Captain Slate threw his jacket over the back of the chair, sliding down into it in front of his desk. He sighed as he pushed his hands through his greying black hair before running them over his stubble-shaded sharp jaw. He’d had enough bad days in his years at the department, but something about the past few days had been different.
The reports about the heist from Pharaoh Security Logistics just a few nights ago, rumors of a vigilante starting to circulate, plus internal grilling all of his section heads.
But it wasn’t that. It was an uneasiness he’d picked up. A faint nervous discomfort somewhere deep inside him, like he knew something bad was on the horizon. It was something else. Something he hadn’t experienced before, and even though he had no knowledge of it, it terrified him.
He looked up to the corner next to the open window, where there stood a man in a black hood that he somehow hadn’t noticed in the darkness.
That was the fear.
He stood up from the desk, pulling the police special from his side in a fluid, instant motion of instinct.
He marveled as I didn’t flinch. “Good evening, Captain Slate.” I said.
“Who the hell are you?”
“The man who put the Hangman behind bars, and more importantly, someone you should trust.”
“Why?” He asked. “The mask doesn’t do you many favors.”
“Because I’m on your side.” I said. “And sometimes people just need to believe they have somebody on their side.”
His grip on the weapon loosened as his look became inquisitive. “Wait… Murdoch. You’re that guy from the hospital, Chase Murdoch.”
“A pseudonym.” I said. “I go by Azrael.”
“Like that guy from the comic books?”
“Like the Angel of Death.”
“You said you were from Pyropolis.”
“Also untrue.” I explained. “Couldn’t let you get the wrong impression.”
“Does that mean you don’t know anything about the freak in the blue suit there?”
“Michael.” I said. “A friend of mine.”
“You guys have a thing for angels’ names?”
“You could say that.”
He thought about the reply for a moment, unsure what to make of it as he returned his weapon to its holster. “Lotta people don’t think you exist.” He said. “Plus I could arrest you right here and now for it.”
“And why’s that?” He asked.
“Because you have the same feeling I do.” I said. “There’s more going on in this city than people are being led to believe, and it’s not good.”
“What do you know about how I feel?” He asked. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“Captain Aaron Matthew Slate, fifty-three years old, husband to Liz Marsh, father of James and Sarah Slate. Bastion State University grad, hometown like me. Born and raised here. Maybe that’s why the job always seemed so significant to you.”
“There’s no way you know all that yourself. Who told you?”
“Oh, I know. But it’s that last bit that should interest you.” I said. “We both have a pretty serious interest in this city.”
He lowered his weapon, keeping his finger at the edge of the trigger. “I guess.” He agreed. “Takes some stones to come in here like that. What do you need?”
“To take a few files and leave some advice.” I said. “Last week I brought in a group of thieves after they tried to steal an armored truck from Pharaoh Security Logistics, and all of them were found choked to death in the prisoner containment cell. Given that it’s a pretty open area in the station, I have my suspicions. I need all the information you have in the internal affairs investigation on their deaths.”
“How did you know about them?” He asked. “We’ve never put a lid this tight on anything.”
“I keep my eyes open.” I said. “Did you see anything?”
“No.” He said. “One of my boys at the station over there told me they were all just slouched on the benches, and when he went back into the cell, they all had some kinda rope tied around their necks. He couldn’t see them under their collars, so he didn’t even know when it happened. I’ve never heard anything like it.” He said, sighing to himself as he sat at the edge of his desk chair. “Do you know anything about it?”
“I have reason to believe they were killed by their employer as a security measure.” I said. “One of them had a sort of robotic arm rig, where is it?”
“Gone.” He said. “Straight up disappeared from evidence lockup like it was magic or something. Where’d he even get tech like that?”
“I don’t know yet.” I said. “There was one more thing.”
“Of course.” He said.
“A few weeks ago a prisoner named Jackson Garmana was found dead. I want to know why.”
“We haven’t got much… You think it’s related?”
“I have some ideas.” I said.
“Do I get to hear any of this infinite wisdom, or are you gonna solve this thing yourself?” He asked pointedly.
“That’s where my advice comes in.”
“And what would that be?”
“Take a good long look at Lazarus Wolfe.”
