Authors: Ken White
checked my watch. Eleven-thirty was forty-five minutes away and I wasn’t
going to sit around the office waiting for his call. I could be home in ten
he calls back, give him my home number,” I said. “I’ll talk to him before I
hit the sack.” I turned to Brenner. “Nice work out there on the street
tonight. I’ll see you at 9:30 tomorrow evening, and we’ll go over the case
one more time before Maxwell shows up.”
you tomorrow night, Sara.”
smiled. And was still smiling as I went out the door.
live about five blocks south of the office, on Bacon. Named after Sir
Francis, I believe, not the pork product.
chosen the apartment because it was close enough to walk to work, and I had
walked those five blocks daily before Joshua’s murder, as well as anywhere
else I needed to go. A car would have made things easier, but the cost of
rationed gasoline made owning one almost pointless. Bain had offered me
Joshua’s Jeep, complete with the stickers that let me fill it up at any
government motor pool, city, state or area. It wasn’t a difficult decision
to say yes.
now I drove. I get enough exercise when I’m working.
phone began to ring at exactly 11:30. Shuster had always been
met Marc Shuster when we were both assigned to the 716th Military Police
Battalion at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, before I joined the police department
here. We’d been pretty tight at the time, but we’d drifted apart when his
enlistment ended two years before mine. I got the occasional email and at
least one phone call a year, but he’d moved on with his life and so had I. I
wasn’t interested in business, he wasn’t interested in what was happening in
the battalion. We ran out of things to talk about.
kept in touch over the years, after I left the military and became a cop,
but it had been infrequent. The last time I’d talked to him, he was running
a gun shop outside Denver and doing quite well. Shuster had the gift of gab
and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of firearms, thanks to his
came the war. I hadn’t heard from him in more than five years. I didn’t even
know if I’d be talking to a human or a Vee.
picked up the phone. “Hello, Shuster.”
Welles,” he said. I could almost hear the smile in his voice. “Long time,
long time. How’s Denver?”
the hell out of me. I’ve been in Omaha for almost four years.”
years. Down here, they released us from the internment camps less than three
years ago. The only ones who got out before that were those willing to be
eating that fried okra?”
was silent for a moment, then laughed. “Omaha’s a steak town, old buddy. But
I do have a local steakhouse that will fry me up some okra if I ask real
nice.” He paused. “To answer your poorly-disguised question, I’m not a
laughed. “Always quick on the uptake.”
you were always as subtle as a battering ram.”
how’s Omaha? Still in the gun business?”
I’m a consultant now,” he said. “Personnel management, hiring practices,
benefits, that kind of thing. Omaha’s a hopping town, Charlie. You have to
come check it out some time.”
if I can ever get some time off from work.”
you’re a private eye now. Get tired of the cop thing?”
cop thing isn’t what it was,” I said. “Human cops don’t get to do a whole
lot of real police work these days. I had an opportunity to go a different
way and took it.”
I know things are different in the outside areas.”
areas, coastal areas. We call them the outside areas. Here in the middle of
the country, Areas Six and Seven, things are almost back to normal. There
are vamps, sure, but not as many and not as oppressive. They do their thing,
we do ours.”
make Omaha sound pretty good,” I said with a laugh.
I like it. I travel a lot for work, and it’s centrally located. Short plane
rides to the rest of the country.”
do have to admit, this is kind of unexpected, you calling out of the
exactly out of the blue,” he replied. “I’m gonna be flying down there
tomorrow morning for work. Did a little snooping around, found out you were
still kicking, figured we could get together for a drink and some
hadn’t seen him in almost twenty years. Mrs. Dillon and her missing ring
could wait another day. “Sounds good. When do you get in?”
7:30 your time. I’m staying at the Hiatt-Regency. Is that close to
in midtown. Fifteen minute drive.”
he said. “Figure I should hit the hotel by nine, unpack, change, give the
client an hour of face time. There a restaurant in the hotel?”
Nice sit-down place and a sports bar.”
bar,” he said. “I’m gonna be with clients at sit-down restaurants all week,
perusing the wine list. On my own time, I’d rather have a burger and a
beer.” He paused. “How’s 11:30?”
for me. So who are you consulting for here?”
talk tomorrow,” he said. “Right now, I need to get some sleep so I don’t
space out with the client.”
like a plan. I’ll see you at 11:30. I’ll be the guy in the all-purpose black
I beat you there, I’ll let them know to keep an eye out for an undertaker.
See you then.” He hung up.
would be interesting to catch up with Shuster. And just as interesting to
find out what was happening in the rest of the country.
watch news on TV and read the paper, so I’m as up to date on current events
as you can be these days. But I’m pretty sure I’m not seeing all the news,
just what the Vees see fit to share. I might see or read something about an
apartment fire in Omaha or San Francisco, but nothing about how life is
there, how it compares to here. And I haven’t had the time, or frankly, the
inclination to travel.
parents both died before the war. No brothers or sisters. I had a few
college buddies, a few friends from the Army like Shuster. But I’d lived
here in the city for almost twenty years. My friends and my life were here.
