Slam hit the third floor landing and prayed it wouldn’t be bad. 3C. The apartment he grew up in. He let himself in. He caught a whiff of piss and mildew opening the door. The apartment was trashed: old newspapers stacked to the ceiling, cigarette butts scattered on the floor, cats running roughshod, jars of piss littering the room. Power and water hookups were a distant memory. He heard dutch babbling and followed the sound through the sty.
His mom talked to herself as she shifted through garbage. Hilda Janssen was lost to the world. Slam shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from throwing haymakers into the wall. Growing up Hilda had always been loopy. She had the strong accent, liked the bottle, and followed the wrath of god teachings of Sister Aimee Semple McPhersn. Slam caught grief from the neighborhood kids big time. When his old man split she swan-dived off the deep end. She had a full-blown nervous breakdown and turned full blown lush. She stopped speaking English and started sniffing model airplane glue. Slam was ten. The kids got mean with their taunts. They pushed him when he got mad. Slam learned how to use his fists. He learned that it paid to be the toughest son of a bitch around.
Slam said, “Ma.”
Hilda looked up from her sty. She looked through Slam. Her look said, “Who the hell are you?”
“Ma, it’s me.”
She mumbled something in dutch and went back to her mess. Back when he was boxing, Slam was able to afford nurses and maids to come by and check on Hilda. They came and went, and they didn’t come cheap. They always charged extra fees to put up with the old woman screaming and throwing shoes at them while they tried to clean. That money dried up the second Slam joined the PD. It allowed the apartment to devolve into… this.
But now he was flush. He had ten grand. Said ten grand was still nestled in the trunk of his car. It would do more than pay for nurses and maids. It’d give Slam’s mom a new start. Scotty Lee’s blood would mortgage Hilda’s comfort.
“Ma,” he said again. “I’ve got a placed lined up for you to stay. A nice rest home where you can be safe and have people to look after you. Doctors and nurses and orderlies.”
Slam heard more dutch. He recognized the words “no” and “fuck off.” Slam thought about his father. He wished the son of a bitch was here to see this. To see the wreckage he left behind in his wake. Part of Slam was glad he wasn’t here. He couldn’t trust himself to not blow the fucker away with his piece.
Two car convoy rolling through narrow streets. Slam drove the unmarked cop car in the lead. Two-Gun Jack Grogan rode shotgun. Burke and Harris sat in the back. Simpson drove the chase car packed with mob squad goons. They were headed to a Tong summit to act as muscle. One Tong family swore vengeance on another family. A Chinatown war loomed on the horizon. It defied Grogan's mandate for all Gotham gangs to keep the peace at all costs.
Slam's thoughts drifted during the ride. He thought back to his mom and his father. Meanwhile, his surrogate daddy had been busy. Grogan spent all day in confabs with the commissioner and other brass. SLAM was the topic of said confabs. Porter promised payback for Scotty Lees. Grogan contracted to make it copacetic. He said hard-on Whiskey Max Eckhardt had the case. The hush-hush huddles made Slam nervous. A sellout could be in store.
The convoy pulled up to a fish factory. They got out with pump-action shotguns and automatic pistols. Slam had his big .45 in his hand. Grogan stuck a plug of tobacco in his mouth and strutted into the factory with a bullhorn in his hands. The factory floor: Wall to wall to Chinese men yelling in their heathen language. Six Nation Tong on one side in red, the Yellow Dragon Tong on one side in yellow. They jabbered at each other, flashed knives and guns, and threatened to start the war right then and there.
Two-Gun Jack held the bullhorn to his mouth. His voice amplified across the din. The bullhorn made it screech weird. Grogan's voice sounded inhuman. Slam realized he was speaking Chinese. He gave the fucks the spiel in fluent Mandarin. The speech’s gestalt: Calm down right now or we will send in the riot squad and bash all your heathen brains in.
The panic subsided. Grogan grinned. He motioned the rest of the squad to flank out. They covered exits and corners with their guns. Grogan and Slam walked towards a card table in the middle of the mob. Fat Ricky Fat of the Six Nation sat on an opposite side from Hau Song and the Yellow Dragons. A third chair for Grogan sat between them. Two-Gun Jack sprawled into the chair. Slam stood behind him as muscle. Hundreds of eyes fell on Slam. He winked en masse to the crowd.
The negotiations began. The two old men spoke through Grogan. They talked to him and he talked to the other. All eyes fell on the negotiations. No noise from the crowd. You could hear a pin drop. Ricky Fat said something in his gobbledygook. He pounded the card table. A buzz filtered through the crowd. Ricky Fat made the throat slash sign.
Hau Song shook his head and rattled off gibberish. Grogan held both hands up. He talked, talked, talked in their tongue. He pointed to both men. He expounded on some theory that made both men's heads nod. He finished. They both agreed. The crowd clapped. Wolf-whistles broke out.
