It starts with a phone call.
The phone rings in Problem Sleuth’s apartment, first working its way into his dreams as an annoying ringing before he realizes that it’s actually the phone. He wakes up and starts the slow process of pulling his eyes apart. Purple moonlight filters in through the blinds on the window, illuminating the clock on the wall. Three in the morning. Whoever this is better have a damn good reason for calling Problem Sleuth at three in the morning.
Problem Sleuth: Get that phone to stop ringing.
You know how hardboiled it is to get calls at three in the morning. But you’ve been on a stakeout every night for the past few days trying to catch some john in the act of paying for certain services on behalf of his wife. You think it’s funny that his money is paying for the investigation into his affairs.
But sometimes a guy just wants to sleep in until just after sunrise once in a while, like a normal person. But it looks like tonight isn’t gonna be that night.
You roll over in your bed and pick up the phone on your bedside table. There’s a cop on the other end. You ask what his problem is for why he’s calling at three in the morning. He explains there’s a murder, and Anarchy Repressor wants him on the scene. As a second opinion. You ask him why he wants that since he’s never wanted it before.
He says that he’s calling in a favor.
What favor, you grumble and ask him where it is. He tells you. You tell him that you’re on your way and to tell Anarchy Repressor that he better be damn grateful because you’re going to be pretty damn grumpy when you get there. He says okay, but you can tell he’s just humoring you. You hang up.
Problem Sleuth rubs his eyes. He dials the number for his favorite taxi service. The phone gets picked up in the middle of the first ring.
A cheery voice greets him on the other end. “Hello? Transportation Deferrer’s Cab Service.”
“Do you ever sleep?” Problem Sleuth asks somewhat incredulously as he tries to shake himself into consciousness.
“Is that you, Problem Sleuth? I can’t sleep, not with private detectives like you needing rides. It keeps me up at night!” She says. “What do you need?”
“Come pick me up.” Problem Sleuth says. “At the apartment. I’ve got to get to a murder scene before the cops find and take any useful evidence.”
“I’ll be there in thirty seconds.” She hangs up.
Problem Sleuth immediately jumps out of bed. If Transportation Deferrer says she’s going to be somewhere in thirty seconds, she’ll be there in thirty seconds. Problem Sleuth does a quick once-over of his clothing situation. He fell asleep in his clothes. Again. It makes getting out easy, as he just slips on his shoes and overcoat, and his hat, can’t forget his hat, and is out the door.
Problem Sleuth: Lock the door.
What, with your gun?
The notion that you would lock your door with your gun strikes you as reckless and foolhardy.
Halfway down the stairs from his apartment he hears a car horn honking. He exits the building to see a yellow taxi with its wheels spinning and the car moving from side to side as a result. Tranportation Deferrer is honking her horn. “What are you standing there gawking for? Get in the car.”
Problem Sleuth runs to the door because she is liable to get impatient and leave without him. As soon as Problem Sleuth is halfway into the car, the car screeches into a U-turn, throwing Problem Sleuth inside and closing the door. He resituates himself as she asks, “Where am I taking ya, Sleuth?”
“3050 W 47th. And get me there quick.” Problem Sleuth says and immediately regrets.
The city streets are mostly empty, which is good, because Deferrer doesn’t let a thing like traffic stop her from putting her foot down, in a metaphorical as well as quite literal sense, and the absence of traffic makes the ride marginally less terrifying. Getting a lift from her is the only time Problem Sleuth ever wears a seat belt. After tearing through the streets like a rat in a maze with its tail on fire the car nearly tips over as Deferrer throws the handbrake, bringing the car to a stop at the murder scene.
Problem Sleuth unbuckles his seatbelt and makes a hasty exit. He ducks back into the window and pays her. “Thanks. There’s a little extra for making sure I didn’t die.”
“No problem, Sleuth!” Transportation Deferrer giggles. She gives an informal salute and peels off again.
Problem Sleuth turns around and looks at the murder scene. Cops with black and white carapaces are moving around an alley way, with the majority of the focus on a dumpster with an arm hanging out. Draped over and across and between every available surface is yellow caution tape. Sleuth puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. Because the best way to gather evidence is to contaminate it with paper ash, but nobody does DNA analysis or anything like that because it’s pointless so it’s not like it matters anyway.
A black carapace in a trenchcoat and tie walks up to him. “You got here fast.”
“There’s a girl who wants me to go places.” Sleuth smirks.
Anarchy Repressor huffs indifferently. “Come on.” The detective leads Problem Sleuth to the dumpster, ducking under no less than three sets of caution tape on the way there. Inside is a dead man with a bullet wound to his gut.
“Has the body been disturbed?” Sleuth asks.
“No, we just got here five minutes ago.” Repressor responds.
“And you didn’t waste any time making sure everybody knows this is a crime scene. Hell, I’m sure the office drones in downtown could look in this direction and know this is police business only.” Sleuth says.
Anarchy Repressor gives him a glare.
“What did you call me here for?”