“That Kingston Steel guy?” He asked. “He just backed Fadi, people seem to trust him.”
“He’s hiding something.” I said. “You don’t find it odd that his first day in office after the previous CEO is assassinated is to back David Fadi’s mayoral campaign?”
“I guess that makes some sense.” He said.
“Whatever you find, bring it to me first. It stays between us. Lazarus is a dangerous man, and he’s working with some dangerous people.” I said. “If we go to the presses before gaining the upper hand in the situation, it would destroy David Fadi’s career at the very least.”
“At the most?”
“Bastion. Maybe more.”
“How do you know so much about Wolfe?” He asked.
“We’ve met before.” I replied, placing a blank card on his desk with my contact number.
He pondered the implications of this statement for a moment, looking at the card. “I see. I guess I’ll let you know what I can find.” I stood by the window, looking over the street for a moment with my back to the Captain. “You’re not gonna do that thing where you disappear as soon as I look away, are you?”
“That’s not really who I am, Captain.” I said, pausing a moment before the wings extended from my back into the late night wind. “Do not trust Lazarus Wolfe.”
Captain Slate watched as I disappeared into the night sky, standing motionless for a moment after I was gone. He reached for a flask on his desk, deciding against it as he racked his brain for a word.
He had no expletive to suit this situation.
I sat in front of my whiteboard, pondering everything that Lazarus’s appearance meant.
My armor sat strewn haphazardly about the desk as I sat in my under armor, hands over my mouth as I turned the situation over in my head.
The silence broke as the wood French door opened, a black-haired masterpiece stepping through.
I smiled. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walked into mine.” I said.
“Really?” She asked, smiling in a jovial half-cringe at the line.
“What do you want, Shakespeare? I’m tired.” I laughed. “Behold, what light through yonder office door breaks, it is the east, and my wife is the sun.”
“Yeesh.” She said. “Stick with Casablanca, Romeo.”
She walked up behind the office chair, rotating it to face the whiteboard again as she wrapped her arms around my neck. “Any brilliant ideas yet, William?”
“Nothing yet.” I said. “I can’t know what Lazarus is planning yet, so I’ve got all the informants I can turning their ears his way.” I sighed, running my hands through my hair.
“This won’t be easy.”
She pecked me gently on the cheek and spoke softly in my ear. “We can handle this.” She promised. “We’ve beat him before, we can do it again. I believe in us.”
“It’s not that I don’t…” I said. “Lazarus will destroy this city in any number of ways if we handle this wrong. Whether he does it with his newfound corporate power or his own two hands, that’s up to us.”
“He hasn’t beaten us yet.” She said.
I looked at the board. “Maybe he has. I have no idea what he’s planning.”
We sat in silence for a moment as we gazed at the board.
“Maybe we do.” She said.
“Look at this.” She said, pointing out specific sections of the board. “Lazarus has been placed in a position of power at Kingston Steel, and however he got there, they made him look like one hell of a guy. He ties his name to David Fadi, and he gets the admiration of all David’s potential voters, who, based on the projections, make a pretty good section of the city. Why would Lazarus ever want political power?”
“I’d wonder if he was turning over a new leaf, but somehow I wouldn’t believe that for a second.”
“So he’s making some kind of power play, looking for a bullet of public opinion that he can aim somewhere.” She said. “And if Lazarus had a gun, I’d put up a pretty big bet on where he’d point it.”
“Right at us.”
“Bullseye.” She said. “If a likeable man with enough cameras pointed at him says he doesn’t like something, public opinion moves with him. Lazarus is giving himself the power to galvanize the people and turn our city into the weapon he’ll use to beat us.”
Damn. She was right. “So what can we do?”
“Well, knowing Lazarus, he’s probably made some nasty connections to get himself into that position. If we can show people the cracks beneath the surface, we can change the people’s opinion.”
“What about Fadi?”
She thought for a moment, and cursed under her breath.
“David Fadi is his insurance policy.” I said. “If we expose Lazarus as a criminal just after Fadi accepted a campaign support from him, Fadi is ruined. We have to find another way to make it work.”
