RUINS OF DETROIT

BY

BRYON QUERTERMOUS

Bryon Quertermousís first play was a shameless rip-off of The Maltese Falcon and was produced when he was 19. Heís been shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger and his fiction has appeared in Shots, Noir Originals, CrimeSpree, Crime Scene Scotland, ThugLit, and Hardluck Stories, among others. He appears - by name, at least -  as a reporter in S. J. Rozan's new novel, In This Rain. He is the editor and publisher of Demolition magazine in a debt of literary karma. This bio was blatantly ripped from a previous bio that accompanied one of his stories in Shred of Evidence, which clearly indicates that, at The Back Alley, we have no shame.

 

"She landed right over there," Denny Samuels said. "I can still hear it."

We were standing on the corner of Griswold and Michigan Avenue downtown Detroit in front of the crumbling, abandoned shell of the Shelby-Wayne hotel. He was talking about his fiancť's suicide. I nodded along because there was nothing I could say that wouldn't sound cheesy or tacky, or just plain stupid.

My dad was Denny's best friend until the night before the wedding when they had a drunken argument over the bride-to-be's loyalties. Denny was stubborn enough to stay mad for twenty years until my dad died, but I wasn't too stubborn to accept his money and pitiful attempts at reconciliation when he called. I followed him as he went down Griswold toward the main entrance of the hotel. All that remained of the luxurious entrance was a couple of padlocked steel doors sprayed painted with vulgar tags and some shattered windows.

"This is where I was standing," Samuels said. "Emily was behind me but she got theÖworst of it. The blood I mean. She had it all over her white dress."

I felt like this was one of those moments I should put my arm on his shoulder or do something reassuring, but he wasn't crying or anything and he might think I was weird, so I kept my thoughts to myself and continued watching him relive the worst day of his life.

"Emily came here at least once a month when she was old enough to drive. I think it's one of the main reasons she chose to go to school in the city instead of at Michigan where she was also accepted."

"When was the last time you saw your daughter?"

"All of her?"

I nodded, he'd received a package a few days ago containing just her hand.

"A month or so. Like I said, I didn't keep track of her as well as I probably should have."

"Was it a phone call or visit or postcard?"

"Visit. She was telling me about some of the buildings she'd been in and telling me some things she'd found here."

"And she didn't mention any problems she was having or anything?"

"She didn't seem any worse than usual."

We were walking away from the hotel toward an alley between an abandoned theater and a sparsely populated liquor store. I followed him through the alley and back onto the street behind the old hotel.

"I must have stood there for an hour after she hit," Denny continued. "I had blood all over my pants and people were screaming and I just stood there while Em watched her mom's blood leak onto the sidewalk."

"People react to things in different ways."

"I shouldnít have let Em see that. She should have been inside the hotel."

"Your wife shouldnít have killed herself in front of you two."

"Fiancť," he corrected. "We were never married."

I was looking around at the rest of the abandoned buildings on the block and wondered what they had been like around the time of the Shelby-Wayne's glory days. It was hard to believe the city had once been called the Paris of the West. Now it looked like the Baghdad of the West.

"What makes you think urban explorers are the ones behind your daughter's disappearance?" I asked.

"The note mentions pictures. These guys take pictures and most of what they do is illegal. It only makes sense."

"But they didn't come right out and say they were urban explorers?"

"No, it wasn't on official letterhead."

"So you're hoping if we hang out here long enough these guys will come by? And then what? Ask them if they kidnapped your daughter and chopped her hand off?"

"They didnít even tell me what they want. They just said Emily left it with me and they wanted it."

"You keep saying they," I said. "How do you know it's multiple people? Maybe it's just one disgruntled explorer."

"I donít know. I donít know anything about this. That's why I want to hire you. I have money. Whatever you find out will be more than I know right now."

"You also realize the chances that your daughter is already dead are pretty great?"

"Then I want more of her to bury than just her hand."

I put my hands in my pockets and let my eyes wander around the area and the hotel specifically. I imagined a little girl seeing something no one should ever see in their life and how that might change someone.

