“That bastard! I’ll take him apart with my bare hands!”
Walking by the filing room, McKenna couldn’t help but notice Chief Calvin’s roar of rage and the accompanying crash as the burly man slammed his boot into a cabinet.
Calvin growled something unintelligible and ran a hand through his short hair, red-faced and breathing heavily. Though the two men had not exactly been on speaking terms since the disaster at the Tower, McKenna’s concern and curiosity got the better of him.
“Excuse me, Chief. Is something the matter, sir?”
His superior leaned against the wall and waved him away.
“Get lost, paddy,” he said, tiredly not unkindly. “It’s not your problem, and you don’t need to know. Besides, Stevens is just looking for a reason to kick me out of this precinct, and that miserable turncoat Decker’s gunning for my job. If either of them saw you talking to me…”
He sighed, shoulders slumped and seeming utterly defeated: a mere shadow of the giant he used to be. His state was so out of character that it made McKenna greatly uncomfortable to witness it, as if he were seeing his boss with his pants down.
“Look, sir,” the Irishman began, “I know that after what happened a few days ago, you have no reason at all to trust in me or my skill as an officer.”
“Your skill? That’s a hoot, McKenna. Do you happen to know any other officers in this city who let a building get blown up under their nose while they were supposed to be investigating a case?”
“You’re right, sir. I underestimated the Showstopper. I thought Lawrence and Martin could handle it, and I didn’t think he would attack a theater guarded by police. I won’t make that mistake again.”
“You’re damned right you won’t,” the Chief barked. “The Showstopper isn’t your case anymore, and if I had my way, you’d never work in a precinct again. Luckily for you, I don’t have my way. Between Stevens and Decker, I’ve got about as much say around here as a lobster at a clam convention. And if you think either of them will ever give you the leeway I did, you’re an even bigger fool than I thought.”
“Sir, listen to me,” McKenna pleaded. “I was wrong the first time. I admit it. But I’m not wrong about what’s happening now. This isn’t just about the Showstopper anymore. Something else is going on here.”
“Stop right there, McKenna. You’ve been talking my ear off with this idiotic notion ever since the bombing. Of course it was the Showstopper! How many other certifiable maniacs are on the loose in Broadway right now? What evidence do you have to support these wild ideas?”
McKenna opened his mouth to speak.
“And don’t you dare go off on that fantasy nonsense about someone trying to assassinate you while you were in a drunken stupor!”
McKenna closed his mouth again.
“That’s what I thought.”
The Chief squared his shoulders and tried to push by McKenna, but the younger man stepped into his path.
“Sir, please! If I’m right, the real criminal could be planning another attack at this very moment. And I don’t think either of us wants more deaths on our conscience.”
Calvin looked away, rubbing his forehead with a fist.
“Well, I suppose we’ll find out sooner rather than later,” he said grudgingly. “I must be soft in the head for telling you this, but another note from the Showstopper came in this morning.”
“Another one?” gasped McKenna, astounded. “That’s unbelievable, sir.”
“Yes, it is. It arrived before I even got here. Decker and Stevens snatched it, and they’ve locked me out of the investigation. Won’t tell me anything.”
“Shut your trap, McKenna. The only reason I’m discussing this with you is because it’ll put a bee up Stevens’ behind. And it just gets better. This time, that low-life scum sent copies of his note to every news rag in the city. The press is in a feeding frenzy.”
“That can’t be true,” said McKenna. “That’s not like the Showstopper at all. He would never…”
“Don’t tell me what your precious Showstopper would or wouldn’t do! The man’s obviously a lunatic, and nothing that kind does ever makes sense.”
“Do we know which theater is going to be hit?”
“The note didn’t say. Stevens already called in the 85th, the 123rd, and the 67th on this case. Their officers are on the way here as we speak. It’s totally out of control, and the 43rd’s the laughingstock of the city.”
“Not to mention that since the papers came out this morning, people have been packing their things and leaving Broadway like they knew the Flood was coming. We barely have enough officers to run crowd control.”
“Why haven’t I heard anything about this?”
The Chief rolled his eyes.
“You really want me to spell it out? Fine. You’re a nobody. A wallflower. A un-person. Is that good enough for you?”
