Frea's A/N the First: So this chapter is a real pivot-point in our story. Also, I want you to know that half the deaths in this story were not my idea, just in case you guys get any thoughts in your head that I'm taking Joss Whedon's writing to heart.
mxpw's A/N the First: Wouldn't it be awesome if Frea told me when she was updating so I could write my own notes? However, she did not, so I am a sock puppet being controlled to thank you lovely readers, you lovely beta readers (the steampunky one and the musical-movies-with-Nazis-in-them-y one), and everybody that's left a review, tweet, reblog, or private message. You guys remain wonderful!
Jail Cell Blues
With my surrender evident, Shaw moved quickly, shoving me face first into the brick wall of the nearest alley. The first thing he did was divest me of my M1911 and the S&W 27, placing both in the pockets of his trench coat. I wanted to protest—that was no way to treat my things, especially not the S&W—but I didn't want to risk another sock to the gut. He hauled my arms behind me none too gently, slapping the cuffs on my wrists. Once I was in the bracelets, he started to search me in earnest, poking through my pockets. His movements grew jerkier the longer he searched and came up empty.
I frowned. I hadn't noticed the piece of paper with the note from Bryce on it. Had Shaw missed it?
He spun me around and shoved me back into the wall again, hand pressing up against my throat. I gurgled a little, but still managed to ask, "Looking for something special, sunshine?"
Shaw sneered, his face even blunter and uglier up close. "You've been nothing but trouble for me, Carmichael. All I've heard since I rolled into town was that you were a man who knew how to find things, but as far as I can tell, you're an idiot. What have you found? Bupkis."
"I'd say I'm sorry, but I'd be lying."
I wasn't completely surprised when Shaw punched me in the stomach, but I still wasn't prepared for getting hit by what felt like a side of ham. Air escaped past my lips in a rush as I doubled over, coughing piteously.
Why, why, why did I always have to mouth off at people who were bigger than me? What sadistic sign had I been born under?
Shaw crouched so that his mouth was next to my ear. "You think you're so smart, Carmichael? You think you're clever? You're not, and you'll see just how smart you aren't when I pin the rap for Sarkoloff's murder on you."
"I didn't kill Sarkoloff."
"Doesn't matter. Somebody did, and right now, you look good for it. Let's go." He grabbed the back of my coat and frog-marched me to a waiting sedan, into which he unceremoniously shoved me. I banged my elbow against the car door, cursing.
"Where are we going?" I asked when he climbed into the driver's seat.
"Let's go pay your pals at the 42nd a visit. It's a good enough place to stash you while I figure out what to do with you. Everything's gonna hang on you, Carmichael. I'll see to that," Shaw said, and I could hear the vindictive satisfaction in his voice as he started the car. It sent cold sweat dripping down my back as I shifted to find a more comfortable way to sit with my hands cuffed behind my back.
He probably couldn't make the murder rap stick. Most likely. Casey had always had my back and would have it again, but it would take hours or even days to get the whole mess cleared up. I only had two hours before my meet with Larkin and something told me I wouldn't get a second chance with him if I missed it. And jail cells left a man vulnerable in a way being on the street didn't. The Bishop had men all over the institutions of Chicago. I only had to come across one guard he'd paid off and they'd be carving my headstone right quick. I needed to get out of there. And I needed to do it quickly.
An hour later, inexplicably, I was still alive.
Shaw had marched me right past Booking, which had made the desk sergeant's eyes widen, and had tossed me right into a cell—literally. I'd bumped my bad leg hard on the cell's concrete slab of a cot, so that vicious sparkles had shimmered across my vision. An hour later, it still ached like a sore tooth, but thankfully, I hadn't seen a single guard ready to slip a knife between my ribs, and even better, I hadn't seen Shaw.
That didn't stop me from being surprised when I heard the rhythm of high heels striking dirty linoleum and suddenly, Carina Miller stood outside of my cell, looking divinely bored.
I scrambled to my feet. "What are you doing here?"
"And hello to you too, Mr. Carmichael. It's a lovely day outside. Is early October in Chicago always this mild? I must say, I find it—"
"I don't have time for games, Miss Miller," I said. I had less than an hour until my meet with Larkin. The relief I'd felt at seeing Carina had been temporary, especially as she didn't appear in much of a helpful mood. "What's going on? What are you doing here?"
Carina frowned and brushed a couple of strands of auburn hair away from her face. "You're not nearly as much fun as you were last time we met up. I told you I'd look into your Agent Shaw, didn't I? Good thing I did, too. Otherwise I'd never have known you were here."
"So, what, you're here to bust me out?" I asked, more than a little incredulous.