"It may sound morbid, but I gotta admit I'm curious," I said. "I'll stake this place out for a couple of days and see what I can find out. If I get any leads I'll look into it further, okay?"

He nodded and wiped his face with the sleeve of his shirt.

"Thanks Dallas. Find her, please."

 

* * * * *

 

I watched the building for a few days at different times and didn't see anything more exciting than a few derelicts and lost tourists I helped guide back to the shiny civilized areas. On the fourth day, one of those lost souls turned out not to be a tourist.

"You work for the Mayor's office?" I asked the kid, who couldnít have been more than 22 when he told me who he was.

"I'm an intern," he said. "What are you doing out here? You donít look homeless."

"What's the mayor's interest in an abandoned old building?"

"It's in his city, why shouldn't he be interested?"

"There are more than a few abandoned buildings in this city and I donít see prissy little interns staking out every one of them. Why this one?"

"Who are you again?"

"A concerned citizen who's going to go to his friend in the mayor's office and ask him why he's being harassed by some snot-nosed littleó"

"It's no secret. Donít you read the papers around here? The mayor has found a group willing to restore the Shelby-Wayne to its former glory."

"Why are you out here?"

"There's going to be a press conference tomorrow morning and I'm scouting locations. We'll have national media here and the mayor wants to make sure he gets the best angle tható"

"Doesn't show his horns?" I asked.

"That shows the biggest potential in the building."

"What time is the press conference?"

"Ten a.m.."

"I guess that's better than eight."

"Seriously, though. Who are you?" he asked me again.

"Batman," I said.

 

* * * * *

 

I showed up early the next morning with donuts and Denny Samuels by my side. There was a tiny wisp of a crowd gathering around the recently erected stage but I didn't see anyone who looked out of place.

"I donít see how this is going to help," Denny said, a bit overwhelmed by the whole scene.

"Maybe we can get a few minutes with the mayor and ask him if he knows anything about your daughter."

"That's not funny."

"It could happen."

"Kidnappers donít show up for press conferences."

"Now that's where you wrong," I said. "Most criminals return to the scene of the crime."

"You think this is where she wasÖwhere they had her?"

I shrugged my shoulders and led him closer to the stage and a growing throng of gawkers.

"It's all we've got to go on right now," I said. "You said this is the building she spent most of her time in, so the odds are pretty good this is where she found what these guys are looking for."

"I guess that makes sense. But I still donít see why we're here right now."

"If there's something important enough about this building to get the mayor's attention, it might help us figure out what got your daughter in trouble."

"This whole thing is going to make me sick."

"Just donít throw up on me," I said.

An hour later, the group of gawkers had exploded into a full-blown crowd and the mayor was starting his speech. Detroit is rising, the mayor said. Blah blah blah. Granted, the city looks better than it did when I left ten years ago. But thatís like saying an ugly girl looks better now that she had the third eye removed. Sheís still ugly, just not hideous. Detroit had removed its third eye, but youíd still want to put a bag over its head before you took it to bed.

While the mayor continued sounding like he was giving a pep speech for abandoned buildings, I looked around at the rest of the area. Aside from the hotel, this was actually one of the areas bursting with new development. We were right around the corner from Campus Martius Park and a few blocks away from Greektown.

I was contemplating the pros and cons of moving myself downtown to one of the new condo developments when I heard commotion from the stage area. A group of people behind the mayor were looking up at the top floor of the hotel where it seemed someone was stepping out onto the ledge. I kept my eyes on the sky as something white dropped from the hotel.

As the object closed in on the stage area, it looked more and more like the size of a human and it looked like it was dressed in some kind of white dress, almost like a wedding dress. Before that could register with anyone though, the object hit the stage and exploded in a cloud of red liquid. I swear I heard people throw up next to me but Denny Samuels didn't.

There was screaming and general confusion as people ran away from the mess and turned around to see what was happening. The Mayorís people scurried desperately to keep the Mayor (and themselves of course) safe. and some people just stood there laughing. Okay, maybe one person. Me. When the air cleared and the hysteria blew over, others started realizing what I was laughing at. The object was indeed wearing a wedding dress. But it wasnít a person, it was a dummy. Therefore the red goo in the air, and now mostly over everything in its path, wasnít blood, rather a syrupy substitute that smelled like Kool-Aid and pancakes.

