The Messers investigate a rash of poisoned alcohol that leaves casualties in its wake.
A Jack and Colette Messer Mystery
“What on earth could have driven them to this? No booze is worth this.”
Prohibition Unit of the Treasury Agent Jack Messer stared down at the assorted bodies scattered around the empty speakeasy. He felt his stomach turn as his eyes met them all one by one.
There wasn’t a single body that was left wholly intact.
He winced momentarily as Stuart Seidel’s voice reverberated around the small space. Talking that loud seemed wrong here.
The dead should be respected. Especially ones that died so…wrong.
The four agents had been called to the speakeasy after local cops had discovered it in its condition. They themselves had come after receiving reports of screaming coming from the building.
Even if nothing else was clear, something clearly had happened there.
“You said they found somebody still alive?” Jack couldn’t imagine that, somebody still surviving the carnage that had erupted in the place. He wasn’t sure if they’d ever be able to wash the red out.
Standing next to him, Gene Randall nodded. “Apparently he was found trying to bash his head in with a brick. There was enough alcohol in him that he couldn’t quite figure out how. They moved him to Verner’s until somebody figured out what to do with him.”
Verner’s. The asylum.
“So what’s our running theory? Poisoned booze? Too much embalming fluid?” Jack had seen a lot in the two years he’d been a Prohi. He’d picked through exploded stills, stared into the dead eyes of poisoned gangsters, and smelled the swill that had killed them.
It did not compare to what was in front of him.
“I guess the next step’ll be to interview him.” Houston Adams, the fourth Prohi muttered quietly. “See what he has to say, if he can muster anything coherent anymore.”
He shrugged. “I would, but I’ve got to get home to Claire and Bethany.”
Seidel flinched, and then shook his curly head of hair. “Sorry. Had a grandmother end up in one of those things…I make a habit of not going back.”
Glancing over at him, Gene just inclined his head. “Nope. No excuse for me, just don’t want to. Looks like you’re on your own”
Jack sighed. “Guess I am then.”
He turned to leave before glancing over his shoulder. “Which means the rest of you’ll have to stay and clean up the place. Doyle’s orders."
The door closed, cutting off their responses. As soon as he was out of the building, he promptly threw up in the grass.
Making sure he’d emptied out the entire contents of his stomach, Jack stood, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He stood for a few moments, swaying on his feet and trying to not pass out.
It had been, definitely, one of the worst things he’d ever seen in his life.
Reaching into one pocket, he fingered a bottle cork, a good luck charm his wife Colette had gotten him as a joke. She said if prohibition ever got repealed, it would be a promise of the first drink they’d share, a traded in favor.
A promise that he’d make it through this. That they would.
Despite the few years he’d been an agent, Jack still found his job in the Prohibition Bureau surprising. He’d never been an alcoholic, but back before the war had enjoyed his fair share of booze.
He could almost see young Jackson become a bootlegger just for the sheer excitement of it. How times had changed.
It was an unorthodox job, holding up prohibition, to be sure. Hadn’t made him many friends.
Still it helped people, and if keeping anyone who broke that law off the street kept the ones who were dangerously zealous about the sale of alcohol in check, it’d be worth it.
There were those who were drawn to it not because they thought the law was unjust, but because there was law to be broken. They did not smuggle booze for the betterment of people, but to harm them.
People like the ones who had destroyed the speakeasy and ripped the men apart.
Those were the ones he went after, that was why he did what he did.
Glancing back at Seidel through the door Jack frowned at the curly haired man. The man was out of the office more than he was in. He was certain that he’d caught Seidel working through a hangover on several occasions when the two had arrived at work in the morning.
It was an open secret that many of the men who sought to uphold the law were secretly breaking it. Some of the best business the bootleggers saw were from Prohis like him. Prohis unlike him.
It made Jack sick to think about it. Not that Prohibition agents drank, he wouldn’t deny them that, but that they’d outsource the men they were supposed to be hunting down. The predators buying food from their prey.
Several of the bootleggers had even refused to take them seriously, with what they claimed was the ‘hypocrisy of the ages’. They presumed to take the high ground, the moral standing.
The fact that they had any leg to stand on roiled Jack’s blood. It had gone on too long, Prohibition Agents using their position to leverage alcohol instead of confiscating it.
He couldn’t change the ones who did, so Jack would have to settle for putting as much of a dent in the moonshining business as he could by himself.
