Thought I’d post these to see what people think. Please bear in mind that this material has not been edited and is therefore subject to change. Enjoy and please comment!
William Keyes was so excited he could hardly stand still. He held his fiancé’s hand tightly and waited. Today a dream was coming true. He knew that sounded corny, but he didn’t care. It had been such a struggle getting here and, to be honest, part of him still expected something to go wrong. Some last-ditch injunction or other legal move could still screw things up.
It was cold and a light snow was falling. Will was grateful they weren’t near the river, that would make it even worse. The Port Mason County Courthouse was in the heart of downtown, on Grayson Avenue, which put it at the edge of the government and financial districts. Will and his fiancé were part of a growing group waiting at the front doors.
A uniformed guard unlocked the doors at 8 on the dot, in what Will thought of as a rare case of government efficiency. They practically flew threw the door and were surprised to find that the clerk’s office had set up shop at folding tables that had been erected in the rotunda. Three black-robed county judges were also waiting.
They went to the nearest table and quickly filled out the paperwork for their marriage license. As they did so, Will’s phone buzzed, indicating a new email. Without thinking, he took the phone out of this pocket and brought up the message. The first thing he noticed was the sender’s name. It said ‘The Servant of the LORD.’ The subject header read simply, ‘Repent.’ “Look at this,” he said, showing it to his fiancé.
“Green’s getting desperate,” Jason Rhodes said. “What does it say?”
“Who cares?” Will replied. He deleted the email, unread, and completely muted the phone. He didn’t want any more stupid interruptions. The paperwork was completed, they paid their fee, and received the first same-sex marriage license ever issued in Port Mason County. They hurried over to the nearest judge, handed him the vows they’d written, and held hands as His Honor performed the brief ceremony.
It the first business day of the new year, the first day same-sex couples could wed under the Marriage Equality Act. Will and Jason had been part of the movement to get the law passed and were thrilled to be the first to tie the knot. This was the happiest day of their lives. It was also the last.
Steve Bennett climbed the rickety staircase, his Sig Sauer P229 drawn and aimed down in a professional two-handed grip. The building was in the heart of Kingman Heights, an area comprised of public housing projects and run-down apartment buildings controlled by the city’s street gangs. Drugs and prostitution were it’s main industries.
People from Steve’s part of town didn’t come here unless they had to and even then thought twice about it. It was a standing rule that no cop ever came here alone. But Steve wasn’t a police officer anymore. His work as a private investigator brought him here almost as often as it had when he carried a badge.
When he reached the fourth floor he paused a moment and looked around. Nobody was in sight. He walked down the hallway as gently as he could but his foot found a loose floorboard that squeaked loudly.
A nearby door opened. Steve brought his gun up instantly. A girl stepped into the hall. She wore a sheer robe that barely covered her. Before she could scream or raise any kind of alarm, Steve clamped a hand over her mouth and forced her against the wall.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Steve whispered. “Nod if you understand.”
The frightened girl nodded slowly. Steve held up a photo. “Know this girl?”
The girl nodded again. “I’m going to take my hand off of your mouth,” he said. “Speak softly, okay?”
When she nodded her agreement he took his hand away. “What’s your name?” Steve asked.
“Candy,” she replied.
He looked at her skeptically. “Your real name,” he said.
“Jenna. Jenna Kelly.”
“You from around here?”
“Hartstown,” she said.
“How long have you been here?” Steve asked.
“I don’t know. A while, I guess.”
“How old are you?”
“Get some clothes on. I’ll make sure you get home.”
“I can’t leave,” Jenna protested. “They’ll kill me.”
“No, they won’t,” Steve said. “I won’t let them.”
He must have been convincing because she went back into the apartment and returned moments later wearing jeans, t-shirt, and a jacket. “Let’s go,” Steve said. “Stay close to me.”
They crept down the hall, Steve constantly checking behind him to make sure no one but Jenna was there. The floor creaked again and he froze, looking all around in case someone else came out to investigate. Nobody did. When he reached apartment 412, he gently grasped the knob and turned it. The door wasn’t locked. It swung open, hinges squeaking slightly.
Steve didn’t like that. Not one bit. “Stay here,” he whispered to Jenna. She nodded.
He went through the doorway as quietly as he could, finding himself in a small hallway. To his right was a closet. It was empty. The next door down was a bathroom, also empty. He entered the kitchen. It was deserted, though there was a marijuana bong on the table and empty beer cans scattered everywhere. There was no one in the living room. A closed door led to what he assumed was the bedroom. He listened at the door for a moment. It sounded like someone was crying.
Gun ready, he counted to three, took a deep breath, and kicked the door in. The teenage girl he’d been hired to find sat on the bed, a sheet pulled up to her chin. Her eyes were red-rimmed. There was dried blood trailing from the corner of her mouth. A young man sat next to her, his left arm around her throat. In his right hand was a gun, which he held to the girl’s temple.
