In the nineties Farraday City was poised to become the next successful beach resort: middle class and white collar professionals flocked to its shores, looking to spend a few weeks of their precious holiday time somewhere far enough away to feel like a break, but not so far they couldn’t rush back to the office in an emergency. Then the recession hit, and people stopped coming. Farraday City’s economy tanked, the high-rise building projects stopped, the motel resorts were condemned, and it quickly turned into a metropolitan ghost town.
That’s when organized crime moved in.
They wanted a new Vegas: instead of building one from scratch, they bought a fixer-upper. They restored the buildings, brought in their own politicians, bought the police force, and got the city running again—their way. It is, depending on who you ask, either an East Coast oceanside paradise, or a festering pit of corruption. It’s consistently listed as the “Most Corrupt City in the United States,” as well as the “Most Dangerous City to Live,” and, in one article that secures its infamy, it’s described as “the only place in America where being a resident is grounds for probable cause.”
There’s very little in the way of “Family Entertainment” in the new Farraday City, unless you use “Family” to mean “organized crime.” The remnants of the old city that were intended for families have been re-purposed and adapted to new things. The Boardwalk, once a favorite spot for families to stroll along when they were taking a break from sunbathing, surfing, or building sand castles, has turned into a skid row strip with an oceanfront view.
That’s where CB lives. He has decidedly mixed feelings about his neighbors.
Despite the change in demographic, the Boardwalk remains a popular spot. The wooden strip that travels down the shoreline is the main thoroughfare between all the bars, pool halls, brothels, and flop houses that replace the restaurants, surf shops, souvenir shops, and other tourist attractions from the old days. During the day—the Boardwalk is much safer to traverse in the day than it is at night—you can still see some of the charm it had in better days. If you squint, and cock your head to the side.
And if you’re drunk.
As CB walks down the Boardwalk he keeps a protective hand over the roll of bills stashed in his pocket. Tom Waits plays on his iPod as he tries very hard to ignore the smell. The Boardwalk can be an assault on the senses—in some situations, in a very literal way—but this is something new. He doesn’t know what it is, but it’s vile, and it’s coming from below.
He tries not to think too much about it. As a general rule, the only people who go under the Boardwalk are homeless and deranged. It’s not his problem, and he doesn’t need any new ones. When he arrives at his favorite bar and realizes the smell isn’t going away—it is, in fact, stronger than before—he decides he’s going to have to make it his problem after all.
He sighs, walks over to the seaside edge of the Boardwalk, and peers down. The drop is about twelve, thirteen feet. CB sighs again, hitches one leg over the rail, then the other, and drops to the beach below. He lands on his feet, bends his knees to absorb the shock, and straightens, turning to face the underside of the Boardwalk. The smell is even stronger now, and he wrinkles his nose in disgust. It’s definitely something dead, and he doubts it’s fish.
It’s afternoon, and the sun’s high enough in the sky that there isn’t any light getting in under the Boardwalk. CB fumbles with his cigarettes and hastily lights one, puffing quickly, hoping the smell of burning tobacco will cut into the stench and decay. Finally he pulls out a small Mag-lite from his trench coat, twists it on, and peers into the darkness.
He finds the bodies immediately. Twelve of them: all male, from what he can tell, though the corpses are so swollen it’s difficult to say for certain. All are bound hand and foot, all are gagged, and it looks as if their throats have been cut. It’s a methodical job, and everything about it says reprisal.
Except, CB thinks, that reprisals are usually put on public display. He isn’t sure this counts. The bodies aren’t hidden, exactly, but they are out of view. On the other hand, they’re placed in a location where someone will find them eventually. There are too many people top-side, and if the stench hadn’t driven CB down to investigate, one of the locals would have come. Eventually.
He decides the killer wants the bodies found, but not immediately. For what purpose? A chance to skip town? A chance to establish an alibi? He plays his flashlight over the swollen corpses, looking for anything obvious, and sees nothing. No clues, no hunches. He turns off the Mag-lite, walks down the beach until he finds a way back on to the Boardwalk, and makes his way back to his original destination.
Once upon a time the Swordfish was a seafood restaurant—now it’s a bar with a swordfish motif. CB walks into the dimly-lit main room and nods to the bartender, a burly man with a twice-broken nose, playing solitaire at the far end of the bar.
The bartender doesn’t look up. “Here to pay your tab?”
“Among other things...”
Jerry looks up and smiles broadly at him. “CB! My favorite customer! How can I help you today?”
CB fishes for the roll of bills and counts out what he owes as he crosses the room. Jerry stares at the money with intense interest, and when CB places what he owes on the bar, he carefully counts it out on his own. When he’s satisfied, Jerry goes over to the wall, opens up a small safe sitting next to a wood carving of a flounder, and stuffs the money inside.
The Swordfish is empty and dark. A few committed drunks sit at the bar, and two men engaging in serious conversation sit in a booth in a shadowy corner. Most of the light comes from the one TV set up high behind the bar. The sound is turned down too low to hear, but it looks like a game show.
“OK,” Jerry says. “We’re square.”
“Yeah, good. Look, I need to use your phone.”
Jerry narrows his eyes. “Use your own.”
CB shrugs. “Don’t have one.”
Jerry snorts. “Right. You don’t have a phone. Hell, even the homeless have phones these days.”
CB shrugs again.
“Yeah, well, forget it,” Jerry says. “My phone ain’t for personal calls.”
“This isn’t personal. It’s about that smell. Or hadn’t you noticed?”
Jerry looks at CB steadily. “I don’t want to get involved.”
“Yeah? OK. You want your regulars to spend their money somewhere else tonight? Because that smell is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Jerry frowns, struggling between a healthy desire for self-preservation and an unhealthy desire to make money. Eventually greed wins over; Jerry pulls a cordless phone out from under the bar, sliding it over to him.
