Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1 (8 page)

BOOK: Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1
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“I hope you do give serious consideration to what we discussed here.” He rapped his cane lightly against the stone floor. “You will make a fine Sleeper one day.”

Jeremy nodded. “Put me down as a definite maybe. Though I’ll have to ask my parents about it.”

“This is not something you ask permission to do. This is something you are
to do.” The old man started to leave, but stopped mid-turn and glanced at Jeremy again. “I would have that wound tended to by a doctor, if I were you,” he advised.

As Benjamin walked away, the walls of the building around them didn’t crumble so much as waver out of existence, gradually replaced with the wood and glass of Jeremy’s bedroom. The old man turned a corner, and a door materialized behind him, completing the room’s transformation.

Damn, he’s good,
Jeremy thought.


ф ф ф


There were no
voices in the room when Jeremy came to. The fireplace was lit once more across the room, and the heavy blankets that had been lain upon him were still smothering. But this time he did not wake to pain and misery; his head hurt, but only a little, and he felt perfectly rested, as if he had not just spent the entire night speaking with Old Ben in his dream.

And he hadn’t. He looked outside to see the night barely half spent, the moon hanging high in the sky as if at the peak of a rollercoaster, poised for its inevitable descent. It was full and bright, lighting the whole valley in dull gray and blue accented here and there by lingering shadows.

He pulled himself from beneath the covers and put on a fresh set of clothes. Voices carried from the kitchen, and he walked out to investigate. His mother, father, and uncle were all seated around the table, talking and laughing animatedly.

“Look who woke from the dead!” boomed Uncle Rick. Jeremy’s parents hushed the boisterous man, and Annabelle glanced at the closed door to Ellie’s room. His sister must have fallen asleep hours ago. “How are you feeling?” his uncle asked in a quieter voice.

“Pretty good,” he admitted, rolling his shoulders. “I’m starving.”

“We saved you some dinner, sweetie,” his mother said, rising from her chair. She gestured for him to sit down while she heated a bowl of leftover stew over the stove.

“And after that,” Nathaniel said, “you’re going straight back to bed.”

“Oh, come now,” Uncle Rick argued. “He’s been asleep all evening. Let the boy stay up with the adults for once.”

“I’m not a boy,” Jeremy said quietly.

“I’m sorry, of course you aren’t,” Uncle Rick said, throwing him a jovial wink with his apology. Jeremy smiled, and his mother brought over a steaming bowl of stew. She also set down a glass of water and painkillers.

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Careful, it’s hot.”

“You don’t need to coddle him,” Uncle Rick chided before focusing on Jeremy. “I was just telling your father here that we should open up the valley.”

“Open up the valley?”

“Yessir, bring in some developers and make a resort hotel out here. Maybe some camping grounds, for hikers and the like. Some people will pay a small fortune to have a getaway location like this, even for a week or two. We’d become barons of our own piece of paradise,” he said, laughing deeply.

“It isn’t
land to develop,” Annabelle said sternly. “Ultimately, the decision rests with Nate.”

“You’re right, of course, Anna,” he said, his tone placating. “But I would stay on as an adviser, naturally, providing my expertise for rolling everything out.”

“And what exactly do you know about running a resort hotel?”

Uncle Rick raised his shoulders and said, “What can I tell you? I’ve been around a lot. I know what a good place looks like and how it should run. With an opportunity like this, you’ll recoup your investment in just a few years, and then it’s all profit.” He ruffled Jeremy’s hair. “Investment for this guy and Ellie to live off of when they are older.”

is their inheritance,” Nathaniel interjected. “All of this land, this fresh, fertile,
land, will be theirs one day.”

“I’m not saying we should pollute it—just the opposite, in fact! We’re offering a place for city-dwellers to escape all the smog and traffic. Everybody wants to get away once in a while, and we’d offer the full package. You aren’t using this whole valley, anyway. Not even a twentieth of it. The rest is potential profit, unrealized returns.”

Jeremy could see his father smiling now at the opportunity. His mother, though still uncertain, looked less upset than she had earlier. A sudden thought occurred to him.

“We could rebuild the Tower!” he blurted out.

Uncle Rick gave him a look. “The tower?” he asked.

His father waved a dismissive hand. “It’s a rundown old building that Jeremy ran off to alone.” He stared hard at Jeremy. “That place is a death trap. It nearly got him killed.”

“Boys will be boys,” Rick said with a laugh, but the joke fell flat. He looked compromisingly between Jeremy and Nathaniel. “We can rebuild it,” he said, “and improve upon it to make it a proper building, with all the safety regulations you could wish for. We can set out for it first thing.”

“Maybe now isn’t the best time to be discussing this,” Annabelle said, getting up from the table.

Uncle Rick placed both hands flat on the table. “Right. Best save the details for tomorrow, when we’re all rested and ready to begin.”

