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Shattered Night

Shattered Night

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Shattered Night

Length:
510 pages
6 hours
Released:
Jun 22, 2020
ISBN:
9780463885703
Format:
Book

Description

A large sum of money.

A skilled Private Investigator.

A missing book.

How could any of these elements ruin one's life? Quite easily, when the work follows you home, threatens to destroy all you know and love,
and promises to unleash forces beyond humanity's comprehension upon the world. James Riley is a man with secrets; some seemingly harmless, but when the doctors start forcing the memories to unchain, reality and the truth have only one conclusion...

One shattered night.

Released:
Jun 22, 2020
ISBN:
9780463885703
Format:
Book

About the author

John Crofts is a British-Irish writer from South Africa, having spent numerous years writing reviews for films, music and video games for numerous websites and webzines. John has also hosted events and geek-related cons in SA, as well as being a co-host on many podcasts and YouTube channels. John has dabbled in writing, art, acting, film production, and other creative fields for years. Presently, he's co-director of a new theatre company based in south-east England. (Primal Clay Theatre).John has several short stories, poems, and other novels in the works, with Shattered Night being his first traditionally published novel.

Book Preview

Shattered Night - John Crofts

Publishing

Prologue

James Riley sat alone, bound in a straitjacket and chained to the cold steel chair in the center of the sterile white and gray tiled room. This had become his daily routine. Though today, things were a little different.

He had been sitting in cold solitude for at least an hour, which was peculiar as they never left him waiting for that long. The only comfort he had was the sound of the waves crashing on the shore outside. Outside... that's where James wanted to be. Outside in the real world. Free to move and act as he wanted; without restraint, without punishment, without his tormentors.

As if in response to his thoughts, his restraints tightened, irritating and digging into his flesh. A painful reminder of his present situation.

He sighed. The doctor was running unfashionably late; not that it mattered to him. He didn't care for the funny looking man, his olive skin, gray hair, small round glasses, educated faux Latino accent, or his bizarre medical methods. He did, however, take extreme issue with being left alone on an uncomfortable chair in a cold room. He thought: Is this some new form of therapy? Leave me here alone and cold, and wait until I crack? Wait until I spill my guts and tell them what I can't remember?

He shifted uneasily.

The past few 'treatment sessions' had been hard on him, both mentally and physically. The daily therapy, the mind-numbing drugs, his inability to answer the doctor’s ceaseless probing questions and, of course, there were the doctor’s damn squeaky shoes. James loathed those squeaky shoes. The noise they made reminded him of nails being dragged across a chalkboard – an eternal, never-ending chalkboard: All of life's little miseries being unleashed again and again in short, sharp, mind-splitting shrills.

The large foreboding steel door across from James opened, and the small, olive-skinned man entered the room.

Good day, Mr. Riley, said Doctor Mictlan. His footfalls squeaked across the tiled floor. His drab gray suit and white lab-coat blending in with the sterile surroundings.

Speak of the devil, James thought. He scowled in acknowledgment of the little man.

Not in a talkative mood? asked the doctor. He sat down on an upholstered wooden chair next to a small steel folding-table, both of which were brought in by two burly men seconds after he arrived. He dismissed the men with a blase wave of his hand, then continued to speak.

Never mind. My colleagues tell me that they provided you with your medicine a short time ago. I am led to believe that it's something new. Something untested. That's excellent news. Those new drugs can work... wonders. And that helps us get straight to work, you know? Soon you shall be singing like a songbird, once again. I do enjoy hearing you sing, Mr. Riley.

Yeah, James managed to say. He shivered; he was far from accustomed to the doctor’s psychopharmacological treatments. Those medicines and techniques always held unwanted surprises for him.

The doctor placed his gray briefcase on the table, opened it, and took out a large, thick file and flipped open to page one. Shall we get straight to work? he asked. I must apologize for being late. I do have other patients to see and a lot of other healing to do. He smiled badly.

James couldn't recall ever seeing or hearing any other patients. Not that he saw much being drugged and dragged from room to room.

Tell me again about that week, would you, Mr. Riley? Tell me about how your life fell apart and how you ended up here, in this magnificent institution. Tell me about the monsters; the magical books and all that other good stuff. He had a condescending tone, as usual.

James sighed. Why? he asked. He was sick of retelling the same fractured story. Sick of trying to fill in the gaps for the doctor. Sick of trying to fill in the gaps that had formed in his mind. Sick of it all.