Iris thought for a moment. “Ultimately, we need information.” She said. “If we learn who he’s connected to, we’ll get an upper hand. After that…” She trailed off. “I’m not sure.”
“I don’t know if we have the time for that.” I said. “It only took him a week to get as far as he has, he’s clearly making his moves as quickly as he can. We have to move soon.”
Iris paused, debating internally the practicality of the idea she’d just gotten, and if were even worth expressing. “Maybe…” She thought. “What if we kill him?”
“I don’t know if that’s the best idea.” I said. “If he were killed, that would be the second Kingston CEO who’s been assassinated in as many weeks. Plus the lord only knows what he could become.”
“It’s all we have that has a chance of working.” She said. “If we dress it up the right way, nobody gets hurt, and we can make the public think it was just some kind of accident.”
“It’d take a lot of doing to convince people about a fake body.” I said.
“Lazarus is smart. He’d make himself undetectable.” She said. “No dental records, fingerprints. If we could produce the illusion of an unidentifiable body with a probable enough scenario, they’d have to accept it’s him.”
I sighed as I stood up from the chair, biting my fingers. “It’s not much, but there’s a chance we could make it work.”
“It wouldn’t be my first choice either.” She said. “But it’s about all we have for now.”
“We need to get more information first.” I said. “I’m not running blind into an assassination before I rattle a few cages… Maybe literally.”
“Of course.” She said.
I walked through the open door to think about my next move. As I stepped into the hallway over the foyer, I was met by a young woman with brown hair falling just past her jawline standing outside the doorway. She looked at me for a moment, unsure of what to say. I walked past her and leaned against the white stone railing, looking over the large circular foyer. “I’m guessing you probably caught most of that.” I said.
Carolynn paused for a moment, unsure how to process what she’d heard. “So you’re just going to shoot somebody? Just like that?”
“Maybe.” I said. “I can’t decide if Lazarus would be better off dead or not.”
“But you’d just kill him?”
“If I had to.” I said. “I don’t have much of a choice.”
“I thought you didn’t do that.”
“Lazarus is different. If I shoot him in the head, he’s not gonna stay dead.” I said. “Why do you think they call him Lazarus?”
Carolynn stood, nonplussed.
“If I kill him, it gives me the upper hand I need to take back control of the situation.” I said. “Your mom wouldn’t just have me murder somebody.”
“Is he human?” She asked.
“Then it’s okay, right?” She asked. “I mean, angels are made to protect humans, and you’ve killed demons before, right?”
“Scores.” I said. “But I’ve killed humans before too. I’ve told you the stories. All the wars. Sometimes we just have to do what the call of duty requires.”
Carolynn pondered this for a moment. “Then what makes this lifetime different?”
I sighed, considering everything I’d already been through. “The people of this city have seen too much brutality. The people I fight now aren’t soldiers, they’re just people. You can’t make a city better if you slaughter it in droves. It needs second chances, something to aspire to.
“But Lazarus isn’t just a man. Lazarus could destroy this entire city, maybe more. I can’t give him the chance to do that.”
“So you have to kill him?”
“We’ll see.” I said. “First I have some friends to go have a word with.”
I stepped through the prison hallway, rousing the displeasure of the inmates as I stepped into their field of view like a slowly progressing wave of explicit insults. I was the one who’d put them there. I was their captor.
I approached cell number two hundred and thirty-nine, stopping in front of the door and gazing through the bars. Prisoner two-nine-eight-zero-seven laid on his cot, staring at the ceiling with a smug expression plastered across his face as he drank in the sounds of the impending riot behind the other cell doors. He knew I was there for him.
The shouting continued, a fervor of expletives and death threats in a frenzy of collective shouting.
“Enough.” I shouted, echoing through the prison hall as it fell to immediate silence.
The man in the cell smiled, sitting up on the cot and adjusting his smooth brown hair. His sharp nose and pointed jaw curled into a sick sneer, as his piercing gaze turned toward me after he stood up. He stepped right up to the bars, smiling as the prison waited in silence. “Hello, Azrael.” He said.
“Hello Harvey.” I said.
The Hangman laughed. “I’m a little surprised you remembered.” He said. “But I suppose we were that close.”
“If you considered us close, you’re unfortunately mistaken.” I said.
