Story art by Sharon McCutcheon.
From the author: A detective struggling to make ends meet. A girl they call the Golden Goose.
Start from the beginning: Chapter 1
When I came to, drooling onto the carpet with daylight streaming in the window, I was instantly aware of two things. One: the left side of my face felt like it had gained an extra pound overnight. Two: I wasn't alone.
"Good morning, Mr. Madison," said the slight, well-dressed man of fifty-something as he handed me an ice pack from my mini fridge—a must for any self-respecting bachelor living out of his office. "This should help with the swelling."
"Thanks." I applied it to where I'd been clobbered. "And who are you, exactly?"
"I am your driver, Mr. Madison."
"I don't have a driver," I mumbled. "Don't even own a car."
"Well, that may be so, but Mr. Ivan has seen to it that—"
I cursed under my breath.
"He believes you may wish to take a drive outside the city limits today. To Little Tokyo, perhaps?"
If this was Ivan's way of pointing me in the right direction, it was a bit heavy-handed. It only made sense that I would need to brave yakuza territory to learn about Mao's backstory. I didn't need a driver on Ivan's payroll to take me there. Plenty of cab companies had no problems carting citizens outside the city, as long as they got paid plenty. But if Ivan was covering the fare this morning, there'd be no need for me to dip into that two hundred I'd gotten from the late Mr. and Mrs. Jarhead. I patted my breast pocket. The wad of tattered greenbacks was still there.
"Mr. Madison?" The chauffeur watched me closely.
"What's your name, James?"
"Uh…my name is James, sir."
"You don't say?" I allowed half a grin at the coincidence and checked my shoulder holster. The revolver had returned. But was it still loaded?
"Sir?" James looked a little wide-eyed as I drew the weapon and flipped out the cylinder to check its chambers. All five remaining rounds were right where they belonged.
"Got a phone in your car?" I holstered the gun and tossed the ice pack into my fridge.
"Yes, of course," James said.
"Then let's get a move on."
Outside, sunshine gleamed from the wet streets and steam quivered in the morning light, but piles of charcoal-colored clouds waited patiently in the wings. At the curb purred a shiny new Olds with a vidLink/phone combo mounted between the front seats on a rear-facing partition. Modern technology at its best.
Preferring the old-fashioned phone over the face-to-face vidLink, I started dialing. My first call went straight to police headquarters where one of the last honest cops in town, Sergeant Archibald Douglass, answered after the third ring. James the Chauffeur glanced up at me in the rearview mirror with a question mark wrinkling his forehead, and I told him to drive for now. It didn't matter where.
"Charlie lad, how goes it?" Douglass greeted me in his thick Scottish brogue. "A wee early in the day, don't you think?"
"No rest for the wicked." I listened to him chuckle but didn't wait for it to die down. Douglass knew the city was going down the crapper and there was little he or anybody else could do about it, but that never seemed to dampen his spirits. "I've got a tip for you." I glanced up at the rearview, but James' eyes remained on the road. "A double homicide."
Douglass cleared his throat and spoke low into the receiver. "Is that so?"
"Check the river." Ivan's usual dumping ground—where the city's acid runoff collected to flow unhindered. Made it tough to identify bodies after a day or so in the corrosive water. With most of the city's cops on Ivan's payroll, he had no reason to alter his modus operandi.
"And I know better than to ask how you came by this information."
He had that right. "You might want to check on Cauliflower Carl as well." I frowned as the thought came to me: "And Mr. Newspaper."
Nobody was safe—not if they'd been seen with me in the past twenty-four hours.
"You got it, Charlie." He paused. "You in a tight spot? Need some backup?"
It was the thought that counted. I knew better than to think anybody else would ever have my back in this town.
"I'll talk to you soon. Call me—" I spoke up to James: "What's the number here?" He rattled it off, and I relayed it to Sergeant Douglass.
"I'll get back to you soon as I can, Charlie," Douglass signed off.
I returned the phone to its cradle. James glanced back at me.
"To Little Tokyo, Mr. Madison?"
I gave him a nod.
Ever since the Great Diaspora when the Eastern Conglomerate had started expanding their borders, encroaching into what had once been the sovereign nations of Japan and Mother Russia, there had been a steady stream of immigrants flowing into the Unified States. Most came down through the Alaskan oil fields and were put to work there. Of course the government welcomed them with open arms, always in favor of increasing the population; when you were up against China and her allies in a global conflict, numbers sure as hell mattered.
Not all of the new citizens liked the idea of being assigned backbreaking work in order to fuel their mighty protector's war machine, so many filtered south. But due to prevailing anti-Asian sentiments, the Japanese were not welcomed in the same way as the Russians. They were forced to create their own townships—slums really, just outside the major cities. Most of the time, they minded their own business, and the rest of the city left them alone. A working arrangement of sorts.
But Little Tokyo was avoided by most Anglo citizens who valued their lives.
I knew it would buy me some time, driving all the way out of the city through morning traffic, and I had some major thinking to do. Things were coming to a head; I could feel it. Call it a sixth sense, a detective's intuition. Soon I'd have to make a major play, but for now, I slid back my sleeve and set my watch—a special gift from an old acquaintance who happened to make his home in Little Tokyo.
Read Chapter 6
This story originally appeared in The Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble (a CriminalElement.com original collection).
For Charlie Madison, private investigator, the Suprahuman Secret emerges when a little girl goes missing and no ransom demand is made. He takes the case, but time isn't on his side. After 48 hours in this town, it's unlikely an abducted child will be found in one piece. As the mystery unfolds, Madison uncovers a bizarre truth about the girl that seems impossible. But it could explain why she was kidnapped — and why she might still be alive.
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