Carina smirked. "Something like that. Shaw finally stepped out. This was the first opening I've had or else I would have been here sooner."
I had a hard time believing anything she was telling me. "Why?"
"Believe it or not, Chuck, but we are on the same side. We both want the same thing."
I seriously doubted Carina Miller wanted home plate tickets at Wrigley and Sarah back in her life, but that was burying the lead. There was really only one thing I wanted to talk about with her. "Did you kill Sarkoloff?"
"Why should I believe you? I leave you alone with the guy for thirty minutes and he winds up dead. That doesn't inspire much confidence that you're being truthful, Miss Miller."
I could see the growing frustration in Carina's eyes, but she simply shifted her stance and crossed her arms over her chest. "I gave you my word. I'm many things, but a welcher ain't one of them. He was alive when I left."
"Why'd you leave?"
"I wasn't going to stick around and answer some copper's questions, friend of yours or not."
I scoffed. "You've been lying to me since the moment we met."
"I told the truth about some things. And fine, if you won't believe me, maybe you'll believe somebody you do trust." She gave a come hither gesture down the hallway to somebody I couldn't see.
As if on cue, a very familiar pattern of sound echoed down the hallway. Instinct had me straightening up and tidying my clothes because I recognized that pattern, even if it was impossible. That was the rhythm and click of Sarah Walker's shoes, and she should have already been on a bus to Detroit by now.
And yet, there she was.
"Sarah!" I said when she finally came into sight. My heart pounded a couple of times in my chest. Relief and happiness mixed with confusion. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi, Chuck." Her smile was hesitant and didn't reach her eyes. "I'm here to get you out."
"How?" I asked, and right then, it occurred to me that Sarah was the mystery woman Carina had mentioned time and again. I immediately felt like kicking myself for not seeing it before: there were only four women in my life, and only two that really knew me. So it had to be either Ellie or Sarah. I'd grown up with Ellie and she would never have kept a secret like Carina Miller from me, so… "Wait. How do you two know each other? Why aren't you in Detroit? You told me you were leaving."
Sarah didn't look at me. "This cell," she said instead, and the guard stepped forward with the keys. He pulled the door open, the squeak of the hinges protesting making us all wince. Finally, Sarah looked at me, and her face was lined with apology. "I never actually left for Detroit."
"I don't understand. What's going on? How do you know Carina? How'd you spring me?"
Sarah opened her mouth to answer, but Carina stepped between us. "Here's probably not the place for that," she said, looking at the guard, who blinked back at us. "Maybe we should go someplace else."
I suddenly remembered the thing that had been plaguing me all during my wait in the cell. Automatically, I glanced at my watch, which made me let out a curse. We needed to hurry if I was going to make it to Barker's Pub on time. "We'll have to do that later. I've got a lead on Bryce Larkin, but we need to move now."
"Well," Carina said, "no time to waste, then."
She handed me my hat and the three of us hurried away from the guard, heading for the front door. Normally, I would have stopped to say hi to Casey or to invite him to come along, depending on the case, but now I just rushed for the Chicago sunlight.
"What's your lead?" Carina asked, keeping up with me easily despite the heels. In fact, neither women seemed at all bothered by the fact that they were essentially running on stilts or that I was several inches taller than them and had the stride to match. They weren't even breathing hard.
"I bumped into Larkin earlier—"
Sarah grabbed my arm and yanked me to a halt, spinning me around. I wheeled about in surprise. She was a lot stronger than I'd ever suspected. "He did what?" she asked. "Are you okay?"
I tugged my arm free and started walking again. "I'm fine, I didn't even know it was him. Let's just—we need to go, okay?"
"Cab ride's on me," Carina said, and whistled for a taxi.
When the cab pulled up in front of Barker's Pub, my watch said we were only two minutes late.
I rushed headlong into the pub, hoping that Larkin had stuck around, but instead, I only saw the thin remains of the lunch crowd. A few businessmen enjoying a liquid lunch, a few old timers, but nobody that looked remotely like Bryce Larkin. Frustrated and praying, I went straight to the barkeep. "I'm looking for a fella, about this high." I held my hand up close to my ear. "Blue eyes, looks a bit like a film star?"
The barkeep hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Back room."
With a nod of thanks, I hurried the way he'd indicated, Sarah and Carina on my heels. We entered a hallway lit only by a single window at the end of it, where the mid-afternoon sunshine cast a ghostly blue light on everything. There were only two doors, and the air smelled of smoke and fried food. One of the doors led to a washroom you couldn't pay me to use, which left the second for the back room that hopefully contained Bryce Larkin. I pulled out my M1911, which, along with my S&W 27, Sarah had returned at the police station, leaving me with nothing but more questions. The grip felt comforting against my hand. I'd been ambushed and surprised too many times lately, so I wasn't taking any chances now.
