Ace Harmon in Caution: Slow Children

Episode 1
In which our Hero, Ace Harmon,
discovers a new flame,
reads all about it,
and takes a guided tour of the city at night.

The kid's fingers flashed across the keyboard like the naked guy at prom, his grandmother in the next room clanking dishes together like a circus entertainer. I turned toward the window and stared down at the dingy back alley as I lit a gasper. The setting sunlight flitted through the smoke leaving wispy trails rising toward the ceiling. The kid's mitts suddenly went silent.

"What's cooking?" I asked, turning back towards the cramped apartment.

"You do know that second hand smoke kills," said the kid.

"That's why I get mine first hand." He scowled and started clicking away again. I didn't want to be an egg, but I don't make it a habit to take advice from some twelve-year old scrub with tech fancy. I blew another puff out the open window.

Whatever he was doing, the kid was damn sure taking his time. Sitting around all bunk just made me Jones to hook up with that gilt-swaddled Bruno again. At least then life would be interesting. As for this case, there was something I just couldn't crab. Dennis was special. That much was obvious from his den of disaster. But from James had said, he wasn't making chump change working as a hired gun to some of the local techies, and that's motive on both sides. Could be that his upstairs didn't like its secret basement offering storage to other buildings. Could be those other buildings didn't like his upstairs having such a nice basement. Or perhaps it was just another special kid taking a special road trip without letting anyone know. The number of people who wander into the streets of this apple never to be seen again... I didn't want to think about it.

"Tea?" The old lady's request snapped me out of my internal monologue. I waved a hand and shook my head, just to make sure she caught my drift.

"Grandma! We're working here! Go away!" The kid stood up and ushered the old lady back out of the room, the two of them ribbing each other in Tongue Kwon Do as the tea set clanked away. James closed the door firmly as the last of his grandmother's words trailed off into the kitchen. "Sorry about that."

"No sweat, kid," I said, doffing my cap and taking another drag. "How long till you find out what's in that tin box?"

"It... could take a while. If you've got other things to do, you should go do them." The kid slid back into his seat and focused on the pretty flashing lights once more. "I'll be able to let you know what sort of stuff Dennis was into tomorrow, probably."

"Thanks," I said, ducking out the window to the fire escape. "Hey kid," I called, prompting James to turn and look at me. "I owe you one." I didn't bother to watch the smile spread onto his face. Kids are all the same like that. You make them feel useful and they're yours. And if that doesn't work, there's always candy.

I shimmied down the fire escape, rattling the cast iron contraption the entire way down. Still, the alley was my best bet to avoid another brush with the tin soldier. As I slid passed the dumpsters, I felt my stomach rumble like two gangs in disputed territory. I paused for a moment, briefly remembering the lo-mein I had ditched back at my office for a hot duck and an odd case. At least until I got paid for this gig, I'd probably be better off scrounging in my ice box than calling Mrs. Song for any leftovers. She was probably steamed like rice for the way I pushed her out into the cold. And the last thing I needed was an angry Chinese dame trying to grease me for showing some interest in the local fare.

The coast was clear when I peeked around the corner. The tin soldier had either abandoned his post or was holding down the fort inside. Perhaps he had even punched out for the eve, given the time that had passed. The city gave people the cold should during the day, but at night, if you couldn't see your own breath, you probably weren't breathing. I dodged across the street and around the corner before slowing to a normal pace and footing it back towards my home base.

After a block or two, I heard the cries of a late edition. I hopped across to the newsstand, tossed the man two bits and snatched a copy of the Times off the rack. I glanced at the special edition headline:

Latina Diva Esmerelda Mendes to Shoot Film Downtown

The sirens blared as the engine blew passed me. I tucked the paper under my arm and booked it after the flashers. I'm not usually an ambulance chaser, but every once in a while, when scratch is slim, you can find a case of arson or injury where a little money will be tossed your way to reveal information in court that you "detected" at the scene. Since I was already on a major a case, a couple extra bucks caught during my downtime couple hurt.

I skidded to a halt as I round the corner. The plumes of black smoke rose from my building. I counted the floors to the smoking window, knowing even as I did so that the fire was coming from my office. Before I got to four, something hard landed on my head, dropping me like a sack of potatoes.

The problem with getting cooled is that it's difficult to figure out who dropped the jack on you. If you know it's coming, usually it's not too hard to keep your eyes peeled for an extra moment or two and catch a snapshot of your attacker. Unfortunately for me, I was still in shock at seeing my office being charred like a poorly cooked steak, not to mention that I was having trouble counting to four. Either way, I was down faster than a veteran hooker with a Jackson waving in her face.

When I came to, the place was pitch and bumping like a nickel cowboy ride in front of the market. I was on my side, slightly curled to fit into the back of some flivver with my hand bound in front of me. Bad idea, that. I twisted and slid my hand into my pocket, digging for my traveling night light. The zippo clicked softly as the flame lit up the trunk. the ties around my hands were plastic--plastic and tight. I snapped my zippo closed and reached for my back pocket where I kept my knife. The bastards had taken it. A hard turn flung me head first into the side, but I narrowly avoided a hard impact, ducking slightly and bracing my hands.

I lit up once more, figuring that if I couldn't use my knife, perhaps there was a sharp edge I could cut my bindings with. Spinning around and looking about, I spotted my newspaper as my sole companion. The trunk was too tight to get in with the tire iron and spare, and it appeared the trunk was a useless void.

I flipped the newspaper up figuring that if I couldn't escape, at least I could catch up on the news. Besides the big new of a major motion picture star gracing our burgh, the news was pretty standard: two found in Chicago sleeping bags in the North End, fire out in the burbs, a fresh restaurant opening downtown. In fact, other than the beauty Mendes, the only interesting note outside of sports was a Korean company suing a local outfit for copyright violations after an ill-fated hostile takeover attempt.

The car shook and came to a halt. The zippo snapped shut and I grimaced as I shoved the hot piece of metal back into my pocket. I heard the doors open and slam shut again as I waited for my captors to retrieve me. Briefly I considered hocking a loogie at the punks when the popped the lid, but judging by my dry mouth it would just be in vain.

As the trunk opened, I kicked out hard. I saw two Asian faces staring at me as my foot flailed aimlessly passed them. The two exchanged a look of amusement at my inept attempt at escape.

"Cut me some slack?" I plead, my leg dropping back into the trunk. The one on the left smiled and knocked me back into the black with a swift kick to my head. If this case didn't kill me, I figured the head trauma would.

Stay tuned for our next exciting episode of
Ace Harmon, Retro Detective

In which our Hero, Ace Harmon,
investigates getting dental insurance,
gets dressed down by a suit,
and considers buying a pacifier.

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