Apr 1 2013 9:30am
An excerpt of Untold Damage, the first novel in the series featuring former San Francisco undercover police officer Mark Mallen (available April 8, 2013).
Estranged from his wife and daughter, former undercover cop Mark Mallen has spent the last four years in a haze of heroin.
When his best friend from the academy, Eric Russ, is murdered, an address found in his pocket points to Mallen as the prime suspect. Mallen sets out to serve justice to the real killer. But first, he’ll have to get clean and face the low-life thugs who want him dead.
“Gold in Peace, Iron in War.” – SFPD motto
Mallen woke up with the needle still in his arm.
Waking up with the pin still in him was something new. First time, actually. Made him think of how Vodka was the last drink a chronic drunk can take. Because their stomach’s given out from all the abuse heaped on it. Vodka was the last stop before a coffin. The last line in the sand, crossed. That bit of knowledge was just like waking up with the needle still in you. He yanked it out. Threw it onto the scratched coffee table.
His throat was parched, tongue feeling five sizes too large and covered in matted fur. He checked the small, yellow-purple bruise the size of an ink drop. That would be a bad one. The skin in the crook of his elbow was tender to the touch. He could imagine his veins collapsing like subway tunnels during a quake.
Rain started up, beating on his window. Sounded like it would be another mother of a storm. The city’d been battered all week by a rain that felt like God himself was trying to power-wash away all the putrid stinks of the city’s soul. Good luck with that one, God. He rose off the couch, padded barefoot across a wood floor strewn with dirty clothes and empty ice cream containers. Peered out the grimy window. Yeah, it would be a depressing day for scoring in. Dreamo would for sure be in his office, as per the usual. At the Cornerstone. The dealer had better attendance than most CEOs out in the real world.
There was a knock at the door. Hard and loud. Cop knock, one he knew very well. He snatched up his rig, then went and deposited the needle, rubber tubing, and bent-back spoon under the sink, in an old B&M beans can. Went to answer the door.
The plainclothes cop standing there tried valiantly to hide his shock when Mallen opened the door, all faded black clothes and shining eyes. Failed way past miserably. Mallen recognized him right away, as they used to sometimes work together, a long-ass time ago. Had even gone drinking together. Talked over cases together.
Police inspector Oberon Kane stood there in the dingy hallway, his gray tweed sport coat a nice match for his mostly gray, shoulder-length hair. Wore glasses now, simple wire rims that made Mallen think of John Lennon. Even though he had Oberon by three inches in height, the man had always seemed taller and bigger. Like how somebody might imagine Teddy Roosevelt. The finishing touch was a salt-and-pepper goatee. Overall, the cop seemed more a Philosophy professor than a homicide detective.
“Well, well, well,” Oberon said, “The rumors weren’t true, after all. You’re alive.”
“You can call it that, sure.”
“May I come in?”
“What for? I haven’t done anything. Haven’t even been outside for a couple days.”
That didn’t seem to be the answer Oberon wanted to hear. Pulled out an old, worn notebook in response, along with a red and silver Parker pen. “Would you rather step out into the hall and talk to me, Mark?”
He didn’t want Oberon playing hardball with him. The fact Oberon had that luxury pissed him off. However, he stepped aside to let him in. Way too aware that his place was like the places they both had walked into, years ago now, ready to arrest the addicts and thieves that lived there. Oberon glanced around at all the kites hanging from the ceiling: Diamonds, Box, and Delta style kites were suspended in the air like fossils fixed in amber.
Oberon pointed at one that rested on the table, half-finished, its chopstick skeleton like whale bones left on a beach. “Interesting hobby.”
“It’s for Anna. Her birthday...” he trailed off, realizing with a sick feeling that her birthday had been yesterday. He’d been high longer than he’d realized. What happened to the days? They seemed to all run together now until they were a tangle of coarse string, seeking to wrap him up. Choke out what was left of his life.
Oberon opened the notebook. It was then he caught a look at the crook of Mallen’s right arm. His gaze then traveled up to Mallen’s face. Like he was seeing him for the first time. Mallen put his left hand over the track marks, trying to hide them, only drawing more attention to them. Oberon glanced around the room again, like it all of a sudden made sense.