He cleared his throat and straightened his uniform.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to stop this precinct from collapsing on our heads, unlike certain theaters we know.”
The remark stung him, but McKenna stood his ground.
“Sir,” he said quietly, looking Calvin in the eye, “I know you don’t trust me and you think I’m incompetent. Hell, that’s what I think about myself most of the time. But if you don’t listen to anything else I say, please listen to this. Something else is going on.”
Calvin said nothing, but didn’t move.
“I just want to do something, sir. I want to help. If there’s anything…”
“Did I ever tell you about my first case, McKenna?”
“That’s because I’ve never told anyone about it. Not for thirty-five years. I’d just gotten my badge and gun, and I was out with my partner and a few other uniforms on a smuggling collar. The man we were after was trafficking stolen goods across state lines, and we’d found his warehouse down at the docks.”
“Sir,” said McKenna, stunned, “you really don’t have to…”
But he was silenced as the Chief fixed him with a stony stare.
“Shut up and let me finish, McKenna. My partner’s name was Wallace Gray: twenty-year veteran of the force, bright as a penny and straight as an arrow. One of the best policemen I’ve ever had the privilege of serving with. He took an interest in me when no one else did. Saw some potential or other, I suppose. He taught me how to be a cop. Without him, I wouldn’t be half the man I am today.”
“He sounds like a great man, sir. I’d like to meet him.”
Calvin flinched at the words, a flash of pain entering his eyes.
“Yes, he was,” he said. “Gray went in first, with a few of the other men. Told me to hang back and make sure nobody tried to sneak up behind us. I was only out there for a few minutes when I heard the shots.”
“They got into trouble,” said McKenna, nodding. “What happened?”
“I ran in, and Gray was dead. On the floor with one bullet in his guts, another in his head, and his brains all over the wall. The other two men said the criminal did it, and that he got away before they could follow him. He was gone before I even got there.” Calvin shook his head. “I should’ve been faster. Damn it all, I just wasn’t fast enough.”
McKenna was moved. This was the most emotional he had ever seen the Chief.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself, sir,” he said. “There wasn’t anything you could’ve done. You couldn’t have known that bastard was waiting for you.”
“You don’t know the whole story,” Calvin responded, his voice heavy with regret. “There was scuttlebutt going around in our precinct house that some of our own were on this low-life’s payroll. Dirty cops. Rats in the pantry.” He spat on the floor in disgust. “I’ve never understood what could make people turn on their principles like that.”
“What are you saying, sir?”
“The whole situation smelled, McKenna. I wouldn’t expect a rookie like you to understand, but it did. When our backup got there and we searched the warehouse properly, we did find part of the man’s loot, but nowhere near as much as there should have been. Unless our intelligence was utterly awful, somebody must have tipped him off and given him time to move his loot. The bit that we got was just to make the books look good. For another thing, Gray was always much more keen to go after this guy than the other lily-livers at our station house. People told him he was crossing the line, asking too many questions. But he never listened. He was too honorable for that.”
“I’m sorry for what happened, sir,” said McKenna. “But even still, that’s hardly solid evidence, if you’ll pardon my saying so. It could’ve just been a bad day.”
“No,” said Calvin darkly. “I know it wasn’t.”
“Because after everyone else had hung up their uniforms for the day, I took a look at the service revolvers of the two men who’d gone with us. Both of them were missing one shell.”
McKenna stood in thunderstruck silence.
“It can’t be,” he breathed. “Police killing police? What did you do, sir?”
“What do you think I did? I screamed bloody murder. Talked the ears off of anyone who would listen. When nobody at my precinct would, I petitioned the council to launch a special investigation. But I was just a rookie cop. Nobody cared what I thought, and I drove away what few friends I had. But somebody must’ve gotten nervous, because I was out of that house by the end of the month. Some nonsense about not adhering to standard procedural policy.”
McKenna wasn’t sure what to say.
“But what did you do then?” he finally asked.