It wasn’t like he didn’t have his own problems with the movement. It felt sometimes like a Sunday didn’t pass when his pastor was not railing against the evils of Prohibition and of using the scriptures to promote it.
Jack knew most, if not all of, those sermons were directed and delivered towards him, the black sheep in the congregation. The Prohibition Agent.
The one keeping them from their alcohol, who was blockading the Holy Eucharist.
His wife laughed it off, saying it was just the pastor and the deacons taking things a little too seriously. Jack couldn’t though. He couldn’t help wondering if maybe the pastor was right.
Maybe he was only doing the law of man, but ignoring the Law of the Almighty. A younger Jackson, the same one who would have ben a bootlegger at the drop of a hat wouldn’t care, but the older, wearier Jack couldn’t muster the same.
He’d had too much of a misspent youth to easily risk the rest of his life doing similar wrongs. Except those wrongs might help prevent further wrongs, and keeping alcohol off the streets and cracking down on those who ran it, might keep more dangerous people at bay.
It wasn’t like he could stop. He didn’t know how.
After a moment, Jack finally felt like he’d composed himself enough to not have to worry about throwing up again. Replacing his hat on his head, he turned his face towards home.
There was someone he’d need with him before he dealt with anything in that asylum.
“You’re sure about this Jack?”
Jack glanced over at his wife where she sat in the passenger’s seat of his Roadster, her eyes studying his face. There was worry in them.
He nodded quickly, not wanting her to see how he was having to gulp past the lump in his throat. Verner’s Insane Asylum was somewhere he’d been before, but somewhere he never felt comfortable going back to.
Too much of his life was there already.
Slowly, he slipped out of the car, staring up at the looming former mansion with a pit forming in the base of his stomach. It was like there was a black hole in the building, sucking in all light and joy.
As he stood there, he felt a warm hand slip into his own, squeezing it reassuringly. His wife’s arm brushed up against his own as he heard her murmur next to him. “Whenever you’re ready.”
He squeezed her hand in return, grateful for her being there. It was going to be hard. Really, really hard.
The hardest thing he’d done in a long time.
Nodding his head, he lowered his head and rubbed his cheek against her shoulder. “Thanks Doll. This would have been harder without you.”
He felt her lay her cheek on the top of his head in turn, murmuring as one thumb stroked the back of his hand. “It’s fine Jack. I’ll always be here for you. Besides, you’ve talked about her before, I’d like to meet her.”
Even after knowing her for as long as he had , the woman never cased to amaze him. She was wonderful, far more than he could have ever asked for.
She was his rock, and he needed her so much at that moment,
Together they began walking, crossing the parking lot towards the front door of the building. To Jack’s understanding, it had been the manor home of the Verner family from either the late 1700s or early 1800s onward.
It stayed in their family up until the turn of the century, when it got sold to the city and eventually turned into an asylum. It had seen a lot of use in the twenty years since it opened.
Jack had seen men and women over the years sent there when they weren’t stable or suitable for prison. There was only one he’d ever had to watch be committed that he truly regretted.
He knew that, even though they were there for other things, he wouldn’t be able to leave without seeing her. There was no way he could bring himself to do so.
The door was a huge oaken thing and felt immensely heavy in his hand. Pulling it open slowly, he hesitated on the threshold, his entire self hesitating to go in.
It had been years. He’d kept up with her for a few years, and then the War happened, and then Nora left him and life got in the way. Jack had failed her, should have kept a better eye on her.
He was the reason she was here after all. If he had just learned sooner, had grown up sooner. If he’d only done that, so many people could have been spared.
The knowledge of what he’d done, of what his ignorance and his mistakes had cost her tore through him like a knife. It paralyzed him, stuck his feet to the floor
Then he felt her hand in his, felt her squeeze it reassuringly. It brought him back down to earth, reminded him of why he was there, who he’d become in the intervening years.
Squaring his shoulders, he stepped through, Colette right beside him. They passed through the small foyer, before coming to the nurse’s desk.
Behind it, the middle aged nurse he’d seen there countless times before smiled at him. “Mr. Messer. It’s been a long time. You’re here to see her?”
Shaking his head, Jack tried to keep the sadness out of his eyes. “Not this time. I’m here on official business, Prohibition Unit business.”
“Oh.” The nurse sat back surprised, before glancing at Colette. “Is she another…Prohibition officer?”