The doctor smiled. "Why? Because we want to know, Mr. Riley. Because we have only briefly scaled towards the summit of this mountain of pain. Because we are here to help you, Mr. Riley. Because people died, and we need to know how and why that happened. Because here, at the Helheim Institute, we don't fail any of our patients, especially the difficult ones... or the unique ones.

Not that I'm implying you are unique Mr. Riley. In fact, your sort of case is quite common. Repressed memories, amnesia, attempted suicide, depression, self-loathing, fear, and all that. Quite common indeed. The doctor brushed invisible dust from his lab coat.

Then why do I feel so special? asked James. He was trying to look into the man's eyes, as the unfamiliar drugs began to take hold.

Because you are 'special', Mr. Riley. Because we are all, each in our own way, unique and special. Though some are more 'special' than others. The doctor grinned like a cracked porcelain clown. You, he continued, have been here for some time and have made such little progress. We want to help you get better. Better so you can put all the spirits to rest, and fill in the blanks, as it were.

Spare me the quack bullshit, doc. I don't have the answers you want. I don't even have the answers I fucking want!

The doctor sighed. So we are going to have another one of those sessions are we?

James spat. Looks that way, he said. He was trying hard to focus on the floor, the room around him beginning to pulse to the rhythm of an unheard beat.

The doctor tutted. What a surprise, he said. What a surprise.

Yeah, mumbled James. His eyes were growing heavy.

Let's get this over with then, said the doctor. He folded up his glasses and placed them into his suitcase. His faux-pleasant disposition was instantly gone and replaced by pure, real darkness.

Do it! demanded James. Do it-

Before he could finish, the doctor was upon him. James and his chair were knocked to the floor, his head slammed onto the cold tiles. There was a flash of light, as pain shot through him. The bolts that had secured the chair to the floor flew in every conceivable direction, and rotten masonry dust filled the air.

Before James could recover, the little man squatted upon his chest, a sickening smell similar to burning sulfur poured from his body. His gangling fingers probed James's face: his eyes, his ears, his nose, his mouth! His mouth was instantly filled with bile, as the probing appendages explored the cavity, slowly slithering their way to the back of his throat and down his esophagus.

James gagged, and kicked, and cried. But nothing stopped the assault. Just as he was about to finally throw up and pass out, they withdrew. There was another flash, as the choking sensation passed.

James was still in the seat; strapped in and chained down.

Nothing had changed. The chair was in its correct position, no bolts could be seen, nor was there any masonry dust coating the pristine floor. Although the sickening smell still surrounded him.

‘Do it,’ Mr. Riley? asked the doctor. He was still sitting next to the table, placing his glasses in the briefcase. "Do what? Oh, I understand, the new medicines are doing their job, and you wish to proceed. Excellent. Shall we then, Mr. Riley?"

James was trying to simultaneously focus on the man, and not gag on the pungent odor. What do you want to know? he managed to ask.

Let's start at the beginning with the night you had that dream. Do you recall? That dream about that 'murdered' woman.

Claire Manford, James muttered before coughing violently.

Yes, Claire Manford. She sounds like an unfortunate character. Tell me about her -everything you can recall. And tell me how she changed your life... forever.

James spat disgusting phlegm to the floor. I don't recall much from that night, he semi-lied. The smell was burning his nasal cavity and his throat. In fact, I don't recall much of the past few weeks. It's all become a blur.

A blur? All of it? Amusing. You always seem to recall this blur when you are alone. Oh, yes, we hear you screaming out her name when you think no one is around. I think you know to whom I am referring. The doctor grinned.

Her? mumbled James. Her?

No matter, Mr. Riley. No matter at all. Just tell us what you can remember. Dig as deep as you can. Don't leave anything out. This is all part of the healing process, you understand. Everything you tell us will go a long way to helping you out in the long run. The extremely long run.

Fine, replied James. The drugs, like invasive insects, crawled through his body, mind, and soul. His universe began to pulse anew. 

Mictlan opened his notepad and poised his pen. This was the beginning of the moment of truth he'd been waiting for.

DAY ONE

 "For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face..."

1 Corinthians 13:12

Chapter One

When I was younger, I had a problem with sleeping. It wasn't the sleep that got to me, oh no, never the sleep. It was the dreams. Well, nightmares to be frank. I often had them within a short time of a bad event taking place. They were like some warped post-premonition -all blood and screaming and violence.

