Lifeless forms on gurneys, strewn about haphazardly in the deserted basement of the old Cook County Morgue on Polk Street, stare up at me imploringly with dead, leaden eyes at half-mast. Pools of blood coagulate under misshapen heads like spilled jelly; human bodies ripped open like mini-boxes of Post-Toasties; mutilations, eviscerations, gunshot wounds, mechanical strangulations——they’re all here; all so different yet all the same. They come to me at night——they always come to me at night. Like a voyeur, I pick through the labyrinth of cold steel beds and gawk into empty body cavities, the unmistakable, rancid stench of putrefying flesh gags me. I light up a cigar, cup it in my hands, and suck the pungent smoke through my nostrils to mask the odor. It’s eerily quiet. My footsteps reverberate in the hollow chamber. So many people I have to talk to, or should have talked to, but I can’t remember any of their names now for some reason; they’re all jumbled up in my brain. Undistinguishable faces, cloaked in a thick veil of fog, peep out at me from darkened doorways. Am I in London? I’m confused. A voice from the Rose Room, the meat locker where bodies in advanced stages of decomposition are kept, whispers my name. I want to investigate, but my feet refuse to move in that direction. I’m ashamed anyone will find out I’m afraid. I must maintain my game face. I try to draw my gun but it weighs in my holster like a ship’s anchor. At long last, I find my legs and the courage to move forward. I inch toward the entrance of the Rose Room with great trepidation. I’m trembling, inside and out. I need Father Nangle, the department chaplain, but I’m uncertain why; is it to absolve me of all my sins or to give me the last rites? I try my gun again, but the goddamn thing won’t come out of my holster. Be a man, I tell myself. You can’t be a gunfighter if you’re afraid to die. Taking a deep breath, I pivot empty-handed into the doorway of the Rose Room to confront the destiny that awaits me. Someone, or something, with a foul smell whirs past me, and the hairs on my neck bristle. It’s Michael Jackson! It’s Michael fucking Jackson! He begins singing, “Thriller,” and all of the corpses, even the infants, leap off of their gurneys and start dancing grotesquely like wooden puppets out of sync. I’m in a video! Thank you, Jesus, I cry, this is only a video! None of it is real! The elation lasts but a moment, and then an onslaught of tears begins running down my face as I stare into the vacuum of cold, vacant eyes and gray waxen faces, and I realize I know all the dancers. Sweet Mother of Jesus, I know all of the dancers.
My Blackberry vibrated and skittered across the lamp table next to my bed. The perspiration-soaked bed-sheet felt like a handkerchief from an Irish funeral. I groped in the dark, knocking an ashtray with a half-dozen panetela butts onto the salmon-colored carpeting.
Propping myself up onto one elbow, I growled into the phone, “Whoever this is, it better be good.”
“Lieutenant, this is Sergeant Peak. I’m sorry to call so late but we had a triple in Avalon Trails a few hours ago. Possibly drug related.”
“So what?” I moaned, “Aren’t they still going to be dead when I get into the office in the morning, Bill?”
“Yes, sir, I’m sure they will be, but I thought you’d want to be notified on this one right away. We recovered a rental car on the scene. A guy named Charlie Newton rented it. Isn’t that your writer-friend?”
That got my attention. I bolted upright, swung my legs out of the bed, and ground the panetelas into the carpeting. “Charlie Newton?”
“Yes, sir. We lifted one set of prints from the inside of a Corvette parked in the driveway and one set of prints from inside the house. They both belong to him.”
“Are you sure it’s my Charlie Newton?” I asked, “That’s not too uncommon a name.”
“Rental agency said the renter gave a home address in South Africa. Isn’t that where your friend lives?”
“That would be Charlie’s white ass, the Afrikan American
Without warning, Giaccone pivoted and fired two shots at me, jumped over the banister, and fled through the gangway before I could get off a shot. The thunderous reports shattered the early morning silence. Everything instantly reduced to slow-mo as I began the foot chase. Sound amplified a hundredfold. Giaccone quietly flipped over the back fence, but it sounded like a train wreck at this hour of the morning. I tried to notify Wojcik and Dunnigan over the radio I had a foot chase and to cover the north end of the alley, but I was breathing hard and over modulating. They couldn’t read me. Unable to jump the fence with a radio in one hand and a gun in the other, I had to make the decision to dump one of them. I opted for the radio. I jumped the fence and another shot rang out. I tried to raise my gun to return fire in the direction of the muzzle flash, but I couldn’t. My gun was on the ground in the alley, and my right arm was on fire. I’m shot, goddamn it! I tried to reach for my gun but couldn’t move my arm.