March 13th, 1933
Half past four in the afternoon
Back Bay, Boston, Independence
You must remember this, the young man onstage sang, hands clasping the microphone. Outside, green-black clouds hovered over the Charles River, twisting into a hypnotic vortex of dust. A kiss is still a kiss, and his voice reverberated in the filmy speakers, a blip of feedback skipping like a stone in the pool of jazz and sound, reaching Andrew Minyard where he sat in the back of the bar. On the red-brick walls of the bar, the silty wind hissed, god’s voice casting Adam and Eve out of one Eden and into another. A sigh is just a sigh, the young man’s mouth touched the microphone, and damn if he wasn’t giving it his all for a slow mid-afternoon crowd. The fundamental things apply, his eyes were closed, lightly, and for an instant Andrew stopped paying attention to the typewritten pages in front of him, As time goes by, he sang, everything in the dirty little room seeming to float an inch or two off the floor with the ecstasy of the notes in his voice.
The spell ended all too quickly. The scuffed tables and chairs came back to earth as a soft sound brought Andrew back too. Renee Walker cleared her throat, tapping one page with a finger. “Sorry, you kind of trailed off, what were you saying about this part?”
Right. Back to business. “I’m saying it’s weird that he starts rambling here, giving all these details. I didn’t ask him about any of this. Earlier he was giving blunt, one-word answers. Then I bring up the blood in the trunk and I get this whole dumbass story about fresh venison.”
“Yeah, and it’s not like hunting is illegal yet. Nothing to get nervous about in the first place.” Renee tapped her fingernails on the margin of the page. “The real problem with this case is I feel like there’s something bigger going on. Yeah, it’s a murder, the family wants it solved, but… no, maybe I’m biased.”
“I don’t blame you.” Andrew took a sip of the bourbon he had been nursing all afternoon. It was only about half-way gone. “I’ve been feeling like that the whole time I’ve been on the job. Ever since the Crash there’s always been something bigger. But who’s paying us to give a fuck about what it is?”
Renee shrugged, a few pieces of pale, chin-length hair sliding out from behind her ear as she bent over the case notes. “Maybe we shouldn’t have to be paid? But you’re right. Not our business. So what do you think?”
“I don’t think he did it. There was no connection, no motive.” Another small sip. “I think he got paid or threatened, possibly both, to do the dirty work and then shut up about it. I would’ve pressed him harder, but there wouldn’t have been a point. We just need to figure out who his connections are. It won’t be that hard, just a few questions in the right places.” And a few well-aimed threats. Or punches. The trail didn’t seem like it would be too difficult to follow, and in no time they’d bring the perpetrator to justice.
Now he allowed himself to down the rest of the bourbon. Their day was done for now. The young man onstage was still singing, something about a blue moon. Andrew wasn’t keen on staying in this shithole all night, but the man’s voice added some badly-needed ambiance to the place. Renee, arguably the more responsible half of the Fleet Foxes Detective Agency, gave him a look. “Already? I was ready to get back out there. If it’s gonna be as easy to follow up on this as you think, why not get it over with?”
“It’s been enough running around for one day, I don’t have it in me to give a shit anymore. Can we get out of here? It’s depressing. Let’s go back to the North End, see who’s around.” Standing up, Andrew pulled his thick wool coat over his rumpled button-up and waistcoat. “Unless you want to keep going solo.”
Pushing back her chair, Renee tugged on her pastel blue cloche hat, a smile playing over her small mouth. “No way. I don’t fly solo, not anymore. We need each other in this, I thought you realized that by now? North End sounds good to me. Let’s get going before it gets any worse outside.”
Onstage, the band took a short break, the singer letting out a soft breath as his song trailed into disparate notes. Andrew found himself looking towards him again, involuntarily, and what struck him were the little details - bandages on his fingers, still clasping the microphone, a blotch of stage makeup on his cheek, the blue of his eyes like the harbor on a bright Summer afternoon. And then he and Renee were back in the fierce wind, the foul sky churning. Ever since the Crash, the weather was unpredictable as all hell. It was almost Spring, yet the wind was arctic some days, scorching on others. It had been this way for four years.
Infrastructure was in the hands of the Independence elite, so the tram was prone to frequent outages, but Andrew still had his car from freshman year of university. It was lovely, despite all it had been through, a gleaming black Packard Convertible Victoria. Renee slid into the passenger seat, as usual. She knew she wasn’t even allowed in the driver’s seat of the Victoria. With a low purr, the Victoria’s engine came to life, Andrew guiding the vehicle away from the curb and into the twisting knot of Boston streets. There were few pedestrians. The caps of tent cities in vacant lots fluttered as the wind buffeted them.
Renee reached toward the radio dial on the dashboard, but Andrew shook his head. “Not in the mood for any more music. What was that song back in there? The first one.”
“Hey, I was paying more attention to the case than to the ambiance,” Renee shrugged, “Beats me. It did sound nice though. Are we going back to the Tower first, or checking on Aaron?”
“Tower first.” Andrew fed the car a little more gas, the grey buildings and litter at the roadside blurring at the edges. With no other cars on the road, it was safe to push the limits. On days like these, the Boston streets were Andrew’s own private speedway. Renee gripped the side of her seat, but didn’t protest; by now, she knew it would be futile to try. These parts of the city were the first to clear out after the Crash, down on their luck folks leaving for the country or a collective.
Near the Public Garden more cars began to appear on the twisting streets, and Andrew was forced to slow. Something in him still itched to bring the car back to full speed, try to run this gauntlet, slip in and out of traffic like his reflexes told him he could, and who was going to stop him? Maybe Renee, but since he was really the only law on the streets now, was he supposed to arrest himself? In the end, he kept the car at 30, letting himself become trapped behind several Fords.
Before 1929, Andrew had been reluctantly enrolled in Boston College. It was better than being home, but he still had to pretend to care about doing homework, which by now truly was a thing of the past. He was studying criminology and forensics. His twin, Aaron, had gone to Harvard Medical. Both twins played in the collegiate football league, Andrew with some difficulty. His life was a series of boxes other people pushed him into.
That all ended with the Crash, because the society he had been trapped in simply ceased to exist. The banks failed. The government went bankrupt. Suddenly, America was no longer a nation, and violent weather patterns from the Dust Bowl consumed the continent. So Andrew dropped out of the college that no longer really mattered. Aaron, with his rudimentary medical schooling, was able to lend him a hand in becoming someone new, the person he always felt he had been deep down. He was Andrew Minyard, and the bureaucracy that had his birth certificate on file no longer existed and nobody cared. Independence, a loose state borne out of Massachusetts and Southern Maine was controlled by old families, still rich in gold and loyalty from a long history of being on top. The city needed a little order, a little karma, so Andrew took what education he could recall and founded Fleet Foxes Detective Agency.
An angry horn honking at him startled Andrew back into the Victoria, Renee looking expectantly at him from the passenger’s seat. “I think that guy wants to pass you,” she frowned, twisting to look at the car riding their bumper, a blue Cadillac.
“Masshole.” Andrew muttered. “I don’t care. Let him sit there.”
The car followed them for eight blocks before turning away down an alley. Strange, Andrew thought, but once it was gone it passed out of his mind as quickly as it had come.