“So, at least some of the rumors were true, it would seem,” he said softly as he busied himself with some notes in his book. The old cop’s voice held that note of sympathy that Mallen was very familiar with and hated worse than the thought of getting clean. “Since you left the force, or before?”
“Why are you here, Oberon?”
“Am I going to find any drugs here? Any needles?”
Mallen went and sat down on the couch. The thin cushions lost the battle against the worn springs. “Come on, why are you playing it this way? We always got along, didn’t we? I’m a citizen now, sure. Just over about four years now. But you know me: I’m not a bad guy. I don’t look to get over on people and scam ’em, you know? I shoot my drugs and mind my own business.”
Oberon jotted something down in his book. Glanced again at the unfinished kite on the table. “How long have you been making the kites?”
“Since Anna was born.”
“I never knew that about you. About the kites. How old is she now? Nine?”
“Yeah, nine.” A brilliant nine, too. Her smiling face appeared in his mind’s eye. Pale eyes, a cleft in her chin she got from him. The image didn’t make him feel any better. It only heightened the shame at being what he now was: a junkie. A burnout. A lowlife that did nothing with his days but shoot drugs, then go out and find some more. It was a cycle he’d gotten used to. One he performed without much complaint, or effort. It just happened, and he went with it. It was easier than fighting. The thoughts of the needle, and its chain to him, started the need growing again. It began as a dull pressure just above his stomach, like someone gently twisting his guts. He knew it would begin radiating outward from there, following his nervous system, stabbing as it went.
“You see her often?” Oberon asked.
The question drew his thoughts back to the here and now. “Not as much as I’d like. Chris and me, well… you can see it, I’m sure.”
“Yes, I can see it.” He changed the subject: “You asked why I was here. Well, first I need to ask you a question.”
“Business call, Obie?” He tried to lighten a mood by using the nickname he’d had for the cop, way back when. It didn’t work. The air continued to feel heavy and troubling, gray and suffocating. “Like I said,” he added quietly, “I’ve been here all day.”
Oberon jotted it down, then said, “When was the last time you saw Eric Russ?”
“Eric? Jesus… well, I guess not since I left the force. Damn, man… haven’t thought of him for some years now.” How long had it been since they’d gone through the academy together? Ten years? More? He smiled as he thought back to them running the obstacle course together, competing against each other in pistol competitions. Always taking each other on in the self-defense drills. The nights drinking beers under the north windmill in Golden Gate Park. Then it was being rookies together in a city that chewed them up and spat them out by the dozens. He’d made undercover work his thing about the same time Eric had gotten his first promotion. Eric had opted to stay in uniform and his squad car, and at first Mallen couldn’t understand that. But then, after awhile, he heard that the citizens on Eric’s beat were talking about him. What a good cop he was. How much he cared. How he would go the extra mile for a citizen, if he could. Mallen understood then that Eric just liked being a beat cop, one who knew the people on his beat. To him, Eric had been “old school” that way, always reminding him of Joseph Wambaugh’s Bumper Morgan. Eric. “Why are you asking about him?” he said to Oberon. “He’s not in some sort of trouble, is he?”
“No, Mark, he’s not in any trouble. Not anymore. Officer Eric Russ is dead. Found this morning with a hole in his head, complement to the ones in his arms.” Oberon’s expression softened. “Sorry, I know you two had been friends.”
His mind reeled under the news. Eric had still been a cop the last he’d heard. His mind went from there to the needle, hidden in the empty bean can under his sink. His mind needed to get away. Now. Eric. “I… I don’t understand. Shot?” he said, and then it hit him what Oberon had said. Hit him harder than a Millwall Brick to the face. “Wait… wait a minute. You said holes. In his arms.”
Oberon kept his eyes steady on him, and Mallen knew he was trying to be read. “Russ was found in an alley, two blocks from where he’d been staying, at eight this morning. The bullet entered the back of the head. Looks like the shooter stood about ten feet away.”
