Mirrors, Monsters, and Misfits

NYPD Chinatown: Chapter 4

Umbral Perceptions

The moment I was shouted out of the Captain’s office, I was flagged down from the other side of the room. Two older guys sat at their desks, the one with his hand up leaned back in his chair, the other hand pampering his blonde toupe. The other had his nose to his computer screen.

“Over here, Cub.” said Mr. Toupe.

Cub? Just as well, I guess. I’ve been called worse.

“How’s the Freezer?” he said.

“Freezer?” I said.

He pointed to the ceiling, that’s when I knew what he was talking about. “Ah, yeah. Still cold, not warming up anytime soon.”

“Maybe it’s for the best. We’ve all been there at one point. Anyway, I’ve forgotten your name. Martin?”

“Marlowe.”

“I’m Miller. The one glued to Netflix over there is Natty.” He turned to his partner across from him.

“I’m telling you, Gus, this thing’s gonna take off. It hasn’t been around very long, but this stuff’s gonna make waves.”

“Yeah, wake me up when the ‘tsunami’ hits, will ya?” Miller shook his head as he turned back to me. “Whatever happened to old-fashioned television?”

I shrugged indifferently. “To each his own, right? So, I’m told you guys need help on a robbery?”

“Ah, yes,” said Miller. He grabbed a file and shoved it into my hands. “Local Minimart got hit, and this one’s got us baffled, so we need a fresh pair of eyes. Have fun.” He turned back to another stack of papers on his desk.

“Have fun?” I said, staring at the two-inch thick file in my hands. “Thought I was supposed to help you, so we can investigate this together?”

Miller and Natty both laughed. “Together?” said Miller. “Oh no, Captain’s got us on another case. This is all you, kid.”

“Seriously?” I said. Miller didn’t answer, just looked over a couple photos on his desk. Natty continued to watch the computer screen.

Great.

Lee was finishing up cleaning the office when I got there. Only a few boxes remained to be filed, which were lined in shelves places against all the walls of the office, as well as in the middle of the room. The place looked like a tightly packed library. In the far corner looked to be the last pile of boxed to be sorted. The desks were setup to the right of the entrance, where the wall was only several feet to the door. Past the desks was a door with a window, where I saw a couple of small TV screens.

“Wow, I can actually see some of the room.” I said.

Lee smiled. “Give it just a little more, and I’ll be ready to not see another evidence box for a loooong while. That the latest one?” He pointed to the file in my hands.

“Hopefully not, this one’s still warm.” I opened the file on one of the desks and spread out the papers, where I found what was making the file look as big as it was. A VHS tape.

“They still haven’t solved this one?” said Lee.

The tape was labeled with a date from three days ago and the word “Register” under it. “What do you know about it?” I said.

“What I heard was a few nights ago, someone broke into a convenience store and made off with an ATM machine.”

“They got nothing?” I said. “Not even a license plate?”

“I asked Miller more about it, but he just said ‘you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’”

Looking over the scene photos, it matched up. Door was smashed to bits, and there was a huge torn-out hole where an ATM used to be. Witnesses saw it as a one-man job, but no license plate was given.

I picked up the tape. “Only one way to find out. Happen to have a VCR around here?”

Lee led me to the door I saw earlier with the TV screens on the other side. We popped it onto one of the tape machines and watched the black-and-white security footage.

The angle showed the front counter, with the store’s entrance just out of view, though we could see the ATM against the wall clear as day inside the store. Time stamp showed just after 2am when the incident happened, while the store was closed for a few hours. Glass flew into frame from the entrance, a bent door frame swept just into view, and in walked a figure dressed in tattered clothing. He walked up to the ATM and dug his hands into the wall around the ATM. He pulled on it and after a few seconds, the whole ATM gave way. He turned around for a split second and leaned back, grabbing the machine from behind him and tearing the ATM from the wall as he and the machine left the same way he came in.

Both of us sat there for a moment, long after the screen filled with static.

“Well, that’s one way to do it.” I said.

“Yeah, sure,” said Lee, “why hook an ATM to a car when you could just tear it off the wall with your freaking hands?”

The first obvious human thought was drugs, since you’d have to be a strongman in order to naturally pull an ATM out of the wall. The silhouette wasn’t nearly as muscle-bound to pull that off naturally. On the supernatural side, though, the suspect could be a vampire, though I find it hard to believe one would act this blatant. Ghoul, maybe? A werewolf could do this, too, but I’ve never heard of one able to retain strength of a war form in human form. Not to mention there weren’t any clues pointing to the other forms.