The young man’s name was Brian McCormick. At age twenty he already had a lengthy arrest record. He was suspected of dealing drugs and luring young girls into forced prostitution. He looked like a teenager, which allowed him to prowl the local high schools and teenage hangouts to hunt for victims. Steve had crossed paths with him before.
McCormick was smiling. “I knew her folks would hire you,” he said. “The ones with money always do.”
Before Steve could respond he felt something cold press against the back of his head. “Shit,” he said, raising his hands. A large hand snatched his gun. A foot to the small of his back shoved him into the bedroom and onto the floor. He slowly rolled onto his back and got a good look as his assailant.
The hand belonged to a big black man holding a gun. He had a hard, cold look in his eyes. Steve knew he’d walked into a trap. He noticed that the man was wearing latex gloves, presumably to keep his fingerprints off the weapons. That did not bode well for Steve.
“Nice going, Reese,” McCormick said.
“What the fuck’s the matter with you?” Reese asked. “No names!”
Reese never took his eyes off of Steve. The private detective had seen this type before. He would kill without hesitation. Behind him stood Jenna Kelly, whose expression was neutral.
McCormick released the girl and got off the bed. He walked around to where Steve lay and pointed his own gun at the private detective. “Candy,” he said. “Take our new girl here back to your place for a while.”
“Okay,” Jenna said. She came into the room, took the other girl by the arm and led her out, leaving Steve alone with his captors. Steve watched Reese carefully, looking for an opportunity. He didn’t think one was coming. Reese kept his distance and his weapon ready. If Steve made the slightest wrong move he was a dead man.
McCormick put his gun to Steve’s head. “You have fucked with the wrong people,” McCormick said. “I ought to blow your head off right here.”
“No,” Reese said. “Can’t have cops poking around this building. You know what we’re supposed to do. Get him on his feet.”
McCormick nodded and hauled Steve up. Steve was so tempted to knock the younger man on his butt. He could to it with little effort but he would wind up with a bullet in his head for his trouble. “Let’s go,” Reese said, gesturing to the door.
McCormick pressed his own gun into Steve’s back and forced him out, marching him through the apartment and to the front door. Reese followed, keeping his distance. At a gesture from McCormick, Steve turned the doorknob and opened the door. McCormick started to push him through.
In that moment, McCormick’s gun slipped away from Steve’s back. Steve grabbed McCormick’s wrist and hurled him out of the apartment, following him and pulling the door shut. He dove to the ground, pulling McCormick down with him, as shots were fired through the door. Steve used a pressure-point technique on McCormick’s wrist to force him to release the gun. Steve grabbed it and rolled away as the door opened.
Reese came into the hall. “Drop the weapon!” Steve commanded.
Instead, Reese ducked back into the apartment. Steve quickly turned the gun on McCormick, who looked like he was about to try something. “Don’t,” Steve said. “Up against the wall. Assume the position.”
McCormick rose to his feet with his hands in the air. As he turned to face the wall, two shots rang out. Blood spurted from McCormick’s back as he slumped to the floor. Steve pressed himself into the wall next to the open apartment door. After a few seconds of silence he whirled into the opening, McCormick’s gun up and ready.
Reese was gone.
Steve ran into the apartment. He saw his gun lying on the floor and snatched it up, tucking McCormick’s weapon into his waistband. The living room window was open. He carefully stuck his head out, looking down. Reese was charging down the fire escape. “Stop!” Steve commanded
Reese looked up, raised his gun, and fired. Steve jerked back as the bullet ricocheted off a railing, then leaned out again. When he looked out again, Reese was near the bottom of the last ladder. They both fired their guns at the same time and both missed. When the private detective looked again, Reese had disappeared.
Steve went back out to the hallway. Jenna was kneeling next to McCormick. “What did you do to him?” she exclaimed.
“Nothing,” Steve replied.
He knelt down and checked McCormick’s pulse. It was there, weak but still there. Steve called 911.
Amanda Clark woke slowly to the sensation of something fuzzy pressing into her palm. “Go away,” she said, pulling her hand away and rolling over in the bed. A second later, she felt her hair being tugged. “I said, go away,” she repeated, pushing at the offender.
That was followed by a very rough, wet piece of flesh brushing up and down her ear. “Dammit!” she exclaimed, sitting up in bed to face her tormentor. “What is the matter with you?”
The orange and white cat looked at her innocently and meowed. She looked at the clock. It was just past six in the morning. “Dobby,” she said. “I’m on vacation! Can’t I sleep in?”
Dobby meowed again. “Why am I explaining this to you?” she asked. “Let me guess, you want to eat.”
She swung her feet off the bed, put on her robe, and went into the kitchen. Sure enough, Dobby’s over-sized cat food bowl was empty. “I filled that thing when I got home last night,” she complained as she refilled the bowl. “You eat like there’s no tomorrow. Why don’t you learn to savor your food?”
Dobby ignored her and began to eat. Amanda knew she wouldn’t be going back to sleep. Once she was up, that was it for the day. Stupid cat. She started a pot of coffee and contemplated her own breakfast. The cupboard was pretty bare so she settled for her last two granola bars. A trip to the market was definitely on the agenda.
