's mistrust crept across his face.  "If there's no time," he said, "if 'things are tipping out of balance' and Strangiato's really dead?  Why are you acting like this?"  He stepped backward from her and held his hands at his sides. 

The woman in the grey suit started and looked as if she were thinking about what he'd said.  She relaxed.  "You're right," Eyre said.  " My apology.  This is  difficult."

"I'm assuming that you didn't come here just to tell me he was dead," Frank said.

"No," Eyre said.  "I need to take you somewhere."

"I can't really leave," Frank said.  "I'm working a case."

"We know.  You still need to come with me," Eyre said.  "Your case crosses over."

"I don't understand."

"Will you --- will you just come with me?  It will make sense once we get there."

Frank sighed, looked up at the sky, gritted his teeth.  "Can I make a couple of calls first?"

|||


"Don't do this, Frank."  Hansen was pacing back and forth in Bethany Simms's office.  "What do you mean you have to leave?  Where are you going?  Huh?"  She listened and Bethany tapped away at the keyboard of the wheezing desktop computer.  "You're a consulting, Frank.  You don't get to do this.  No.  I'm not firing you, I can't.  What the fuck?  What?  Jesus, Frank, no, I don't.  What?  I mean it, Frank, what the fuck?"

Hansen pulled the phone suddenly from her ear and stared at the screen: Call Ended.  She threw it across the room and it bounced twice before coming to a stop against the far wall of the M.E's office.  "Sonuvafuckingbitch!"  The detective stomped around, threw up her hands and mumbled for two and a half minutes, according to the stopwatch Bethany Simms had pulled up on her desktop.

"He quit?" she finally said when Hansen was only breathing heavily from the efforts of her rage.  Bethany Simms kept her face as blank as possible.

"I've read about this with him, you know," Hansen said.  "I've read his file, seen the jackets, but Christ it's something else when he does it to you."

Bethany didn't change, didn't move, kept looking at Hansen.

"He's gone off on some lead he said he couldn't share," Hansen said.  "If Jurgens hadn't been such a prick, I might've believed him about Frank.  Goddammit!"

"You done?"

Hansen whirled on Bethany and started to say something, then thought better of it.  "Yeah," she said.  "I am.  Fuck."

"Good, have a drink."  Bethany poured two glasses of vodka and picked up one.  "Go on, it won't bite you.  You're a grownup and a cop, you can handle a bit of liquor in the middle of the day."

Hansen clenched and unclenched her fists, set her jaw and frowned then took the glass and drained it.  "Ugh," she said.  "That's not really vodka, is it?"

"Nah," Bethany said and slugged her drink.  "It's the rotgut we make in the still downstairs.  We just saved some good bottles and after a few it doesn't matter anyway." 

"You're kidding."

"Yes," Bethany said, frustrated.  "Jeez, Hansen, lighten up.  Did he say anything else?"    She reached over and took the other woman's glass and replaced them both in the bottom drawer of her desk along with the bottle.

"Yeah," Hansen said.  "The Weaver.  We're supposed to go to the Well and see the Weaver."

"Back to the Well," Bethany said.  They looked at each other for a beat in silence then both broke out in laughter.  "What a stupid name.  Who came up with that?"

"I'll tell you on the way," Hansen said.  "Bring the fibers."

|||


"Okay, Frank.  No, I don't understand so you're going to have a lot of explaining to do when you get home."  Bettie listened as he told her how much he loved her.  "You do what you want and I'll either be here or I won't when you get back.  I'll wait for a while but not forever.

"I love you, too."

She hung up.  Looking out the window over the city that she'd grown up in for the first time in fifteen years, her whole body shook.  She walked to the window and watched the beginnings of rush hour traffic.

Far out to the west, she could see the rounded top of the terminal at Arrowhead Center.  Lights twinkling where there used to be only farmland and four-lane highway. Bettie sighed and scanned the horizon from left to right.  She stood there, silhouetted by the sun, her shadow crossing the living room floor until she tired and went to the bedroom.

She pulled out a small suitcase and opened it on the bed.

|||


Hansen drove her Jaguar through the gates at the north entrance to the Well and pocketed her badge.  "They think we're coming here to have sex with the deviants," she said hooking a thumb over her shoulder at the guards.  "It's not that uncommon."

"I've actually been here," Bethany said.  "To Black Bettie's."

The detective nodded.  "Yeah, me, too, but it's gone now." 

"No shit."

"Absolutely no shit," Hansen said.  "Got blown up last year.  Frank's her husband."

"What?  No!  He's Black Bettie's husband?  Wow."  Bethany was starstruck.  "That's cool.  How'd he get out?  Is she still here?"

"All a mistake in the first place," Hansen said.  "He was set up by his former partner who ended up being my captain and well, long story short, when the partner came to finish off Frank, the old man put up a helluva fight."

"He's your partner now?" 

The street was short and nearly empty.  As the sun was setting, long shadows crawled across the blacktop.  The buildings formed a dark canyon with an eerie orange light seeping over the tops.

