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The Angel of Zero City: Parts 1 - 4

"An urban-fantasy novella. It is an untold story related to its parent book: The Gauntlet of Maltese."
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Published 7 years ago
Part 1:

Joseph Black

The scent of gunpowder and rain lingered in the darkened room. A broken window, a busted TV, and five bodies all met the detective at the scene, an apartment in Hell—a place that cops didn’t go to anymore.

The call came from a neighbor around 2 AM. There were bullet holes stamped everywhere, and the detective, Joseph Black, searched the nearest body for gunshot wounds in the beam of his flashlight, but strangely, the boy hadn’t a scratch on him.

Of course he wasn’t a boy, Joseph thought. This one’s shirt had a spray-painted ‘N’ on it like the others. They were soldiers from the East-Hell Demons, a powerful gang, or at least part of the new breed of Demons that had shown up within the last six months. Intel was short these days on what went on in the Hell district. It had been like that for a good thirty years, but now it was like the whole district had been wiped off the map by the reaches of death, crawling their way from the east-side. Of course not the actual Death though, the Angel, no—this wasn’t that magnanimous being, and Joseph knew this because he had met Death—over two years ago.

No really, he had.

These woundless deaths were the work of the Angel of Zero City, but why had he been here tonight?

Joseph turned off his flashlight and tucked it away. Whatever the Angel’s doing, Joseph thought, he doesn’t need my help. Besides, I better leave before other Demons come, wondering why their friends haven’t returned.

Joseph stepped over the bodies and inspected a broken window facing an ally. This was exactly the Angel’s style.

He thought about the Angel, how he had met him, and how he had helped change his life. Each day is still a struggle in Zero City, and even though the detective sensed that some sort of great event was on the horizon, personally, things used to be a lot lonelier…

Part 2:

Two Years Ago…

Zero City could be described in a few words: the shameless bottom. On paper, there were ten districts and four million people at the bottom. It was a city, whose density was a trap for the jaded hearts of America seeking purpose, and in the end, her beauty was grim, offered no promises, but would bend to the weary soul only if they realized, that like most women, she wasn’t built to be their savior.

Joseph Black trudged home, carrying heavy grocery bags and a satchel over his shoulder. All day long the detective had been walking, and he felt the hard streets of Zero City through his shoes. He was a heavy man, a brown-skinned Goliath, and not one of those ‘used to be a quarterback in high school then put on some weight’ types, no, he was simply a fat guy, and no insole was supportive enough to make that burden easier. By noon, the pain got so bad that he decided to wear double socks to cushion his steps, but now the shoes were too tight, and they squeezed his feet like sausages about to burst their casings.

“Detectives don’t get cars,” he remembered his partner saying. “You gotta ride in your own wheels, civilian wheels—less conspicuous. You know how that goes.” The detective could naturally see the logic behind that, but his wheels had been in the shop for a week. Only beat cops get to parade around in the black and white Crown Vics, or sometimes the new Chargers. You’d think that by moving up the ranks you’d get a better car, but nope, that ain’t how the world works.

On the opposite side of the road were a group of twenty-somethings. None of them looked like Demons or H.Fers, but they chatted and laughed about things that made Joseph feel older. He tried his best to keep his eyes straight and not glance at one of the girls: a blond, thin vixen. Nope, just keep looking ahead, he thought. Don’t let them catch you glancing.

Joseph finally came to his apartment, a squat brown building with bars on the lower windows. After forgetting which pocket his keys were in, he found the right one by holding it to his face. Once inside, there was one last hurdle for him to climb: three flights of stairs.

Finally home, the detective fumbled for the lamp on the other end of the room and turned it on. The apartment was small, with an entrance way, and a large room divided into a kitchen and a living room. Crammed into a corner was a home office with a cork board on the wall, and a door led to a bedroom with a bathroom beyond that. As a teenager, he would fantasize about owning his own place and filling it with cool stuff like an arcade machine, a pool table, and a refrigerator stocked with beer and food, but the reality was he didn’t have any of those things, and the refrigerator in his apartment contained some blue cheese that was more blue than white, a single beer for a rainy day, and a tomato which he never remembered buying.