"Why are you laughing?" Denny asked. "This is horrible. This isó"

"This is the best lead we've got right now and nobody was hurt for us to discover it."

"How can this help us?"

"Suicidal brides are rare at this hotel, so I'm assuming this stunt has something to do with you or your daughter."

"But you donít know who was behind it."

"That's why I'm the detective. I'm going to detect until I find what we're looking for. Or until we get lucky."

"That plan sucks," Denny Samuels said.

"Pay somebody else to come up with a better one."

It didnít take long for me to find someone I knew among the throngs of cops covering their own tails. Paige Daniels is a former homicide cop and current street crimes officer. She'd fallen hard after a previous case I'd been involved in, but she was smart, determined, and female, and she was slowly working her way back up the chain. I found her wiping a wad of the sticky goo from one of the Mayor's assistants.

"From wiping blood off of corpses to wiping sticky red goo off of mayoral toadies," I said. "Oh how the mighty have fallen."

"Shut up, Dallas. This is not theó"

"I'm not here for me," I said. "This is Denny Samuels and his daughter is missing."

"Not now. Can't you see tható"

"His wife committed suicide in her wedding dress at this very hotel."

Paige didn't say anything right away, but she stopped wiping the toady and swiveled around to look at me and Denny next to me.

"Tell me about your daughter, Mr. Samuels."

Denny and I took turns telling the story until we'd refreshed all of the vital points.

"This is obviously someone who knows about Denny's wedding day," I said. "Maybe he can give some information no one else would know."

"Go find one of the uniforms and tell them your little story."

"That was helpful," Denny said when we were out of earshot. "What next?"

"We find one of the uniforms and you tell them your story."

As we were about to breach the circle of blue, the group of officers exploded toward the back of the building. The pile ran a few feet before converging on a single wiry and pale runner in jeans and a white tank top. Denny was off running toward the throng of uniformed officers taking care of the runner while I still thought about the exploding dummy. The uniforms were on the ball and a pair of them had Denny restrained before he could get close enough to do any real damage.

I came up behind them and explained Denny's unique situation to the officers who relaxed their restraint on Denny a little. When he agreed to stay still and stop screaming random conspiracy theories, they let Denny go with them to examine the dummy. I stayed next to him and put my hand on his shoulder every once in while to let him know he wasn't alone. After about half an hour, they were done examining the dummy and hadn't come to any solid conclusions. We were about to go back to my office and figure out what to do next, when a Wayne County Sheriff's deputy walked by with the runner. Denny caught a quick look at his face and I saw recognition.

"My brother," Denny said.

 

* * * * *

 

We waited outside of the old Wayne County jail near police headquarters for more than an hour to see if Randy Samuels would be released. I told Denny repeatedly that it was a stupid idea to wait for him, and that they probably wouldnít even take him out the front door, but he insisted and I wasn't up for the guilt if I left him alone and he ended up killing someone. They never brought his brother out the front door, and after exhausting my few reliable sources inside the jail we knew he was staying there overnight.

"You know where he lives, donít you?" I asked Denny as we walked back to my car.

"I'm not going to do anything to him."

"I donít believe you."

"I've had time to cool down and ponder all of this and there's nothing I can really do."

"I'm still going to watch you."

 

* * * * *

 

Two days later there was no word from Emily or the police and I decided it was time to check up on the brother.

"We're going to your brother's house," I said, stomping my way through Denny's house.

"You said that wasn't a good idea."

"It's not. But it's all we've got."

"I donít like the sound of that."

"Do you have any other ideas?"

"That's what I hired you for."

"Then let's go talk to your brother."

I made sure my gun was tuned up and loaded before we headed over to a middle class block of houses in the Polish enclave of Hamtramck on the northern end of the city. Denny was driving and he parked a few houses down so we wouldnít draw attention to ourselves. Randy Samuels was sitting on his porch and didnít look all that shocked to see us.

"I made tea," he said.

I was getting creepy vibes from the guy, but Denny seemed comfortable with him so I followed them both into the small "formal" living room off to the right of the entryway. I took a seat next to Denny on the couch and Randy fell into a recliner on the other side of the room.