All he could do was keep shaking his head in disbelief, like a windup doll stuck in gear. “Wasn’t,” he finally managed to say, “wasn’t he married? I thought I’d heard that. To… Jenna, yeah? That was his wife’s name, right? Jenna?”
“Yes, he was still married, but only just so. He’d… had trouble, Mark.” Another glance at the crook of his right arm. “Like yours. They gave him medical leave about three years ago, so he could get his life back together. It didn’t work, and he ended up leaving the department. Seemed to hit rock bottom, but then appeared to be getting better by all accounts. For the last six months, at least.”
“He was one of the best Police I ever knew. How the hell did he get involved with shooting dope?”
Oberon looked down at his notes as he said, “I’m not sure.”
“Not sure? Or won’t say, Inspector Kane?”
“More important to you, Mark, is why I’m here.”
The way he said it resonated. It was a tone he’d heard Oberon use a lot, back in the day. The room got a little tighter, matching the tension in his chest. Had the impression he suddenly held a live wire in his hand and was about to fall into a pool. “Okay,” he answered, “why are you here, Obie?”
“Russ had your name and address in his pocket. His writing. He also had two vials of heroin in his pocket.”
“My name and address? You sure?” Then it hit him, Oberon’s being there. “No,” he said. “You think the vials came from me, right? Or that we were shooting buddies? Is that what you think?”
Oberon said nothing, and said it all by doing so.
“Look,” he continued, “I swear I haven’t seen Eric since… since I left. Seriously, I hadn’t seen or talked to him since leaving the force.” It was all moving too fast, sliding away from him, and he was losing his grip. “No… no leads at all other than my info in his pocket?”
“None, yet. The ME is going to post him later today.”
Oberon’s voice was beginning to fade in his ears. All he could hear was this rushing sound in his head, like high-velocity water through pipes. Took him a moment to recognize the feeling attached to that sound. Anger. He was angry. At himself. Wished he could’ve done something to help his old friend in some way. If he’d only known somehow that Eric had been in trouble. If he’d been clean, been living a life that helped others, still been a Police, he could’ve done something. Anything. He wished then, more strongly than anything he could ever remember wishing for, that he could’ve stopped the train Eric had been traveling on. A part of him suddenly wanted now to stop that train for himself, too. Knew it wasn’t going to happen though. All the anxiety, the conflict, only heightened the desire, The Need. The rig beckoned. The siren’s call to a lonely sailor, adrift on the ocean.
“Well,” Oberon said as he looked at him a long moment, then closed his notebook, ‘I can tell you that his family is of course torn up about it. You knew them pretty well, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. Hal and Phoebe were nice people. Always had their door open for me.”
“Too bad you can’t go see them,” the Police said as he moved to the door. “Offer your condolences.”
“Too bad I–?” Oberon had done it well. Shamed him in a very oblique way. Maybe it was the cop’s way of trying to help? Fuck him, he thought. Nobody helps anybody anymore. “Maybe I will, yeah? You can’t stop me from doing that. No law broken in going to visit an old friend’s grieving parents, right?”
All Oberon did was nod his head. Like indulging a small child’s fantasies. “I’ll let you know when the funeral is. Maybe you could send flowers, Mark. Been good to see you.” And with that he left, quietly closing the door behind him.
Mallen sat there, staring stupidly at the door. His world had just been exploded. His carefully preserved world. Fuck people, he thought as he turned and marched to the sink. Reached under, and pulled out his rig. Remembered then he was going to go cop some more today. Cursed. Better get it the fuck over with, before the weather got even worse. Maybe being outside would help his head. As he got ready to leave, he couldn’t get the news of Eric’s murder off his mind, or the shaming that Oberon had given him…
Well, that’s why you shoot, asshole. To keep the shit off your mind.
Copyright © 2013 by Robert K. Lewis. Used by permission from Midnight Ink Books, www.midnightinkbooks.com.
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Bay Area resident Robert K. Lewis has been a painter, printmaker, and a produced screenwriter. He is a contributor to CriminalElement.com. Lewis is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers. Untold Damage is his first novel. Visit him online at RobertKLewis.com and at needlecity.wordpress.com.