“Yes,” she sighed. “That’s exactly what I meant.”

Nathaniel rose as well, brushing her cheek with his lips as she walked toward the bedroom.

Uncle Rick looked at his brother with a wide, toothy smile. “You know this is the right thing to do,” he said in his baritone voice.

Nathaniel’s face broke out in a grin at his brother’s words. “I know it is, of course.” He pointed a thumb at Jeremy’s retreating mother. “Somebody still needs a little convincing, though. I’ll see you in the morning. Come on, son, let’s get you to bed.”

He placed a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder and the two of them walked back down the hallway. The fire crackled merrily and Jeremy was reluctant to get back under the stifling bedcovers. He sat on top while his father rested on the edge of the bed. Nathaniel had gentle lines in his face, premature aging brought about by stress. The gray in his temples grew a little bit each day, accentuating his gray eyes more and more.

“Jay,” he began, “I know I haven’t been the best father to you. I’ve said this all before, but you need to hear it again, because I truly mean it.” He bit his cheek, an unfamiliar gesture. Jeremy felt something stir inside that he had never felt for his father before. He flashed back to the memory of his father, as a young boy, sitting in that rundown apartment.

“You’re doing the best you can for us,” Jeremy said quietly. “Nobody blames you for not wanting to be like your father.”

Nathaniel looked at his son for a second, then let out a quiet laugh.

“Sometimes I forget how much you’ve grown,” he said. “You’re practically an adult now.”

“Practically?” Jeremy asked, eyebrow raised.

His father laughed again. “Don’t grow up too fast,” he said, slinging one arm around Jeremy’s shoulders. They sat together in a companionable silence for several seconds, then a few minutes. Neither one moved from the half-embrace. From the living room, the grandfather clock tolled twice before falling silent again. “You really want that old fort rebuilt?” he asked.

Jeremy sat back then and looked at his father. Those eyes were worried, and calculating, and loving. The three would have seemed incongruent in another man, but Jeremy acknowledged that his father wasn’t just any other man. He was the one who had looked out for him his whole life, working himself to the bone and nearly losing his marriage so that his children wouldn’t grow up as he had. Jeremy recognized that now, just as he recognized that this offer was one of reconciliation with his father.

He nodded. “Yeah. That’s what I want.”

Nathaniel nodded. “Then that’s how we’ll do it. I’ll let your uncle know in the morning.”

“And Dad?”

“Yes, Jay?”

Jeremy bit his lip. “How did you…why was there already a doctor here for when we returned?”

Nathaniel wringed his hands together as his face fell. His eyes held the saddest expression Jeremy had ever seen, and there was a somber tone to his voice when he spoke. “Jay, I’m…I wanted to have everyone’s blood drawn for a routine checkup.”

Jeremy could hear the lie in his father’s voice, but he wasn’t sure why it was there. “Why do you need our blood?”

“Just making sure that everything is fine. Can never be too careful, right?”

“I suppose not…”

Nathaniel patted Jeremy on the arm before standing and going to the door. “Time for bed, all right? I’m glad you’re well,” he said sincerely. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Chapter Fifteen




Brennan was very
close to passing out on the shuttle.

It was dark now that he was underground, and the rhythmic motion of the shuttle and its low, constant hum were lulling him to sleep. He took ragged breaths and scowled each time one of the tunnel lights passed by the window. They were too bright and only served to worsen his headache. He was contemplating going comatose—which seemed like a
good option at the moment—when his phone vibrated in his pocket.

Thankfully, his arms could still move in the downward direction, though it was a chore bringing it close enough to his ear to hear.

“Brennan,” he rasped.

“Did I wake you?” It was a female voice. Bishop.

“No, actually, just about to fall asleep. What’s up?”

“You sound terrible, or maybe it’s just the reception.”

“Both,” he said dryly. “I’m on the shuttle home now from uptown. Oh, and I got jumped.”

“What?” Alarm colored her voice. “You were attacked? By who?”

Brennan shrugged, then regretted it. Fire seared across his shoulders, and Bishop couldn’t see the gesture at any rate. He hissed in discomfort.


“I’m fine,” he told her.
. “Two guys, one had a Badgers cap and a lead pipe.” He lifted his chin slightly. “They ran, in the end.”

Bishop’s voice was apprehensive. “Well, all right. Glad to hear you came out on top. Who would attack a cop?”

“Don’t know. Guess they were watching the pharmacy. They mentioned you, by the way. We’re supposed to stay away from the Nettle murder.”

He heard a snort through the receiver. “Yeah, like that’s going to happen,” Bishop said. He felt his lower lip crack with a sharp burst of discomfort, but the grin was worth it.