"You mentioned tea," Denny said.

"I'm sorry about the dummy."

"Why did you do it?"

"They made me," Randy said. "Told me they'd chop her up if I didn't."

"How did they get in contact with you?" I asked.

"I got a package couple days ago. Had her hand in it."

I looked over at Denny, he was guessing the same thing I was.

"Maybe it's not her hand."

"Didn't matter much to me," Randy said. "Hand sure enough was real and that's all the convincing it took."

"I got the same package," Denny said.

"I think it's very dangerous people we're dealing with, but I think it's safe to assume Emily still has her hands."

"Could have both her hands and still be dead," Randy said.

"Are there any other relatives who might have received similar packages?" I asked.

"It's just the two of us," Denny said. "We had a younger sister but she died a while ago. Our parents died a few years ago as well."

I looked over at Randy who was fidgeting in his chair and not looking directly at us or anything else.

"Have you ever been involved in something called urban exploration?" I asked him.

He shook his head no.

"Do you know what urban exploration is?"

He shook his head no again.

"I wonder if we can even track where these packages came from," I said. "There's no return address on either of them. What about the dummy? Was that delivered to your house?"

He shook his head no for a third time and I was about to yell at him when he spoke.

"I picked it up at the hotel."

"What floor?"

"I didnít have to walk real far to the top once I got it, I guess. Maybe a floor or two."

"And you carried the dummy the whole way?"

"Wasn't very heavy. It wasn't like a real body or anything."

"Would you remember where you picked up the dummy if you went back there?"

"I guess so."

"I think it's time for a field trip," I said.

 

* * * * *

 

It took us more than an hour to make it up the Shelby-Wayne's 30 flights of stairs to where Randy thought he might have picked up the dummy. All three of us were wheezing and bent over, especially Randy who looked like he was about to pass out and die on us.

"How did you do this the other day?"

"Musta thought it was important cause'a Emily," he said. "Now it just seems hard."

"Take us to where you found the dummy," I said.

Randy led us to a small utility closet near the middle of the hallway. After more than thirty years of neglect, I was a bit surprised to still find several mops and cleaning supplies in the closet.

"It was hangin' up right on the hook there," Randy said.

"And you carried it up to the penthouse where you threw it out the window?"

He nodded his head yes.

"This doesnít make any sense," I said. "Why would they draw attention to themselves if they were looking for something sensitive. This whole thing is going to explode in the press eventually and they lose any edge they have right now."

"Maybe they want the press."

"Maybe they just mean," Randy said.

"Go back to what you said, Denny. I think you might be onto something there."

"This whole thing could be about getting attention," he said. "With the mayor trying to clean up this building and other abandoned buildings around the city these guys are going to lose their playground."

"Where they getting' all the hands from?" Randy asked.

"That's a good question," I said. "Maybe the cops can trace where the hand came from and we can go from there."

"So we came up here for nothing then?"

I shrugged.

"You want to look around some more?"

"I haven't been in here since she died," Denny said.

"Should we go up to the penthouse? That's where she jumped from, right?"

"What do we do, then? Wait for them to do something even bigger?"

I didnít want to tell him the next bigger thing would probably involve his daughter's dead body. But that seemed like bad customer service so I kept my mouth shut and tried to figure out how to find these guys. We left as a group from the building but Denny and Randy went off to talk amongst themselves and I went to use a traditional and time-honored detective trick: lying. I needed to find out where these hands were coming from and if the police weren't going to help me I was going to have to go to the source.

The only place I knew of in the area with body parts lying about for the taking was the Detroit State University medical center cadaver lab and I'd once found several thousands of dollars worth of stolen jewelry for one of the graduate advisors in the lab. Alison Mackey had ageless features, a brunette ponytail, and a rumpled lab coat. I found her up to her neck in books and ramen noodles in her office at the back of the cadaver lab.

"If I wanted to steal a couple of hands, how hard would that be?" I asked her.

"You looking to make yourself a set of phony fingerprints?"

"Missing person case," I said. "Packages seem to be arriving with chopped off hands to make the threat more real."