“I did the only sensible thing. I shut my mouth, stood back, and let them bury the whole thing right in front of me. Otherwise, I have no doubt that I would never have been admitted to a police force anywhere in this city ever again. My job was more important than Gray’s life. With everything he did for me, I never learned anything from him at all.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I really am. But it wasn’t your fault. None of it was. You were just trying to survive. You may not have been able to honor Gray’s memory then, but you might have a chance to do it now. Something’s wrong with this Showstopper case. I feel it just like you know crooked cops killed your friend. And I think you feel it, too.”
Calvin opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it again, folding his arms and turning away.
“It doesn’t matter what I feel now,” he said gruffly. “Like I said, it’s out of my hands, and yours as well. Do yourself a favor and take a page from my book. Get out of the way before this train runs you down.”
“And what about you, sir?” the Irishman demanded. “Where are you going to be?”
“I’m going to be where I should have been then, McKenna. Right in the middle of the tracks, watching that engine bear down on me, and letting everyone out there know that no matter what happens, they’ll never beat me again.”
The Chief pushed by him and out into the lobby.
“But sir,” McKenna stammered, following him, “I want to help. Please.”
Calvin turned and glared at him.
“If this were one of those dime-store gumshoe novels, now would probably be the part where I tell you that even after everything that’s happened, I would let you help. Maybe gather some evidence that boob Decker hasn’t trampled all over, secretly talk to a few people behind Stevens’ back…but it’s not, McKenna. This is real life. In this precinct, there are rules and regulations we all have to follow. Otherwise, we’re no different than the Showstopper. And let me be clear when I say that I’m not telling you this as a friend. I’m giving you a direct order. Stay out of this. No more stories, no more theories, nothing. And if I catch you going around me on this, then that’s it. I’ll have to take your badge. It’s a lot less than what Stevens and Decker would do if they found out you crossed them, and it’s a hell of a lot better than being found dead on the street with a bullet in your back. Do you understand?”
But as Calvin walked away, McKenna was certain of one thing: he could not, and would not, simply stand by and do nothing. He had read the case files, heard about Stevens’ questionable activities, been haunted by the specters of the officers he had sent to their deaths, and narrowly escaped being murdered. Regardless of whether or not the Chief was behind him, he had a duty to find the Showstopper and get to the bottom of what was going on.
No one’s order would stop him from looking for redemption.
Meanwhile in main office, Captain Robert Decker was having problems of his own.
“You did what? Called who?”
Stevens leaned back in Calvin’s chair, put his expensive brown loafers on Calvin’s desk, and smiled lazily.
“Do I really need to repeat myself, Captain? I informed the neighboring precincts regarding our situation. Reinforcements should be here within the hour.”
Decker was enraged. He was the lead investigator on the Showstopper case, not to mention the Chief’s heir apparent. How dare this auspicious little imp in a fancy suit commandeer his authority like this?
“And you did this without consulting me first?”
“Come off it, Decker. Since when have I had to run every good idea I get by you before taking action? In case you didn’t know, you’re not exactly a fountain of knowledge.”
“I’m the head of the investigation,” Decker said testily. “I am obviously the one who has priority here. That note is evidence in an ongoing case, and I demand to see it.”
Stevens slid the morning’s edition of The Broadway Revue across the desk.
“Right there. Page one. It’s in all the papers, you know.”
“That’s not what I mean. I want the original copy, and I want it now.”
Decker knew perfectly well there was no real benefit to getting his hands on the note, but it was the principle of the thing. It wouldn’t do at all to let Stevens forget who would be running the 43rd after the situation no longer required the council’s intermediary.
But the politician was not daunted.
“You watch your tone, Captain,” he said threateningly, “or I’ll slap a citation on you so fast it’ll make your head spin. Let’s get one thing straight. I’m the one in charge here, not you. The only reason you and all the other officers in this precinct aren’t being thrown out on the street is because no one else would be stupid enough to take your jobs.”
“We’re supposed to be on the same side!”
“You must be mistaken. I don’t recall ever signing up for anyone’s team. And if I did, you can be sure I would have the good sense to never be caught dead on one with a low-brow bum such as yourself.”
Stevens tittered at his joke while Decker clenched his fists and tried to control himself.
“That’s not what I mean,” he hissed, leaning closer to Stevens. “I’m referring to him.”
