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
It pays to have friends in high places—or low ones, if you happen to be an upstanding citizen who looks down on well-organized crime. Regardless, the wristwatch with the built-in audio transmitter had been a gift from the House of the Emerald Tiger. Once upon a time, I'd done a certain favor for a member of the Asada family, yakuza blue bloods, and the wristwatch had been their gift to me in case I ever needed their help. And by the green tiger, I sure as hell needed it there in Ivan's mirrored lair.
Receiving my entire conversation by radio, the yakuza showed up en masse to rescue one of their own from the Russian Devil—their term of endearment for Ivan. Descending like a vengeful plague of locusts armed with katanas, tantos, and Berettas, they hit the Coliseum full-force. In and out before Ivan's local cops could arrive on the scene, they left decapitated and dismembered Russians bleeding out in their wake. The high-rollers in the casino were spared the same treatment, but many found themselves trampled underfoot in the mass panic that ensued. Their fellow gamblers somehow became their worst enemies on the way to the nearest exit. Little Mao was saved, and I escaped amidst the mayhem with only two wounds to show for it—both clean shots, by the way, one through my shoulder and another through my thigh. Neither pleasant, but I'd live. Couldn't say the same for Mikhel or James the chauffeur. Both men had lost their heads in all the excitement.
"So the kid's gone back to be with her folks?" Wanda asked me around a fresh wad of gum. She was a pro when it came to slings and bandages, and she had this bag of frozen peas for my face. It was working better than any of my flabby old ice packs.
"That's what they tell me." I winced as she tightened the sling to take pressure off my shoulder. "She's some kind of national treasure, now with an all-expense-paid trip to New Japan with her whole family. Guests of the emperor and all that. Ivan and his henchmen will never see her again."
"And she—I mean, she really can—" She gestured at her own eyes, brilliant sapphires with a little too much makeup around them.
"If seeing is believing, then I'm at a disadvantage. But Mao was a hot commodity around town for some reason, and it sure wasn't her stage presence."
Did I honestly believe what Ivan said? I don't know. Did Mrs. Jarhead's necklace of pearls really come from Little Mao, chained down in their basement? If so, I wouldn't know where to begin to explain such a thing. I'm no scientist, so I have no idea what impact the war's early years might have had on the people of Japan—all that nuclear and biochemical crap pumped into the air before the United World and Eastern Conglomerate decided to duke it out the old-fashioned way. They were able to agree on one thing: they wanted a planet worth living on after all was said and done. So the nukes and bioweapons had to go.
Where, exactly? That's a great question. All I know is the world hasn't seen them since, and I hope we never do again.
But I have to wonder: Are there others like little Mao out there? And if so, how are they being exploited? Or have they managed to find refuge in their own New Japan—76 of the original 6,852 islands now under United World protection?
I glanced around Wanda's apartment, a nice place, but not nearly big enough for the both of us. "Listen, I've got a standing invite to open an office in Little Tokyo. You won't have to put up with me here for long."
She shook her head. "Still can't believe he burned down your office, Charlie."
The whole damn building. "Guess it's a bad idea to make an enemy of Ivan the Terrible."
"Were you ever anything else?"
"You can stay here as long as you want, Charlie. I won't let anybody get at you. You'll be safe with me."
"My own personal bodyguard." I gave her a peck on the cheek, and she blushed clear to the tips of both ears. "I've missed you, kid."
I didn't tell her about the parked car of yakuza muscle watching the place downstairs, making sure Ivan kept his distance. That was the Russian's way—going after the people you know. Mr. Newspaper had paid the price for being my friend, and I would never forget it. There's no way I possibly could. But I didn't want anybody else ever making that kind of sacrifice because of me.
Ivan probably had his hands full right now anyway, planning his revenge on House Emerald from his secret lair. The yakuza would never try to assassinate him directly; they'd suffer the heat of the city police in an instant. But there were always power plays between the Russians and Japanese mob. The yakuza had scored a major victory in stealing away Ivan's golden goose, and he would make them pay dearly for it.
At any rate, I could count on being off his radar for a few days.
"Missed you too, Charlie." She gave my sling one last adjustment before she was satisfied it would do the trick. "So, can you say it now?"
I raised an eyebrow at her. "It?"
She gave me one of her gorgeous smiles, the kind that almost fooled me into believing everything might turn out okay. Maybe it would. I sure as hell couldn't see the future.
So despite the itchy feeling in my gut from the knowledge that plenty remained up in the air, I winked and told her what she wanted to hear:
"You know it, sweetheart. This case is closed."
The Case Files of Charlie Madison, Private Investigator continue in
THE SUPRAHUMAN SECRET.
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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