Old Voices, New Scenes (a short story)

This story is a pseudo-sequel to a story that I am peddling for publication, along with two other longer works in this setting. The prequel to this one is currently awaiting review (and probably rejection) at Strange Horizons. That story examines the Angel Cult in more detail. The story below is more an examination of the character Storm Hamilton and his attachment to the classic gumshoe detectives of the early 1900s.

“I’ve been bad—worse than you could know—but I’m not all bad. Look at me, Mr. Spade. You know I’m not all bad, don’t you? You can see that, can’t you? Then can’t you trust me just a little?”

Storm Hamilton set his aging copy of The Maltese Falcon down on the passenger seat, making sure not to bend the fraying edges. His eyes returned to old door across the street. It was just one in a line of old terraced houses that had since been built over and around, the mold of urbanity growing in all directions but in. Some old ladies must have doubted the Seraphim’s pledge to build them something new to replace their old homes. Or maybe they had just preferred the old houses for what they were. That would have set the aliens off, Storm was sure.

Regardless of the circumstances of their survival, these old houses were now little more than ghettos, shelters for the riff-raff of society that refused to play along in the aliens’ game. Storm had heard that the man he was looking for was holed up in one of these apartments. That man was James Kirney, a supposed distributor of subversive cultist literature. Storm didn’t like the use of that word for the Angel Cult’s drivel—which claimed the aliens to be messengers from God sent to save mankind. It was a concept that didn’t hold up when you actually started talking to the Seraphim and saw them to have as many flaws as any other mortal.

Storm had spent the last week talking to people who knew Kirney, a man who had been a ruthless gangster in a past life. Kirney’s friends and associates claimed he was a changed man. But like Sam Spade in his book, Storm was reluctant to believe it.

Storm shifted in his seat; the leather creaked. The detective’s butt had been well-trained in sitting for long periods, but six hours was even too much for Storm to endure. The present stakeout was not progressing as he had hoped. He needed to shake things up.

“My way of learning is to heave a wild and unpredictable monkey-wrench into the machinery.” 

Storm knew the book by heart, it was almost a creed for the man who kept one foot in the past—a past bequeathed to him by his late mother. The books were part of that legacy.

He opened the door of his car and stepped out onto the sunset shaded street, pulling his old brown fedora down over his stout brow. He looked from left to right, noticing neither cars nor people; he crossed to the door and knocked. There was no response. He slapped the door a bit harder. Still nothing.

This house was on the end of the line, and there seemed to be the remnants of an old alley to the right of the faded red building. Storm was just able to squeeze in between the terraces and the new behemoth that rose over them. He shimmied down the passage until he came to a window. He peered into the dark house and listened for signs of life. The place was lifeless. Maybe it was abandoned for good, he tried to convince himself, as he pushed the unlocked window open and crawled inside.

He pulled a small flashlight from his coat pocket and slipped it over his ear, letting it sync to his brain implant. With a thought, he sent a beam of white light out in a wide cone in front of him. The house was clearly not abandoned—bottles and cups and plates were scattered atop old and broken tables.

Storm looked over the human debris, searching for clues that might hint to where Kirney had gone. There was a brochure for a car rental place, which might be relevant, but little else. Then his eyes settled on the copy of the Angel Cult’s Book of Law lying disregarded on the floor. He picked it up and read the name “Kirney” written with marker on the cover. This was the place, or had been the place; Storm was not yet sure which.

As Storm made his way up the stairs, he wondered what his partner would think of this little private excursion. The grey alien would probably chastise him for breaking the rules, several times: first in investigating Kirney at all, second in going on a stakeout without his partner, third for entering a residence without a warrant. He was sure a few more offenses would be added to the list before he was finished here.

The stairs led to a pair of bedroom doors, one which was halfway open. Storm tried to push it clear, but it was stuck on something heavy. He poked his head around the wooden barrier, letting the beam of his flashlight fill the room. He saw what was blocking the door: the body of James Kirney.

Doing his best to not disturb the crime scene, Storm shoved the door just enough to slip through. The thin passage caught his hat and knocked it to the ground. The detective bent down to grab it and came face to face with a pool of sticky blood. A blood-soaked pillow lay to the side of what remained of Kirney’s face. It had been used as a silencer during the man’s execution.

Storm looked around the room but found no sign of the murder weapon. The only object of relevance was an old-model tablet computer. The detective picked it up and switched the clear plastic screen on. He spent a few minutes digging through the recent files. Kirney had indeed booked a rental car, and withdrawn a significant amount of cash. He had been planning an escape, but from what?

Opening the tablet’s email application—which had not been locked—Storm found the answer. The subject line for one of the recent emails read “You’re Dead.” The contents of the email blamed Kirney for the death of the sender’s nephew—a suicide Storm had dealt with a week back. It seemed Kirney had been leading a separatist faction in the cult, one that wanted to tone down their absolute faith in the divinity of the Seraphim. For this writer, it was an act of blasphemy and an ember of doubt that had sent his nephew spiraling into the void.

“He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.” 

Storm had thought the cult to be dangerous, but he had not expected this. The group was splintering, violently. Kirney would not be the last casualty. This situation was clearly becoming more than just an issue of free thought as the Seraphim suggested, when they had urged Storm not-so-kindly to back off. He had to slap the chains on this problem before it erupted into a full-on gang war.

Storm activated his comm implant and called his partner. Drake was not going to be happy.

*The plot continues HERE.

*More stories set in the world of Storm Hamilton and the Seraphim can be found here:

Old Bones

Signs of a Past Life

Some Things You Can’t Let Go

That Which is Not Displayed

Green Food


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