“All the same, this case is getting more dangerous. We should probably check things out together from now on.” His nephew’s drug-induced vision suddenly came to mind. He thought about telling Bishop what Greg had seen, but then decided against it. She would dismiss it as nonsense and possibly bring Greg up on drug charges, to boot.


Brennan had lost the thread of conversation. “I’m sorry, uh, connection must have dropped out. What did you say?”

“I said I called because they found out something new about our body during the autopsy.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“You remember the irritation we saw around the eyes?” Brennan shuddered at the mental image of the horribly mutilated eye sockets. “Wallace’s report just came in: the redness we saw was deteriorated tissue caused by the corrosive substances in patches.”

“Patches?” Brennan echoed. The single NicoClean patch he had removed from the box was still in his pocket. He was
not going to mention Greg’s patch problem.

“Yeah, that psychoactive drug that’s giving the boys in vice such a hard time. Damn hallucinogens. It’s not what killed him, but Nettle was alive long enough for the patches to take effect.”

Brennan felt bile rise in his throat. “And some sick bastard put a patch on each eye. Zachariah must’ve been in agony right until he bled out.”

His partner’s voice wavered slightly. “We’re hunting a psychopath.”


ф ф ф


It was just
past three in the morning when Brennan stumbled into the precinct.

He was the definition of misery. Every bone in his body ached, and he hadn’t had a decent sleep in days. Hell, the last time he’d slept, he’d relived the worst moment of his life and a Sleeper had tried to put a bullet between his eyes. Alarms were blaring in his head, warning him that something was messed up inside him, urging him to go home. He lived on the same block; all he had to do was cross the street.

But he didn’t. As much as his body longed for rest, he still had a job to do. Once, long ago, he could have gone home to a wife, slept easy at night, and come back in the morning. It was a sweet memory, tinged with bitterness with the knowledge that he could never again lay claim to that kind of happiness. Now, the job was all he had, all he could do.

The precinct was brightly lit, even at this hour, and Brennan scowled in protest. His feet shuffled past a concerned-looking receptionist and he thumbed the button for the elevator. It was only one floor to the morgue, but he doubted his ability to tackle stairs at the moment. Bishop was waiting for him with the evening pathologist when he reached the basement. She nodded her greeting, and Brennan nodded back.

“Brennan,” he grunted to the pathologist, offering a hand.

“Wallace. We’ve met before, actually,” he said, taking the handshake politely.

“Have we?” Brennan squinted through bleary eyes at the unfamiliar man. He was a slender man of Indian descent, and he was short for a grown man, almost of a height with Bishop. A single line of jet-black hair led from his forehead to the base of his neck. Studded piercings gleamed from both ears. The three of them started walking to the morgue proper, a large, sterile room that dominated three quarters of the basement.

“At the policemen’s banquet two years ago,” Wallace supplied. “You and Sam were working on the Red Eye murders then.”

“Sorry, Wally,” Brennan mumbled. “It’s been kind of a long day, and I’m bad with faces.”

“Wallace is just my last name, actually. My first name is—”

“Brennan, you said you were
.” Bishop gave him a concerned glance.


“I’ve never felt stronger. And I think ‘Wally’ sounds better.”

“Well I—”

“You shouldn’t be here,” Bishop protested. “If I’d known you were coming in such shit condition, I wouldn’t have called.”

“Maybe we should—”

“I’ve run longer on less. I can sleep when I’m dead.”

“Probably not the best euphemism to use in the morgue.”

“Detectives!” Wally had stopped dead in his tracks. “It’s late, we’re
tired, and there’s a sadistic drug dealer-turned-murderer running around! A little focus, please!”

The two detectives glanced at one another, then followed the pathologist in silence. Brennan did what he could to hide his limp, and Bishop reined in her concern.

Wally led them to the too-pale corpse of Zachariah Nettle laying on a slab of cold metal. His big toe had a small yellow tag looped around it, and a folded surgical towel covered him sensibly. The cavities left in his face where his eyes had been removed looked more garish now than they had a few days ago. They were deep, sunken pits that added purple to the mottled red and yellow of his visage. The chemical burns on the skin around the eye sockets were turning a sickly brown color in some places.

“Always a shame to lose a professional peer,” Wally sighed. “Not a pathologist, mind you, but trained in medicine all the same.” He turned to the other two with an upturned mouth. “We medics patch you up and get you on your way with hardly any thanks in return.”

Brennan raised an eyebrow. “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Wallace?”

Bishop snorted, then turned it into a cough.

“You work with dead people,” Brennan continued. “And Nettle filled prescription bottles.”

“At least you got my name right,” Wally grumbled before regaining his composure. “Medicine is indistinguishable from poison when administered improperly. Do you know how many bodies I have coming through here because they OD’d on what should have been life-preserving medicine? Take our victim, for instance. What would you say is the active ingredient in patches?”

