Editor’s note: Welcome to our new serial, exclusive to Rouges Magazine from our contributor, Nick Luna. This story introduces detective John Moses and a delightfully fun sci-fi, mystery universe. Look forward for more installments and please share with your literary-minded friends!
“How about you come on out of that shadow.” Detective John Moses ordered, his pistol leveled at belly button height. His wide-brimmed hat kept the rain from his face, protecting the cigarette and its red glow. The fingers on his right hand grasped the pistol, unflinching, its slide engraved in gold inlay, Hernandez and Daughter, Serial number 00001 on one side, I Am the Law, in silver on the opposite side.
“Why?” A quivering voice asked.
“Because bullets are expensive, I can pop you in the gut, I have a good reckoning where that is, but I think we both want it to be cleaner and quicker than that.” Moses answered without missing a beat. Moses stood tall, six foot seven, two hundred and eighty pounds of pure old-world Earthling aggression. The kid hid in the back of an alley in a spot the lone street lamp didn’t illuminate. Moses had checked for his flashlight before wandering down the alley but assumed it was lost in the foot pursuit.
“You can’t just shoot me, I don’t have a weapon, I’m not resisting.” The kid pleaded.
“After what you did to that girl, you’re lucky I’m being this considerate.”
“I was found not guilty!”
“Your brother is suspected of witness intimidation and jury tampering.”
“There are laws…”
The blue flash and recoil of the detective’s pistol interrupted the kid.
“I am the law!” Moses shouted as the young boy stumbled out of the dark, clenching a blood stain on the right side of his gut.
“It was an accident.” He gasped before collapsing face first onto the alley ground.
The detective stepped forward and used his wet boots to roll the kid over onto his back. The kid’s face was pale in the yellow light, he gasped, still holding his wound.
“She……said……she liked…..to be choked.”
“Well I don’t think she wanted to be killed. I was going to be nice, let your mom have an open casket and just plug you in the heart, nice and simple, but, you didn’t want to play nice.” Moses holstered his pistol and pulled a sawed off rail rifle from under his coat. “Beyond two hundred meters this bitch is pretty useless, not enough velocity to really make it zip, but at this range, right between your eyes, your whole head is going to concave and smear across this piss filled alley.” Moses placed the end of the barrel against the kid’s head, right between the eyes. “No one escapes the law, not in this shit hole city, on this shit hole planet, on the shit hole side if this system.” The rifle roared to life in Moses’s hand, his arm braced and absorbed the recoil and without hesitating he pulled his phone from his pocket and typed, It’s done.
The fluorescent light buzzed, overhead, interrupted only by the rhythmic drip of the leaking roof raining into a tin pail on the other side of Moses’s office. He watched the monitor of his computer waiting for the deposit as he cleaned the torn apart pistol scattered across his desk. Behind him, the only thing in the office beside the desk not covered in a layer of dust was a portrait of Chancellor Rockwell.
“Bingo.” Moses said out loud as twenty thousand credits deposited in his account. He signed out and turned the volume of his radio up. The soft voice of a female singer drifted out, a dark cabaret, riding a wave of horns and low guitar riffsrifts. The detective smiled to himself as he swabbed the coils in his pistol and applied dielectric grease to the magazine contact points. He wiped down every piece of the gun as he reassembled it, humming to the tune flowing from the radio.
Knock, knock, knock pulled him from the trance. He looked up to see Chief Charles Manny standing just outside his door. Moses waved him in and turned the radio down.
“Chief, what can I do for you?” Moses asked as he slammed the magazine into his pistol and chambered a round.
“There was a murder earlier tonight.”
“This shit hole city, there’s a murder every night.”
“Listen, Moses,” The Chief said as he closed the door and proceeded to sit down, “this is a high profile hit, that kid, Paul Mckinney, he was in the papers.”
“Yeah, he walked after killing that girl.”
“Exactly, someone caved his head in with a high powered rifle.”
“Sounds like he had what was coming, that’s local PD bullshit, sir.”
