The Luster of Leather: Chapter 1

A perfectly good historical building standing for about century now, and just like that, some jackass tired to burn it down. It’s usually a harsh accusation, arson, that is. Without much definitive proof, a case is thrown away faster than it began. The public gets on our asses whenever a misdemeanor goes through in a burn case or criticize us for nabbing the wrong guy. Damned if we do and if we don’t. The same goes for everything else. The public expects the police to be perfect, but we’re human, just like them. I learned a long time ago that nothing is perfect. My job forces me to be as accurate as possible, but never perfect. At first, it was an annoying balance, but I learned and adapted and overcame. Being a detective is like shooting a gun. You have to be absolutely sure about pulling the trigger. If you miss, you’re screwed. Some people think that now we have fancy tools that analyzes every little dust molecule that the job is easy. The job however is still the job, except if we mess up now, there’s not much of an excuse. It narrows the profession down to the lucky, experienced, or the truly great detectives. The job remains relatively unchanged, the hours still suck and people still hate you for no reason.

The pay is dismal and the sleepy edge gnaws at you constantly. The usual cases are somewhat easy, plenty of evidence and plenty of ways to evaluate it. Burn cases however, usually involve a deeper degree of searching and about half the time to investigate. The larger the crime scene; the larger a pain in the ass the case is. In the dead of night, along the ice paved roads of northern Michigan, I drove towards the latest scene of an arson. Over the radio in the dashboard, the commotion was overbearing. The stale air smelled of coffee and moldy baked goods. My senses were muted, and I could barely keep my grogginess in check and my car on the road. The lasting taste of instant coffee kept me going towards the scene.

I caught a red light at an intersection, but instead of stopping I popped on the flashing red and blues and sped up. The distant moonlight began to dim further as I approached. The outline of the streets began to fade into the black smoke, distorting them into inky blackness. The residual smoke hung low like fog of the apocalypse. Even though I didn’t have the air on, I could smell the disgusting smoke. I caught whiffs of things that aren’t supposed to catch fire, and my stomach turned over. I slowed up on the accelerator but still kept my lights flashing, the property was nearing. Soon I saw the familiar blue and red fill the smog of the Michigan streets, and later the scene of the crime.

I arrived in a beat up cruiser, the lights above still whirling their dance. The engine sputtered along as the tires crunched the ice covered street. I arrived to an open spot, and parked. From within the cabin, I evaluated the scene of the crime. Suits from all over the city were covering the area in yellow tape. There were two yellow borders that were in my way. The press and civilians stood outside the borders snapping pictures and recording video. Their tiny lights on the small devices could barely be seen through the smoke. Towards the center was the real action. Bright floodlights were and pointing at the massive, smoking husk of the building. The windows began to fog up, and my sightline was blurred. I jerked opened the door. The sudden shock of the cold snap sharpened my senses. I breathed in the cold, letting it wake me from the night’s tired curse. The chill reminded me it was time to go to work.

I exited the cabin, shut the door, and wandered into a cold street full of flashing blue-red lights. Police officers all stood around,looking towards a hollow and ashen building. I approached the first border of tape where two cops stood like old bastions to a ruined kingdom.

“Halt,” the cop on the left commanded. “No civilians allowed behind this line.”

I let out an audible sigh, recruits always like to assert their authority.

“I’m Lieutenant Jamie Watts, MCPD. Let me through please.” I said, after a hearty yawn. The other suit spoke up.

“No one passes without I.D.” I reached into my coat pocket and showed them I was the real deal. After looking at my credentials, the first cop stood aside, a nervous look came across first cop’s eyes. He wisened up near instantly.

“You may pass.” said the first cop apologetically. I gave him a smirk and continued on.

Forty feet ahead, the building faintly resembled the old century hightower called the “Anderson house.” The bitter winter bite was blotted out by residual heat from the diminished flames. The surrounding snow was nothing but slosh and warm puddles. The temperate heat got more intense as I made my way through the crowd of blue. The burnt lobby was just ahead.

