by Serena W. Sorrell
They say a healthy soul resides in a healthy body. Well, if that’s true then New York must be rotten; a grade-A dung heap of expired and long rancid spirits. Only Paris, or maybe London, might come close to the putrid rot of New York, but nowhere could surpass it. No. When it came to being a city in necrosis–excelling at the challenging task of becoming even more pus-like–New York took the prize. Although the prize was a loathsome one. No doubt something to do with the zealous American need to be number one no matter the cost or the reward. Even if being number one was sitting in a throne on top of a pile of shit.
All of this, Detective Dusan mused as he stared out his sixth floor apartment-turned-office window. Between the blinds acid spit from the sky slithered down the rain gutters and oozed over his window pane. Whatever sick fuck above acting as god was just as disgusted with the city as Dusan. He could hear the distant hollow sound of the obese raindrops accosting dumpsters and fallen trash cans in the back alley behind his building. He saw and heard and thought all this, so it was no surprise that Dusan spared only the minimum of consciousness for the man sitting behind him. The uniformed pig sat in Dusan’s cushioned, leather upholstered chair, extra cushioned in fact,. He’d ordered it special for the clients who paid his ridiculous, extravagant charges for the services he offered. Dusan was nothing, if not a specialist. However, the man behind Dusan was neither patron, nor payer of high fees; especially not to a detective of counterfeit souls. Yep, the old Big Apple had rotted all the way through her wormy core, more than that though, Dusan wanted the cop out of his chair.
“Sorry Mac,” Dusan gave the officer a sardonic grimace of a grin, “I didn’t catch a tick of that. What’d ya say?”
“It’s not ‘Mac’, you fucking grifter. It’s Officer Hudde. An’ I said the NNYPD wants you to get your fucking fingers outta our work.”
“Whoa, hey, Mac. My fingers not been fuckin’ no one in the NNY. Ya lot aren’t my type.”
“You fucking listen here, you bastard! I’ve had enough of your bullshit and jokes! You goddamn know what I mean!”
Of course Dusan knew what he meant. He’d be a lousy detective if he didn’t, but at this particular moment Dusan didn’t feel like making nice with the Neo NYPD, or their redundant, dumb name. Also, he couldn’t help compare Officer Hudde’s face to a swelling, maggoty tomato about to burst. The resemblance was striking. Dusan half expected its wriggly infestation to leak out his bulbous nose and get all over that nice recliner Hudde’s fat ass was parked in. Would bleach be the best method of cleaning? Would it damage the leather? Dusan fretted over the future of his furniture. The officer stood and slammed his sausage fingers on Dusan’s desk. Those things would definitely leave smudges.
“Are you listening Dusan?!”
It was an honest answer in Dusan’s defense, but sometimes people with badges do not prefer the honesty policy. Dusan realized this unfortunate fact after about two seconds when Mister Mac’s stick met Mister Dusan’s face. Dusan wasn’t certain if he was more surprised the fat Mac could move that quick or if his face hurt more.
“Fuck, Mac!” Dusan was sprawled on the floor, clutching his left cheek, “I can’t just close up shop like that. Ya gotta give me at least two weeks to find another job! Be diplomatic, ya fuckin’ barbarian!”
“You get one fucking week! After that you’re dead! Fucking dead, Dusan!”
Hudde stormed out of the room and slammed the door with such force Dusan worried about the hinges. That’d come out of his deposit, lousy NNY bastard. Oh well, a week was more than enough time to find a new office. Hell, a day would be enough to lose the PD incompetents. Dusan pulled a cigarette out of his breast pocket, wincing as he put it between his lips. He lit it as he walked to the small closet-sized bathroom. The lime crusted mirror gave him a ghostly reflection over the rusted sink, with one hell of a purple lump on his jaw. He was lucky he’d kept all his teeth. He sucked down the cigarette while he taped over the wet cut Hudde had left him with.
“That’s gonna leave a scar.” He said to no one but the phantom wisp of drugged smoke and the cancerous city.
