(The Seven Series of shorts)
By D. E. Dunn (David Eric Dunn)
Copyright 2016 David Eric Dunn
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It’s a bleak world, a short life we live, every move a shot in the dark. But the darkness is a rich one, and every shot burning through it with molten fire. The question is whether our shots counted before the embers wore out. Did our lives even matter, or did we shine for nothing?
I had always hoped that my actions meant something, but even though my intentions were always pure, a fear always held me back. On a dark night I was reborn and dreamed that I mattered. But on this, another dark night, reality hit me again, and I found that I was still afraid. Come to face an evil for a cause greater than myself, I found myself clinging onto reasons to live, any word and any excuse would do. And though I held a keen sense of duty, for a flickering moment I considered abandoning the innocent lives I came to save, and looked to save myself.
In the corner of my eye, an empty promise, and a car.
It’s widely considered one of the most beautiful cars ever made, and the most expensive. One of my clients, the ‘Ordure Brillant’. Velvet interior, leather seats, gold trim, and ivory inlay. Rumored as one of the smoothest rides you’ll ever have.
But that didn’t matter to me, if my night ended well, I was going in the trunk.
(Two Days Earlier)
It’s another wet day in a city that never sleeps. Standing in an alley for hours, lying in wait, until the right people shake hands. It’s not a sting, not a lawful one anyway, but an intelligence mission. Snapping pictures as the right people swap drugs in the wrong district. There’s a surprising amount of law and order cobbled together by the lawless.
John snaps photo’s as two men swap goods. A bag in one hand and a bill in the other trading owners in a handshake on a little corner built long ago and forgotten about ever since.
Lying on the outskirts of the bright lights and heavily polished buildings that serve as trophy’s for the rich, the old buildings of the original city linger dwelled in by the forgotten. Some lost by fate, others by choice, but all wandering as ghosts in a place no one remembers.
John walks down a dark alley into a little hole in the wall drinks shop, where he meets a man in a smooth beige suit. Pointed nose, slicked back hair, and eyes that stared everywhere but into his.
“Your intel, as requested….” John says staring straight into the mans face.
“Took a long time, John.” – he fingers some bills sticking just out from the inside of his suit. “Maybe my time doesn’t mean much to you, maybe yours doesn’t mean a thing to me.’ He runs his tongue over his upper teeth.
“Your ridiculous bargaining techniques are getting old.” John states deadpan as the two lock eyes for the first time.
The man smiles a crooked smile, reaching deeply into his suit pockets for a moment, he pulls a wad of cash, and slowly, with a jitter, pushes it into John’s hand.
John tips his worn hat before walking off.
Walking back through the maze of alleys a man leaps out from behind a corner and puts a gun up to John’s nose. “GIVE ME EVERYTHING YOU GOT!” He growls.
John stands still for a moment, studying the situation before rolling his eyes. “Tell Retallick we’re through” He takes a few steps – “Oh, and if you want to rob someone, you might want to load the gun.”
John continues down the alley as the would be robber stares puzzled at his pistol.
Down the street John steps into a shabby little diner, sitting in a familiar booth and nodding to the man behind the counter who nods back.
Within a few moments a young waitress, blonde with deep blue eyes, brings eggs and coffee to John on her tray. John sits for awhile barely nibbling on his food and just sipping his coffee as he studies through the local paper.
The waitress comes to check on him and finds that he’s in deep thought – “Need anything?” She asks placing a hand on his shoulder.
“No, thank you.” He says without looking.
“You look like a troubled soul.” She states plainly.
He glares at her, more a study than a judgment, but with dead eyes.
“Maybe that came out wrong” She laughs nervously.
“No, maybe you know me better than I do” He says with a smile.
“What’s your name?” She aks.
“John,…,Delaine? You’re a terrible liar John”
“Why would I lie?”
“Now how would I know that, but Delaine is not your name”
“And John?” He inquires.
“Yeah, your name is John, John. So what are you running from? Cops? Debt collectors? Child support?”
“Ghost stories.” He says with a straight face.