Most of the time these nightmares turned out to be nothing significant, almost as if they were a broken trailer for a movie that was never to be. Sometimes, it was like watching blurry clips from gore movies or sloppy highlights from a horror film. Often there would be a flash of distorted imagery, a splatter of detail, a word whispered in the dead of night; but nothing would ever come of them. They were quite simply, upsetting.

As I aged, and with professional help, the dreams left me for the most part. Then my parents died in a car crash when I was sixteen, and the dreams returned. Blood, death, destruction - all have played out like theater productions through my mind. A never-ending cast of victims consumed by a plethora of shocking sounds and disturbing colors. Each time the nightmares have returned since that day, they have come at me as ever-increasingly disturbing and intense images that are driven by the absolute truth that lingers behind them. Case in point, recently I suffered through the last tragic moments of a woman that I had never seen before. A woman I would never meet in this world. A woman twice damned.

A woman named Claire Manford.

***

The death of a young lady is a tragic loss indeed, said Mictlan. He was busy writing away. But, to lose ones’ parents at a young age is an even greater loss. No wonder you have suffered these dreams. How did you cope with your parents deaths, Mr. Riley?

James shrugged. The usual way. Drink, drugs, punch-ups in bars, attempted suicide, forced therapy. Rock n’ Roll. You know, the usual way.

Interesting. Please continue.

***

Claire Manford sat alone in her quaint single room apartment. She had lived there for the past three years while studying for her doctorate. She wanted to be a neuropsychologist. It was not an easy career path. The hours were long, and the work was hard. She already had some understanding as to how hard, having spent the last fortnight working into the early hours of the morning; and tonight was no exception.

She almost didn't notice the noise of her bedroom door slowly opening -caught up as she was, in her research. When its creaking dawned on her, she turned towards the gentle squeak, her dark green eyes peering into the silent darkness that was the rest of her home. She squinted desperately trying to see what had caused the door to move.

All the windows were locked. And she always locked and chained the front door. She had no pets, nor were there any animals in the building. She had lived alone for three years, on the fourth floor of this 'secure' building. Nothing could get in here without being noticed by both the residents and the superintend.

She stood and moved towards the door. Her bare feet grew cold, as she drew closer to it. Cautiously, she peered into the darkness beyond the simple wooden frame.

There was nothing.

She shrugged and abruptly slammed the door shut. She tested the handle several times making sure it was secure. Satisfied, she cracked her knuckles and neck -her mind already returning to the unfinished work that lay on her desk. She yawned and turned back towards her tasks. Suddenly, she caught something out of the corner of her eye.

***

That was it? That was all you saw in your disturbing dream? asked Mictlan.

Yeah. Maybe. Why? replied James.

The doctor glowered at him. Ha. Ha. Please, Mr. Riley. We’ve been here before. You know that parts of this 'dream' are very detailed, and other parts are lacking. Even now, after the various therapies and drug applications. It seems that important details are still left out.

It always happens that way, for the most part.

I see.

What?

It’s just that this sort of dream is quite common for people that watch too much TV and sleep too little.

James licked his lips. Saliva dribbled down his chin. How do you mean? he managed.

Simply, that what you’re describing is common for people with psychosis. The mind takes natural elements such as Claire’s death – which you probably saw on TV, and it slipped to the back of your mind - and then combines them with a fantasy element from the movies, so you think that you are seeing into her life. The doctor smiled to himself. Satisfied with his reasoning.

No, replied James. No. No. I saw more than that.

More?

Yeah, pretty much, replied James, exhaling slowly. Well, I saw a little more. More detail.

The doctor readied his pen. Please continue.

***

The police found Claire Manford three days later. A university friend had called them after Claire had failed to turn up to class for the second consecutive day. Her friend had gone over to her apartment in an attempt to find answers. But when Claire did not come to the door, despite the sufficiently loud knocking, her friend called the police.

She was still knocking on the door when they arrived.

You made the call? one of the officers asked. He was a large muscular man.

Yes, she replied. She was still knocking, her hands beginning to hurt.

How long you been here?

She sighed. Long enough.

No reply?

She slumped to the floor, her back pressed hard against the cold brick wall of the corridor. No. Nothing at all, she admitted. This isn't like her.

