Sister Sweetcheeks

Goodunnit: Chapter 10 – And One More Makes Three

As the sun rose over Polymath Tower, pouring its spiteful light down upon my pounding head, I was calculating whether or not my lungs would make the dash to the pawnshop or simply explode with the effort.

One of my neighbours, Miss Tornado who ran the flophouse at twenty, had found me slumped on her steps and woken me with a message “There’s an angry old nun looking for you, says you’re needed over at Ho Pings.” Angry old nun could only mean the fearsome Mother Supirior, a nun so tough I heard she’d once had a face off with the owl-eating demon from Boomtown and won. I wasn’t sure if it was a contest to see who had the scariest face, but old MS would have won that hands down anyway.

As I ran down the cobbled street, I caught my reflection in a window. Christ and all his angels! My clothes were rumpled to the point of disgrace, my hair and whiskers jutted out at all angles and my face, oh god my face! I looked like a half-starved, half-crazed, half-burst scarecrow running round a field shrieking at birds! And judging by the smell, it was manure spreading time. I hoped to God Sister Sweetchecks didn’t see me like this.

Fuzz was stood with Mother Supierior outside the gawdy pawnbrokers and he gasped in shock as I came to a halt heaving and wheezing, “Gods Alive! Beck you look worse than the stiff!”. Old MS shot him a withering glare, he smiled slightly and added a hasty “well, almost.”

I grunted and self-consciously tried to run my fingers through my matted hair. It didn’t help. “You called?” my voice sounded as if my mouth was made from worn-out carpet, which given the taste it may have been.

“Hmmm not sure I did the right thing…”

“Can it Fuzz,” I snapped, “just tell me what you want.”

The sheriff just glared at me for what felt like an age, his face a mixture of anger and pity that made my skin crawl with shame, “I’m… I’m sorry Fuzz…” I started to say before the wolverine in a wimple cut me dead.

“And so you should be! You sir are a mess. A mess! You come here reeking of that vile smoke and sweat and cheap perfume,” I looked at Fuzz, shocked. He stepped back out of her eyeline and flashed me a slight sardonic smile that said “You’re on your own, pal.”

“I… I…” I stammered.

“I have not finished, Dr Beck,” she said, her tone brooking no discussion on the matter. I shut my trap and held on tight, something told me this was going to be a bumpy ride. “How dare you speak to the sheriff like that! How dare you! He called you into this – against my better judgement I may add,” Fuzz nodded, his smile all Chesire Cat, “and you arrive not only late and resembling something dredged up from the harbour, but with an attitude to match your odour – foul! Well it is not good enough sir! It is simply not good enough! And another thing…” She stopped as Fuzz stepped forward again, all faux gravitas, “I think that’s enough Mother Superior, I think Dr Beck has got the message loud and clear, haven’t you Doc.”

I was stunned. It felt like I’d been drop-kicked by my granny and then made to dress up as her poodle, “I… Well, yes. I’m sorry Sister,” “Mother Superior!” she corrected. “Mother Superior, of course, I’m sorry.”

“Yes, well, see you buck your ideas up, young man. See you buck them right up. Now if you excuse me, I think I need some fresh air!” and she stomped off like a monochrome thundercloud looking for someone to smite with lightning.

I looked at Fuzz, too stunned to speak. Fuzz grinned at me, “What can I say, doc? She’s one tough Mother.”

I nodded sagely, like Canute agreeing with someone lecturing on water’s ability to drown people, “Well, I’m sorry Fuzz, how about I go get straightened out and then come back, huh?”

“Nah, you’re here now, aren’t you? Let me show you the new stiff.”

“Another John Doe or old man Ping?” I asked, wondering what the hell was going on in Steelhead. So many murders could only point one way – the tong.