I did some traveling before the war, a week in New York, couple of weeks
with a girlfriend in Calgary for the Stampede. If I had the time, I could
travel, at least within the U.S., but it would just be for sightseeing. And
when you run your own business, sightseeing costs you business and
hung up the phone, checked the locks on the door, stuck my pistol under my
pillow, and went to bed.
Square was already busy by 6:45 the next morning. The square isn’t much. A
statue of Charles Joseph Farnham, a man who apparently led an expedition
into Indian territory and never came back. An anemic fountain. Some trees.
Benches. Lots of pigeons.
it was a gathering place for the people in the immediate neighborhood. Old
ladies tossing stale bread to the pigeons. Junkies and winos stretched out
on benches or in the grass, catching some early-morning sunshine after a
night in whatever flophouse they called home. And the occasional predator,
looking to get something for nothing.
kind of street crime used to be confined mostly to the nighttime hours. When
I’d been assigned to the Robbery-Homicide squad at 83
the night shift was the busy shift. Muggings, home invasions, convenience
store robberies. Fewer witnesses and it was easy to disappear down a dark
street or alley.
war had changed that.
theory, you were perfectly safe after sundown anywhere in the city. A Vee
who decided to hunt for his evening meal rather than buy some blood or get
the fresh stuff at a slurp-club was technically a criminal. And you’d
occasionally see something in the paper about a Vee being arrested or even
convicted for it.
it wasn’t a high-priority crime to the Vee cops on the night shift. They
were more interested in crimes against Vees, not those committed by Vees.
They’d take the report, they’d let the beat cops know about it, and that was
about it. If it started happening a lot, if somebody died, they might put a
little more effort into it. Otherwise it was like donating a pint at the Red
Cross. No big deal.
knew that. A lot of them knew people who’d been nipped. And the memory of
the war and what happened after was still pretty fresh in everybody’s mind.
So humans tended to stay off the street at night, the lambs and the
scanned the people in the square as I walked through it, heading for
Hanritty’s diner on the other side of Gibson, across the street from the
square. I didn’t see any wolves. Which was good. I’m not a cop anymore and
fighting crime is not part of my job. But I sometimes feel compelled to step
in from time to time and let predators know that not everybody is a
had my coffee waiting on the chipped Formica counter when I came through the
door. I’m not much on cooking and the only food I keep in my apartment is
the makings of an occasional sandwich at home. I’d been coming into
Hanritty’s for most of my meals for nearly two years.
was a neighborhood place, a long counter with stools, some booths on the
other side, big griddle in the back where Hanritty did the cooking. And it
attracted a neighborhood clientele. I was usually there at 7 every morning,
Monday through Friday, and sometimes on weekends as well, for a cup of
coffee, a couple of eggs, ham, bacon or sausage, home fries, and some toast.
Hanritty served a limited menu, and that was the breakfast menu.
course, he could make you a sandwich in the morning if you liked, chicken or
tuna salad. And he could make you eggs at night if you didn’t want the usual
meatloaf. But your choices were limited to what he made. No special orders.
Don’t see something you like, go someplace else.
think he watched through the plate glass windows of the diner for my
approach, so he could have my coffee ready. The rest of the morning regulars
usually didn’t drift in until 7:15, 7:30.
and I got along pretty well. He was in his fifties, maybe early sixties,
gray hair in a crewcut, barrel chest, barrel gut. A big guy. And a friendly
one too, once he got to know you, though that took a little
life, Han?” I asked as I grabbed my coffee and went to the booth in the
back, against the back wall. I liked sitting with my back to the wall, where
I could see everyone who came and went.
come in, I feed ‘em, they leave. Can’t complain.” He was silent for a
moment, then said, “How’s the new trainee?”
good, actually. Picking it up fast. If they’ll leave him with me for more
than a month, I might actually get some use out of him.”
nodded. “So what’s it going to be this morning?”
and ham,” I said. “Got a lunch date at the Hiatt-Regency and I want to have
a good appetite.”
else paying for it?”
laughed as I heard the eggs splatter on the griddle. “That’s the way to do
was behind her desk when I came into the office. She’s a capable secretary,
but a bundle of nerves, which apparently affects her appetite and keeps her
painfully thin. Her husband had been turned during the Vee assault on the
city and had come after her, to either drain her or turn her. She’d taken it
pretty hard. Her fears had run her life from that moment on.
she wasn’t as bad as she had been. During the investigation into Joshua’s
murder, her husband had been sent to Montana and told to stay away or die.
That had helped, and she could occasionally be coaxed into staying past
sundown or coming in before sunrise. But only if I picked her up or took her
home. She still wasn’t comfortable on the street if the sun wasn’t in the
morning, Charlie,” she said as the door closed behind me. “Your coffee is in
the carafe on your desk and Sara left the Maxwell file for you to go
If Mrs. Dillon happens to call, tell her I’m working on her case. We should
have some news by the end of the week, beginning of next week.”
on her case?”
smiled. “Yes.” I tapped my temple with an index finger. “In my head.” I
paused. “Actually I’ve got a lunch date with an old friend, but I plan to
hit a couple of pawn shops this morning before lunch.”
she said. “It’s just that she seems like such a nice old lady and that ring
means a lot to her.”