Check and see if the super has a key, said the large officer to his thin blonde colleague.

Claire's friend grimaced. I already did that, she said. He hasn't got one. He lost it. And I don't have a spare.

Right then. We do this the old-fashioned way. Stand back, miss, the large officer said. He cracked his neck and readied his body. We'll take it from here.

What are you going—

Her question died as the large officer kicked the door in.

Stay here, miss, he instructed. We'll let you know what we find.

***

Mictlan poised his pen. And what did they find in there, Mr. Riley?

James sighed. I've told you all of that before.

Yes, you have. But you've only painted us part of the picture, you are still holding back. You need to let the brush flow. We, and that includes you, need to know exactly what happened. No details are to be left out. Nothing is to be spared. Prove to me, to us that this is not simply a mixture of fantasy and mental disease. Now please, tell me everything again. Let us see if we can add more paint to this canvas. Let us be certain of our facts.

***

At first glance, everything looked exactly as one would expect from a student’s abode. The air was heavy with a combination of staleness, and decay. Half-full bowls stood abandoned, their contents slowly turning green. Papers, books and all manner of educational material lay around the flat left wherever they had been set down. A thin layer of dust covered many spaces, and the green shag carpet gently spewed it underfoot. It was not until police checked the bedroom that the situation drastically changed.

They found Claire's cold body sitting upright on her bed, three empty bottles of Valium and half a bottle of vodka lying at her icy feet. In her right hand was the suicide note, it was the art of cliche self-annihilation.

According to the note, Claire had become disillusioned with the path of her life, finding each day more difficult to cope with than the last. Thus, she had decided to take her own life, putting her hopes on rebirth, or at the least, a peaceful afterlife.

The note was short and well written in red ink. No grammar or punctuation errors were present, and the script was neat. Even the paper was clean and stain free.

The words and emotions were self-evident. It was naturally the last statement of a person who had concluded that their natural and inevitable end would never be soon enough and that an alternative, easier solution had to be sought and implemented.

A classic suicide.

Simple, and honest self-destruction.

***

Mictlan looked perplexed. A classic suicide, Mr. Riley? Good grief.

Yeah. I've seen enough of them, my own attempt included, to know the difference between murder and suicide.

Really?

Well, I thought I did. Before all this happened, anyway, huffed James. The drugs seemed to be doing their work as his mind was fast filling up with half-memories that hinted at something more -like slivers of a torn-up painting blowing in the breeze. A moment of clarity as each piece is revealed.

The doctor flipped through his notes. All this? You are referring to the incident on the island, and what drew you there? he asked.

Yeah, murmured James. Something was slowly rising from the pit of his stomach.

***

The two officers questioned Claire's neighbors and friends. Though they spoke of her stressful life, the long hours of work, and her exhaustive quest for brilliance, none of them could add any significant answers as to the reasons surrounding her apparent suicide.

As one man said, She was a damned hard worker. A nice, all-around person. And she had a ‘body built for bedrooms. Not that she bent to his advances.’ The police omitted the last two parts.

After several weeks of fruitless investigation, and with no evidence to the contrary, they processed, closed and filed the case away under 'suicide'.

***

It was a suicide! Mictlan insisted on this point. "I have seen this sort of thing before. A well-groomed expert finds the stress of their life too much to bear, and they kill themselves. Nothing untoward there.

As for your dreams. Dreams involving death are quite common, whether or not you know the victim. This is the unfortunate and natural order of our world. Why did you think it was something different? Something relevant to the affairs that took place on the island? The affairs that you've mostly forgotten. No, Mr. Riley, this is simply psychosis and daydreaming combined. What a sad outcome. The doctor made to stand.

The last part, muttered James.

He stopped. The last part, Mr. Riley?

Yeah. The last part. The part I didn't see clearly. It was more like a collection of random images all thrown at me at once.

What sort of images?

An unexplained mark on her right arm, like a red line –with smudges or something near it. And the feather, a black bird’s feather in her left hand.

"Well, the mark is easily explained away, as nothing more than a smudged dot of red ink. She did write the note in red ink after all.

As for the feather, it could have simply fallen out of one of her pillows. It happens all the time. Simple, yes? You see there's no need for conspiracy, Mr. Riley.

The mark was more than that. A lot more. It was a marking.

A marking? Of what?