“What is that drip?” The Chief asked momentarily distracted by the bucket collecting water in the far corner.
“When it rains outside, it rains in here, sir.”
“And you haven’t bothered to say anything?”
“I did, five years ago, when you asked why I needed the bucket from the maintenance closet.”
“And you expect me to remember that?”
“I remember the tie clip you wore on your first day ten years ago, sir., I just figured you didn’t like me and got used to it.”
“How long have you been here, Moses?”
“Seventy five years to the day.” Moses answered with a smile. “I can’t even tell you if the general I headbutted even remembers me or why he sent me here.”
“Insubordination, reckless endangerment of the troops in your command, excessive use of force, vigilantism.”
“You can list that red ink off all you want, sir, but the fact of the matter is, everything I was doing was actively encouraged, in the name of the Agency and the Treaty. That general and you are one in the same, pencil-pushing bureaucrats, all red tape and arbitrary rules. All I was trying to get across is that the detective under my command should have had the option to settle down and marry.”
“Funny, you’re old world, you’ve had every opportunity to settle down, and here you are making love to that pistol.”
“I meet with Ruby twice a week, we have a nice dinner and a good time.”
“Hookers don’t count as settling down, you pay to play.”
The right corner of Moses’s lip rose into a small smile. “I don’t pay to play, I pay for her to leave when everything is said and done, sir. I know you didn’t come in here to shake my hand and congratulate me on three-quarters of a century worth of work, you going to make your point?”
“Yeah, I’ll cut the shit, witness at the murder said the shooter was big, over six five big.”
“On a rainy night, just witnessed a murder, sounds unreliable to me.” Moses answered
“You remember the red ink in your file about vigilantism?”
“I think I recall you bringing it up.”
“That’s a big red flag, Moses.”
“Red flag isn’t evidence, sir, I don’t get my hands dirty with some old world notion of vigilante justice.”
“No one under my command is above the law, Moses, not even some cranky old world detective. You talk a hell of a lot about the law, the importance of the Agency and Treaty, part of the Treaty stipulates respecting the planetary constitutions and law and order is very clearly defined in this planet’s constitution.”
“Anything else, sir?”
“Yeah, watch your back, I might have miles of red tape to clear, but that kid’s brother is a lieutenant in the McKinney crime family, and last I checked, they don’t need to prove total guilt to a jury.”
“Consider it noted, sir, now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a Lady of the night.”
“One last thing,” the chief said as he stood up, “the militia armory was robbed yesterday, local PD wants our assistance, apparently some heavy ordinance was taken, grab one of the new kids and go take a look.”
“Probably an inside job, I’ll get around to it tomorrow, maybe they’ll actually have some evidence for me to go over for once.”
Chief Manny shook his head and walked out of the Moses’s office.
“That smug bastard.” Moses said to himself as he stood up and grabbed his hat and coat from the coat rack. “His nose is so far up the command’s ass he doesn’t have any real clue.” Moses grabbed his rifle from behind the bookshelfbook shelf and hid it under his coat and stepped out of his office, locking the door behind him.
“John.” Someone called out to the detective.
“Yeah?” Moses asked as he turned around
“You want to hit the range in the morning?” Detective Ron Senn asked. He was young, green behind the ears, didn’t even remember the civil war. The kid was lanky, just under six foot tall, with a yearning to learn everything he could. He carried an optimism in his eyes that Moses hadn’t seen in a long time, a warmth that these streets would soon turn cold, a smile the city would crumble.
“Yeah kid, zero nine hundred, bring that new model rail pistol I’ve seen dangling in your holster.”
“Yes, sir!” Ron said with a huge smile. Moses wondered if he was going to jump up and click his heels together as he walked past the kid and through the double glass doors into the dark rain.
Lightning zig zagged across the sky and thunder deafened the murmur of traffic. The gutters over flowed with cold water, washing away hypodermic needles and used condoms, the city’scities sins flowed into the storm drains.