“Yup, Ho Ping, the questionable owner of this questionable establishment,” Fuzz stared at the model flamingoes by the door and sighed. Ho Ping, a tong fence who always managed to stay just on the right side of the law, ran a pawnshop where he ran a nice sideline in bleeding the poor Chinese workers dry. Like the rot eating away at the foundations of the harbour, Ping was a cancer gnawing away at the people of Shamain. Somehow I doubted they’d miss him much. But who killed him? Ping was deep with the Tong after all. Was this some kind of turf war? I’d not heard about a new gang trying to muscle in, though. Maybe some poor sap in hock to him finally snapped and cashed Ho Ping’s cheque in, but this didn’t seem likely as the repercusions for their family both here and back home would be terrible. There was one other explanation, one that made more sense than rival tongs or rogue borrowers. “Let me see the body,” I said already walking into the shop…

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To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The start of this case was discussed at this weekly town hall meeting here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 9 – His Master’s Voice

Ho Pings Pawnbrokers in Steelhead Shanghai_001

Ho Ping wanted to run, he really did, but he was far too scared to even try. It wasn’t just the four tong thugs lounging about his shop blocking the exits like jackals waiting for their turn at the corpse, but He was here too. The goons he could cope with, but Him? Ho Ping’s stomach was doing its level best to get out of his body by any means possible and many of his other organs were considering joining it when a slight cough from Him caused his bladder to open.

For a while no one said a word, the silence of the room broken only by the gentle hiss, until the goons broke into peels of cruel laughter and cat-calls.

“Enough!” The word cracked through the air like thunder. The Voice had spoken and all four thugs instantly fell silent and lowered their gaze.

The Voice was a small figure people often mistook for a child. That was until they saw His face. Some said it was a cruel trick of nature, others a curse laid upon Him as a child. Others still said that when he had begun to age past his fifteenth year, he had cut the head of a younger boy and had his own stitched on and that this practice had continued ever since for a very long time indeed. Whatever the truth, the sight of a sixty year old face atop the body of a young boy made people feel somewhat uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as finding their lungs falling out of hole where their intestines used to be, which was something The Voice could quite easily arrange .

“Please understand,” The Voice said, “that your actions in this affair have left us with no other course of action” It was a voice of reason. Reason wrapped around a fist made of granite and decorated with brass knuckles and razor blades. “Did you think a Pinkerton wouldn’t be missed? Did you think accelerating our plans for Dr Alter’s pet would go unnoticed?”

“But…” Ho Ping blurted out.

“SILENCE!” roared the dimunative figure and the shopkeeper’s voice died in his throat, his lips sealing tight against his will. He was on the road to death, he knew that now, but if he angered The Voice it might take a while to get there and be a very unpleasant journey. “You have disappointed, Ho Ping,” The Voice growled, “but more than that you have endangered us. For that I bring you what the Tong bring all who disappoint them. I bring you a message.” Ho Ping’s eyes grew wide, terror twisting his face as his small captor walked slowly and deliberately towards him like some hideous giant spider moving in on its prey. He wanted to run, get away from what he knew was coming, away from the horror The Voice would bring. He turned and bolted for the door but one of the young tong foot-soilders blocked his way. For a fraction of a second he contemplated the window, but hands grabbed and held him fast. He was spun back around and forced to his knees. The Voice crept close, his lined face inches away, his dry lips pushing up against Ho Ping’s ear.

He paused.

The room held its breath.

The night stopped.

And then, slowly, deliberately, The Voice whispered His message to Ho Ping.

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To be continued…

All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Goodunnit: Chapter 7 – In the arms of a Dragon…

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar “Ahh Doctor, come in come in.” The small Chinese guy at the door was paid not to know me and I shot him a glance to remind him of that fact, “So sorry, Mister Smith.” His wide, thin smile was as genuine as could be expected for a low paid goon in the drugs trade who thought he was worth more than being nice to the smoke-fiends. I’d let the Dragon Lady know, let’s see how he smiled after she’d booted him down to gutting fish in the cannery for a month. His smile twitched cruelly as he opened the door for me and I crossed the threshold between worlds.

I followed the curved path down to where a darkly translucent curtain divided me from my goal ahead. I could feel the tendrils of desire creeping around it, wafting towards me, and all the nuns in Steelhead couldn’t stop me now. I breathed the thick air in deep and pushed through the curtain to a room of cots and smoke and beautiful women.

They pamper you there. They guide you, help you, lose you and leave you.

I was in the smoke. With the Dragon lady. In the curls of her hair. Wrapped in the folds of her dress. I was far gone. I was with them again. Back with my family. Back with my wife.