“I’m his wife.” Colette supplied helpfully, extending a hand.
Shaking it, the nurse beamed, glancing at Jack . “Well then congratulations.”
“You said you were here for something?” Her expression turned shrewd. “We’re not running illegal booze, I can promise you that.”
Jack shook his head, holding up his hands. “I’m not here to try to bust you for anything like that. I need to see one of your patients, one who would have been brought in today.”
“Well…if you’re sure.” Frowning, the woman checked her records. “We had one brought in today, violent. It took six orderlies to get the man to a room and get him restrained.”
Jack nodded as Colette leaned over his shoulder, studying the name. “Was he lashing out and trying to attack them?”
“No.” The nurse’s face was grave. “He was trying to kill himself.”
She pointed down the hallway and scribbled something on a torn piece of paper, handing that to Jack along with a key. “Room 12. Be careful, he’s restrained but there’s every chance he could get loose.”
Of course he’d be that close.
Scooping up the key, Jack began to slowly move down the hallway, Colette at his elbow. He hated the feel of this place, always had. It was oppressive, it was dark.
It wasn’t a place people went to get better, but a place for people who never would. People like her, like Meta.
The numbers ticked by in his head until he reached the twelfth door. Glancing over at Colette, he caught her eye. “You ready?”
She glanced over at him and nodded once, adjusting the cloche hat on her head. “Whenever you are.”
Slowly, Jack pushed the door open, instinctively putting himself between Colette and whatever was inside. He could feel himself holding his breath, even as he heard his wife do the same.
At the far side of the room, the man sat in a chair. Though he thrashed and struggled against it, restraints on his arms and feet and torso held him to it.
A hood was secured over his head, muffling his shouting. It didn’t completely drown him out though.
“In my brain! They’re like maggots! A thousand! A thousand young! All inside me! Screaming! Crying! They want out! They want out! They want to use me to see!”
Jack felt a shudder run up his spine as he turned and glanced at Colette. Her eyes widened, staring at the ranting, thrashing man.
Suddenly Jack began to feel out of his element. Whatever had poisoned the men, whatever had driven them to madness…it was like nothing he’d ever seen.
Whoever had done it…they were monsters.
“Let me out! Let me out so that I can silence this screaming! It’s in my head! It’s in my head! It’s in me!”
He thrashed, putting more and more pressure on the restraints. “We needed something to cut the booze! He came to us, said he had the perfect thing, so we let him! They crawled out of the booze and into my mind!”
Lunging forward as far as the restraints would support him, the man threw himself violently backwards, cracking his skull on the back of the chair. He slumped, insensate, only barely twitching.
Glancing at his wife, Jack caught her eye as she returned the look. Together they began slowly making their way towards the chair. As they drew closer, Jack faintly began to hear muttering coming from inside the hood.
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
Jack shook his head, seeing the man slumped over and twitching, still muttering under his breath. “He’s gone Doll…I don’t think we’ll be getting any information out of him.”
He frowned. “That was my best lead, and he gave us nothing.”
Silence hung in the air, broken only by the man’s muttering. The room suddenly seemed so much smaller and so much colder than it had been.
Grumbling, Jack turned to leave when Colette grabbed his arm. “I just thought…it might not have been a complete loss.”
Her eyes were bright as she stared at him. “Bootleggers usually cut their alcohol with something don’t they? To make it last longer?”
Jack nodded, his mind already beginning to latch onto what she was saying, following it through to the same conclusion. “They do. I’ve seen some foul stuff used before. Embalming fluid comes to mind.”
Nodding, the woman continued. “I think…if I understood him correctly. Maybe whatever they used to cut it is what caused…”
She gestured towards the man.
“We need to go check his coat.” Jack turned to leave before turning back to Colette and kissing her cheek. “Good thinking Doll.”
She beamed, blushing at him. “Well…you know, I try.”
Retracing their steps back to the front desk. Jack addressed the nurse. “We need to see whatever things he was brought in with. Coat, hat, suitcase. I need them.”
“What for?” The nurse asked, frowning. “Those technically belong to us now. We took possession of them when he was committed here.”
“There might be something in them. Some sort of clue.” Jack shrugged. “He might have something in his coat.”
Harrumphing softly, the nurse shrugged. “If you think it’ll help.”