James cleared his throat. "Him. It was his mark. His calling card, in a way. And the feather… that was theirs."

Come now, Mr. Riley, there's no need for this sort of conversation. Conspiracies are best kept to the schoolyard or a UFO convention. They shouldn't even creep into the minds of well informed, professional people. It was an interesting dream, granted. But nothing of an earth-shattering nature. Don't you agree?

James remained silent, his head spinning as the drugs oozed into every corner of his body.

Reality is simple, Mr. Riley. A to B. Nothing wonderful in the margins. Nothing interesting in the hidden between the lines.

There's always more.

Really? asked the doctor. An amused grin claimed his face.

James's head lolled a little, and he began to mutter. Books... Words... There are lots... in there… Deeper than words… More than ink… Hidden… Hidden in the print. It was in there.

The doctor sat back down and smiled. Yes. Now you seem ready to speak. Shall we continue? he asked as he jotted down something in the margin.

K, James managed.

Excellent, Mr. Riley. Continue.

Chapter Two

The nightmares had fled into the ether with the approaching dawn; and the evenings unprocessed dreams had long since faded like ghosts with the passing of the night. My mind was now a blank -though slightly tarnished- slate ready for new and interesting fantasies to be scrawled upon it. Not that any came to me, as it was close to 10:25 AM, and I was more than hungover.

Outside, rain fell gently past my window, as the weak sun did its best to pierce through my drapes and drive me from my alcohol-induced slumber.

Piss off, I muttered as the light touched my face.

The weekend had been a lot 'heavier' than I should have liked it to be. As such, I was still, and would continue to, suffer from my willingness to have 'just have one more round.' I could still taste vomit and whiskey on my lips, and my ears were still ringing with the music (though by now it was more an indiscernible noise) of the various Irish bands that had been playing all weekend at my local bar in a pre-Saint Patrick's Day celebration.

I don't know how long the phone had been ringing before I finally heard it. After a few moments of fumbling, my shaking fingers finally found it. I tried to focus on the number but soon abandoned it for vain squinting.

I knew I wasn't in the right frame of mind to speak to anyone. Hell, I was not in the right frame of mind to think about the right frame of mind. I listened for a few seconds longer hoping the person would hang up, but as the ringing went on, my hangover worsened.

The caller seemed determined to wait for my reply, or for my battery to die, or for my phone to be flung from my bedroom window and shattered on the street below. The latter seemed preferable, but I knew that I was not going to get out of bed and do any throwing... apart from throwing up.

Finally, I gave in and answered.

Hello? I mumbled.

Mr. Riley? Mr. James Riley? Came the reply. The person on the other end had a thick Irish accent.

Yes.

My name is O’Donnell. Shamus O’Donnell. I need your assistance.

I belched. With what exactly, Mr. O'Donnell?

"Please, call me Shamus. I have a matter that I want to be discussing with you. Could you please meet me at O'Leary's, on Beacon in one hour?" With that, he hung up.

I lay in bed, phone in hand, and contemplated my next move. I had had a busy couple of weeks. Work was going well, very well in fact (if the number of drinks I had purchased on the weekend was any indication. Not that I remembered how many I had bought), and I had another busy week ahead of me -once I was alive.

I wasn't interested in taking on any new clients or cases –the late nights and long hours were getting to me. Not to mention the nature of Massachusetts weather, which could turn foul at any moment, particularly in March. I didn't fancy getting caught unprepared in rapidly changing conditions. And to top it off, as I had gotten older, I had developed an overwhelming love for my warm bed, and my various creature comforts.

***

But you did get up, Mr. Riley, stated Mictlan. You got up and got involved. Didn't you? He leaned forward as if to press the point.

I did, admitted James. I got up and got involved. Part of me wishes I hadn't.

So why did you?

***

Despite the freedom and the romantic notions associated with the job, being a private investigator was not all thrills, spills and film noir moments. In fact, it could be very unpleasant at times. Who am I kidding? It could be a downright pain in the ass, and I did not need any more pain in mine. Several cases over the past two years had seen me crack a rib, get a black eye, and become very well acquainted with a Pit-Bull named Percy. The latter having almost ripped my leg off.

