An urban-fantasy novella. It is an untold story between the chapters of its parent book: The Gauntlet of Maltese.
Zero City could be described in a few words: the shameless bottom. On paper, there were ten districts and four million people at the bottom. It was a city, whose density was a trap for the jaded hearts of America seeking purpose, and in the end, her beauty was grim, offered no promises, but would bend to the weary soul only if they realized, that like most women, she wasn’t built to be their savior.
Joseph Black trudged home, carrying heavy grocery bags and a satchel over his shoulder. All day long the detective had been walking, and he felt the hard streets of Zero City through his shoes. He was a heavy man, a brown-skinned goliath, and not one of those ‘used to be a quarterback in high school then put on some weight’ types, no, he was simply a fat guy, and no insole was supportive enough to make that burden easier. By noon, the pain got so bad that he decided to wear double socks to cushion his steps, but now the shoes were too tight, and they squeezed his feet like sausages about to burst their casings.
“Detectives don’t get cars,” he remembered his partner saying. “You gotta ride in your own wheels, civilian wheels—less conspicuous. You know how that goes.” The detective could naturally see the logic behind that, but his wheels had been in the shop for a week. Only beat cops get to parade around in the black and white Crown Vics, or sometimes the new Chargers. You’d think that by moving up the ranks you’d get a better car, but nope, that ain’t how the world works.
On the opposite side of the road were a group of twenty-somethings. None of them looked like Demons or H.Fers, but they chatted and laughed about things that made Joseph feel older. He tried his best to keep his eyes straight and not glance at one of the girls: a blond, thin vixen. Nope, just keep looking ahead, he thought. Don’t let them catch you glancing.
Joseph finally came to his apartment, a squat brown building with bars on the lower windows. After forgetting which pocket his keys were in, he found the right one by holding it to his face. Once inside, there was one last hurdle for him to climb: three flights of stairs.
Finally home, the detective fumbled for the lamp on the other end of the room and turned it on. The apartment was small, with an entrance way, and a large room divided into a kitchen and a living room. Crammed into a corner was a home office with a cork board on the wall, and a door led to a bedroom with a bathroom beyond that. As a teenager, he would fantasize about owning his own place and filling it with cool stuff like an arcade machine, a pool table, and a refrigerator stocked with beer and food, but the reality was he didn’t have any of those things, and the refrigerator in his apartment contained some blue cheese that was more blue than white, a single beer for a rainy day, and a tomato which he never remembered buying.
Joseph dropped the bags on his coffee table and instantly felt the weariness in his shoulders. After quickly checking that no one was in the room, an old detective’s habit, he kicked off his shoes and darted into the bathroom. He had been holding it in since 32nd Street, and refused to pee against the wall of a building and lay his bags on the floor where some punk might run up and snatch them.
He grabbed the rainy day beer from the fridge and dropped to the welcoming couch. Pushing aside the bills, magazines, and a child support notice, Joseph cleared a spot and unwrapped a fast-food sandwich. He then tore a blissful bite.
It seemed like it took forever for the city and the world to finally calm down after the red lightening. People for a while felt like there was something watching them, like all their lives had a part to play in something bigger, even though they didn’t know what it was. Until skepticism reared its head and everyone forgot those feelings. But during that temporary grandeur homicide was down sixty percent, all except for in the Hell district or the far West-Side. Of course, all that really meant to the detective was less work until he could come back home, fall asleep and dream of anything else.