Authors: Alex P. Berg
FINE BLUE STEELE
A Daggers & Steele Mystery
ALEX P. BERG
Copyright © 2015 by Alex P. Berg
All rights reserved. This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away freely to others. If you are reading this book without purchasing it, please purchase a copy for your own use. Thank you for respecting this author’s hard work.
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Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents portrayed in this novel are a product of the author’s imagination.
Cover Art: Damon Za
Book Layout: ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.com
Fine Blue Steele / Alex P. Berg — 1st ed.
I awoke to a gentle, syncopated knocking, coming from the direction of my front door.
Moaning in protest, I cracked an eyelid, only to be greeted by a field of white. For an instant I feared I’d passed into the spirit realm—at least until I felt the tickle of down against my nose. I shifted my head against the pillow and tried the other eye.
Wan light drifted through the slits in my window shutters, illuminating the confines of my bedchamber. A half-dozen meticulously-placed piles of dirty clothes dotted my floor like rumpled anthills, and my trusty antique dresser, covered in loose leaves of paper, empty mugs, and spare change, shot me a dusty smile from its half-open bottom drawer.
I groaned out a response, something along the lines of ‘Geroffa mer fernt sherps,’ but whoever was at the door either didn’t hear me or didn’t quite grasp the gist of my command. The knocking continued.
“Go away!” I shouted. “Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want any. And that goes doubly if you’re proselytizers.”
The knocker was unimpressed by the ferocity of my response. The knocking transformed into angry, heavy thumping that rattled my door in its frame. A familiar deep, gravelly voice accompanied the thumps and carried throughout my apartment.
“Open up, Daggers. We know you’re in there.”
I pried myself from my mattress’s lumpy embrace, threw on a robe, headed to the front of my apartment, and yanked open the door.
Folton Quinto stood just outside the frame, filling the majority of my field of view. He wore a deep purple duster over his wide, muscular frame, making him look like the world’s largest and meanest plum. Not that he looked particularly aggressive at the moment. In fact, he sported a wide grin on his face, one that showcased his collection of mismatched teeth. Something told me the big, grey-skinned lug wasn’t too upset about waking me from my peaceful slumber.
“Nice coat,” I said. “Where’d you pick it up? A five and dime? Or did you dye it yourself using expired box wine?”
Quinto opened his mouth to respond, but he wasn’t quick enough.
“You’re one to talk.” My partner, detective Shay Steele, slipped around Quinto’s side and positioned herself at the door frame’s edge. “Have you seen yourself in a mirror, Jake? I mean…what is that?
I spared a glance at my robe, which true to Steele’s suspicions was, in fact, velour. And pink. And noticeably shorter than I would’ve hoped.
“I, uh…think this must be one of Nicole’s old robes,” I said. “I didn’t exactly look closely when I threw it on.”
Steele herself sported a sharp teal blazer with sleeves that left her forearms half uncovered, and a puffy yellow scarf wrapped itself around her neck. She’d chosen to pair the fashion-forward ensemble with a pair of dark denim jeans and a set of low-heeled lambskin leather boots that reached to mid-calf.
She lifted an eyebrow at me as she tucked a loose strand of hair behind one of her pointed elf ears. “Your ex-wife? Didn’t you separate, what…three or four years ago?”
“Something like that.” I wrapped the robe tighter around my body, suddenly feeling exposed.
“And you still haven’t gotten rid of it?” she asked. “Or returned it to her? Or at the very least picked it up off your floor?”
“Don’t give me that,” I said. “I’ve been busy. Swamped with case work. You know how it is.”
Shay snickered, her azure eyes twinkling with mirth. She shook her head in disbelief, which set her chocolate brown hair to bouncing—hair held in a jaw clip at the back of her head and that, if I wasn’t mistaken, had been recently curled. Hence, the bounce.
“Yeah,” chuckled Quinto. “You’ve been
busy working, we couldn’t even find you at the precinct. We figured you must’ve collapsed on the way there under the weight of all that responsibility. Imagine our surprise to find you here.”
I frowned. “Is there a reason the two of you are here at the crack of dawn?”
“It’s seven thirty,” corrected Steele.
“As I said. The crack of dawn. Or at least at certain times of year…in certain portions of the world.”
“You’re a smart guy,” said Quinto, the grin still on his face. “I’ll give you one guess.”
“Someone croaked?” I said.
Quinto elbowed Steele. “Told you he’d figure it out.”
I turned my eyes to Shay. “Implying you
think I’d figure that out?”
“I’m going to invoke my right against self-incrimination,” said Steele with a smile.
I shivered as some of the chill hallway air crept under my robe and in the direction of my tender bits. I jerked my head toward the interior of my apartment. “Well, no need for the two of you to stand out there forever. Might as well come in while I make myself presentable.”
“Or at least attempt to,” said Quinto as he barged past me.
Shay gave me a curious look, but after a hint of hesitation, she too entered. As I closed the front door, I tried to ferret out the motives behind her glance, but in my foggy, wee-hours-of-the-morning-induced state, the best I could think of was that she might be offering me an opportunity to clean up—and in all likelihood, I should’ve. The clutter plaguing my bedroom had emigrated to other parts of my flat, as well, though the infestation wasn’t quite as bad.
At least I knew the smell inside was pleasant. I’d been attuned to that ever since evicting the cats that had populated my apartment before I’d moved in. Their stink took an entire year to displace, and so now I always made sure to have a healthy supply of candles and fragrant oils on hand.