Joseph dropped the bags on his coffee table and instantly felt the weariness in his shoulders. After quickly checking that no one was in the room, an old detective’s habit, he kicked off his shoes and darted into the bathroom. He had been holding it in since 32 nd Street, and refused to pee against the wall of a building and lay his bags on the floor where some punk might run up and snatch them.

He grabbed the rainy day beer from the fridge and dropped to the welcoming couch. Pushing aside the bills, magazines, and a child support notice, Joseph cleared a spot and unwrapped a fast-food sandwich. He then tore a blissful bite.

It seemed like it took forever for the city and the world to finally calm down after the red lightening. People for a while felt like there was something watching them, like all their lives had a part to play in something bigger, even though they didn’t know what it was. Until scepticism reared its head and everyone forgot those feelings. But during that temporary grandeur homicide was down sixty percent, all except for in the Hell district or the far West-Side. Of course, all that really meant to the detective was less work until he could come back home, fall asleep and dream of anything else.

Part 3:

The Park

“You see this body?” Joseph asked.

“It’s immaculate,” replied Finlay.

“Yeah it is, and that’s exactly what’s wrong.” Joseph dropped the tarp covering the body and stood up slowly. He and his partner Finlay, a senior homicide detective with the ZCPD, were standing in an alleyway adorned with the decorations of a crime scene. It was high noon and October. The air was filled with the exhaust of cars, and the cold bit through the detective’s gloves in the pockets of his coat.

“I heard an agent from the CDC was coming up today,” Finlay said, wiping the sweat from the crown of his head. Thugs and crackheads didn’t make him nervous, but diseases were immune to bullets. “Bodies dropping all over the city with no signs of injury, and then the morgue can’t figure it out either.” He leans in to whisper, “They think it’s a new disease.”

Joseph coughed and Finlay jumped back, terrified until his partner began cackling like a demon. “You great brown bear I should have you resigned! I’m too close to retirement to die from the damn plague!” Finlay snapped, but Joseph was bent over and laughing.

“If the department were paying me to drive you insane I’d give the money back.” Joseph stood up straight and looked around the crime scene, but aside from a strange drawing taped to a wall nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Finlay held an evidence bag with a slip of paper inside it. “The most I found was a receipt in his pocket. This guy ate at The Park on West St. just before he died. I hope he at least got to try their meringue.”

“Really?... Let’s get going then. Why don’t you drive us?” Joseph nudged.

“Might as well,” Finlay grunted. “I don’t have another hour to wait for you to walk there.”

The Park was not a park, but a small deli and bakery on the north side of Azure Park. Every morning since his car broke down, Joseph walked past The Park on his way to the precinct. From the outside the restaurant was a door and two windows wide, with a green stripped canopy and outdoor seats, but the inside was a mystery. Small spaces gave the large detective anxiety, and Joseph feared destroying every delicate bobble in the room if he turned around too quickly. He also doubted if he was ever fashionable enough to “Dine at The Park” (as the sign on the window said.)

Every morning he caught a glimpse of a person inside, and for that second upon seeing her he thought that maybe his life could be different, as though something about her called to a loser like Joseph to say, “You might have a chance with this person.” She’d come out around nine to fill the display case with warm, buttery breads and flaky rolls. She had a round face, black glasses, tan skin, and she wore her black hair in a ponytail over her shoulder. She was an ample woman, who wore a necklace of rainbow jewels and blackened metal, and an apron over a beautiful chest. She smiled as she loaded the display and positively glowed if someone bought one while she was there.

The detective, being as good as he was with numbers, knew that every morning he had an 80% chance of seeing her if he walked by at precisely 9:16, and so he’d hurry just for this chance. He was self-aware enough to know that in his heart of hearts he wasn’t a creep or a stalker, (and people would just have to take his word for it) only lonely, and forever feeling on the other side of a pane of glass, like the one between him outside and her inside. Except today, he was finally inside and asking questions about a murder, which as Joseph thought about it was actually kind of creepy.

“Good afternoon ma’am!” Finlay said cheerily as they approached the counter. Joseph felt tethered to his partner. This was hallowed ground, and the bread girl was at the register. “I’m detective Finlay and this is detective Black with the ZCPD.” The partners robotically flashed their badges. “Do you have a moment to speak with us?”