It didn't surprise me when I saw Carina with a Ladysmith in hand, but I was nearly stunned stupid when I saw a similar weapon in Sarah's hand. I opened my mouth to say something, but she gave me a sharp shake of her head and I clamped shut. If that's how she wanted to handle things, fine.
I opened the door and almost immediately closed it again. It, I saw immediately, didn't matter that we were late. Bryce Larkin had been dead for longer than two minutes. If the pool of blood and the literal knife in his back was any indication, it hadn't been a pleasant end either.
"What is it?" Sarah asked.
"I don't think you want to look in there," I said.
She gave me a long look and then turned to Carina, who sighed, holstered her Ladysmith, and stepped past me. And before I could stop either of them, the ladies stepped inside the room, seemingly without a care. With my stomach doing jumping jacks in my middle, I followed them.
The entire room reeked of death. Bryce Larkin lay face down, head turned gruesomely toward to the door. Thankfully, his eyes were closed. I don't think I could have handled eyes that blue staring at me from beyond the grave. He wasn't my first dead body I'd seen in person—the darker side of my business came calling more often than I liked—but seeing death that close and that brutal always knocked me back a step. My knees felt shaky and weak as I took in everything: the way the blood pooled around his body, stark and red, the angle of the knife, the hat that had been clearly knocked off his head in the struggle. There wasn't much besides him, a table, and a half-eaten meal in the room. A tankard of ale had dripped onto the floor and mixed with the very edge of the puddle, swirling and making the blood seem lighter colored.
I jolted when I felt somebody tug my arm, and suddenly Sarah was there. Vaguely, I recognized that she and Carina had been talking the entire time, but I had been staring at Bryce Larkin with rapt, morbid fascination. I couldn't have repeated a single thing they'd said. "Chuck?" Sarah asked.
"That's Larkin," I said. "Who would have killed him?" A thought occurred to me and angrily, I whirled on Carina. "Did you do this? First Sarkoloff and now this?"
Carina held up her hands and took a step away from me. "No!"
"Carina's telling the truth, Chuck." Sarah stepped between us. She seemed paler than usual, but there was a strength around her lips and jaw that made me stare at them. I hastily yanked my gaze up to her eyes. "Larkin looks like he's been dead for only about ten minutes. Carina was with us."
"Also, I got no reason to kill him," Carina said.
I turned away until I could compose myself. Sarah was right. I might not have believed Carina when she said she hadn't killed the Soviet spy, but I knew enough about death to recognize a fresh one, and Carina couldn't have done that. But somebody had and it had to be somehow connected to the Bishop and to Shaw and even the Soviets. I shoved my pistol back in its holster. Think, I told myself, think. What's the next step?
As much as I didn't want to, I stared at the corpse on the floor. I rose from my seat and crouched next to the body, careful not to step in any of the blood. I gave the body a once-over. "Somebody already searched him."
Sarah crouched next to me. "Yes, we figured that. If he had anything on him, the killer likely has it now."
"Fantastic," I said under my breath.
And that's when I smelled it. It was faint and barely noticeable over the coppery pong of the blood, but I could just pick it up: cigarette smoke, and familiar cigarette smoke at that. The only person I'd spent time around today that smoked was Carina, and her Lady in Red cigarettes smelled nothing like this. This was bitterer, more cloying, and that's when I realized why it was familiar. I'd smelled it before at the Broken Monkey.
"You know something," Sarah said, looking at my face.
"I think I may have a lead on who killed Larkin."
"And it's not me?" Carina asked, sarcasm dripping from her voice.
"No, but I still don't trust you."
"All fine by me, Carmichael. You follow up on your lead. I need to talk to my superiors and update them on Larkin." And before I could even say anything in response, she had already slunk her way out of the room.
"We should get out of here before somebody thinks we did this," Sarah said.
"Good plan. C'mon. We're going to the Broken Monkey."
Frea's A/N the Second: Chuck. Chuck, no. NO, Chuck. Nothing good has happened to you at the Broken Monkey! Whyyyy would you even go there? Anyway, next chapter will be out Wednesday. Here's a taste:
"Wow," was all I could think to say to that. "How many years have we known each other and I never even suspected."
"It's perfectly fine, Chuck. You haven't suspected a lot of things."
"What's that supposed to—" I started to ask, but as I did, the trapdoor lifted on its own. I scrambled back, reaching for my weapon, but Sarah already had her gun out and leveled right at the head of…