He shrugged into his old, long jacket and donned sunglasses despite the lack of sun. Anonymity was a boon these days. He grabbed the NNYPD-issued umbrella that Mac had forgotten and Detective Dusan strolled down six flights of stairs and outside, into poison. It was noon o’clock on a Tuesday morning in late May, but without a calendar or clock no one would have guessed. And few visitors came to New York anymore. If anyone had been visiting and looked at the sky they’d look away fast enough. So far from the tank, noxious clouds were the permanent skyline of the city. What had once been a place of glamour, actors, crime, and corruption was now primarily just the latter two. It still had a quick step to its dance, and if you fumbled a step you’d get trampled, but anyone who lived here knew the right moves to get by in the cesspool of greed and filth. Only the tank had an echo of a twinkle of the previous beauty. The loss of its splendor had left a void in New York. A void which had been quickly filled with gangs, grime, and politicians paying favors to DC’s USSC.
The United States Soul Center gave Dusan and endless supply of clients, if they knew where to find him. The USSC had been established over sixty years ago in the country’s decrepit capitol. Though rumor was it’d been in the works for much longer. Of course, it didn’t matter to Dusan how long it’d been there. It was the source of pain for a lot of people, and the source of his chips. The Detective buried his fists deep in the trench coat’s pockets and dodged down an alley. He was careful to step over puddles of vomit and blood and other less identifiable fluids. It was probably all the best to leave them unidentified too. All around were signs of the city’s decay. Its shell was just as gnarled as its soul now.
Dusan ducked through a cut hole in a chain link fence, landing him back on a main street just in time to get almost gelled with the muck and acid rain flinging off of a speeding bus. The sides of the reinforced steel bus were streaked with rust, the windows gooped in black film. The rain washed them to make the appearance of smeared mascara after crying on a street whore’s sunken cheeks. It seemed appropriate, thought Dusan, for something that got rode so often for so cheap. As the bus sped off it squelched smog, which drifted up over Sci·Key advertisement on its tail end. The enemy, or to Dusan anyway. Every case he closed ended up with a thread half-cut leading back to that damned factory and its damned product.
Dusan pushed away memories as his hands shook in his pockets. The cigarette earlier hadn’t been enough of a hit. He’d survive for now, work to do and all. Another block down, Dusan pushed his shoulder against a tinted glass door. It opened into a room that sucked light away from the already dank sky. Dusan’s eyes needed no time to adjust. Partly thanks to his sunglasses, but more to do with the frequency with which he visited the underbar, known only by some scrawled graffiti on the wall, Limbo.
“Hey, Dusan,” a deep voice welcomed him from behind the bar, “long time no see. Thought you’d died.”
“Every night, Mac,” Dusan straddled a bar stool. “Every day in this city is a day in the casket.”
“Tha’s pretty, Dusan, real poetic-like.” The old man’s bottom lip swayed when he spoke. It seemed to be trying to escape his face by hanging there in hopes of being peeled off by gravity. A deep scar ran though a scraggly yellow-grayed beard and spoke to Dusan as the lip wiggled on, “So whaddya need this time?”
“Ya got me figured out right, Mac. Same as before, got a bit of an infestation problem at my place. I’ll be needin’ a new office. When can ya fix me up?”
“You got anything needs moving to this new place? If no, I can get you settled in sector five tonight.”
“Na, fifth’s no good for business,” Dusan closed his eyes under his sunglasses, thinking, planning. “How ’bout third, huh? On the cusp of four, nothing near the tank.”
“Fuck Dusan,” the bartender laughed dryly. “I know what you pull in. You could live in the fucking tank with chips like that.” Limbo’s owner knew more about the detective than most, mostly concerning his income. Dusan preferred it that way. “Anyways, I can get you a place in third by Friday morning.”
“Wednesday night,” Dusan shot back, “or early Thursday mornin’, bout 3 am or so. Ya’ do that, Mac, and I’ll tack on four grand.” Dusan slid his red plastic chip card to the man. “Whaddya say?”
“Ya crazy son of a bitch. What’re you doing carrying so much chip on you? Flashing round a red… you’re gonna get yourself murdered.”
“Worse shit can happen. Anyway, can you make it happen?”
The old man palmed the red card and scratched his stubbled jaw, “You know I can make anything happen in this city, Dusan. Nothing to move, it’ll be easy.”
“Well, great. Ain’t that dandy.”
Dusan hopped off the stool with a bit of spring and grinned. He stopped just as he took his first step outside.
“Ah! Mac!” Dusan tossed a spare key to the barman, “There’s a recliner. S’all I want.” He breathed to the city, “Fuck the rest.”
To be continued in the novella: Bootleg Souls