Goodunnit

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Through the darkness of impossible dreams hands found me. Strong hands. Cold hands, cold like metal. I was lifted up, borne aloft to fly safe from harm. Somewhere, in the night, someone was sawing a double bass in half. What a strange thing to do.

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The knock on the door was almost as unwelcome as the bright morning light assaulting my eyes. I stood, naked to the waist and with the face of a dead dog, and wobbled my way to the door. “Sister Sweetcheeks,” I growled at the shocked nun. Someone had replaced my throat with a bag of gravel and every word hurt like a punch in the tonsils, “to what do I owe this very great pleasure?”

The young nun tried to stop her eyes skiing down my chest and failed, she gulped hard and spun around to look out across the harbour, her face even prettier with some colour in it, “Another murder, doctor!”

Another? Once more she provided the slap I needed to wake up. When I had time, I’d like to think about that some more, but right now I had questions looking for answers, “Who? Where? Was it Dr Alter’s squid again?”

“No,” she replied not turning around but sneaking a sideways glance at me, “In the old tunnels, some poor wretch has been found hung! Sheriff Ortega has arranged for the body to be taken to your temporary morgue in the naval offices. He asks if you can get a report to him right away.”

“Does he now? Well tell him I’ll get on it right away, but I’ll be calling in these favours from the city soon enough.”

“Favours?” Sister Sweetcheeks looked round at me, her eyes alive with curiosity. God but they were beautiful eyes.

“You tell him Sis, the city owes Beck some overtime,” I smiled into her eyes, “and I intend to collect that cheque.”

Goodunnit

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To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The murders are discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.
2) Dr Alter discovers she’s not only in the frame again, but seems to have a publicity department she was previously unaware of here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 2 – Your Early Morning Call, Dr Beck

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar The knock at the door woke me from a dream full of the stench of the sewers and death. I staggered over, opened it and found myself staring into the face of a stern young nun.

“Dr Beck?” her voice was as clean and crisp as the wimple framing her face. A face with eyes as deep as forever and the kind of mouth men go to war over. And this dame was a nun? It was a sin.

“Whazz wrung, sister?” I asked with a mouth drier than the Gobi.

“The sheriff has asked if you could come to Dr Alter’s warehouse. There’s been, well… an incident.”

Dr Alter? I knew the name, who didn’t. Cute-as-a-button kitten with a penchant for inventing death rays and diabolical plans in equal measures. Maybe one of them had gone wrong at last. Or right, I suppose. I rubbed my eyes hard with my palms and re-focused on the broad in the penguin suit, I needed more information, “What kind of incident?”

“Well,” her big, brown eyes darted left and right and she lowered her voice “a murder, doctor!”

I woke up for the second time that morning, “A murder? In Steelhead?” I sounded as dumb as brick and half as useful, but it was early and damn it if the board hadn’t stopped me thinking straight. She was one of the Steelhead Holy SWAT team working with the Sheriff, of course she meant in Steelhead!

“Yes,” she breathed breathlessly, which was a nice trick, I bet she was a peach on the bugle, “there’s a body inside Dr Alter’s squid thing!”

The squid thing, the green tentacle of goo that waved about like a drunk at midnight in the kitty cat’s yard. Maybe someone tried to feed it. Big mistake. Or maybe someone tried to bump the good doctor off. Even bigger mistake. The bumper would become the bumpee before they even knew they’d been bump-jumped. Although I found it hard to believe she’d be sloppy enough to get caught.

“Doctor?” Sister Sweetcheeks’ voice drifted through my thoughts and slapped me across the head. I looked up and into the face of a slightly shocked nun, “You… you were staring, doctor!”

“That’s my thinking face, sister. I don’t use it often but I find it helps when I’ve got a beautiful view.”

“Doctor!” she gasped, putting her hand up to her bee-sting mouth.

“Behind you Sister, the harbour in the morning sun.” The glowing red cheeks did nothing to dampen her appeal as I smiled as innocently. As innocently as any fox sat outside a henhouse.

“Well, er… shall I… shall I tell the sheriff you’ll come?” she was flustered and cute with it.

“Sure doll,” I said with a wink, “tell him I’ll be right over.”

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To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Sheriif Ortega’s intial desk report is here and here
2) Dr Alter notices the body here and here.
3) Elle reports that the issue was raised at the town hall meeting here.
4) The murder is discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.