"And they came from this lab?"

"Nobody has said that, not officially," I said. "But this is the only place in the area I could think of with multiple body parts handy that wouldn't really miss a few hands."

"I haven't heard of any hands missing," she said. "But that doesnít mean we've looked at every one to check."

"I get what you're saying and I didn't think we'd be able to track whether these hands came from your lab or anything like tható"

"Then what do youó"

"I was hoping you might know if anybody in the department is involved in urban exploration or maybe knows an Emily Samuels."

"Urban exploration?"

"Breaking into abandoned buildings to explore and take pictures."

"And one of these explorers has access to lots of hands?" She asked.

"Not lots, exactly," I said. "But more than the normal person."

"And they're real hands?"

"Very."

"I wish I could help you, but I've never heard of a Emily Samuels or anything about urban exploration."

I made small talk with her for a few more minutes so I didnít seem like a complete jerk, and then thanked her for talking to me and was on my way back to my car when she yelled at me to stop.

"What about paintball?" She asked, huffing up behind me. "Does urban exploration have anything to with paintball?"

"Why?"

"Two of the student assistantsóI donít think they're med students they just work in the labóbut they were talking about playing paintball in abandoned buildings the other day."

"It's more than I have to go on right now," I said. "Do you have names?"

She scribbled a couple of names on an index card for me and gave me directions to the student assistant lounge where they usually played cards around this time. I thanked her and headed up two floors to find out more about Stefan Strohvsky and Jeff Chandler.

The student assistant lounge was ripped from the layout of every company break room I'd ever been in. Each wall was covered with announcements and OSHA reports and the room was dominated by two large refrigerators toward the back and a counter with three microwaves along the wall next to me. There was nobody in the room at that moment, so I sat down for a few minutes and waited to see if anybody helpful would come in.

Two girls around 19 years old fluttered in temporarily, but they looked like they wouldn't be caught dead in a discount store, let alone a cadaver lab or abandoned building. The next person through the door wasn't very helpful until I realized that I'd seen him scouting out the Shelby-Wayne for the mayor before his press conference.

 

* * * * *

 

I grabbed the kid and took him down to Alison Mackey in the cadaver lab and asked her if she knew who he was. She said no. I said crap. He was smart enough to know he didnít have to go anywhere with me and threatened enough legal action to let me know he'd been paying attention in whatever pre-law classes he was enrolled in.

"But I have friends in the mayor's office," I said. "Friends who can smear your name and make sure you never get another government job again."

"I donít plan on ever having another government job again. I'm doing this as a favor for my father. But I donít like being threatened and imitated by some noir-tinged goon on a law high so I might be tempted have my father smear your name around here. Smear for smear I bet I'd come out ahead in the end."

"Maybe I'll just shoot you," I said. "Who's your father?"

"Morton Taylor, Senior."

And then it all started making sense.

 

* * * * *

I left little Mort to soil his pants at the thought of fighting me while I went back to my office and pulled up the list of property records I'd been digging through earlier. It took a bit of digging and imaginative thinking, but I was finally able to tack Morton Taylor's name to the company that owned the company that owned the Shelby-Wayne hotel.

All of this was wonderful news and gave me some great ideas, but I didnít really know where to go with it. Neither Denny or I had the pull to get Morton Taylor or his son to tell us the truth about what was going on. What I needed was to find somebody else linked to the hotel I could use to try and track down Emily Samuels. In my haste to bug Little Mort, I'd forgotten about the two paintballing assistants that led me to the lunchroom originally, so I made my way back to DSU with a book and nowhere else to be.

It dawned on me about an hour into my stakeout that the pair could already be done for the day, but I was already committed so I was prepared to stay until they came in or I was kicked out. Luckily the former happened before the later. I didn't know which assistant was which, but the tallest of the two had a nasty black eye and a bandage on his hand and the shorter one was dragging himself around like he'd had his guts removed.

"I'm told you two are the ones to talk to about paintball in abandoned buildings," I said, waiting for them to sit down before talking.

They looked at each other and I could almost see the silent communication of fear between them.

"You donít work here," Guts said.