Moses opened his trunk and lay his short rifle down with its military big brother and picked up a half-drank bottle of cheap bourbon. He avoided a puddle as he walked to the driver door of his car, sat down, cradled the bottle between his legs and pulled the last cigarette from the pack in his pocket.
The engine rumbled to life, a quick swig of bourbon and a drag from his cigarette and Moses was off, cutting through traffic like he was on some soaked speedway. His headlights pierced the downpour on his pursuit of more cigarettes, just another stop, she’ll still be there he thought. He looked at the time on his radio, twenty-two fifteen, his appointment was at the zero hour, plenty of time.
The yellow signal flashed in the rain, and with some quick hand work he pulled into the little twenty four hour drug store. Moses picked up his hat from the passenger seat and stepped out of his car. The store was mostly empty, besides some kids out past curfew and the cashier playing on her phone. Moses walked through the aisles, picked up a pack of gum and a bottle of orange juice when something hit his olefactory sense like a wrecking ball from the past. A floral perfume, light on the air, not overwhelmingly sweet, a mix of lavender, rose and honey. The scent sobered him up as he blinked and looked around, looked for the face that matched the smell, a face he hadn’t seen in half a century.
“Need a pack of smokes?” The girl asked, looking up from her phone.
“Make it three, busy couple days coming up.” Moses answered, the smell had dissipated, the thought of her still clung to the back of his mind. Ruby will help me forget, he thought to himself, she always does.
Moses picked the three packs off the counter and paid, gave the girl a smile and a goodnight before departing. In his car, he tapped the box on his large hand, packing the cigarettes before lighting one and taking another drink from the bottle, chasing it with sweet orange juice.
The traffic had lightened up, but the rain intensified. Moses used it as an excuse to take another drink at a red light, the buzz removed the last thoughts of her from his mind, and the music from the radio complimented the pitter-patter of rain against the car. Lightning lit up the silhouettes of the skyscrapers as he pulled into downtown. In the alleys and under the awnings of apartment buildings and businesses lay, vagrants and junkies, doing their best to stay warm and dry. Some of them wore military jackets, veterans of the civil war, decorated and strung out, sorry souls that lived in the shadows and corners. He pulled up to the curb of an old mason building, handed five credits to the sorry soul sitting just out of the rain and walked through the glass doors marked Coroner’s office and City Morgue, in small black letters.
“Have a good night.” The vagrant said as the door closed behind Moses. He hung his hat and coat up and walked into lobby. Inside sat a couple of men in dark suits. Moses saw what looked to be a low-level street thug and a couple of soldiers. The detective nodded respectfully at the familiar members of the McKinney crime family before walking through the double doors towards the freezers and the coroner’s office. The lights flickered and the sterile chemical cocktail of cleaners burned his nose with every breath.
“Detective Moses, what brings you down here?” The coroner’s assistant asked as she pressed her round glasses back up the arch of her nose.
“I came down to see Richard, Cindy, the boys in suits up front are like a bonus.” Moses answered.
“They came in here with the older brother of a victim we scraped out of an alleyway earlier tonight.”
“Manny mentioned a murder, some high profile hit, Richard in the autopsy room?”
“Yeah, he’s in there with the older brother.” Cindy answered as she smacked her gum.”I have some paperworkpaper work to finish up, you know the way, right?
“Yeah, I think I can find it, thank you, Cindy.”
“Anytime, John, just don’t pick a fight again this time, would ya please?”
“I wouldn’t add to you paper work tonight, Cindy, don’t want to keep you from the mister too late.” Moses responded as he left the office and continued down the hall.
The smell of the blood was the first to hit, an earthy muddy smell, then the formaldehyde and all the other preservation and cleaning elements, together they overpoweredover powered the smell of the disinfectants and bleach that clouded the rest of the building.
“I don’t know how you get used to the smell.” Moses said as he walked into the autopsy room.
“I’m surprised the smell of death bothers you, detective.” Richard answered. The room was one giant stainless steel box, with a drain in the middle, under a covered body, and rows of freezers lining the back wall. Richards sat at his desk, across from him was the older brother, Michael McKinney. His eyes looked as though he was holding back tears, but he kept the rest of his face hard.