The bread girl looked alarmed. This was like a scene out of one of those daytime crime dramas, she thought. “Oh. Yes, the lunch rush just ended,” she said. “How can I help you two?”

Finlay pulled out a notepad. “Well miss … um?”

“Esmeralda.”

“Esmeralda? Wow, hey that’s my wife’s middle name!” Finlay chuckled.

“Small world,” Joseph said quietly.

“Hey, my wife and I ate here for our fortieth anniversary,” Finlay said, “We love the meringue you guys do here,” and he kissed his fingers to show how delicious it was.

“Aw, well thank you! I actually make all the deserts and sweets here, so…” Esmeralda laughed and smiled, and Joseph fell a little more in love. This was the first time he’d heard her voice and it was a little higher pitched than he anticipated.

Soon Finlay expertly brought up the receipt from last night and the dead body, and he asked if she knew who he was.

“Well, I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but he was kind of a jerk while he was here,” said Esmeralda. “A bit too loud, a bit to leery at the other guests, and he didn’t leave a tip.”

“Shocking. Shocking, right detective Black?” Finlay asked.

“Oh, appalling. He deserved what he got. I mean, er … karma will get you I guess. Ha-ha.” Joseph tried to smile, but the restaurant became awkwardly silent. Esmeralda held back a chuckle, thinking that it probably wasn’t best to laugh while being grilled by homicide detectives.

“Jesus buddy,” Finlay finally spoke, shaking his head, “Why don’t you go have a look around,” and so Joseph did. He left without once meeting Esmeralda’s eyes and moved to the photos on the walls as gracefully as he could, thinking to himself, “That must’ve been the creepiest thing I’ve ever said.”

After ten minutes of questioning, Finlay brushed past and said, “Alright let’s go.”

Joseph took all the hope he had left and looked at Esmeralda. “Thank you for your time, ma’am,” he said.

She gave a small wave, and Finlay hurried his partner out of the restaurant so that he could smack him in the back of the head. “You dumb bear! What are you doing!?” he asked.

“W-what? Hey!” Joseph cried, raising his arms.

“You are a goof and you like that nice girl. Now go ask her out on a date,” Finlay ordered.

“Finlay, you’re getting senile,” Joseph said, but Finlay kept a stern look, like an irritated crab, until his partner folded. “It’s not going to work out. It never does. Why should I?”

“Because next Thanksgiving when you come over I want to see you bring a date,” Finlay sighed. “You’re getting old, pal.”

“Where would I take her? I don’t even have a car right now.”

“Oh, right. Well hey, borrow mines! Here,” Finlay handed Joseph his keys, “you can drive us away. Pretend it’s yours!”

“Finlay…. It’s more complicated than that,” Joseph replied.

“You stubborn bull, you are making me bust my balls to get you to ask her out, and so help me Christ, if you don’t—then we’re not partners anymore.”

Joseph turned to Finlay slowly. “Why you gotta pull that card every time?”

“Because I’m all you got. Now get in there!”

Esmeralda was blushing red, and she wondered if the detectives knew the entire restaurant could hear them arguing and bouncing around outside, but it wasn’t until the detective who didn’t talk much reentered the restaurant that her knees began to shake…

Five minutes passed, and Joseph walked out of The Park with his head hung low. He approached the old brown LeSabre where Finlay was waiting, opened the driver’s seat and crammed into it. Finlay looked mortified, but then he saw a grin beneath Joseph’s beard and yelled, “Stupid bear! See, what’d I tell ya!”

Part 4:

Cavan DeMeco

Buster’s Block was a strip of comedy clubs east of the Italian District. There was everything, from ancient hangouts with cellar doors, to big venues with marquees and valet parking. Funny Bones was arguably though, the most historic and legacy creditable club of them all. Old comedians would tell crazy stories about dead comedians who had insane nights there.

It was a glorious autumn day in old Zero City. Well as glorious as you can get in a cage that’s too small for the animals inside. It had rained earlier in the week, but sunlight managed to peak through the gray clouds, hitting the city like it was a beautiful day even though the sky behind it was a Van Gogh of grayish blues and blackened clouds, one of those odd moments where it looked like God was artificially stage-lighting the world. Cavan DeMeco chuckled at it all.