“You wouldn’t be interested. Besides, I’m a liar right?”
“I am interested” She sits across from him in the booth.
“And why’s that?”
“Because I am one – a ghost” – her skin suddenly drains of color as her eyes grow a deeper blue, trembling as they stare deeply into John’s. – “I’m…. sorry.”
“No, don’t be” John unfurls some bills putting down the amount for his meal, then tucks some under her hand with his card. “For the great service, um…” he takes a look at her name tag, “Jessica?”
She smiles – “Oh, I hope I didn’t ruin your meal?”
“Not at all. – I just have enough ghosts at the moment.”
John walks out of the diner, the cheery doorbell jingling behind him as he enters the bleak gray weather.
A car pulls up alongside him almost as soon as he starts walking.
“John!” a man yells out from the car.
“Sam?” John peers in through the cracked open window before getting into the passenger side of the car.
The inside of the car is a contrast to the shined up exterior, grungy, with throwaway cartons piled up as if someone lived in the thing.
“Still in that ruddy little office John?” Sam asks
“Yeah, and working for crooks… how’s the wife?”
“Sometimes I work too much to even know – right now especially. Have you heard about the kids going missing?”
“No” John shrugs off the question as if disinterested.
“Thirty six in the extended area, nine of them in the outlying districts, mostly girls but a couple of boys.”
“No, and us cops have exhausted all legal avenues, all the missing are a tragedy, but the last three were just a group of school girls, elementary, walked out of the front door and never seen again. We’ve got nothing, and no other means to find them. As a private investigator you have more lee way than us, bureaucracy, citizen rights and all that. I was hoping you might know something.”
“I haven’t heard a thing, but, I could look into it.” John says begrudgingly.
“Thanks John.” Sam sighs in relief, dropping a heap of folders into John’s hand. They almost crackle through his fingers, like a static shock shooting through him, he stares at the folders with a grim feeling before stepping out of the car and disappearing into the dense smog.
The case wasn’t a normal one, I knew it when I fingered through the folders. There are no specific times or places. It’s a crime of convenience, chaotic, but organized. The victims don’t seem to have been planned or targeted, a normal snatch and run, but the total lack of witnesses suggests some vigilance outside of the bounds of the normal criminal. So far no bodies found, it could be a killer with a good dumping ground, but it stinks of trafficking. The details suggest a background in abductions, which rules out amateurs. Either the victims or locations are watched, the kids abducted by a team, and the grabbings in quick succession suggest that they have a place to put them, and that means it’s a group with connections outside of town.
I hit the streets, asking the usual people the usual questions. You can’t be direct, or expect a direct response, if any at all. There are no personal secrets in this city, not in the underground anyway. Everyone knows who you talk to, and who “talks” to you. One misstep can anger the wrong person and put you on a short kill list.
Like usual, no one knew a thing about the girls. About other things though, smaller things, they didn’t mind dropping some hints. A lot of the small stuff pointed to a warehouse down by the docks, that of course had nothing to do with the girls.
The docks in question are a shady place to be, most people wouldn’t ever dare go there, and the sun was setting. If there was a worse time to go I couldn’t think of it, but these cases, kidnapping and the skin trade, seconds tick by like hours, no worse time to go, but no other choice if I cared at all.
It was a cold night, the warm air of the city sweeping downward toward the sea. The chilled briny bluster twisting inland to meet it.
I sat in my car observing the usual grime take place, but the warehouse in question was dark and shut tight.
I got out of the car and walked along the dark path around the building, my footsteps echoing off of the walls. I knew what laid up ahead, but took those last few steps anyway. The last thing I saw was a steel pipe come around a corner and smack me right in the eyes.
When I came to I was tied to a chair, an average thug in a wine colored wife beater licking a knife as his foot rocked the chair back and forth.
He asked me questions about myself which I didn’t answer, and when he had enough put the knife point right on the edge of my eye.
“That’s enough.” A man from the shadows tosses a cigarette and steps into the light toward me. A short man, stocky, with a shabby mustache, eyes fierce like a wolfs, and wearing an expensive suit.