“It’s not the smell of death, or even the blood, its the damn formaldehyde, shit sticks in the clothes, couple that with a gallbladder failure, I’m going to have to burn this suit.”
“Gallbladder bvile is an unfortunate symptom of someone getting shot in the gut.” Micheal said monotone and cold.
“What are you doing down here, detective?” Richard asked as he began piling paper work.
“Manny said Paul had been killed, and I needed to talk with Micheal here on another case, figured this would be where he was.”
“Don’t start a fight in here.” Richard said as he placed his paperwork into a file and slid it into his desk. “The camera and mic are off, Cindy and I will be done in about twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes will be more than enough.” Moses said as Richard walked out of the room and shut the door.
“You’re gonna come to me, the night my brother dies, and ask about a case?” Micheal said as he stood up.
“Yeah, I am, I’m sorry about your brother, the kid was a real piece of work though, and since we’re friends I wanted to come to you first.”
“You better watch it, John.” Micheal snapped back.
“I better watch it, your piece of shit brother killed some fucking girl, you pulled some strings and he gets off Scot-free, why the fuck didn’t you put him with a bodyguard or something, his verdict made planetary news, I bet the whole damn system knows he got off.”
“Look, he had Frank with him, the asshole that killed my brother popped Frank too, he just lived long enough to give the fuzz a minor description, I was hoping you could pull some of your strings, maybe get that report, before the cops find him, you know, it isn’t like they are going to even try and get any real justice.”
“What’s the payout?” Moses asked.
“You and money man, I’ll give you your normal rate, and double if you track down the shooter give me a name, something solid to go off, and I got five grand here for your deposit.”
Moses took the envelope from Micheal, removed a hundred credit bill and tucked the rest into his pocket. “Look, rumor has it there is a rogue cop, a guy hitting criminals that don’t get the justice he deems worthy, I’ll do some digging, I’ll find something.” Moses replied.
“Thank you, John, now, do you really have a case, or was that just to get Richard out of here.”
“This hundred is to keep Richard out of here,” Moses answered as he tucked the bill into Richard’s desk, “local PD sent over a request for assistance on the militia armory getting hit, some heavy ordinance got picked up, you guys getting ready for war or something?.”
“I’ve sent you after enough rats for you to understand that my lips are sealed. Listen, I know you do work for the other two families, you’ve even bumped a few of my guys in the past, but we have an understanding, you do good work, you don’t kill women and children, and you’re always clean enough that the moms get an open casket, but there are some lines I can’t cross for you.”
“I’m not asking for you to finger anyone, I just need a direction, Micheal. You’ve ruled your crew out by not giving me the ten grand you generally would have, but I need to get those weapons off the street, the other families aren’t so careful about collateral damage, and if it’s some punk street gang I can only image the innocent lives that’ll get taken out.”
Micheal looked down, then over to the blood stained sheet covering the body of his younger brother.
“You know Benny?” Micheal asked.
“Benny at the spaceport, or Benny the pawn broker?” Moses asked as he pulled a notebook and pen from his pocket.
“You really do have your fingers in all the pies, Benny at the space port. He’s the manager over there, made a Union dues payment to get some guys over there under the table, didn’t ask what they were moving, or whether or not it was an unload or load kinda job, you know, less I know.”
“Yeah, I get it, and don’t worry, I didn’t hear a Goddamn thing from you.”
“You’re right you didn’t, cause I’ll take care of you before the dock boys get to me.” Micheal said. “You hear anything at all about this rogue cop, or my brother’s killer, be in touch, it’s personal, I’ll pay you the hit fee, but I’ll be the one to do it.”
Moses nodded, walked over to the door and held it open for Micheal. Micheal nodded back respectfully and followed Micheal into the hallway towards the exit.
“I left you a little something in your freezer desk.” Moses said as he passed Cindy and Richard finishing up their paperwork. “Have a good night Richard, Cindy.”