The woman reached into her desk and pulled out another key, “We keep the patients’ things in that little closet over there. His should be in the closest box, at the top.”
Jack nodded and took the key, stepping towards the closet. Behind him, he could see Colette approaching the counter.
“I was wondering…” The woman’s voice floated out to him, directed at the nurse. “Do you have any records of a…Margot Burke staying here?”
There was worry in her voice, hope and concern. Jack understood why. Though it had been eight years since she’d seen her, Colette had never stopped hunting for her sister, Margot.
The younger girl had lit out after an argument with her father, leaving the wealthy Burke manor behind. After two weeks and no sign of her, Colette had followed her younger sister, promising their father she’d find her. She never had
Jack had promised he’d help her find the younger girl, constantly accompanying her on trips to local motels and homeless villages. He’d combed through police records looking for anything.
So far there hadn’t been much luck.
He hesitated, torn between checking the man’s coat and being with his wife. Indecisive, he saw her glance towards him out of the corner of her eye. The woman very subtly shook her head, a motion only Jack would have caught, and motioned him towards the closet.
Nodding, and being relieved to have been given permission, Jack strode over to the door, unlocking it and pulling it open. A sea of boxes met his eye.
In the half darkness, he found the nearest box and opened it, seeing a black pinstripe suit jacket at the top. Jack picked it up and began rifling through the pockets.
There didn’t seem to be anything in them except a few scraps of paper, a few scraps of paper and a playing card.
The Ten of Hearts.
Holding it in one hand, he slapped it against his fingers, thinking. A year prior they’d arrested a bootlegger who’d had a Nine of Diamonds amongst his possession.
He’d been possessive of all the things they’d taken from him, but had almost attacked one of the Prohibition Agents when they’d taken it away from him. The man had tried to make it sound like it was his lucky card, but Jack had had his doubts at the time.
They were redoubled here.
Pocketing the card, he put the coat back in the box, exiting the room and closing the door. He crossed the room back to his wife, thanked the nurse, and then left, Colette’s arm in his.
“Any luck?” He asked her quietly.
His heart sank as she responded by mutely shaking her head. Shushing her, he guided her head down onto his shoulder.
Petting her hair, he went to push the door open when she stopped, drying her eyes. “Wait! I never got the chance to meet her.”
Jack hesitated. Those were his problems, old problems. She didn’t need to worry about those. She had her own.
The woman had already disentangled herself however, making her way back to the nurse’s station. “Excuse me. Where’s Meta Callahan’s room?”
“Room 14 ma’am.”
Nodding, Colette glanced back towards her husband, eyes shining with subdued curiosity.. “Jack…do you mind?”
She clasped her hands in front of her, nervously circling her thumbs. “I mean…if you don’t want…I’ll understand. I just…I want to know more about you, about who you were.”
“Your burdens are my burdens to help bear. Remember? That’s what I promised at that altar. This is your burden, and I want to help.”
Her eyes were big, pleading and serious. “Let me help.”
Jack shook his head, suddenly finding it difficult to speak. Striding forward, he took her hands in his, pulling her towards him. He pulled her until they were standing practically on top of one another, his head resting on her shoulder.
She petted his hair and hummed softly as he nodded against her. “All right then Doll. Help me bear it. But I owe you.”
“If you say so Jackanapes.” Colette chuckled softly. “I won’t hold you to it.”
“I’ll hold myself then.” Jack responded, taking her hand. “Come on. I’m sure we don’t need to keep her waiting.”
Together they made their way to room 14. Approaching the closed door, Jack put a hand on it, suddenly freezing.
He found that, despite his best efforts, he couldn’t push the door open. He couldn’t bring himself to.
The weight of the door, the weight of years, held him back, kept him from opening it. Jack found the nature of what was on the other side of the door too difficult to bear.
Colette’s hand came to rest on top of his, and together they pushed the door open. The room inside was sparse, only a bed and a bookshelf. The woman didn’t have need for much else.
The only other object in the room was a wheelchair facing the window. A figure sat in the chair, staring out into the world.
She didn’t so much as stir when the door squeaked open.
“Hey Meta.” He spoke quietly. “Long time no see. Sorry it took so long for me to get back here.”
The woman in the chair didn’t respond. She hadn’t responded to anything in almost ten years.
Jack could still remember finding her in that alley, insensate and muttering. He remembered carrying her to the doctor and hearing them say that she’d probably never recover.