I shooed Quinto and Shay in the direction of the blue-corduroy covered loveseat and lounge chair combination in my living room. “Make yourselves comfortable. I’d offer you two coffee, but I know neither of you are drinkers.”
“You have coffee on hand?” asked Quinto.
“I should,” I said as I returned to my bedroom. “At least I did.”
The walls muffled Quinto’s snort, as well as his response of “Maybe sometime last year…”
“I heard that,” I called.
I checked my closet to see if I’d hung any of my clothes, but after coming face to face with a barren garment rack and the bare wall behind it, I delved into the nearest wrinkled pile in search of a clean shirt and a functional pair of pants.
“Nice place, Daggers,” said Shay, her voice muted. “Needs a few finishing touches, but overall it’s not bad. You’ll, uh…have to give me the tour sometime.”
I froze, up to my elbows in cotton and twill.
I wanted to slap myself.
Shay had never set foot in my apartment before! Given the way our relationship had been progressing, one of us was certain to visit the other’s place sooner or later—I know I’d fantasized about it on more than one occasion—but I couldn’t imagine either of us thought the experience would include me, mumbling, bleary-eyed, and with my two hundred and ten pounds of bulk stuffed into an undersized pink bathrobe. Certainly if Shay had, she was far kinkier than she let on.
I sighed. Shay and I had started to spend much more time together, including a fair amount of time alone. At dinner. On walks. Chatting over coffee—or tea, in Shay’s case. And we’d exorcised the dreaded dating demons. Neither of us was afraid of the ‘d’ word anymore, even if we didn’t use it particularly often. But that didn’t mean our relationship was evolving anywhere near as quickly as I’d hoped it would.
For all the growth between me and Shay, a couple of walls still loomed between us. One of those was physical. We’d shared a few benign hugs, and Shay had even pecked me on the cheek once or twice, but that was the extent of our amorous activities.
Much of the fault in that area was mine. I’d never really made any moves, but how could I when I couldn’t even convince myself she found me attractive? After all, why would she? Nearly ten years her senior, weathered and beaten, with touches of premature grey starting to fleck my umber-colored hair? And in the few moments where I mustered the courage to do anything, it always seemed as if there was someone hanging over our shoulders with a disapproving frown, most notably the Captain—who still didn’t know about the extent of Steele’s psychic powers, much less our budding romance.
The Captain, and everyone else around the office, comprised the bulk of the second wall. I liked Shay, and I was fairly sure she liked me back—even if neither of us had gone so far as to voice such brash thoughts out loud—but should our relationship become too one-sided, or if we were to embark on an affair that quickly turned into a raging dumpster fire, what would happen to our careers? As a divorced father of one, I couldn’t jeopardize my employment for financial reasons, but it went beyond that. Shay and I now ran with the same circle of friends—Quinto, Rodgers, and Cairny, to name a few. What would happen to those friendships should something blossom between Shay and me only for it to wither and die shortly thereafter?
I’d have to ask Quinto how he and our resident coroner Cairny were dealing with the same issues, but for the time being, I tried to switch my caravan of thought to the other member of our crew.
“So where’s our fair-haired co-detective?” I called as I extracted a pair of tan slacks from the pile of clothes before me.
“Rodgers?” came Quinto’s voice from around the corner. “Not sure. He hadn’t arrived at the office when we left.”
“Probably because he’s at home, sleeping, like most other reasonable humanoids are doing,” I said.
“You know he has two little kids, right?” said Quinto. “He may be at home still, but I guarantee you he’s not sleeping.”
I grumbled as I disrobed—literally—and stepped into the pants. “So fill me in on today’s case. What do we know?”
“Not much,” said Steele. “A body was found in the Delta district. Male, mid thirties. Well…not a body, really. The guy was alive but bled out before police arrived on the scene. Witnesses reported yelling and confusion, but we don’t know a whole lot more than that.”
I donned a shirt miraculously free of both stains and unappealing earthy fragrances before joining my partner and Quinto in the living room.
The walking brick wall took up at least two-thirds of the love seat, his duster clashing horribly with the upholstery.
“You ready?” he asked.
“Almost.” I snagged my worn leather jacket from a brass rack in the corner of the room and shrugged into it. I patted the interior coat pocket and felt a hard eighteen-inch piece of steel battle back against my rough touch.
“How’s Daisy?” asked Steele.
“Hale and hearty as always,” I said.
Shay rolled her eyes. She’d repeatedly informed me my make-believe relationship with my nightstick was not, in fact, adorable but rather irritating and, for lack of a better word,
. So far, I’d successfully ignored her. My anthropomorphization of Daisy was one of the few things that made me uniquely
, and no amount of Shay’s influence would ever change that…
I blinked and jerked my thumb toward the door. “Come on. Let’s head out before the stiff gets any stiffer than he already is.”
Before heading out to the crime scene, we stopped at a breakfast cart near my place. There, I purchased a cinnamon chip scone and had the owner fill a thermos I’d snagged from my apartment with piping hot coffee. Black, of course.
As we waited for the chefpreneur to make change for my silver eagle, a chill wind whipped up the street, carrying with it hints of the night’s cleansing rains. It prickled the skin at the nape of my neck, but I resisted the urge to grumble. It was a well known fact the gods held little sympathy for whiners, especially those who forgot their gloves at home. I wondered if I should go back for them, but if Steele could survive the day with half her forearms exposed to the elements, then surely I could get by under my well-loved coat’s caress. Plus, I’d purchased enough coffee to poach a dozen eggs in.