CB picks up the phone, dials, and waits.
“Farraday PD.” The voice on the other end of the phone sounds grumpy and vaguely ill.
“Larry!” CB acts like he’s greeting a friend he hasn’t seen in years.
“Oh, Christ.” The voice, if anything, sounds grumpier. “Damn it all CB, stop calling me.”
“Calm down, Larry, I’m just doing my civic duty.”
The voice grows a little hostile. “I thought we already had that talk. We don’t want your charitable contributions.”
“Twelve corpses stinking up the Boardwalk, right under the Swordfish.”
“Sounds like a personal problem.”
“It’s personal to someone,” CB agrees. “Arms and legs bound, gagged, throats cut…”
“Stop.” The hostility is gone, replaced with a sharpness that indicates CB has his full attention. “You saw this yourself?”
“Yeah, I saw it myself. It’s not pleasant and it stinks. It might make a good story for the paper though. I bet I could make a few bucks if I—”
“Stop talking right damn now. And you don’t mention this to anyone till our guys get there.”
“When is that going to be, Larry? You know me. I get bored and I’m easily distracted…”
“Just sit tight. We’ll be there in half an hour, tops.” The phone clicks. CB hears a dial-tone.
“That was fast,” CB says.
“Shouldn’t have mentioned the Swordfish,” Jerry complains. “Now they’re going to think I had something to do with it.”
“No they won’t. Larry was a little too interested in this one. I think this has probably happened before, and someone made the case a priority. That means it didn’t happen on the Boardwalk, because the police don’t care what happens here. And everyone knows you don’t leave the Boardwalk.”
“They might want to use me as a patsy,” Jerry says.
CB shakes his head. “Not Larry. He’ll lean on you, tell you all the nasty things the department will do if you talk about this—and I recommend not talking about it, pretty much for that reason—but other than that he’ll leave you alone. Maybe even bribe you to shut up, if you play it right.”
Jerry looks thoughtful as he tries to figure out how to play it right.
CB laughs. “Get me a beer, will you? Put it on my new tab.”
The police arrive half an hour later led by one Lieutenant Larry Hoydt, a rail-thin, bespectacled, balding man who radiates contempt for everything around him. He is flanked by two officers who look more like thugs than policemen: large, muscular, thick-necked men. When he sees CB at the bar, he shouts “you!” and gestures. The officers flank CB, one on each side.
CB casually finishes his drink, nods to each in turn, then spins around on his stool, hooks his elbows on the back of the bar, and grins at Hoydt. “Heya Larry. Got here faster than I expected.”
“Are you gonna show me these twelve bodies, or am I gonna have to improvise and settle for one?” He has a direct approach that makes him intimidating despite his meek appearance.
CB likes him. He can’t tell if Larry is dirty but not committed to it, or if he’s clean but he’s given up trying. In Farraday city, that’s a plus: most of the FCPD display great enthusiasm for corruption.
“Why Larry, it’s wonderful to see you too,” CB says. “OK, follow me. Your corpses are at sea level.”
CB steps outside, the Lieutenant and his officers in tow. No one is outside but the police. They’ve closed off the area—roughly two blocks of the Boardwalk in all—and the Swordfish’s parking lot is full of squad cars.
CB turns to the Lieutenant. “You guys had nothing else to do today?”
“Shut up,” Hoydt says. “Habeas corpus.”
CB takes them down to the beach, and back to the crime scene. Much to his surprise, he sees the police are already there: a forensics team stoops over one of the bodies, other uniformed men are strapping other bodies to gurneys, and someone is filming the entire crime scene.
They’re still a few hundred feet from the spot when Hoydt says “lets stop right here.”
“OK…” CB turns to the Lieutenant, confused. “Looks like your boys managed to find the stiffs without any help from me. Why did you want me to show you this spot again?”
“Because,” Hoydt says, “I didn’t want anyone to overhear us have this little conversation.”
The two officers at his side look at CB with an aura of cool menace.
CB looks from officer to officer to Hoydt. “Didn’t think it would go this way, Larry.”
“Shut up,” the Lieutenant snaps, then lowers his voice so it’s barely audible over the surf. “They’re just for show. My bosses think I’m threatening to make your life a living hell unless you pretend like this never happened.”
CB nods slowly. “I see. And what are you really doing, Larry?”
“Oh, I’m still going to do that,” he says. “I know better than to piss them off. But just between you, me, Marty and Pete here—and it better stay between us—my heart just won’t be in it. There are things I might do in other situations that I just won’t be able to bring myself to do here, because this thing is way the hell outta my league.”
CB frowns. “What thing?”
“I can’t tell you that!” Lieutenant Hoydt looks over CB’s shoulder at the team processing the scene. “It’ll take longer to explain this than it will to tell you to keep your nose out of it. Understand?”
CB nods again. The Lieutenant is trying to tell him the conversation is being watched.
“What I can tell you is that these corpses are going to be taken to the city morgue for quick identification, and that some of us will be there to compare notes on the case… and it just might come to pass that after we go home, say at eight or nine o’clock tonight, someone might accidentally leave his notes behind. And then a few hours later—let’s say around eleven—he might suddenly remember and come back to pick them up, because it’d be bad news if he didn’t show up at work with that information the next day.” Hoydt stares straight at CB and raises his voice. “That was the polite request, asshole. And you really want to keep this polite. Got it?”
CB throws up his hands in mock surrender. “Got it, Lieutenant. Clear. Crystal. Now if you don’t mind, I gotta go make good with Jerry. No way he’s gonna get any decent business tonight now that the police have him surrounded.”