He had on jeans and a stained white under shirt and there was a balled up uniform shirt in front of him on the table.

"I'm looking for somebody."

"You a pervert?" he asked.

"Private detective," I said, "Looking for a girl who likes to break into abandoned buildings.

"Those building are always open," Black Eye said. "We never broke into nowhere oró"

"Shut up," Guts said.

I got up from my seat in the corner and sat next to them after pulling two twenty dollar bills from my wallet to set in front of them.

"Tell me about the Shelby-Wayne hotel," I said.

"What about the hotel?" He asked.

"You ever see the mayor or his people around there?"

"There's always people 'round that building at some time or another. Kind of stupid too, because it's nasty inside and ain't even one of the cooler dumps down there."

"You've been inside?"

"Not for paintball or anything, just with some friends toÖlook around."

"What friends?" I asked.

"Just some guys I know who do that sort of thing."

"Any of those guys know a girl named Emily Samuels?"

"I don't know their names, how I'm gonna know some chick they might know?"

 I pulled the picture of Emily from my pocket and let them look it over. The flicker of recognition on their faces let me know I was going to have better luck with these two.

"You know her?"

"Never knew her name," Black Eye said. "But she's always around there."

"The Shelby-Wayne?" I asked.

He nodded his head.

"Not with the explorers though," he said. "Not all the time."

On a whim I described little Mort Taylor to them and asked if that was who Emily was hanging around with.

"Sounds like him," Bandage said. "But you didnít hear that from us."

"You didnít hear that from him," Guts said. "I didn't say nothin'."

"You know anywhere else Emily and this guy might hang out other than the Shelby-Wayne?"

"He got a place in Bricktown, down by the casino they hang at I heard."

I thanked them, but Guts looked pissed.

"You need to learn to shut up, man," he said to his friend, before looking at me." And you best stay the hell away from that hotel."

 

* * * * *

 

Call me contrary, but when somebody tells me not to go somewhere, that's the first place I like to go. I felt bad for leaving Denny out of this recent burst of developments, so I called and asked him if he'd like to join me for a visit to Bricktown. He was waiting for me with a baseball bat in front of the Old Shillelagh pub on Monroe.

"I was hoping you might recognize some of these guys," I said. "Not play wiffle ball with their heads."

"It's safer then a gun."

We walked a few blocks to a cluster of brick buildings filled mostly with bars, restaurants, and the occasional trinket shop. The apartment rumored to be frequented by Emily Samuels and little Mort Taylor was on the fourth floor of a corner building. Nobody answered when I knocked the first couple of times. So when Denny went crazy pounding on the door with, neighbors from both sides peeked their heads out to see what the commotion was.

"I'm looking for my daughter," Denny said, showing around one of Emily's pictures from his pocket. "Have you seen her around here?"

"I donít speak no English," the neighbor to the right said. "So cut out the banging."

Denny gave the other neighbor, a small black women, his saddest parent eyes.

"Please help me, if you've seen her," he said.

"This place might as well be a whore house for all the women coming and going," she said, opening her door a little more. "But there arenít too many guys showing up, so maybe it's just the drugs."

"Have you seen this girl here recently?"

"Not exactly unique, is she?"

"Anyone looking even remotely like her?" I asked, trying to use my voice to indicate the urgency of the matter instead of my fists.

"Why's he got a bat?" She asked, pointing to Denny. "Y'all look a little sketchy to me. I think Jose over there had the right idea."

She started to shut herself back into the apartment, but Denny slammed his foot into the doorway stopping the door from shutting. I thought he was going to go after the woman, and so did she from the look on her face, but he stopped short of entering the apartment.

"My daughter is in danger," he said. "They sent me a package with her hand in it and told me they were going to kill her."

"The people living next door to me?" she asked.

We both nodded.

"Then I donít want them next to me no more. I heard something the other day 'bout them going to a hotel for a party tonight 'round Midnight. I expect that might be where you find them."

"Did you hear what the name of the hotel was?"

"Said it was in the city, guess that means you don't have too many choices."

Denny looked at me.

"You think?"

I nodded.

