A Black Jackets Mystery
“A dead man came looking for my son. Madre de dios!” The heavy-set Hispanic woman crossed herself and kissed a small cross hanging around her neck.
“A dead man… why do you say he was dead?” Detective Raymond Robinson asked. Robinson was a tall, lanky, middle-aged black man with graying hair in the temples. Wearing the long black leather trench coat and fedora that were the uniform of his unit, he could be quite imposing. Gruff of voice and his face lined with the stress that comes from years of deadly serious work, he was the kind of cop that had been stereotyped around Queen City forever.
“He was dead! He was a corpse! His flesh was withered and gray. And his voice–” the frantic woman shuddered at the memory, “– his voice was like something out of the grave!”
Detective Robinson looked at his petite blonde-haired partner. “Like a Walking Dead zombie, eh? What do you think, Thursday?”
Detective Zoe Thursday glanced up from her phone, with which she was recording the interview. She was younger and startlingly pretty, with clear blue eyes with a pronounced darker ring around the edge. Thursday nodded at Robinson in their “valid call” shorthand. They never knew when they answered these “spooky” calls. Half the time they were being pranked, or people were simply mistaken. But this was literally their job. They belonged to an elite QCPD task force, the Black Jackets, which investigated paranormal crimes and supernatural-tinged murders which were all too common in a city that was most famous for housing Earth’s premiere team of superheroes, the Knights.
Thursday looked the woman in her frightened eyes. “Are you sure he wasn’t just a scary or threatening guy? He literally looked dead?” Thursday had that lilting Oxfordshire accent that Americans found so entrancing.
“Yes! He was dead, I tell you, just like I told the other cops this morning! Dead! He was dead!” The distraught mother paced back and forth, wringing her hands. “But, oh, he was scary, too! He demanded to know where my son was. Pushed his way through the door and searched each room. I tried to stop him, but he was so strong. He asked me over and over where Santi was hiding, where he spent his days and nights, who he hung out with. But, he truly looked like a dead man! A dead man is hunting my son!” Trembling, with tears leaking from her eyes while she clutched her cross, this mother seemed about to faint.
Robinson reached out with a firm hand on her shoulder. “It’s OK, ma’am. Calm down. We are here to help. Nothing will happen to your son.”
Detective Thursday glanced at her partner with a raised eyebrow. They’d been through enough to know better than to promise anything. But, he was a compassionate sort who still took neighborhood policing to heart. “So, describe this dead man for us. What was he wearing?”
“He was a soldier. He wore a uniform. You can tell he was military by the way he carried himself, the way he talked.”
“Military,” Robinson said. “Could you tell which branch? What kind of uniform was it? Was it an Air Force, or Navy, or maybe a Marine—”
“No, no. He didn’t look like the recruiters who come through the projects. He wore…,” she waved her hands around frantically, “he wore an Army uniform. But it wasn’t like any today. It was like in a war movie. Like an old uniform.”
“An old uniform. OK. Did you see a name? Like a name tag on his chest?”
Detective Thursday asked, “Was it a cloth hat or helmet that he wore?”
“A metal helmet.”
Robinson’s eyes flared. “Was it a Nazi helmet? Like you see in films?”
“No. Not like that. It was flat on the sides, like the brim of a hat or a bowl.”
Robinson’s brow creased, but Thursday nodded. “That’s a Brodie helmet. World War I, not II.”
Robinson looked slightly annoyed. “OK… World War I-style. Well, hats aren’t getting us anywhere. Listen, where is your son? What did you tell this dead World War I soldier?”
“I told him nothing! I don’t know! Santi hangs out with those damned Angelos.”
“As in the gang? The Angelos out of the Myerston neighborhood?”
“I told that boy not to go down there. He says they just play pool. But, he lies. I know they don’t just play pool. They get in trouble! Those are bad boys. They have mean eyes. I told Santi! They are up to no good! Oh! Now a dead man is hunting my son! Madre de dios!” She buried her head in her hands and sobbed.
Thursday tilted her head sideways to get her partner’s attention. He said, “Excuse us, ma’am. We’ll take a peek at Santiago’s bedroom now.” They stepped away.
“Do you really think this involves a dead man?” Robinson whispered.
“What do you think, Ray? Is this a voodoo curse gone wrong?”
“That’s Crescent City crap.”
“A hyperactive imagination in a superstitious mother?”
“Hmm. Maybe she’s bullshitting us for attention. Or is this just a prank? Maybe a gangbanger in a Halloween costume is punking a mother?”
She looked in his eyes a minute. “Is it that simple–that silly?”
“No, of course not. I– I don’t know what to think. I believe here though. She’s scared half to death. If it is really something, it seems too high level for this dump,” he growled, looking around at the crowded apartment. These tenements were all decorated with the same desperation and poverty.
She nodded. She picked up a small laminated icon with a prayer printed on it and dropped it back down. “There is something to it. The way she described the man. It is too specific. It rings a bell,” Thursday wagged a finger at her partner.
“Humph. If you want to ring a bell, it sounds like the old newsreels about the Knights during the war years. I grew up on that shit.”
The apartment was small and it took them no time to pick through the trash and clothes that littered her son’s room. The reporting patrolmen had been in this morning and already searched it, before coming back to the station and referred the case to the Black Jackets. It had smacked of something that they should handle. They found nothing of interest, but did turn up a few pictures of grinning, sign-throwing Hispanic youth, and a book of matches from the Angelos’ main haunt over in Myerston.
Robinson grunted and put a finger to a picture hanging on the mirror. “That one there… that’s ‘Don Juan’ of the Angelos. He fancies himself the womankiller of the group. This punk here is Gaffle, a shit-for-brains drug dealer. Already did time as a juvie. This asshole is Cheva-something-or-other. He likes to push people around and play big boy with a gun. Yeah, this is the gang all right. So, that means our boy Santiago is hanging with the real deal.”
Thursday made a wry face. “Then the clock is ticking and we need to find young Santi before that dead man does.”
“Better yet, we need to find out why a corpse is chasing this boy.”