Grogan got up smiling. He pulled Slam close and whispered in his ear. "I give you peace. Peace for our time, son. Go find Burke. We've got some more work to do."
Burke drove and Slam rode shotgun. Grogan and the head of Six Nation Tong sat in the back. Fat Ricky Fat spoke in Chinese to Grogan, Grogan gave it right back. They laughed. Slam looked in the rearview mirror. He saw a pistol and hatchet in Ricky Fat's lap.
Grogan switched to English. He said, "GCPD caught a dead body two days ago. A Chinese girl stabbed to death in a Chinatown no-tell-motel room. The victim was Ricky Fat's niece. Her murderer is Yellow Dragon, some punk she was fucking. He saw her with a Six Nation boy and got jealous. He stabbed her sixteen times. A real Romeo and Juliet story. I learned all this at our summit just a few moments earlier. Knowing Homicide like I do, they will give the killing a cursory investigation and drop it. If it's not white, they don't care. This degenerate who killed Ricky Fat's niece has tarnished his family honor. Old world customs dictate that he must regain that honor with vigorous bloodletting."
Slam saw the hatchet blade glint in the sparse light. Ricky Fat held it up swung it around the backseat gracefully. Grogan laughed.
"To advert full on war, Yellow Dragon has agreed that this heinous crime must be avenged. Take a left here, Thomas."
Burke pulled up to a tenement building. They got out. Slam and Burke walked point, Grogan and Ricky Fat behind them. They hit the fourth floor. Apartment six. Slam had his .45 out, Burke gripped his snub nosed .38. Grogan pulled his six-shooters. Ricky Fat had a hatchet in one hand, his pistol in the other.
Grogan said, "Go!"
Burke kicked the door. Once, twice, three times. It snapped on the third kick. It fell to the floor. They walked over it. They ran in on five Chinese junkies geezing up on Big H. Slam and Burke aimed at the same man. They blew holes through his chest. Two-Gun Jack opened fire with both six-shooters. He turned two men into swiss cheese. Six shots a piece center mass. Ricky Fat charged the one man left alive. He screeched something in Chinese and hacked at the man with his hatchet. The man screamed and fell to the floor. Ricky Fat kept hacking. Grogan nodded, he spun his guns like a cowboy and holstered them. Burke went green. Slam holstered his piece. Grogan put a hand on his shoulder and lead him and Burke out.
"Let Ricky Fat have his fun. We need to talk since we have a moment."
Grogan spat tobacco on the floor and shook his head. He talked over Ricky Fat's screams/the killer's death groans.
"Tonight's your last night working with me for some time, boys. I did what I could, but you both gotta pay something for that mess with the boxers. Thomas, you're going to the Eastern District narco squad. Samuel, they're packing you to Homicide. It's supposed to be temporary. How long it'll last, we'll see."
More screaming inside. Choked, phlegm filled death rattle. Blood ran out the door and pooled at their shoes. Burke dry-heaved. Slam saw a severed eyeball float by.
Max sucked on his flask and paced in the conference room. On the wall, the Scotty Lees case tacked to a corkboard. Form and void. Thought and theory. Implication and assumption. It was there. It was sketchy. It was enough. Crime scene pix laid out his findings. It was threadbare. The crack in the wall and the angles of height. The ME did not check Scotty's head and skull for signs of head trauma. His face got cut up by the fall. No obvious bruising on the skin. Threadbare, but enough for his purposes. They were meeting in a half hour for Bradey's interview. Grogan called and said they were on the way.
He walked through the Homicide pen towards his desk. The office was a ghost town. The rest of the squad hauled ass to Chinatown. Multiple 187's. He begged off, using his meeting with Bradley as an excuse. Fields called him from the scene. A fucking quintuple homicide. Five Chinese men were shot and hacked to death. Brutal stuff. That mass snuff and a stabbing from two days ago made it six open murders in Chinatown. He saw crime scene pix of the dead girl. She reminded him of Mary.
He did what he had to do at the crime scene and picked her up from school. They exchanged pleasantries, talked about their day without saying really saying anything. They ate greasy fast food for dinner. She had a milkshake. He drank cut-rate bourbon. She excused herself and went to do homework. He passed out on the couch. Mary woke him up two hours before he had to be at work. He saw the sadness in her eyes. Those eyes said, what the hell are you doing? Why do you do this to yourself? Why do you do it to me? He ignored all of it and downed a pot of coffee to wake up. The babysitter showed up to stay with her through the night and Max came to work.
The door to Homicide opened. Max saw Grogan's stetson first. He killed what was left in his flask. Liquid courage steadied him. Grogan and Bradley stopped by his desk. Grogan snagged a GCPD mug off Fields's desk and spat tobacco in it.