“Whatever do you mean?” He asked. “Of course we’re close. I tried to kill you.” He paced the cell, his busy hands twisting arbitrarily as he spoke. “And killing someone, that’s the most beautiful thing there is. I’ve never known a moment more intimate than looking into someone’s eyes just before the noose takes its grip. When you show someone the face of death…” He paused. “You. They change. They are no more honest in their life than they are in that moment. You see the very essence of their soul, just before you cast it into eternity.” He turned back to me. “You’re looking to kill someone, aren’t you, Azrael? That bloodlust inside you just never slowing down. Who is it, Angel of Death?” He asked, crossing his hands behind his back as he fronted on the cell door once more. “What man has committed such an atrocity that he’s found his unfortunate way into your crosshair?”
“Lazarus Wolfe.” I replied.
“I see.” He said. “Interesting. Will he be the man who breaks you? The one who forces you to cross the line?”
“Just tell me what you know.” I said.
“Little.” He replied. “He seems good enough. People respect him, largely because of his friend David Fadi, but that’s not the man Lazarus really is.”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know anything for certain, but I negotiated the sale of some weapons from his organization.” The Hangman said. “His ties to underhanded crime run deep, and he’s in the company of some very powerful men. Fear him, Angel of Death.”
“I don’t scare easy.” I said. “What’s he planning?”
“Planning?” Harvey asked. “How would I know? I wouldn’t think he had any grand plans in mind, the way his empire handles. What makes you think he’s planning anything?”
“The CEO of Kingston Steel is assassinated, Lazarus takes her place and allies with Fadi not even a week after her death.” I said. “That doesn’t sound right by any standard.”
“Fair enough.” He said. “I can refer you to the people you need to get your information, but surely that can’t be the only reason you’re here. You could’ve found a lead like that anywhere else in this city, but you chose me because you had something else I knew as well.”
I hesitated, but he was right. “I need information.” I said. “A few weeks ago, a man named Jackson Garmana was hanged in his cell just around the corner from here, then a group of career thieves I brought in were found in a holding cell with a similar fate.” I explained. “Looking at a guy like you, I can’t help but wonder.”
“How would I ever do a thing like that from the inside of a cell?” He asked.
“It’s not that, I think someone did it to throw me off.”
“Interesting…” He mused. “Perhaps they were trying to send a message.”
“Maybe.” I said. “I have one more thing.”
“I need your list.” I said.
“Why?” He asked.
“Because it may be the key to finding out what’s going on in this city.” I said. “And because I can bring them all to justice.”
He considered this for a moment. “Very well then.” He said, picking up a book from the floor and removing a slip of paper from the back. “Your wrath is the least they deserve, but retribution is yet to be had for too many.” He slid the page through the bars.
“Good.” I said.
“A favor for a favor, then.”
I paused. My ploy had worked. I knew there was something he hadn’t told me.
“I spoke to a man who was brought in yesterday that claimed to work for Lazarus.” He said. “Cell four nineteen.”
“I’ll pay him a visit.”
He paused, turning to face the back wall of the cell and crossing his arms behind him.
“Dark days are upon us, Azrael. We will all soon be presented with a choice to do the impossible, or to die.
“I wish you the best when that choice is yours to be made.”
“Thanks, Harvey.” I said, turning away.
“And Azrael?” He asked. I stopped. “Make them all suffer.”
The bald man sat motionless in the cell, as if he were awaiting my arrival.
“Tell me what you know about Lazarus Wolfe.”
“I don’t know anything about Mr. Wolfe.” He said. “But I know about you.”
“What do you mean?”
“He told me about you.” He said. “He told me you’d come for me.
“And he told me what to say when you did.”
He was a setup.
“He’s begun something bigger than you can stop. After everything you’ve both been through, he’s finally beaten you, and you just haven’t realized it yet.”
“I doubt it.”
“Lazarus will be at the Bastion Royal Oceanside dance club at eleven o’clock tomorrow.” He said. “He said to bring the girl, and he’ll end this.”
He smiled. “Lazarus Wolfe is going to bury you himself.”
With a disgusting grin, a white foam swelled through his twisted lips.
Copyright © Josiah Delnay 2016.