First thing’s first, we visited the crime scene. When we got there, the door had already been repaired, plus or minus a couple dents. The hole where the ATM was, however, remained. The manager was friendly enough, at least to Lee, who questioned him while holding up the clearest picture of the suspect’s face from the recording. I glanced at the security camera as I scoped out the place, replaying the video footage over and over again in my head.

The place took a big dent in structural damage, the debris already swept up long ago. Some shavings remained underneath some of the shelves. I looked underneath them, and saw a thin, square-shaped piece of plastic. I winced when I grabbed it and felt something sharp dig into my hand. I held up the name tag in my hand, the name “Ben” printed above the words “Wu-Wu’s Auto Repair”. The metal pin on the back was clean, but bent as if forcefully pulled off the clothing it was on.

From overhearing the conversation, Lee wasn’t getting any more from him than the detectives got, which the manager kept bringing up. “I think I got something,” I said to Lee. I handed the name tag to Lee, who recognized the logo.

“I know it, it’s not far,” said Lee

As we made our way down the road to the auto repair shop, we heard commotion from a couple of blocks down the way. A woman crying “Help! Thief!” and a man in a hoodie running our way from a patrolman. Once he saw us, he turned around and ran the other way, deftly dodging the officer who slipped on a patch of ice. I let Lee start the chase, while I ducked into a nearby alley and hid behind a dumpster. I took a quick look around the area to make sure there were no prying eyes about and turned into my Primal Beast form.

Time to kick ass.

I charged out of the alleyway with my increased speed, jumping over a few noodle and hot dog stands, making the customers jump back with hot food in their hands. I already flew past Lee within a few seconds. I enjoyed this freedom my curse granted me as I galloped with the cold air flowing over my fur coat, not biting at my face as much as it would have if I were in human form.

The runner in the hoodie was wearing metal cleats, which explained the quick movement. He almost rounded a corner when I leapt onto his back and brought him crashing onto the ground. The snow itself didn’t do much to shield his face from the pavement. How unfortunate. He turned around and froze in fear when he saw me snarling at him with bared teeth just a couple inches from his face.

As soon as Lee and the officer made it to me, I stepped off him and disappeared down the way. I managed to circle back, change back into human form, and catch up with them, acting out of breath and holding my side.

Lee turned to me while the officer was arresting the runner. “Did you stop and have some noodles or something?”

I breathed between a few spoken words. “Slipped. Damn ice.” I looked over to the officer. “You got this?” He nodded and lifted the perp off the ground, the look of fear still across the runner’s face while me muttered “Dog” over and over.

“Well, that was a refreshing.” Lee said. He pointed to the open shop across the street, a hole-in-the-wall looking cafe. “Lunch?”

We spent the afternoon eating and “resting”, as I did take a nasty, um, fall on ice. Mainly, I just wanted to listen in to any chatter across the way. Seemed my recent activity went unnoticed, at least none that linked back to me. Stories back and forth of what they saw almost made me laugh, though I was able to stifle it behind the cafe menu. Hearing the words “Rin Tin Tin” between Mandarin words was pretty amusing. As soon as we were able to go underway, we headed to the auto shop.

It’s good to work with a local, who especially knows all the shortcuts to places. It wasn’t long before he pointed to a big sign with “WU-WU’s REPAIR SHOP” printed above the garage doors. The shop’s owner was one of the Wu brothers, a short portly guy with a comb-over from hell. We showed him the name tag and the photo from the recording.

“Yeah, I think that’s him.” said Wu. New guy, did good job while he was here. Haven’t seen him in days, though."

“Do you have an address we can pull up?” I said. “Maybe from his application?”

“Sure. Hang on.” Wu turned and flashed a gigantic and very tough to miss crack from hell for a split second before he pulled his pants up. I’ll need some bleach after that one. We jotted down the address and left the shop. With all that’s happened, this is going to be one long day of paperwork. I was able to pull an apartment address and the name Benjamin Dixon.

The shoddy apartment Ben lived in stunk of mold and body odor. Either the people here couldn’t afford to pay for water, the pipes burst, or they didn’t care enough to bathe. Lee didn’t seem phased, though.

Ben’s place was on the second floor, up a couple sets of creaky, soft stairs. We stepped to the apartment door and knocked. “Mr. Dixon?” I shouted through the door. I picked up the scent of old food and…spoiled milk?

NYPD, we just want to ask you some questions.” said Lee.

I held my ear to the door, and heard nothing, not a single sign of movement from the other side. I looked at Lee and shook my head. I stepped back and we both drew our weapons. With one kick from Lee, the door flew open. The aroma of spoiled milk hit us like a slap in the face. It didn’t smell as bad as a burning or rotting corpse, but close enough to contend as number three. Dozens of Chinese takeout containers littered the tables and floors, along with a half-dozen empty gallon containers.