“You too, detective.” They both replied in unison not looking up from their papers.
The crew of gangsters had already departed into the rain as Moses walked past the lobby and into the night. From his pocket he pulled his pack of cigarettes, lit two and handed one to the vagrant.
“What’s this I hear about a load of weapons getting picked up?” Moses asked the vagrant as he took a drag.
“The fiver and the smoke say its some new crew moving into town.” The vagrant answered with a cough.
“Lot of you around this part of town tonight, little wet for downtown don’t you think?”
“Question like that require a little more grease, detective.”
“I got half a bottle of bourbon in the car.” Moses replied.
“And I got a story about the new crew, hot headed kids, young bucks, trying to prove themselves, they’re not too kind to us under the abandoned East end Bridge.”
“Lot of dry spots under that bridge.” Moses added.
“It isn’t just the dry spots under the bridge you know, the maintenance area on the north side of the bridge could house all of us and then some, but those little shits drove us all out a few weeks ago.”
“Thanks for the information.” Moses said as he opened the passenger door to his car and tossed the bottle to the vagrant.
“Much obliged, sir.” The vagrant answered before tearing the cap off the bottle and taking a long swig.
The drive to the club was uneventful. Moses looked at his clock, half an hour early, enough time to still see Ruby take the stage. He capped what was left of the bottle, stashed it in his glove compartment, cracked his knuckles and his neck before stepping out of the car and walked across the parking lot.
“You on the list?” A large bouncer asked.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa man, this is John S. Moses, he’s always welcome here.” The usual bouncer said in panic as he realized who it was the new guy was questioning. “Moses, I’m sorry, its his first night.”
“Its alright, Jerry, the kid’s just doing his job.” Moses said as he handed both bouncers twenties. “Ruby go on yet?”
“Nah, you still have time to get the usual before she hops on.” Jerry answered.
“I’ve had a few already,” Moses said, “I wanted to ask if you’ve heard any rumors about some new crew up at the East Bridge?”
“All I know is they’re vets, mean group of Prots, making a hell of a name for themselves already.” Jerry answered.
“Any word on their income?” Moses asked as he handed Jerry a hundred.
“Small time shit, stolen goods, drugs, few gas station robberies. The only reason they even blip on any one’s radar is their brutality. They lit a homeless guy on fire and kicked him out of a moving car into the homeless camp under the bridge.”
“Thanks again Jerry, and new guy, this conversation never happened.” Moses said as he pulled the door open and entered the thick fog of cigarette smoke and the sharp smell of alcohol.
Molly, the girl that danceds before Ruby, goes on was picking small bills and her clothes off the stage., Sshe looked up, saw Moses, smiled and waved. He waved back and from the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of flowing blonde hair in the dim lighting. He turned his head to get a better look but the long hair and the women who wore it was gone. For a moment he thought about the perfume in the drug store. He took a long breath through his nose but only smelled sweat and smoke.
His attention changed as the slow piano signaled Ruby’s presence on stage. A single spot light lit up her black lipstick. She wore a short black cocktail dress, and a set of garter belts and fishnets that wrapped around her legs all the way to a pair of bright red stilettos. Her cheeks were brightened with blush, the rest of her pale in the white light. She walked with a seductive shake in her hips, her short bob haircut bouncing with each precise step. She smiled wide, her white teeth gleaming before turning around to reveal the seam that ran up the back of her stockings. In her right hand was a microphone and soon the piano was joined by a trumpet and saxophone.
“You know, Jacky.” She said into microphone.
“What’s that, Ms. Rose?” The piano player responded. He was tall, even sitting behind the piano, his dark hair had long ago turned gray, and his skin was naturally tanned. Moses thought back to when Jack was a kid on the street, an orphan who needed a home. The thought reminded Moses of the pain of being a detective with the Agency, the genetic manipulation, the false immortality.
Moses shook it off and looked up, Ruby Rose’s dark green eyes landed on his.