The man with the knife runs the flat of the blade across my face, punching me in the nose before stepping away.
“Do you know who I am?” the man in the suit asks.
I struggled to see the man in the dim light before making an educated guess, “Frank Gesaillo?”
“That’s right! And the only reason my friend here isn’t chopping you up, is because I don’t know who you are, so?”
Gesaillo is one of the biggest and most famous crime lords in the nation, and no one to cross. “I didn’t know this was your place.” I blurted out as I pushed back the fear filling my head.
“I didn’t ask what you know or not” Gesaillo retorts back with a grin.
“I’m a private investigator, John Delaine.”
“Delaine? Oh, you’re new around here, that nosy one I keep hearing about, good relations with local pd. So, John, why are you here?”
My eyes shift towards a car in the corner, an Ordure Brillant. “My client hired me to look for that car, stolen a while back, nothing to do with cops, an odd job that I said I’d get to if I had the chance.”
“Well, I’ve still gotta kill you. So how would you like it done?”
“You’re right, I am nosy, and I know a lot. Come by my office, have a drink, we can chat.” I start to lose my cool.
“We can chat now. The mission on 8th” He waves his hands in invitation. “Well?”
I think about shutting up for a minute before spilling my guts. “The wrong place. The counterfeits are moving through the corner store on 5th, in the booze shipments.”
“Mac put so much into that little facade, I believed myself, I’ll have to have a little talk with him next. But you, you’re good, maybe too good. Hmm… well look John, I’m not an unfair person, we’ll leave it at luck. If you live, we’ll talk. Unless, you say another word, in which case I’ll shoot you.” Gesaillo motions to his men.
I was happy to be untied from the chair, less so to be stuffed in the trunk, and the sound of the car splashing into the bay made being knocked out and tied up feel like a good day.
After recovering from being banged around in the trunk from it’s plunge, I admit I panicked, the water pouring into my steel coffin as it sank. After I took my last breath the trunk filled completely with water. I calmed myself in the cold and black serene enough to tear through the upholstery and pulled at the wires until the trunk door released, and I floated to the surface.
I never liked the look of the city, especially not at night, but from this view, it was art.
After I buried my associates, I walked back to the highway to find my car gone. I could have walked back to the city for something familiar, but really what good is comfort when you’re a ghost. So I walked the highway for weeks, passing through small towns, staying in cheap hotels, and drinking my nights away, until I got here. A city called June. An odd place, big, but with a small town feel, kind of like home. Some jobs fell into my lap, and I resolved to continue living my dream, to be a sleuth and help people. Even though I found myself working for criminals again, I looked forward to everyday. But at night I can never shake it, the dark ‘why’ that lurks in the back of my mind and the pit of my stomach.
I wonder why the young ‘Minute Man’, the kid, let me live. The real reason. No matter what kinship he may have felt with me, or what common sentiments and circumstances we shared, the loose end just wouldn’t be worth it to such a powerful group.
Why? I ask myself every night. And not knowing the answer makes every shadow dancing on the walls send a shiver down my spine.
I feel like meat in a kitchen, watching as each piece before me sizzles on the grill,
Just waiting my turn.
John exits his building and walks along the city streets, a car pulls up beside him. Well dressed men in suits surround him from the front and the back.
“Our boss would like to have a word with you.” One of the men says as he and the rest of them casually box John in.
“And who is your boss?” John asks looking for a way out.
“That’s none of your concern, now get in the car!”
“Well gentlemen, I don’t believe I will” John begins to walk past them when one of the thugs puts a gun from his coat into Johns ribs.
“Right.” John puts his hands up. The men pull a hood over his head and toss him on the floor in the back of the car, resting their feet on him as the car speeds off.
The old clunker rides like a tank, driving in many deliberate circles to evade prying eyes. When the car stops, John is marched through long halls and endless stairs. The world revealed to him again in the presence of an enormous well dressed man standing behind a huge desk. The man is bald and wearing a suit tailor made to fit his frame, that of a seven foot tall gorilla, or perhaps a rare breed of dwarfed giant.