“You’ll have to be a bit more specific,” said Stevens, examining his nails. “Referring to whom?”
“You know,” said Decker, glancing around to make sure no one was watching and giving him a significant look. “Him. The man in black. The one who’s making all these things happen. The Saboteur.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Captain.”
“Now you come off it,” Decker growled. “I know you’re involved with him somehow. He told me himself. I don’t know exactly how, but you’re enabling him in some way.”
“I’d advise you to keep your mouth shut about things you don’t understand,” said Stevens, without looking up. “In case your mother never told you, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong tends to get it chopped off.”
“You may have fancy clothes and an impressive title, but you’re just a citizen. I’m a police officer. You don’t fit in, and you won’t be here forever. Once the Saboteur’s finished with whatever he’s planning, you’ll go back to your East Side penthouse and your tedious budget meetings. I’ll be the head of this precinct, taking bad guys off the street and getting all the public’s love.”
“You’re not him, and I’m not afraid of you. He and I made a deal that…”
Stevens laughed aloud, cutting him off.
“My, my, Captain. It seems to me that someone’s got quite an inflated ego. Did you really plan all that out yourself, or did that scum feed it to you with a spoon?”
“Allow me to clarify,” said the pale man, sitting up and steepling his fingers. “And to demonstrate how naïve you clearly are for letting yourself be lead around by our mutual friend like a dog on a leash. Oh, he promised me things, too: rewards that I’m sure your less cultured mind could not begin to fathom. But being the forward-thinking and intelligent man that I am, I at least had the good sense to take everything he said with a grain of salt.”
“What are you saying?”
“You don’t really believe him, do you?” Stevens examined him for a moment, and then smiled. “Oh. I see that you do. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. You’re a bigger fool than I thought if you believe that rascal will follow through on any kind of promise. To him, we are all tools, and we are all disposable. Therefore, any man with a more than common intellect will wait patiently and take opportunities as they arise.”
Decker’s eyes narrowed.
“Meaning, my simple friend, that I am not going anywhere. I’ve decided I quite like it here at the 43rd Precinct. I find having direct control over a law enforcement body is quite satisfying. It’s like having my own private army to do as I wish.”
The Captain had to agree to this sentiment. But it was his private army, damn it, not some greasy city hall rat’s.
“The council won’t let you stay,” he reasoned. “They’ll call you back once we’ve nabbed the Showstopper and everything’s calmed down.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Stevens. “I am the council’s good and faithful servant. I’ve schmoozed among the lawmakers and bureaucrats that run this city so that I have every one in the palm of my hand. If I wanted myself elected mayor, all it would take is calling in a few favors. I’ve made myself indispensable, and if the Saboteur wants the council’s storehouses to keep doling out his precious supplies and the police to keep looking the other way, he’ll respect that. You, however, are just a pawn, and not a particularly valuable one at that.”
“You’re crazy,” said Decker. “You can’t double-cross him. You’ll never get away with it.”
“I can, I will, and I have. I like to think of it more as improvisation. I’m simply taking initiative. You, on the other hand, will be the one taking the heat. Mark my words, Captain. You will never be Chief of this precinct. I’ll be in charge here long after you’ve been sacked.”
Decker was horrified. Could what Stevens was saying be true? Had he let himself walk right into taking the fall for the Saboteur’s plan?
A sudden commotion from out in the lobby interrupted his panic as the 43rd’s doors banged open and a wave of muscular, blue-coated police officers began to stream into the precinct.
“Excellent,” said Stevens, clapping his hands together and hopping to his feet. “It appears that the cavalry has arrived. And to think I was afraid I might have to carry on with this boring conversation.”
Decker stood silent in the corner, red-faced and burning with hatred.
“Don’t be like that, Decker,” said Stevens, smiling at him. “At least I have something for you to do. You can take down my speech for tomorrow. If you would…”
He gestured at the pen and paper lying before him. Slowly and unwillingly, Decker stepped over, more humiliated than he had ever been in his life, planted himself in the chair, and began to write.
“My friends and neighbors…”
You can find the full version of Kyle Robertson’s debut novel, “The Showstopper!”, available online at Amazon or on Kindle.