"Sounds like you boys got a lead to chase," she said, pushing the door against Denny's foot. "Seems I should be getting' ready for work myself."

 

* * * * *

 

Denny and I were outside the Shelby-Wayne at 10pm. We should have probably gotten there even earlier, but I wanted to do some trailing of little Morton Taylor as well, to see if he'd lead me to any of the other planners of the party, or possibly to Emily herself.

After talking to the old woman in the apartment and the student assistants, I had an uneasy feeling that Emily wasn't exactly a damsel in distress. Something seemed off about the whole thing since the beginningóthe hands seemed like huge overkill for oneó but I wasn't about to tell Denny I thought his daughter might be part of the problem. If things worked out the way I was expecting them to, he'd find out all on his own.

Something about the penthouse floor led Emily's mother up there before she jumped, and I was suspecting it was the same thing that this crew was throwing a party for. My plan was a simple one. Denny, and I would hide on the floor below the penthouse until the other party guests started to arrive. If we saw Emily or little Mort we'd bust out and take them down. It didnít take a lot into consideration, but I'd only been hired to do one thing: find Denny's daughter. I didnít care about solving any crimes or punishing any errant explorers; I just wanted to find Emily Samuels and get her back home. Denny could decide what to do with her from there.

It was nearly 10:30pm before the first person showed up and quarter to eleven before the first valuable person arrived. Little Morton Taylor was dressed in shiny black dress pants and a stretchy black, ribbed shirt I'm sure was meant to be fashionable but made him look instead like a fat, gay, burglar. Denny noticed him first and I could see him itching to move, but I knew he wanted Emily more and was smart enough to wait and see if anyone was with Taylor. Little Mort pulled a small flashlight from the back pocket of his pants and waved it along the wall. It took a second for me to realize the odd light hitting the wall wasn't from a flashlight, rather a black light. Mort took the light slowly along the outer walls of the floor, waving it up and down as high and low as his squatty arms would let him. When he made the complete rounds of the floor, he put the black light away and took one more look around the floor before going to the stairwell.

I counted to ten and when Little Morton didnít come back down the stairs, and no one come up to follow him, I moved out of my hiding space and waved for Denny and Kenny to follow me up the stairs. Denny glared at me when I slipped my gun from the holster clipped to my pants, but I ignored him and made my way slowly to the penthouse floor. When we emerged into the opening of the penthouse, I looked around and didn't see or hear anyone else. There was a small lobby which is where we were standing and two doors at either end of the hallway. I didnít know if they both led into the same room, but I figured the building was so rotted and gutted that it wouldn't really matter and opened the door to the one closet to me.

When nobody jumped out and attacked me, I moved further into the room and let my eyes adjust to the dark. I had a small flashlight on my key chain but wasn't ready to give my position away just yet.  I was looking to see if I could see the glow of the black light under any of the doorways. There was no light, but I heard the dull noise of voices from behind a door I'd assumed was a closet.

I put my ear to the door and try to listen to what they were saying but I couldnít make out any specifics so I waved Denny over and whispered my plan. He would stay in the main area in case anyone else came up for a visit, while I would head into the other room and do something I hadnít quite figured out exactly. The plan became a little more complicated when I opened the door and saw Mort Taylor and Emily Samuels turn a flashlight on us.

"Daddy?" she asked. "Did you bring the police?"

"Or investors?" Little Mort asked.

"Investors?" I asked. "I thought you were trying to avoid investors."

"You thought?" he said. "Maybe that was your first mistake."

Denny moved up beside me and tried to go for Emily, but I pushed myself in his way. I still didnít trust her or what was going on and I didnít want him to set anything off.

"Talk to me Emily. What's going on here? I thought you were in danger."

"This isnít about me, dad. Or you."

I was still on alert and looking around the rest of the room for other people, or otherÖanything. There didnít seem to be anyone else around, but I was still curious about the black light.

"Why are we here, Mort?" I asked. "There's no party."

"Who said anything about a party?"

"You've been leading us around like teenagers on a scavenger hunt," I said.

Then I pointed at Emily.

"And I think youíre the one doing the leading."

She didn't try to deny it, and I give her credit for that.