“Do you know who I am?” The man behind the desk asks in a deep cavernous voice.
“No, I really don’t. Another crime lord maybe?”
“Hmm, no, I’m a legitimate businessman. My name is Edwin Rallo, please, sit.” The man stretches out a massive hand toward an empty chair.
John looks around the room before sitting with a shallow exhale. “Rallo? I know the name, far from legitimate if I’m thinking of the right person.”
“More legitimate than you’re used to, John.”
“Well regardless, I’ve had a lot of guns aimed at me, but I’ve never had a military grade machine gun shoved into my ribs. Why am I here?”
“To the point, you had a little run in with Gesaillo, at which time you invited him to your office?”
“He plans on taking you up on that offer. I’ve been wanting to put Gesaillo in the ground for a long time. He’s a sly one, your little office is the only place I know he’ll be.”
“You’re going to kill a notorious gangster in my office?”
“If you would have us.”
“I have a choice?”
“Of course, I’m a businessman after all” The two lock stares briefly.
John takes a look around the room, filled with heavily armed men.
“Well then, I have to decline.” John begins to rise from his seat, the men standing over him push him back down firmly, holding his shoulders to the back of the chair.
“I don’t remember being kidnapped and held at gunpoint by any other businessman, Mr. Rallo.”
“You don’t seem to understand, we have a common enemy, detective Cox.”
John takes a moment before he answers. “I don’t know who ‘Cox’ is.”
“Oh please, don’t belittle me, do you really think a whole city of crooks going missing overnight would escape my notice. Or a dead crooked detective walking these streets?”
“I was never crooked.”
“Right, you didn’t make the bodies, you just lied about them.”
“Maybe a bit skewed, but that was another life.”
“And yet here you are in a city of thieves. A dead man who should be hiding half way across the world, risking the papers in the same profession, because you love it. And you have a natural talent for it.”
Rallo lays out three photographs on his desk, sliding them towards John.
“Beautiful little girls aren’t they, that you’re trying to find? And the reason that you ended up at Gesaillo’s warehouse, tied to a chair and beaten?”
“Were you going to follow through saving them?”
“I don’t know.”
“But aren’t their lives precious?”
“Of course they are, but if I die this time, they die too, and so do so many others.”
“‘Of course they are’. Let me tell you what they are to Gesaillo, three little pigs to be sold for meat, their succulent flesh enjoyed by others until there’s nothing left, the useless bits remaining dumped in the garbage.”
Rallo stares down at John, drawing in a deep breath before leaning on his desk, gently gliding over it, his impressive form creeping closer to John.
“Do you know how many little piggies Gesaillo has penned up?” Rallo asks with his face just a breath away from Johns.
“HUNDREDS!” – Rallo withdraws himself from the desk – “And those that survive their time with Gesaillo will only be able to hope they hadn’t.”
John lets out a long deep sigh. “Killing Gesaillo won’t solve that.”
“No, but I will. While you sit in your office and watch him die, I will see to the safety of every single child, freeing them, and getting them home.”
“Watch? So I wouldn’t be the one killing him?”
“Of course not, Gesaillo is well guarded, my men would handle it.”
“How would I hide your men?”
“No need to hide, they’ll come in through the secret tunnels littering your building.”
“Great, you know more about my building than I do.” John stands. “Every child?”
John’s heart sinks as he raises a hand out, his whole arm spasming as his hand falls into Rallo’s. The two shake hands, and both feel the sands slipping, falling until the moment the truth of the bargain is revealed.
I can still see that night so clearly when I sleep. The rich darkness in the graves, eyes peering through, every memory begging to be remembered. My eyes, begging to forget. The ghosts lost, so afraid. And yet it was so simple through the eyes of the man who put them down, and left them in the dirt. It was a job, a set of things to be placed, and no emotion to be had or held. No sentiments. No life worth living lost.
And though the flesh left behind may relinquish itself in time, the soul who saw through it may never let go, with only the eyes of the last one to see it remembered.