Two-Gun Jack said, "Sergeant Eckhardt. Sorry if we're late. We were on a case and it got a little rough. Someone was eyeballing me."
A look passed between the two cops. Private joke. Max ignored it. Bradley stifled his giggles and held his hand out.
Max stood. He looked at the hand. He let it linger there in front of him. "Call me Sergeant Eckhardt, please.”
Bradley prickled. He withdrew his hand. Grogan narrowed his eyes. Max motioned towards the conference room.
"It was getting late. We were listening to the radio and Scotty was sleeping and I started to nod off."
Slam sat at the conference room table. Eckhardt up close. Grogan halfway down from him and watching everything. Slam smoked. Eckhardt smoked. Two-Gun Jack chewed chaw. Eckhardt's eyes were distorted behind thick-framed glasses, they looked huge and all encompassing. He wrote down notes while Slam told the story. A tape recorder on the table spun and recorded the interview. Grogan spat into a coffee mug and kept watching.
Eckhardt said, "The radio was off when police arrived. Did you turn it off before or after Scotty jumped?"
No hesitation. "After. It seemed so loud and with everything going on, I turned it off."
"The sound of Scotty jumping is what woke you up?"
Eckhardt nodded. He held up a crime scene photo of the room. Two cheap, saggy beds. One on the left was unmade. The one on the right was immaculate.
"Sleep above the covers, sergeant?"
Slam felt Grogan stir. He could feel Two-Gun Jack's eyes on him. He heard another loud spit into the coffee mug. Eckhardt nodded. He reached across the table and got the recorder.
"I think I have enough here."
He killed the recording. Slam felt relief. Eckhardt rummaged through a pile of files. He pulled out a photo and laid it front of Slam.
"You left an indent in the wall when you bashed Scotty Lees head into it."
Slam looked down. It was small. But sure as shit it was there. Slam’s head snapped up. Grogan's face was frozen. Eckhardt looked at Slam then at Two-Gun Jack, then back to him.
"The medical examiner's report missed any kind of exterior bruising due to all the lacerations on Scotty's head, but I bet a search underneath the skin will reveal a contusion he suffered moments before he died. I got a skin swab of that indent this afternoon. Skin flakes in the dent were a perfect match for Scotty. You smashed his head into a wall and you threw him out the window, you goddamn thug."
Slam saw red. He raised up and went over the table. He grabbed at Eckhardt. Eckhardt backed up faaast. He dodged Slam's mitts. The same mitts that beat the shit out of Scotty Lees eight years ago. The same mitts that tossed Scotty out of a window two nights ago. Grogan's big hands pulled him back to the chair. He got him back down and steady. Eckhardt looked white. His hands were shaking.
Grogan put his hands on Slam’s shoulder. He fumed at Eckhardt. He said, "What do you want, Eckhardt? You turned off the tape recorder before you went into it, so I bet you hadn't even raised this issue with Boyle or anybody else. What's your angle?"
Eckhardt straightened his glasses. His fixed his tie. He took deep breaths to calm himself. He beaded sweat. Slam fantasized about ringing his goddamn neck.
Eckhardt said, "I want a promotion to lieutenant. I consistently get passed over despite attaining the highest scores on all tests and exams. Furthermore, I want my promotion to come within the detective bureau. I want to run either Robbery or Homicide. You have juice with the commissioner, Captain. Make it happen and I will write a final summation that pushes Bradley’s narrative that Scotty Lees committed suicide. Failure to comply with my wishes and I send my findings to Porter. He's already riled at you, Captain. All he needs is proof that your men and squad are dirty and he will not hesitate to burn both you and Bradley."
Slam felt Grogan's hands tighten on his shoulders. Grogan breathed heavily. Slam couldn't see his face, but the man irradiated anger. Murderous anger. He saw Grogans's hands turning white from the grip on his shoulders.
Two-Gun Jack said, "You have a deal, you cocksucker. I'll talk to the commish and have you set up to take over for Hughes when he retires, or even Boyle when he finally kicks the bucket."
Eckhardt lit a fresh cig. He inhaled deeply and nodded. He blew out smoke when he said, "That sounds reasonable to me, Captain. I'll file my final report tonight, but I will hold on to the evidence I have. Insurance, you see? I need to protect myself."
Grogan walked out without another word. Slam stood. He stared down at Eckhardt. Eckhardt stared back. He saw sweat rolling down Eckhardt's face. Slam moved and Eckhardt flinched. Slam laughed and walked out after Grogan. He caught up to him by the elevator. Two-Gun Jack fumed. He spat his wad out in a trash can by the elevator and looked at Slam. The goofy cowboy shtick was gone. All Slam saw was raw anger and hate.
"If you want to make it out of your new Homicide assignment and come back to the mob squad, I have but one simple request: Kill Max Eckhardt."