“Sleuth,” Repressor says, pointing to the body. “My gut instinct tells me this is a hit, and if it’s from one of the gangs, I’d rather you take the lead on this instead of me.”
“Mighty brave of you, Repressor.” Sleuth says. “But if I find the killer you’ll take all the credit.”
“Of course. And then I’ll owe you one.” He smiles. Not like he ever paid back a favor. “Besides, you’re better at getting under the skin of the criminal underworld than I am.”
Sleuth shakes his head. “You’re a damn fine cop, you know that?” He says sarcastically.
Anarchy Repressor is a damn fine cop, but the system is broken. The Midnight Crew’s got a monetary stranglehold on half the prosecutors in the town and the Felt’s got a familial stranglehold on the other half. Sometimes what a cop needs to get the job done is somebody who can operate outside of the rules, and outside of the jurisdiction of a bunch of meddling self-interested corrupt politicians.
Sleuth looks over the body. Anarchy Repressor’s guess was right, but only up to a point. At the very least, it was a hit, because the body had been dumped here from wherever he had been killed. But it doesn’t fit the usual MOs. “The Midnight Crew doesn’t shoot people in the gut. They cut their victims up and then they shoot to kill. Or eat them. But that doesn’t happen very often.” He looked at Repressor, expecting surprise. There wasn’t any. “This guy bled to death in extreme pain. The guy who shoots people only does clean kills, from some sort of pride, and the guy who cuts people up didn’t do anything to this poor fella.”
Repressor looks at him. “What else?”
“The Felt are just brutes. Their victims are all horribly mutilated. There ain’t any finesse in what they do.”
“So, what then? The Midnight Crew didn’t do it, and the Felt didn’t do it?”
“No.” Sleuth says. “If they were involved at all it wasn’t directly. It looks pretty amateurish.” Sleuth shrugs. “Or maybe they suddenly got sloppy for some reason. I don’t really know.”
“Where does that leave us?”
“Nowhere, looks like.”
Problem Sleuth: Make a distraction.
Sleuth turns his head slightly. “Did you hear that?”
“I think somebody’s calling you.” Anarchy Repressor turns towards the parked police cars. Sleuth uses the opportunity to fish around in the victim’s jacket and pulls out a wallet. He quickly pockets it.
“You sure? I don’t hear anything.” Anarchy Repressor turns his gaze back to the victim.
“Huh, my mistake.” Sleuth says. “Does the victim have any ID?” Sleuth asks.
Anarchy Repressor opens the victim’s jacket and looks through the coat pockets. “Looks like this guy’s name is Mysterious Carapace until we know better.”
“Whoever did it must have taken the wallet and ditched it somewhere.” Sleuth says completely straight faced. “Have your men canvas the area looking for it. And tell your traffic cops to keep their eyes open for any dried blood they see tomorrow.”
“In this town?” Anarchy Repressor says in an incredulous tone. “If the city isn’t covered in blood by noon that’s a good day.”
Sleuth smirks. “All they gotta do is look for the stains that look a day old.”
Anarchy Repressor gives a beleaguered look. “I ain’t a super hero, Sleuth, and neither are my men.”
Sleuth shrugs. “What about the pants pockets?” Sleuth asks.
Anarchy Repressor fishes around the pants pockets and finds several notes, all with addresses on them. “A list of addresses. Maybe he was a delivery boy?”
“Delivery boys don’t get shot in the stomach. No, I think this guy was a courier of some sort. Might explain why he was killed.”
“But what for?”
“Beats me. Could be anything.” Sleuth says. “Could’ve been a briefcase full of boondollars or little old ladies’ fine china.”
“Dammit.” Anarchy Repressor swears. “This isn’t helping any.”
Sleuth spreads his arms wide in a shrug. “I don’t know what to tell you, Anarchy Repressor.” Sleuth says. “You need to ID the body. If you can’t do that, then the trail’s gonna go cold faster than this guy here.”
Anarchy Repressor takes a single step back. He looks dissatisfied, and with good reason. Problem Sleuth took the only piece of useful evidence from the scene while Anarchy Repressor wasn’t looking. “Thanks for your help, Problem Sleuth.” He says a bit sarcastically. He puts his hands on the dumpster and looks at the body. “You’ll look into this for me, right?”
“What do you expect me to do more than you’ve done? I got here just as soon as you did. There ain’t anything more I can do that we both didn’t already do looking at this guy right now.”
Anarchy Repressor grimaces. “Just keep your eyes open.”
“Alright.” Sleuth waits a moment. “Does that mean I can go? I’m dead tired and my cases aren’t going to work themselves.”
“Yeah, get outta here.” Anarchy Repressor says, kicking some dirt on the asphalt idly in frustration. “You need a ride?”
“No thanks.” Sleuth says. “I just gotta make a call.”
Problem Sleuth: Whistle for a cab.
And when it came near the license plate said X368 J39. Were you expecting something else? That's always been the license plate for Transporation Deferrer's cab. You don't know why you think this detail is notable in any way right now.
You get in and she takes you back to your apartment, where you promptly fall asleep.