I was the only one to make it out alive, but I’m not the only one to carry on. Not the only one who can’t forget.
The seconds tick by like an eternity as John waits for Gesaillo. When Gesaillo’s men finally knock John answers the door, jittery in his step. Gesaillo’s men push past without notice, but Gesaillo spots his nerves right away.
“Are you alright? You seem shaken.” Gesaillo asks swaggering in.
“The last time we met you nearly took my eye out, threatened me with death, and then locked me in the trunk of a car that you rolled into the bay.” John answers sitting behind his desk as Gesaillo takes a seat in front of him.
“Fair enough.” Gesaillo chuckles. “By the way, did you tell your client you found their car?”
“Yeah, he wasn’t happy though, and I doubt he’ll expend the effort to pull it out.”
“Well anyway, to business. Since our last meeting I asked around about you. I could tell that you were good for intel, but how good I couldn’t have guessed. One of your former clients, and a man I respect, told me that once you’re put to the task, not even god could stop you learning the truth. That’s quite a reference! I want to hire you as my personal private investigator, I’ll pay you more money than you could dream of. What do you say?”
“Well, Mr. Gesaillo, it’s true I’m good at finding truth, but sometimes not so good at telling it. Last time we met I wasn’t entirely truthful with you. I couldn’t give a damn about that car, but there have been a number of child abductions recently, and I have this feeling in my stomach that it’s you.”
"For peace sake, I will ignore that once, but that's the kind of talk that can get you killed, John. -So, my offer?"
“I tell you no, don’t push it.”
“Why? Don’t you have any dignity?”
“You really want to die? Because if I answer you, you’re dead – and that’d be a real shame!”
“You’re the one kidnapping those kids.”
“And doing what with them, child labor, organ harvesting?”
“Much worse than that John, more grown up stuff, John. You’re a man, I think you know what I mean.”
“And do you do it too?”
“Well, I never partake, but I admit, I like watching sometimes. I find the energy of the moment – refreshing.”
“They’re just kids-”
“No!” Gesaillo interrupts. “They’re a throw away commodity, like pancake mix. My customers are gonna use them like they’re nothing, until there’s nothing left to use, and then toss ‘em out, and come to me for another one. It’s business, like any other.”
“You can go to hell!” John pounds his fists on the desk.
“Oh, can I? Well then, here’s what I’m gonna do, first I’m gonna blow your brains out, then I’m gonna go cut out those kids eyes, just for you. You know, some people have a fetish for that kind of thing-”
John bolts up out of his chair, a series of gasps, the room suddenly drenched in blood as the bodies of Gesaillo’s men drop to the floor. Standing over their bodies, men dressed in unmarked military fatigues.
"What the- you bastards!" Gesaillo draws his gun but has his hand chopped of at the wrist by a large man. The man grabs Gesaillo, throwing him down onto the desk, and wraps a garrote wire around his neck, pulling it tighter and tighter until the wire buries itself in his skin.
“Your men died a quick death, but for your sins, I’m going to choke the life out of you Franky!” the man shouts into Gesaillo’s ear.
The struggle continues for a few minutes as Gesaillo’s panicked thrashing dies down into nervous twitches and gentle shakes. The focus in his eyes leaving him as he gazes through this world and into another. His face wretched, a deep purple, his eyes wide and bulged out, dark red and full of broken vessels. His swollen tongue extended out of his mouth as far as possible, still poised in its struggle to taste the air. He drops to the floor with a hollow thud, a stiff in a suit.
“Sorry for the mess, a car is waiting for you outside, everything will be tidy when you get back.” the large man addresses John with a calm voice.
John, in shock to have seen men die so precisely, grabs his coat and leaves without a word. The entire floor covered in the blood of Gesaillo’s men, John’s shoes track bloody prints all down the hall, the stairs, and the lobby. Almost like the dead walking behind him.
The scene is ablaze with flashing emergency lights as John rides up in Rallo’s car. The fence is broken down at a series of storage buildings the size of a small town and police are everywhere.