The air was cool and breezy as he walked from Hell through the Central District, and he noticed the people who had umbrellas by their side in case it started to rain again. All they see is the possibility of rain, and if it doesn’t rain then they’ll have carried their umbrellas around for no reason, and that’s even more hilarious.

Cavan’s appearance was halfway between a physics professor and a greaser, with thick glasses, a leather jacket, a red scarf, and frizzy hair. He laughed again, and this time a pretty girl in a red raincoat noticed him. She looked away quickly, but it was too late, Cavan had noticed her. The stoplight changed colors and she quickly crossed the street. He stayed on course and made no attempts to enquire upon what amused her, for that would breach his schedule, and be an unfruitful investment of his time.

It’s not like she knows comedy any better than I do, Cavan thought. I could figure out what made her look if I put my mind to it. Let me see, I was laughing, and that caught her attention, but if she was looking to laugh too then she should’ve looked to where I was looking instead of at me. Did she want to see somebody laugh? Why would someone watch someone else laughing? There’s nothing funny about that. Otherwise the comedian on stage would be laughing every time the audience laughed. It’d be an endless cycle of laughing! Is that amusing to see other people laugh without the shared experience of laughing with them? What’s the point of it? Why did she look at me laughing? Am I funny when I laugh? Did I have spinach in my teeth? What could be so amusing about watching me laugh? Why was she looking!?

Cavan froze and people walked around him. His fingernails dug into his palms, and his hands clenched in his pockets. His neck tightened. His whole body tightened, and he had to remember, he needed to remember, where he was going and why he was going there in order to keep on schedule. Don’t let this get to you, he told himself.

Cavan took two steps forward and was soon back on schedule. If I’m not on time the trash man will be there, he thought.

A half-hour later on Buster’s Block, “Hey, DeMeco!” a voice shouted from under the Funny Bone’s marquee. Cavan looked ahead to see Barto Chiklis, the club’s floor manager, standing by piles of chairs and tables. Barto hoped that by starting strong he could avoid talking to Cavan, but that’s seemed to have backfired. Barto’s puggish face grimaced, but he lowered his bowler hat and marshaled himself to speak.

“Hey-hey Cavan. You’re a few days too early for amateur night,” Barto said. He wasn’t exactly scared of Cavan. To him, Cavan was somewhere between an annoying kiss-ass who couldn’t take a hint, and a stringy maniac, who he wasn’t sure how dirty he’d fight or how many hits to the head it’d take to knock him down.

“Barto, my man! Oh you know, I hope I’m just in time for the festivities,” Cavan slapped one of the old tables and beamed at the building.

“Festivities?”

“Today the new booths come in! Right? Boy, I’m sure they’ll be sweet.”

“Oh-oh yeah! Yeah, yeah, but it’d be best to stay out of everyone’s way this afternoon,” Barto said.

“Boy, a lot of greats were discovered here: Marten Dip, Snap Peach, Artie Maul, Scott Goldsmith. Luckily comedy is recession proof, but these chairs ain’t ass-proof. Am I right?” Cavan shot finger-pistols at Barto, and he returned a polite chuckle.

“Say, Barty-oh-boy, d’ya mind selling me a set of these old chairs, and a table? There’s old magic in these seats, and I’d sure love to have a piece of Funny Bones history. Heritage like this has got to be protected. Do you know what I mean?”

Barto nodded his head. “No doubt man, for sure. Well, you can have as many as you want as long as you can move them.”

“Alright, my man! Pleasure doing business with you!” Cavan put out his hand to shake, and Barto uneasily shook it. “Hey, I’ll be back with a van in a bit. Don’t let anyone roll these away. Alright?”

“You got it,” Barto nodded.

Cavan sped off, feeling light as a feather. Once he was out of sight, Barto wiped his hands on a handkerchief, and a black teenager named Nick walked out of the club carrying a set of old chairs. “Was that Cavan? Was he hoping to get top-billing on amateur night?” Nick asked, adding the chairs to the pile.

“Nah-nah, he just wanted to take a set of the old chairs and a table. Besides, that kid’s comedy is terrible, and he gives me the creeps.”

“He ain’t so bad,” Nick said. “I’ve got pure horror stories from that porno theater I used to work at. I swear to God I’ll never eat popcorn again.”

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