They were right there. She never had.
Stepping tentatively past him, Colette tiptoed into the room. She stole up to the wheelchair, hands almost on the handles before glancing back at Jack.
The man nodded and she wheeled Meta around, until she faced the inside of the room. “Hi Meta. You don’t know me, but I’ve heard of you.”
She glanced up, smiling at Jack. “I’m Jack’s wife.”
Reaching out, she took her hand. “He’s told me a lot about you. About the adventures you went on and the ones you had planned. You seemed to really care for him.”
The woman lowered her voice. “Thank you for keeping him in line until I could meet him. Don’t worry, I’ll take over from here.”
She reached up, fixing some of Meta’s hair that had fallen out of place. “You know…we could have been sisters. We look enough alike.”
Indeed they had the same reddish-brown hair, a trait that had not escaped Jack’s notice. He’d never brought it up, for fear Colette would think she was nothing but a replacement.
Apparently he needn’t have worried.
“So.” Colette continued softly, her eyes sweeping the bookshelves before settling on Jack. “What does she like reading?”
It took him a moment to find his voice and respond. “Adventures, mysteries. That sort of thing.”
Standing up, the woman perused the shelves before picking one up. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. One of my favorites when I was growing up.”
She sat back down by Meta and flipped the book open, beginning to read from it.
“A Scandal in Bohemia-loved this one, for obvious reasons-‘To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name…’”
The card slipped easily between Jack’s fingers as he studied it, frowning at the suit and number on its face. All he had to do was figure out what the card meant.
It was proving easier said than done.
The playing card as a badge was a handy trick, but it didn’t exactly lead to an easy pinpoint. He’d gathered that maybe whatever group the man had belonged to had possibly only 52 members.
That still didn’t tell him where the group was hiding out, or what their motives were.
Glancing up, he saw Colette framed in the doorway, her normally marcelled hair brushed out long, with only the slightest hint of a curl remaining.
“A little.” The man admitted. “These guys aren’t playing around. There’s not even a manufacturer on these cards.”
He shrugged. “I’m running out of ideas on how to even find them.”
The man settled back, rubbing his eyes with his fingers and then running them through his hair. “So how’re the kids today?”
Sauntering over, Colette took the card, fanning herself with it. “About the same. Connie’s still having trouble making friends outside of the few he already has, and Evie’s still deadset on what she wants do after high school .”
Her expression turned coy. “She’s definitely going to follow in one of our footsteps.”
“Oh?” Jack asked. “She finally gave in and wants to be a secretary?”
“Cop.” A smirk covered her features. “She still insists she wants to be one of New Ophelia’s first police detectives. I think our little girl is going to be very different.”
Jack glanced up, meeting his wife’s smile. “She definitely will.”
He glanced at the card. “Who knows, maybe she can solve this thing. Maybe she can figure out where these playing cards are coming from.”
“Not after she’s gone to sleep she can’t.” Colette quipped, chuckling softly. “Now scoot over. Let me see if I can’t help you figure this out.”
She perched on the edge of the couch and together the two of them studied the card, turning it over, time after time.
“It’s too bad you don’t have somebody who might have an in with the gangs. Somebody who might know anything about this playing card.”
Jack began to voice his assent when a thought briefly crossed his mind before he snatched it and held it there. Sitting up, he turned and kissed his wife, grinning. “I knew there was a reason I kept you around.”
She blinked, surprised. “Am I allowed to know what it is?”
“Only if you’re willing to drive me into the depths of New Ophelia’s underbelly at night.” The quip was fast and easy, years around each other making the response come easily to Jack’s lips.
The woman nodded, beaming. “Let me write a note so the kids know where we’ve gone , and only if I get to wear my flat cap.”
She’d been a reporter long before Jack had met her, and prided herself on still knowing where the hat was.
“Of course Doll” Jack murmured. “Of course.”
Grinning he stood up, letting her walk past him to the phone as he moved back to the bedroom to get dressed.
Night had fallen in New Ophelia’s Easttown as Mickey Fontaine crept quietly down the alleyway. He’d survived another day, just as he’d survived the ones before it, by keeping his head down.
The time had come to survive another night.
He wasn’t one of the big shots in the criminal underworld, wasn’t even a runner. The man was a leech, a self-described parasite that clung to the edges of the bigger gangsters and bit off what he could chew.
