New Years Eve. 19XX. A bitter coldness creeps into the bones of those walking the streets on the last day of the year, forcing a deadening chill into the back of peoples’ minds, lurking like a sinister portent. On this day here in the city everyday life is overshadowed by the festivities concerning the changing of the calendar, as the realization that yet another year has slipped swiftly into the past sinks into the minds of many. New Years Eve. A time of reflection. A time to slow down and take stock. Unfortunately for some people however, today Death slows down for no one.
Meet Charlie. Growing up all alone in the downtown mission, she’s pretty used to being able to take care of herself. ‘Never even saw your parents’, the old sister used to say, before she too left Charlie. Lung cancer, never smoked. The mission was demolished, the site zoned by the council to pave the way for a new office park, whatever that means, and Charlie ended up in an abusive foster home, which she ran away from after two months. She drifted for a bit, scrounging leftovers wherever she could to stay alive before some kindly old Italian man took her in and gave her a job doing dishes at his restaurant, until the place burnt down in mysterious circumstances. Alone again, out on the streets, Charlie came to the one realization that would sustain her through the hunger and cold of the years to come: ‘You can’t rely on anyone,’ she said. You can’t rely on anyone, because they always left you for dead in the end anyway.
Twenty-four now, and she still lives by the truth of that precept – except today she knows she’s going to need some real help, because this time around Charlie’s gotten herself in a whole heap of trouble, and it’s the type that ain’t about to go away. Which is how she finds herself in the private suite of D’Angelo May, crime boss and de-facto mayor of downtown.
“You gotta help me Dee,” she says, her smoky sultriness infusing the already charged atmosphere with a sexy undertone. “They know that I’m the one, and they mean business this time around.”
D’Angelo is young, but no ones gets to the top in this business without knowing that there is no free lunch. He’s known Charlie for long enough and he also knows the trouble she’s gotten herself into, and this time there might not be any helping it. “Charlie,” he says. “What are you doing coming here. You know I ain’t in the charity business. This thing that you and I might have had before – you understand that I can’t let it get in the way of business right?”
“Dee,” says Charlie, a hint of desperation creeping into her voice. “You owe me.”
D’Angelo isn’t about to contest this point. Charlie has definitely been an asset to his organization in the past, and the pair went back a fair way. Clinging to emotional ties however, isn’t what got D’Angelo to where he is today, and so he lapses into silence as he considers his other options. For a while now the issue of Charlie had been weighing on his mind – she knew far too much about his operations, and even more troubling was the discreet friendship she kept with that cop. It was too risky keeping her around, and now the means for disposing of her had fallen into his lap. He didn’t even have to lift a finger. On the other hand – this was Charlie, but was it worth putting the whole business at risk just to pay back an old debt, no matter how big? The knowledge in her head, the reason why she was being hunted, could implode everything…
“Talk to me Dee,” Charlie’s voice comes cutting through his thoughts. “What do you say?”
A long pause. D’Angelo looks troubled. A flicker of resolution crosses his face. “Come back in a couple of hours,” he says. “We’ll figure something out then.”
“Dee, I might not have a couple of hours. These guys are serious.”
“I got some things I need to take care of. Get your stuff together and come back in a couple of hours.”
“Goddamit Dee,” Charlie says. She stands up abruptly. “I hope I don’t regret this,” she says, sweeping out the door into the hotel corridor.
D’Angelo watches her leave in pensive silence.
Out in the cold Charlie slips into a payphone. Coins clunk into the slot as she punches a number in. D’Angelo might be prepared to help her but Charlie didn’t trust him that far, and besides, she was never one to hedge her bets. There was only one other person who might be able to help her out of her jam.
The phone was answered after two rings. “Dirk,” she says. “I need your help. Come meet me. Bring the package.”
In a secluded park downtown Charlie meets her old friend Dirk in their usual spot. He hands over the package, which quickly disappears inside her bag.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Dirk says. “you can just get out of this game, you and I, we can go somewhere where they can’t find us.”