The two detectives shared a glance.

“It’s a name too long for you to understand even if I told you,” Wally continued. “But the common name is Chamalla.”

“I thought there wasn’t enough viable tissue left to sample,” Brennan said skeptically.

“I’m better than most,” Wally said with a smirk. “It’s corrosive, right? Bleeds right through the epidermis. There was too little surface tissue, sure, but there was more than enough to sample
the skin.”

Brennan grunted. “Clever. So what is Chamalla?”

“Once upon a time, it was thought to be an alternative cure for cancer. They did a whole miniseries about it, but it was eventually debunked. Instead of tossing the project, other applications were looked into. It showed promise in treating patients with Alzheimer’s. You know how memory works as you get older?”

They really didn’t, but neither detective interrupted the pathologist.

“New memories accumulate over time and older, less important memories are stored away. Not gone, not like we used to think, but put away somewhere. Just like how you put Christmas ornaments in the basement when you aren’t using them,” he clarified, his eyes hopeful.

Bishop nodded politely, while Brennan stood stone-faced. He didn’t know anybody in the city who had a basement.

“Right. Well just like that, you still
all your memories, they’re just put away somewhere that you don’t think about, or else it’s just difficult to reach. They say that every person you see in your dreams is someone you’ve actually seen in real life, but I think that’s bogus. Since you don’t remember every single thing you’ve done in your life, your brain creates filler material for the parts you no longer remember. Over time, this filler material accumulates and can take on a life of its own, and so we get elderly patients who remember an entire life that never happened.”

“Kind of running away from us here, Wally,” Brennan warned. “Is there a shorter explanation?”

Wally looked at Brennan and Bishop alternately with the strangest expression on his face. Disappointment, perhaps, that they weren’t as engrossed in all the details as he was.

He cleared his throat. “Right. Anyway, this medicine, Chamalla, clears away all the filler. Or it should, anyway. I’ve never used it myself, personally.” Heat suddenly entered Wally’s voice as he gestured to Nettle’s body. “But then someone decided to take that medicine, crank up the dosage to insane levels, and sell it on the streets as dope—”

The drug was medicine. Brennan’s mind was fuzzy, as if the gears were trying to turn with gum jammed up in the works. Bishop had no such trouble thinking clearly.

“You’re saying the drug is medicine, but used improperly, is that it?”

Wally was still in his own rant. “—and they add to it with chemicals and narcotics and—sorry, what? Oh, yes. Of course,” he said, looking at her as if she were a simpleton.

“How much more Chamalla would you need to use to go from medical to recreational?” she asked.

“Not much,” Wally said. “The difference is in milliliters.”

“Why do the patches burn the applied surface? This is supposed to be medicine, after all.”

“All things in moderation. Remember, they were trying to use this stuff to treat cancer. The alternative was blasting the cells with radiation, and we know the kind of toll
takes on the body. Considering the options, the toxicity of the extract was deemed acceptable. In small doses, it works wonders on our Alzheimer’s patients. With an increased dosage, you would start to run into the more toxic side of things.”

Wally touched the cold body for a moment, gingerly, on the head. “It’s really ingenious,” he said, “using the patches as an application method. Slow, steady release of the drug, and the epidermis takes most of the blow instead of the internal organs. If—
—you catch our culprit, I would love to have a few minutes to discuss his thought process.”

“But Wally—er, Wallace,” Bishop corrected herself at his sharp glance. “The patches are practically worthless. Why kill the pharmacist supplying patches when the Chamalla is what is worth killing somebody over?”

Brennan’s brain finally made connection with his mouth. “There are two points of vulnerability,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Bishop asked.

“I’m…not sure.” He didn’t quite understand the words himself. He shivered in his still-damp clothes, and something shifted in his pocket. Brennan reached a hand inside and felt the square shape of the NicoClean patch. He pulled it out absentmindedly.

“The men who jumped me,” he said. “They were prepared by the time I came snooping around. One of them told me that they ‘had their bases covered.’”

“Which meant they were watching the pharmacy,” Bishop concluded.

“No, no,” he said, waving a hand. “I think he slipped up. You said it yourself, there are two aspects of the patch: the physical patch itself, and the Chamalla. I think when he said bases, plural, that it meant they have something—or some
—else under their control.”

Bishop put two and two together. “They need to be getting their supply of Chamalla from somewhere.”

“When we kept visiting the pharmacy, they must have thought we already knew about the role of the prescription patches in Zachariah Nettle’s murder and that we planned on shutting down the operation. By running us off, they could move back in and press somebody else under their thumb.” Brennan thought of how easily the other pharmacist had rolled under his pressure, and he had barely even been trying. “We need to solve this soon,” he said, “before they draw in anybody else.”

BOOK: Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1
13.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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