The Anderson house, as the building was called, was a marvel in its time. The building rose twelve floors. It was pristine and tidy, but none of that was reflected by its present condition. For one, the external windows, once so lovely and warm, now shattered and warped. Just as dead as the cold winter night.

The other officers wore heavy fire retardant clothing just in case the blaze kicked up again. The quicker we got to the evidence, the better chance we would have to nail the S.O.B who did this.

I slowly worked my way through the the crowd. Both suits and detectives alike looked tired and muggy. News anchors and reporters holding cameras and notepads waited outside the entrance to see the damage. A second line of tape held them back. It was a war of diction as cops were trying to give as little info to the press as possible. I approached, sifting through the crowd like a ball in a plinko machine. One of the cops at the second line recognized me immediately and greeted me.

“Good to see that we have some good company tonight!” she shouted when I approached. I went up to her and we began to chat.

I looked above the towering structure and noticed the remaining smoke. “What do the scans say about the air?” I questioned the cop.

“It’s fresh air in the bottom floor, you’ll be fine.” she entered the building and I followed, leaving the reporters with their inquiries.

I was called to this burnt building, in the part of the night actually slept, to look at another sleeping detective’s mess. After I was so rudely awaken by the literal sound of duty calling, my handler told me that every other detective was asleep. So was I, until she called.

“There’s shifts for a reason, ya know” I told her and she fired back the traditional threat of: “Come or your badge is mine.” She played that card often. Being woken in the middle of the night and getting bitched at isn’t normally part of the job, I guess that’s what happens when you’re the best detective around. The cop that led me in walked on to talk with some analysts as I took in some details.

The inside was much warmer than the chilled outdoors. It also looked much worse for wear, too. The blackened lobby was barely illuminated by veins of red embers and fluorescent project lights. Inside the lobby, furniture was overturned and blasted with white paste and the plants were shriveled and crisped. If the smell of damnation came in a perfume, someone used the whole bottle. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar reflection. At the end of the lobby was an ancient mirror busted and brown toned. I looked into the mirror. The mirror seemed to have no purpose. It was in a weird place, off color with the lobby’s general theme, and it was strangely small. It has seen thousands of people enter day-in day-out for generations. Now it was smudged with a deep brown and black that was barely reflective. I at the distorted image of the same rugged thug, adorning the same brown trench coat. Unkempt peach fuzz covered my face. Like always, a real peach by Michigan standards.

Behind me, a strong and authoritative voice called out to me.

“Watts, what took you so long?” the voice stated. I recognized the voice almost immediately. I turned to see my partner, “Big” Joseph Hoolihan. He was a big burly son of an Irish stereotype. Strong, broad shouldered, and very tall. “Good to see you tonight, I thought you would play hookie.”
I sighed, “Good to see you too, Joe.” He approached me and stood next to me. He noticed I was staring at my own reflection through the mirror.

“Hey ma’am, are you going to buy the dress or not?” he pitched a joke, taking me out of my trance. I decided to follow.

“Nah, I’m still browsing. Check back later.”

He let out an understanding laugh, not that the dialogue exchange wasn’t funny or anything, it was just more for recognition.

“What do you see on that busted antique, anyway.” he said like a comment, rather than a question. I pulled my gaze away from the mirror and looked at him. His size was impressive. Up close, he looked no different from any other redhead; blue eyes, small pointed nose, and freckles from a sunless sky. The only thing that was peculiar was his grin that could give Patrick Swayze a run for his money.

“I see a story, Joe. That mirror has seen some shit.” We both looked back and around. He broke the silence.

“Someone really hated this place, huh?”

I looked at him and gave him the facts.

“Someone who lives in the area knows about the rapid response unit, right. They knew to cause as much damage as they could before the fire drones got here and get out before they arrive. What do you suppose: gasoline or oil?”

He looked at me and gave an exaggerated shrug. I agreed with him. Whoever tried to decimate the old building, they had some malice in their heart.

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