"Not exactly," Hansen said, turning left onto Jameson Street.  "He's a consulting detective, like Philip Marlowe or Sherlock Holmes.  Didn't want to come back on the job."

"So where're we going, then?"  Bethany was watching the few pedestrians who didn't look at the car as it passed.

"There's a hotel on the other side, where the newbies land," Hansen said.  "If anyone'll know who the Weaver is, it'll be Effraim Yogai."

|||


Frank lay face down on the carpet.  The room was all white and had no furniture other than a settee and a wingback chair.  He wasn't bleeding but was barely breathing.  His hands were down at his sides, but his legs were splayed as if they'd suddenly given way underneath him.

"How long will he be unconscious?"  The woman might have been anxious when she asked, but she tried to show respect in the question.

"Hard to say."  The male voice wasn't human, but might have been mistaken for such if a casual bystander had been anywhere nearby.

"What's his subjective time lapse?"

"Three days."

She nodded and then swallowed.  "When will we return?  How many days will have gone by?"

"Less than one quarter of one.  It will be as if he --- what's the term use? --- Took the afternoon off."

"What's he going to remember?"

"More later than now."  The male turned and looked over his shoulder.  "We have much to do."

Frank lay on the carpet, barely breathing, as his fingers began to twitch and his eyes moved as if he were dreaming.

|||


The doorbell on the little shop in the middle of the Well sounded its happy little notes as the top of the door brushed underneath it.  The two women walked in and looked around.  "Interesting," Bethany said.  "You sure this is the right place?"

"It's the address that Yogai gave us, isn't it?"  Hansen whispered without turning around to face Bethany.  "Shut up, now."

"Mm."

The shop wasn't dingy, but it wasn't well lit, either.  There were carpets and rugs rolled up in one corner, bolts of cloth in two neat little rows, some sewing kits on the wall behind that and a gang of mannequins, male and female, in various states of dress. 

"Hello?"  The voice echoed up from the back room behind an elegant Chinese-patterned curtain.

The man who came through the curtain wasn't old, exactly, as much as he was ancient.  Hansen knew there were all sorts of prisoners in the Well, all ages and persuasions and peccadilloes, but Bethany showed surprise.  Marly Hansen threw a short elbow jab at the other woman.

"Joel Siever?  Do they call you the Weaver here?"

"I'm afraid so, a dreadful rhyming of my name," the old man said.  "May I help you?"

"Yeah, I hope so," she said and introduced herself along with Bethany.  "We're here hoping you can tell us where some fibers might have come from."

"I'll do what I can to help," the old man said. 

"What can you tell me about these?"  Hansen turned to take the evidence bags from Bethany, then handed them to the old man behind the counter.

He held them up to the light and squinted through his glasses, then looked over the rims at Hansen.  "These are mine," he said.  "Where did you get them?"

"You make steel silk?"

"Young lady, when one is incarcerated here, there's very little to keep one from experimenting.  Of course I found a way to make steel silk."

The old man laid down the evidence bags, put both hands on the counter.  "Am I being investigated?"

"Are there nanites in the steel, sir?"  Hansen was as cold as she could be.

"There most certainly are not," the old man said.  "I use only the purest chromium and higher amounts than anyone else."

"These fibers are pretty flexible, Mr. Siever," Hansen said.  "Do you sew them into your clothes?"

"Only at the behest of certain clients," Joel Siever said with an air of haughty exasperation.  "It's very expensive and each strand sold by the foot."

"To what purpose?"

"Whatever purpose the purchaser chooses," the old man said with impatience.  "I make no judgment."

"Can I see your back room there?"  Hansen stepped around the counter and toward the curtain. 

"No, you may not," the old man's voice had a sudden strength to it, belying his age.  He waved his hand as though he were a mystic in a 1930s monster movie.  "As a matter of fact, you and your companion will turn and leave now."

Hansen stared at Joel Siever, who waved his hand twice more.  "That's enough of that," she said and took his wrist, surprising the old man.  "I'm asking you nicely to see your back room as I think you may be involved in a series of murders, Mr. Siever.  You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.  You have the right to an attorney.  If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.  Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?"

The old man nodded.  "There was a woman," he said.  "She brought me articles of clothing and had me sew the threads into the labels.  She knew the charm to make the threads move.  She showed me."

"What's the woman's name?"  Hansen put handcuffs on Joel Siever's right wrist.  "How many articles of clothing?"

"Can you cuff me in front?  My shoulder joints aren't what they used to be."  He looked at her with tears in his eyes, looking suddenly frail.  "Please?"

Hansen stared back, cold, icy, uncaring.  "All right," she said.  "What was her name?"

"She never gave her last name," Joel Siever said.  "The only name I got was Emily."



Thanks for reading "Soul Stripper".  Come on back next Wednesday Click here for the conclusion and tell your friends, won't you?


©2010 By Jason Arnett.

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