“Jacky, I’m feeling vain,” she said softly, dragging out each word seductively, “I’m feeling wet, and I know that tonight, there’s a lucky gentleman out there.” She continued as she pushed her free hand through her hair.
“I got just the number, Ms. Rose.” Jack responded. The piano’s tune keyed down and Ruby grabbed the microphone with both hands.
“I’ve always loved a man, with the devil’s right hand,” Ruby sang. Some young buck with something to prove tried to grab her as she walked by and she responded by breaking his nose with a well placed kick and a wink to Moses.
“The devil’s right hand and an angel’s kiss.” Ruby continued as she blew a kiss towards the detective.
“John,” a female voice came from behind, Moses turned away, but not before giving Ruby one last good look.
“Molly, what can I do you for?” Moses asked.
“Just overheard some patrons talking an awful lot about you.” Molly said. Her body was adorned in a long black evening gown with sequins catching the lights of the nightclub.
“Anything to be concerned about?” John asked.
“All I heard is that you have a tail, silver sedan, couple a fellows keeping tabs on you.”
“Good enough, could always be better. Ruby is still turning them away.”
“That’s my girl.” Moses chuckled under this breath.
“Sometimes, I wish she would leave town but she makes me too much money.”
“Get enough pies and everyone wants a slice.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Molly said before taking a drag from her cigarette. “Those boys I told you about? They’re right behind me if you’re wondering.”
Moses looked over her shoulder and eyed a pair of familiar faces. Burke boys, the one family in town that he always seemed to have to the most issues with. They ran the docks, even though all the Unions were under the McKinney family. It was a tense relationship, but the power was even, there was balance. If the McKinney stepped out of line the machines at the docks had issues, or the workers would get locked out. Whenever the Burke family stepped out of line, the papers ran full of stories about coming strikes and delays on goods.
One of the Burke boys looked up, whispered to his buddies and waved for the check.
“I think they know I know.” Moses whispered to Molly as the final notes were hammered out on a snare drum.
“Better to have them out of my club, I love you almost as much as Ruby, but you bring a lot of heat with you.”
“Yeah, comes with the job.”
“And which job are you referring to?” Molly asked.
“Divine Arbiter.” Moses answered with a wide smile.
“I’ve heard Ruby’s stories, nothing divine, maybe dirty is the word you’re looking for.”
John smiled wider, the blush the crossed his cheeks hidden in the smoke and dim lighting.
“Thanks for the heads up, Molly.” Moses said with a smile, the warmth in his cheeks retreated.
“It wasn’t for you, John, you’re taking Ruby tonight, she doesn’t need to be in any danger.”
“Well thanks anyway.”
“Anytime, now go get your girl before she finds another john for the night.”
Moses smiled and turned around. He spotted Ruby, still in her stage outfit. It looked as though she had made it halfway to him before being stopped by a young kid, just old enough to be in the club.
“You going to bail her out?” Molly asked from behind him.
“Something like that.” John answered. He cracked his knuckles and walked over.
“Evening, Ruby.” He said with a smile, “you ready for our date?” Moses asked as he looked at the kid.
“Sa, sa, sorry mister.” The kid said as he backed up.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” Moses said politely, “a beautiful siren, fresh from the stage, in those heels and fishnets, I get it, here,” Moses handed the kid a wad of cash, “ask for Tracy, I promise you won’t be disappointed, and if you are, Ruby here is free tomorrow night.”
“That was sweet, Johnny.” Ruby said as the kid smiled, nodded and left.
“Look doll, I’m off the clock, no reason to be all testosterone and pure alpha, its obviously the kid’s first night on the town, now he has enough dough to really enjoy himself.”
Ruby cleared the short distance between them, wrapped her arms around Moses and whispered in his ear, “You may be off the clock, but I want the alpha out tonight.” Ruby backed up and looked right into his eyes.
“You sure it’s my turn?” Moses asked.
“I tied you up last time.” Ruby said as she swayed back and forth.
“I guess we could break out the handcuffs.”
Ruby jumped up and wrapped her legs around Moses. “Oh Johnny, you’re the best!”