I had also recently become engaged, and I had promised my far better half that I would try to avoid the more destructive cases -the types I used to pursue in my youth. No more fights in bars, and shoot-outs with deranged junkies. Well, I say shoot-out, but in reality, he pulled his gun and aimed at me. I pulled mine in response. He opened fire and missed. I returned fire too missed. (All this from twenty feet away.) He then looked down the barrel of the gun to see why his bullet had done the job, and naturally, he shot himself dead. Anyway, I was going to take it easy and stick to less mortal cases from now on.

***

Mictlan smiled. Engagement. Love. Romance. These are powerful memories, Mr. Riley. Love, they say, is the greatest weapon. And you were in love with Ms-

Collins. Kimberly Collins. Kim.

Yes, Ms. Collins. How had your engagement come about?

I asked her to marry me, retorted James. The initial rush of the drugs had now worn off.

Droll, Mr. Riley. Very droll, muttered the doctor. I meant to say, how did your relationship begin? Where did you meet? When did you meet? Details, Mr. Riley, details, if you would? We cannot cure you without the necessary details.

We met at a Halloween party in Boston, in twenty-ten. We got engaged the following year on Halloween.

And what did she do... -employment-wise?

She's an art expert.

Interesting. I take it she had a fair amount of money?

Yeah, she does. She makes a lot more than I do. Which is also one of the reasons I stopped getting into 'difficult' cases. I no longer needed the hazard pay. Though money has never been important to us, James quickly added. But it is nice to have.

The doctor smirked. I see.

Why do you ask? inquired James. His interest was now piqued thanks to the doctor’s responses.

No reason, Mr. Riley. No reason at all. Please continue.

***

I put my phone back on the sideboard and closed my eyes. I hoped I would soon blackout, that the phone battery would die, and that the whole human race would be abducted by aliens for the day, and I would be left in alcohol-induced peace.

I shut my eyes tightly and exhaled a sigh of relief.

But then it started. That nagging sensation. That little elbow in the ribs. I knew I could not say 'no' to anyone in need, particularly a fellow Irishman.

It was my curse and my strength.

I thought things over for a minute. I clicked my tongue as I pondered over my options. A myriad of excuses came to me. Sorry, Shamus, I don't need the work. I can't get involved. I have too much to do. I'm going to the Moon for Halloween. Each was more a lie than the last.

I finally made up my mind to get out of bed.

Might as well take all the work I can, while I can, as the nature of being a P.I. can be very unbalanced with work often appearing and disappearing sporadically.

I let out another sigh as I stood up. The walls instantly started spinning, and my head was filled with repetitive thumping noises. I could tell this was going to be a fun day.

Chapter Three

It took me five minutes to get dressed, and twenty minutes to stop throwing up. I did not bother shaving or showering, though I brushed my teeth several times, and rinsed with strong black coffee. It didn't do anything aesthetic for my teeth, but it made me feel a little more human.

I decided not to dress in my customary professional attire, leaving my suit on its hanger in the closet. Instead, I simply pulled on a fresh pair of socks, a faded pair of jeans, an old paint stained black t-shirt that I found crumpled on the floor, and an old black leather jacket. I stuffed my mouth with a couple of pieces of aging peppermint gum which I found in the jacket pocket. I found my wallet in the kitchen. My phone was lying on my bed, and my keys on the floor next to where I found the t-shirt. I found my unpolished boots lying in the corridor leading to the front door.

Once relatively prepared, I took a deep breath, left my apartment and made a b-line for the main entrance.

***

Sounds to me as if you were not prepared to deal with this Mr. O'Donnell, or in fact the day ahead? Mictlan posed.

You have no idea, replied James. No idea at all.

Tell me then.

***

It took me a few minutes to leave the apartment building and make my way to the street. As I walked through the corridors, I looked around and analyzed everything in the place that I called home. It was always good to see what your neighbors were up to and to keep track of the comings and goings of strangers, but today it helped me focus on something other than the spinning walls.

I had moved into my apartment shortly after my twenty-first birthday, finding it very comfortable and relatively cheap, despite its slowly advancing decrepitude. Being a P.I. doesn't pay a lot, so often we take whatever we can get.

I must admit, the apartment block had gone down very quickly over the past few years. The brightly colored walls, sparkling tile floors, and the clear windows were now nothing more than a broken memory, replaced by chipped paint, dull and scratched floors, broken glass, and collapsing door frames.

There was also the ever-present smell of boiled cabbage, slowly wafting its way upstairs from the basement and strategically seeping through every crack it could find.

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