There was one thing he peddled in, and one thing only. Information, gossip. He knew everything about everybody.
It was what he prided himself on, it was what kept him alive.
It was also why he scrambled through the back alleys as he did. With the width and breadth of knowledge he kept inside of him at all times, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to find himself kidnapped by one of the local gangsters for what he knew.
So he skulked in the darkness to avoid them, just another one of the rats.
As he moved deeper down the alleyway, lights suddenly blazed in front of him, twin headlamps shining out from the darkness. The sudden light froze Mickey in his tracks as his eyes hurriedly snapped to a shadow moving in the corner of the lighted alley.
“Mickey Fontaine. Long time no see.”
At the familiar sound of the man’s voice, Mickey turned and fled back down the alley. There was the sound of a commotion behind him and he heard the car begin driving down the alley.
Pushing himself to the peak of his speed, Mickey attempted to outrun them, attempted to make his way out and to the street where he could possibly lose them.
His hopes were dashed as a hand closed around the collar of his coat and hauled him up and inwards. The man landed in the inside of a car and felt the barrel of a gun pressed into his side before he had a chance to move.
“Hi there Mickey. Why’d you try to run?”
Mickey gulped. “L-long time no see Detective Messer.”
“It’s agent now actually.” The shorter man supplied helpfully. “Agent of the Treasury Department. Prohibition Unit.”
“Con…Congratulations.” The breath chattered from between Mickey’s teeth.
Jack grinned thinly. “Thanks so much. I need information, and if memory serves, you Mickey are the best one to get it from.”
The gangster had to fight the urge to automatically puff out his chest at the man’s assertion. He took great pride in knowing everything.
Now however didn’t seem to be the time.
“What do you know about this?” Agent Messer had something up in his hand and held it up so Mickey could see it.
He squinted, unable to make it out in the darkness. Then he did, and his heart sank to his shoes.
Shaking his head violently Mickey tried to reason with the Prohi. “You don’t want any part of that Messer.”
“So you do know where this comes from?” Messer waved the card in his face. “You wanna tell me where that is?”
“You don’t want any part. Take my word for it Messer, you’ll regret getting involved with them.” Mickey shook, his head and the rest of him. “They’ll make you pay. They’ll make all of you pay.”
Agent Messer shook his head. “I’ll worry about that. You just tell me who they are and where they are.”
His voice hardened. “Or we can start walking back through every reason why you should and could be arrested on the spot.”
Self preservation overcame altruism as Mickey finally nodded. “All right. It’s a speakeasy located inside the abandoned Cathedral of St. Thomas. They’ve got a whole operation in there. It’s big Messer, it’s really big.”
The car slowed to a halt and Mickey caught a glimpse of a broad-shouldered figure in a flatcap sitting behind the wheel. A moment later the door opened and he found himself being eased out.
“Goodbye Mickey, hopefully you won’t see me again.” The door closed behind Mickey and the car sped off into the night, leaving the man behind.
“This is a raid!”
The door to the sanctuary of St. Thomas was kicked in as Prohibition Agents stormed the room, rifles and tommy-guns at the ready. It was like they’d kicked a hornet’s nest.
Screaming, patrons jumped from their tables, diving for cover or running for the door. Most were intercepted by the agents, who had been waiting on them to do so.
Amongst the prohibition agents, Jack allowed his eyes to sweep the room. It was like Mickey had said, the operation was huge.
There were at least twenty tables set up, with a wait staff of almost twice that many. Doors led to the rest of the church and, Jack was sure, the stills where they made the moonshine.
He studied the faces of the men that were being lined up, wondering which of them was the leader, which one of them was distributing the poisoned booze.
Stepping forward, he eyed them. “Your hooch is bad. Somebody purposefully tainted it. It’s driving people to madness, to murder.”
The men and women shifted from foot to foot, glancing at each other nervously as he continued. “We’d be willing to consider a reduced sentence if somebody talks, gives up who’s really behind all of this.”
A long moment of silence stretched before one of the men pointed towards the back. “He’s…He’s in there.”
Jack strode past the line up, pushing the door open, revolver in one hand. Behind it were rows upon rows of bathtubs, all of them used for the same purpose.
The smell in the room was ghastly, and Jack found himself having to hold back his bile. On the far side of the room, amidst the shadows, he caught a glimpse of someone moving.