“I’ve heard milk doing a body good,” said Lee, “But this is ridiculous. Jeez, smells like a dairy farm gone sour.”

The spoiled smell faded somewhat when I got closer to the bathroom, that more familiar rotting smell seeping through the closed door. I motioned to Lee and we were both at each side of the door.

What we saw next we could not even begin to comprehend. Laying in the bathtub was a body with light skin, dressed in blue coveralls with Wu-Wu’s Auto Repair Shop’s logo on the back. His figure, to say the least, looked.. wavy. The body itself looked like it had collapsed, but it also looked deflated, like someone reached in and removed his bones. One of his legs hung over the edge of the tub like a leg-shaped blanket, its shape curved along the tub’s edge.

I grabbed a handkerchief from inside my jacket pocket and took the body by what I thought was the shoulder, turning the body over. I felt his flesh squelch through the cloth, like grabbing a hunk of jelly encased in a layer of skin. Ugh.

When its face looked up at us, Lee lurched towards the toilet and tossed out today’s lunch…and maybe even breakfast, too, from the sound of things.

I could best describe the face as one of surprise and horror. His eyes looked like two broken eggs with white yolks that seeped out of his skull and into the bathtub. When I finished moving the body, I heard a clinking sound when one of his hands revealed a small broken ampule. I grabbed it and looked at dried green residue lining the glass inside.

“You gonna be OK, Lee?” I said.

Lee wiped his mouth and flushed the toilet. “This is fucking unreal, man. I’m gonna go step outside and call this in, if you don’t mind.”

“A’right. I’ll keep looking around.”

Right next to the bathroom was the bedroom, where on the bed, lo and behold, sat a giant ATM with money strewn all over the bed and floor. I felt almost tempted to collect some ‘extra pay’ from here, but decided against it. Didn’t feel right before, and it still doesn’t.

The rest of the apartment didn’t hold anything else special, as Ben was struggling to make ends meet just like the rest of us.

The rest of the afternoon was with the forensics team and officers setting the perimeter. Following behind forensics was Chinatown’s most revered robbery revelators, Miller and Natty.

“Good job, kid.” said Miller. “Been trying to bust this case for the past two days, and you two tackle it within a single afternoon.”

“All in a days work, gentlemen.” said Lee. “It only took us doing out jobs, doing the real detective work, that kind of stuff.”

Natty looked like he was ready to sock Lee, but Miller grabbed him by the shoulder, stopping him. Miller put on a shit-eating grin. “That’s cute, son, but playtime’s over. We do appreciate the assistance, but you two’s job is done, so…we’ll take it from here.”

“Done?” I asked. “We basically worked his case for you guys.”

“And we’re very grateful and all that.” said Natty. “But if you don’t mind, we’ve got a crime scene to comb over, evidence to, uh, collect, and reports to write. I trust you’ll return the case file when you’re done, right?”

“We’ll make sure to put in that you two helped out in a strictly supportive fashion. Now step away, we’ve got a crime scene to look over.

Bastards. I wanted to punch him right then and there, but I don’t want to add any weight to the thin ice I’m already standing in.

When we left the apartment building, Lee kicked the curb. “Good for nothing sons of bitches! All that work, and they take all the credit.”

“Not all of it.” I said. “Can I see your phone?” I called the station and talked to Narcotics about the vial, dropping Natty and Miller’s name along the way. Lee and I each picked up had a fresh bag of popcorn and stood a ways as two from the Narc team arrived; Detectives Vergisson and Syrah. We happily ate while the two teams argued as to whose case it was, but I knew once drugs are involved, Narc gets jurisdiction.

At least either way, we didn’t have to do much paperwork. We went back to the station to do the report on the thief. We agreed to simply put in the fact that the suspect tripped over the dog (me), pissed it (me) off and we got there just in time for the arrest.

It wasn’t til around midnight I was finally able to investigate a lead on the cold cases I studied. The apartment building Larry Po lived in was decent, still on the cheap side, though a sight better than where Ben lived. I managed to catch the landlady on her way out of place and asked her about the late Po’s apartment.

“Corner apartment,” she said. “Big pain to try renting to people. No like spirits here, like dead man.”

“Spirits have a problem with corners,” I said. “They can’t navigate them so they get stuck, right?”

She nodded. “Very good, gwailo. ’bout time someone knows a little culture.”

“I’ve had some experience with another Chinatown. Living here is not my first one.”

She frowned. “So you not here to rent, eh?”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry, no. I was wondering if I could take a look around it. I’m investigating Mr. Po’s death, and maybe his place would give me more information.”