Charlie’s midnight curls sway with a short, vehement shake of her head. “Not this time Dirk. I’m in this too far and we both know it. They won’t stop until I’m dead, or I take them down. This package -” she pats her bag protectively, “- is what’ll let me do that.”
Dirk stares at her with a look halfway between longing and anguish. “You didn’t have to get mixed up in this you know,” is all he says. “If you back out now, it won’t be too late.” His voice leaden with portent, like he knows something he shouldn’t. But Charlie doesn’t catch the drift. She looks back with a cool, bemused gaze. “I have to go through with this Dirk, and you know it. Thank you for everything you’ve done up until now.”
She checks her watch – thirty minutes to midnight. Time to go back to see D’Angelo. Gracefully she turns and starts up the hill towards the hotel. Looking back over her shoulder, coat flapping in the breeze, she calls over her shoulder “You won’t have to worry about me anymore after tonight, Dirk. Everything’s going to be put right again.” And with a mischievous smile she adds: “Happy New Year, sweetheart.”
Dirk just stands there, his eyes lost to shadow, his expression unreadable, watching until she vanishes around the corner.
11:50pm. Detectives Jamie Kirkwood and Dirk Tazelaar are called in to a crime scene. Downtown hotel, executive suite. Some broad got herself dead, no one knows how. The emergency call came from the room itself. Jamie may be a young be a young detective but he’s been on the streets long enough to know when things don’t add up. He flashes his badge at the CI outside the hotel room and they duck the tape to get a good look at the scene.
Something definitely didn’t add up here. Jamie takes in the room with a quick sweep of his practiced eye. Blood on the wall, spots of blood on the bed. No visible wounds on the broad. No contusions on the neck to suggest strangling. No signs of a struggle. The paltry contents of her expensive bag scattered over the room. No wallet, no ID. An empty box. Robbery? No, this scene was too…strange to be a simple robbery.
“Something weird is going on here boss,” he says. No reply. Turning, he sees Det. Dirk standing over the broad, staring, face white as a sheet. “Boss? What happened? You know her?”
Dirk startles from his reverie. “No,” he replies. “Never seen her. Sure was one hell of a looker though.”
Jamie bit his tongue. In the short time he’d been working with Tazelaar, his instinct told him that things weren’t all they seemed with the older detective. Maybe he was on the take. Maybe he was mixed up with this broad somehow. Who knew. Jamie knew about the system of corruption that went deep in the downtown precinct, just as he knew he was powerless to stop it. What he knew he could do though, was help this poor lady find her killers, so that she might sleep a bit easier. That was what he joined up for. To make sure no one else had to go through what he had gone through. Absently he fingered the wedding band on his left hand.
One thing was for sure though, the girl, whoever she had been, was one hell of a looker. You could tell that at a glance. What racket had she been involved in? Drugs? High class prostitution? None of those seemed to fit.
“What have you done, sweetheart, to get yourself killed right before the new year,” Jamie murmurs. “Why would someone possibly have a grudge against you?” Dirk is silent, his face impassive.
A more detailed sweep of the room reveals no further clues to the two detectives as to how she died. There was nothing for it. The broad would have to be taken down to the shop to find out exactly what did it in for her. As the CIs bag her, the clock ponderously chimes midnight, a death knell for the old year, and to things that will be forever lost with it. As Jamie steps out to make a call to central, Dirk kneels over to fill out the tag.
Name: Charlene NLN*
For a moment he finds himself alone in the room with Charlene. “Good bye Charlie,” he whispers. “I hope whatever drove you to take on this crusade was worth it.” As the clock strikes twelve and the last sight of Charlene’s body is hauled out of sight, nothing is left inside but the relentless chill, and the fitfully shifting dust of the soul. “Happy New Year, sweetheart,” Dirk mutters. Turning up the collar of his winter coat, he stalks past Jamie into the cold of the night. “Happy New Year…”
*NLN = No Last Name
Happy New Year everyone!! Wishing you all the best for 2012, the year of the Dragon!