“Freeze!” Jack bellowed, hoping to startle the man.
The figure straightened up, evidently startled as intended. He turned however, and opened a hitherto unseen door, bolting from the room.
Jack followed in hot pursuit, careful to not knock over any of the scalding hot bathtubs. He broke through the door and into a hallway.
Following the shadowy figure down a series of hallways. Jack soon found himself lost in the depths of the church. He chased him up one flight of stairs, and then another, and then another.
In moments he’d cornered the man in the bell tower, bursting through the door and pausing to catch his breath. “There’s nowhere else to run. You’re under arrest.”
Slowly the man turned around, raising his hands. He was clothed in a three piece black suit, and held a full bottle by his blonde-haired head.
“My name is Alexander Rourke.” He stated slowly. “I’m a member of the Thousand Young.”
“Odd name for a rumrunning organization.” Jack shot back.
Rourke shook his head. “Oh we’re far more than that, agent. We will spread across the world like a plague, and we will make it ready for Her.”
“And you.” He stared across the space, directly into Jack and almost through him. “You cannot stop us.”
In one fluid motion the cork of the bottle came off and he downed it, grimacing.
Taking a step forward, Jack began to unhook handcuffs. “All right. You’ve had your last drink. Now let’s…”
His next few words were lost as Rourke loosed a bellowing scream and launched himself at the shorter detective. Jack was wholly unprepared as he was lifted off his feet and slammed against a post.
The breath was knocked from his chest as he made contact, staring into the dead, crazed eyes of Alexander Rourke.
He felt the man’s grip tighten on his windpipe, the air suddenly cut off from his lungs. Instincts lit within him as he knew he’d have to act.
Lashing out, Jack caught Rourke across the face with his fist, dealing him a vicious right hook. It didn’t even displace the man’s chin.
Cold, mad eyes continued to regard Jack as Rourke lifted him higher. “You will be broken before her, be made food for her young. Her young will crawl over this minuscule plane and remake it anew.”
Swinging Jack over the ledge, he began chanting crazily, his voice rising and falling at random.
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Gof'nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath”
“Hey! Get your hands off my husband!”
A shape blurred into the distracted Rourke, knocking him off balance and forcing him to release his grip on Jack. Falling, the shorter man caught a crack in the floor and began pulling himself upwards, breathing heavily.
Colette stood above him in the rising moonlight. Her hand that hadn’t punched Rourke was pressed up against the man’s throat, leaving him precariously positioned on the lip.
The man’s still crazed eyes slid over to Jack and he made a move to still pursue him. With no other choice, Colette shoved him with her forearm, throwing him off balance and knocking him off the roof.
The man plummeted to the ground with a laughing shriek, the sound growing dimmer and dimmer as he fell. Her own balance thrown off, Colette teetered on the edge, pinwheeling her arms to keep herself on the ledge.
Leaping to his feet, Jack lunged forward and caught her arm, pulling her to him and to safety. The two clung to each other for a moment, before glancing over the edge.
There was no sign of the body.
Jack chuckled, relieved, as he kept one hand on his wife’s arm. “You enjoy making dramatic entrances. How long were you undercover in there?”
“Since about an hour before you kicked in the door.” Colette responded, breath heaving from her lungs. “Took me ages to convince them of who I was. Agent Seidel can get a little…rough when he’s corralling people.”
At that moment, the door swung open and the aforementioned Seidel stuck his head out onto the bell tower. “Rounded everybody up. You manage to catch the guy?”
Shaking his head, Jack motioned towards the roof’s edge. “There was a scuffle, he fell. He’s dead.”
“I hope.” The man added under his breath.
Finding the answer he wanted, Seidel retreated back down the stairs, leaving Jack and Colette to follow him.
“Jack?” Colette asked as the two made their way back into the building, arms around each other. “Why don’t you ever get the easy cases? The normal ones?”
Her husband shrugged. “I don’t know Doll. At least every day’s an adventure.”
“You think we’ve seen the last of him?” Colette pushed a strand of hair back out of her face.
“I don’t know Doll.”
The case hadn’t been finished, there were still members of the ‘Thousand Young’ out there, potentially still with the tainted booze within easy reach. Despite it all, Jack felt some relief.
These weren’t men just wanting to drink, or pastors wanting their communion back. These were men who wanted nothing more than to hurt people.
Those kinds of people.
Jack knew what to do with them.