She heard a ‘ding’ and went back into the main living space, a combination living room and bedroom. The efficiency apartment wasn’t much but it didn’t really matter. She was seldom home except to sleep. There was still a small stack of boxes in a corner to unpack.
The ding had come from her iPhone, which was on the nightstand. There was a new email waiting. She almost didn’t open it on the chance it was from her boss. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d been called in because of breaking news. If she ignored it, and silenced the phone, she could pretend she’d slept through it.
Of course Amanda did no such thing. Her passion for her work was too strong to ignore, even during her time off. It was something that set her apart from other reporters at The Port Mason Register. Amanda was not the type to do things halfway.
She touched the email icon, bringing up the screen. The sender’s name caught her attention. It said ‘The Servant of the Lord.’ The subject read ‘The wages of sin is death.’ Intrigued, she opened the message.
“Leviticus 20, verse 13, says ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.’
“William Keyes and Jason Rhodes broke this commandment in suite 3202 of the Fairmont Hotel. They also perverted the holy institution of marriage. I meted out God’s justice to them. Let the sinners be warned, repent or perish. I am the Servant of the Lord.”
Within twenty minutes Amanda was dressed and racing downtown in her Toyota Camry. She’d called one of her few friends in the police department and forwarded the email, then called the city editor with the news. He agreed to send a photographer and warned her to be careful of the police.
She didn’t need the reminder. If the Port Mason Police Department had an ‘enemies list,’ her name was surely at the top. Over the last three months she’d published a series of articles naming police officers who had been investigated by the internal affairs bureau. These cops had been accused of a variety of offenses but none disciplined.
The stories were a sensation and there was even talk of some awards. The mayor promised action and a couple of city aldermen were calling for the resignation of the police chief. There was even a rumor going around about an FBI investigation though the feds denied it. Amanda took great satisfaction from the firestorm her work had started.
The downside was that the PMPD had become downright hostile not only to her, but to the media in general. The department’s press officer had said nothing to reporters in months, communicating only through terse written statements and refusing to return calls. Amanda’s source on the IAB stories told her that the silent treatment came on the chief’s personal order. The phone logs were even being monitored.
She was lucky enough to find a parking space near the hotel. The Fairmont was the city’s finest hotel, standing in the heart of downtown. There were already police cars and an ambulance parked out front, lights flashing.
Going in through the main lobby was out of the question if she wanted to get up to the 32nd floor, but she knew the Fairmont pretty well and knew how to get in through one of the service entrances. She was able to bypass the lobby completely and took a service elevator up. The elevator deposited her in a linen room. She walked past a bewildered housekeeper folding towels and entered the main corridor.
Suite 3202 was being guarded by a uniformed police officer. Amanda did not hesitate, marching to the door with her digital voice recorder in hand. Maybe the cop wouldn’t talk to her, but the paramedics were another matter. One way or another, she was going to find out what had happened in that hotel room.
Amanda and the cop recognized each other instantly. Officer Scott Eggert had been investigated by IAB on suspicion of taking bribes from small-time drug dealers. Amanda even had a photograph to back it up, which had been featured on the Register‘s front page in late October. Eggert had been officially cleared anyway.
“You fucking bitch!” was the first thing out of his mouth. “How the hell did you get up here?”
“What happened in there?” Amanda asked, holding up her recorder.
“None of your fucking business!” Eggert snapped. “Get your ass out of here!”
“Because if you don’t, I’ll arrest you for disobeying a police officer,” Eggert said. “This is a crime scene. Authorized personnel only.”
“Beyond that door is the crime scene,” she said. “Out here, that’s another matter.”
“That’s it,” Eggert said, taking out his handcuffs. “You’re under arrest.”
“Just a moment, patrolman,” a new voice said.
The voice belonged to a woman in a dark overcoat and pants with a gold police shield on her waist walking towards them. She was shorter than Amanda but for some reason the reporter felt a little intimidated by her. The woman had short brown hair, fair skin that showed no trace of makeup, and a world-weary look Amanda had noticed in more than one veteran cop.
“Miss Clark?” the woman asked. Amanda nodded. “I’m Detective Sergeant Wheeler. Do you mind telling me what you’re doing here?”
“My job,” Amanda said. “I knew the victims. Can you confirm–”
“I don’t comment on ongoing investigations,” Wheeler said. “Especially when I have yet to examine the crime scene. I appreciate you notifying us when you received that email, but that is the end of your involvement. You will learn nothing more than the rest of the media, who are waiting in the lobby. I suggest you join them. Now.”
Something about the way Wheeler said it persuaded Amanda that arguing would be useless. Without a word, she started walking towards the main elevator. Her phone pinged again. It was another email from ‘The Servant of the Lord.’
“Deuteronomy 32:41: ‘When I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.’ Diane Nichols and Mara Blythe faced God’s wrath in Suite 3209. I am the Servant of the Lord.”