The car stops just beside Rallo, who is standing at the edge of it all watching intently. One of Rallo’s grunts opens the car door for John before hurrying over and whispering in Rallo’s ear.
John walks over. The two stand silent, watching.
“Everything went well I trust?” Rallo asks softly, his voice still extremely deep and booming even low.
“If dead men are well, then sure. For a criminal, I can’t fault you for your honesty. I had my doubts about you saving these kids, you did a great thing today.”
“Ha ha ha ha, We did. You’re a real talent, without you I would have never gotten Gesaillo. Few people could have found him, fewer would have lived to tell the tale, and some might have taken him up on his offer. But you turned down a fortune for justice.”
John turns towards the kids being reunited with their parents. “A fortune’s worth a lot, but this is priceless.”
Rallo turns his eyes down toward John with a smile for a moment as the two watch the scene in silence again.
“I’m curious, I know who “killed you” and I know their methods, so I’m wondering, how is it that you are still alive?”
“A young one in the group took pity on me, he hinted in previous encounters that he felt a certain affinity with me, and when it came time to kill me, spared my life.”
“Hmm…” Rallo gazes off losing interest.
“At least that’s the surface of it.”
“Oh?” Rallo stares again at John.
“I have this terrible feeling that there’s another reason I’m alive. Some purpose to be lived out. With that look he kept in his eyes, a merciless want, it can’t be pity. I lye awake at night terrified of what that purpose might be.”
Rallo takes one last look at the scene, and smiles “I hope to work with you again John…”
Rallo turns and takes a few steps – “And You’re right to be afraid.”
“That’s not ominous at all.” John turns towards Rallo with a look of surprise.
“It’s a dark world John, some people see the sun, but you and I are in a long night. Cherish those moments when you can see a fleeting star.”
Rallo steps into his car and leaves.
John spots the three girls from the photos as they are reunited with their mother.
‘It’s a scene I’m used to, a mystery, some murder, and justice done. But this is the first case that I solved where the innocent made it out alive.
My life has always been lived clawing among the filth of society. In my cleanest moments I could always feel a film of grunge coating my soul. No matter how hard I climbed, I always found myself lingering in the criminal element. And every time I thought I might have made it out, I found that I was just daydreaming again. Withdrawn into my own mind, and when I came out, nothing had changed. Not even crawling out of my own grave changed anything.
But Rallo has a point, “a fleeting star.” I see it in their eyes, their innocence shining out. Gems in this dark pit. For them, I have no regrets digging through the filth.
And for a brief moment, I forget, and have hope for myself as well.’
Thank you for reading.
I hope that you enjoyed this Seven short.
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Keep an eye out for other ‘Seven’ stories
in the future. Thanks again,
Warm Regards -David
Other books available
- Lone Wendy: The Girl and the Forest of the Gods (Novella 1)
- Seven Graves (The Seven Series of shorts)
David grew up devouring fiction, watching the classics of both film and television, as well as experiencing the engrossing medium of video games.
But the worlds he observed didn’t end on screen, he lived and expanded upon them everyday.
Later, in young adulthood, he began creating his own original stories, bringing them to life in expansive world building detail.
He grew up living an adventurous life, and has explored many states and their vast natural wonders.
His primary inspiration for fantasy comes from his time spent wandering the immense wilderness, but also late nights imagining the possibilities of the stars.
After attaining a bachelors degree in legal studies, David has focused on his inspiration for writing.
David now resides in the sunshine state with his pet chickens and many adopted cats.
Twitter - @officialded
Email – officialded at hotmail dot com
Doesn't your life mean anything to you, John? You've died once already, so why do you continue to live the same life? What is it that you're looking for, salvation? Born into a world where death is the only guarantee, do you believe that anyone can really be saved? We're watching – perhaps we'll see... -The Seven Series of shorts continues, picking up with John as he tries to make a new life for himself. Still haunted by his past, John is pulled into an investigation into recent abductions. He makes new friends, new enemies, and a few unsettling discoveries.