"I guess you've done your part," she said. "By bringing attention to us and stuff."

Denny was finally able to move past my feeble attempts to block him and he ran to Emily. She cringed and pushed her dad away.

"Not here," she said. "Not right now."

"What are you trying to bring attention to?" Denny asked. "Why did you pretend to be in danger?"

"Why did you pretend to be a good father?"

I wasn't real comfortable with this turning into a father-daughter conflict moment. I was more comfortable with people trying to shoot or beat up each other. Not reconciliation.

"You donít strike me as a family counselor," I said to Little Mort. "What's your game?"

"I do indeed have an interest in this, but I'm not calling the shots."

"You brought us here tonight for a reason and I want to know what that reason is."

"Revenge and explanation," Emily said. "But mostly revenge."

Denny tried to hug his daughter again but she pushed him away again.

"Revenge against me, baby?"

"You knew. When she jumped."

"Knew what? I knew that she jumped, yes. We were both right there."

"I still have the dress with the blood on it," she said. "But you knew why she jumped."

"Honey, nobody knew why your mother jumped. She had someó"

"She knew why she jumped."

"Your mother was disturbed."

"I wonder why," Emily said. "Oh wait. No I donít. But I had to hear it from him, not my own father.

She pointed to Little Mort. He didnít look too comfortable with all of the focus suddenly on him.

"Oh, uh, I think you might want to rephrase that, Emily. It's not tható"

Denny lunged for Little Mort, but he easily sidestepped the emotional dive.

"What did you tell my daughter you little prick."

"I only told her what you failed to tell her. About her mother and my father."

"No," Denny said. "It's not what you think."

"She was raped the night before her wedding," Emily said. "And you donít think that might have had something to do with what she did."

"She was troubled before that."

"She didnít want to marry you," Emily said. "That's why she was up here."

"My father knew she was unhappy with her pending marriage and he found her here after the rehearsal and tried to seduce her."

"You donít know that," Denny said.

"But she tried to back out in the heat of the moment," Little Mort continued. "Unfortunately my father was used to getting what he wanted."

"And he raped her," Emily said, in case we weren't all smart enough to pick up on Little Mort's innuendo.

"Your mother didnít kill herself because she was raped," Denny said. "She wasó"

"Donít you dare say she was disturbed again," Emily said. "But you're right, she didnít do it because she was raped and couldnít go on with her life. She did it out of revenge."

"She wanted to ruin my father and his hotel."

"And it worked. Look at this place. Itís a dump and that's the way it should be forever."

"But the city is resurrecting," I said, "And with it, the old ruins are resurrecting and the secrets that were buried with them."

"It's all very Greek when you think about it," Little Mort said.

"So if this whole thing was about revenge," I continued. "Why are you two working together?"

"I'm not on my father's side," Little Mort said. "I found out what he did shortly after, and called him out on it. I worshipped my father and knew there had to be some valid explanation for his actions. But there wasn't."

"And he punished you for making him guilty?" I asked.

"He wrote me out of the will. So I was happy when this place failed and he lost all of his money."

"But there's a chance he could make it back on the Mayor's efforts to revitalize the Shelby-Wayne?"

"There's more than a chance. It's almost a certainty."

"Unless something horrible happens again," Emily said.

"What are you two planning?" I asked.

"It's her," Mort said. "She's got some whacked out ideas of revenge and symbolism and crap like that. I think it's mostly a lost cause and want to get her on board to take this to the mayor, butó"

"But what?" Denny asked. "What horrible things are you thinking Emily?"

"You knew about this when she jumped," Emily said, breaking from her father and Mort and moving to the broken out window on the far wall.

I could see where she was going once she said that, and I was on top of it in a split second, but she was already on the ledge.

"Two jumpers will ruin this place for good," she said.

Before I could even consider a speech to stop or delay her, she was out the window and Denny was screaming. Mort smacked his hands against his head and sighed.

"I told her this was the worst thing she could do," he said. "Two jumpers aren't going to ruin this place. They're going to make it famous."

I was too busy watching a pretty girl fall to her death to pay attention to anything else he said.

 

END

 

Copyright © 2007 by Bryon Quertermous

 

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