The landlady shrugged, turning around to get back into her office. “Don’t know how. Cops cleaned it out weeks ago.”

“You never know, ma’am,” I said, “sometimes I find things that might have been overlooked the first time.”

After a moment, she gave me a key and up the building I went. At least this place has an elevator, ’cause I would have a time going up to the 5th floor by stairs. Had enough of those for a while. The apartments were quiet this time of night, not a stir from any of the rooms I passed along the way.

When it comes to my own place, Ben’s place, and this one, this one’s probably had the best upkeep. Ben’s was more spacious, but shoddy and falling apart. Mine was in somewhat better condition, but smaller. This one’s in much better condition, but is much smaller than my own. It looked like a hotel room, but with a closet-size space just big enough to fit the toilet and sink side by side. The rest of a room was big enough to fit a bed, a fridge, a table, maybe a TV, but not much else without climbing over stuff. The far side of the room had a single rectangular window a few feet long and a couple of feet wide, providing such a fantastic view of the bland apartment building next door.

The landlady was right about the room. Couldn’t make out a single hint of dirt on the carpet or markings on the wall. Clean and pristine for presentation. Still, wouldn’t hurt to look around some more.

After concentrating a bit, I peered into the umbra. The place took on a similar wash of colors as last night, though the room appeared more furnished. I saw spaces of filled colors indicating a bed, a table, box-shaped television, and a dresser. Spaces like this made me think that they’ve been here for a long while, years at least.

And, obviously, true to superstition, a few low-level spirits are stuck in the corner where the building’s corner would be, unable to figure out how to go back.

The moment I took myself out of umbral perception, my eyes fell on a metal vent just above the carpet. That wasn’t there in the umbra…

I bent down and looked at the cover, not feeling any air coming out of it. I took out my aluminum Barista Guild Member Card from my wallet and removed the flat-head screws holding the vent in place. I looked inside and saw that this was a false vent. Nothing more than a place to stash stuff without needing to worry about cold or hot air hitting said stash.

I noticed a small glint at the very back of the compartment. I reached in and grabbed at the glint, pulling out the same ampule I saw at Ben’s place. This one, however, was filled with the transparent, dark green liquid.

Jackpot!

I slipped the ampule in my inside jacket pocket and went to leave the apartment. The moment, I opened the door, I was met with a man’s face looking up at me. Pale skin, dark short hair, slender figure in a snug trench coat. He looked at me with irises rimmed with red and a fanged grin.

The punch he threw I didn’t see coming, and it sent me reeling with my hand on my nose.

“Sorry. Didn’t see you there.” He said, stepping up to me.

I tried throwing a punch of my own, only to feel air and the sting of another fist hitting me again, one to the face again, and the other to the gut. I stood there, stunned and seeing a haze of stars.

My heart raced in my chest. My throat growled. The beast wanted out, ached to get out, shed blood of enemy combatants. But I wouldn’t let him. Too many people around, too much suspicion.

The herd must not know.

“You need to go, now.” His slender fingers grabbed me by the jacket and threw me against the window. I bounced off the glass, hearing it crack.

“Allow me to show you out.”

It was like getting hit with a battering ram. The glass shattered as I flew through it, and I fell through the air frantically grabbing at anything.

You’d think the snow helped a fall like this, but below the piles weren’t not big enough to provide a cushion. Maybe it would if it were a blizzard, or somewhere more north, where is snows all year ’round.

Either way, I didn’t hit any snow piles at all.

Instead, I slammed into a closed dumpster bin, bouncing off it and then smacking into every side of concrete that didn’t have much snow. I was on my back once the entire alleyway stopped spinning. My vision grew more hazy as pain shot throughout my body. I couldn’t move my left arm, and the right I could barely move. I tried to look around and saw the broken window above me. A head poked out from the hole and sunk back into the building just as quickly.

My chest and limbs suddenly went numb, and a slight warm streak traveled up to my neck. I looked down and saw bits of curved glass stuck in my shirt, a red and green patch surrounded the fragments of the ampule.

The ampule, it…

The world suddenly felt like it was unhinging itself from reality. That familiar rustic smell crept up my nostrils. The moon was immense now, much bigger than ever possible. Ethereal beings hovered over me, a sea of whispers invading my head.

…Where? They said

…Who? They said

…What? They said.

This view shifted back and before between it and reality as fast as I could blink my eyes. I caught glimpses of two figures, one average build, the other almost herculean. They looked down on me and they’re lips moved, but no sound came over the barrage of whispers.

One of them bent down with an outstretched tree trunk for an arm. I felt my jacket tighten with the grip before I lost consciousness.

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