Park Ave (PART 1) Chapters 1-5
A Charles Splints Case
By Dan Leicht
The teapot screaming woke me up. I must’ve fallen asleep at my desk again after another long night patrolling the streets of Brooksend like some sort of vigilante. A new case had brought me out of hiding and to the door of an old woman on Park Ave. Ever since my adventures on East, something had been awakened in this city. The boy’s powers were just the beginning, I see that now. His ability to control people and make them his puppets was amusing, but nothing like what I saw the old woman do. She was a shapeshifter and she recognized me the second she peeked through the door at my itchy mug. She looked me up and down, from my uncut greasy hair to my steel toed boots. Elderly hands may have opened the door and welcomed me inside, but it was brute fists attached to the same arms that sent me flying into the bookcase. I heard the impact, felt my back hit the case like a free chiropractor appointment. Luckily it got the kink out just in time to have a brute punch it back to normal. When pain is normal, you’re doing something right.
The shapeshifter left me there and ran out the door, leaving a match inches away from a stream of gasoline. What a beautiful parting gift. I managed to get to my feet, having to hold my lower back with my right hand as I stepped towards the match. It was singeing the carpet and I could see the smoke growing closer to the wetness of the fuel. I walked past it and to the door. The apartment going up in flames behind me.
The water was too hot and I had to let it cool while reviewing the night before in my head. Before me was a stack of notes, different locations people of the city have claimed to see shapeshifters. Was there only one? Or an army? I was willing to find out.
I heard about the arsonist by listening to a man whine at the end of the bar, the one on Alexander St. He griped to the barkeep about how an old women he delivers the paper to every morning suddenly changed overnight.
“I’d knock on her door every morning, man. Right at six and she’d hand me a paper cup of coffee to help me on the route. The other day, it’s like she flipped a switch, she knocks a tooth loose and sends me to the pavement,” he griped.
“You tell the cops?” asked the barkeep.
“Tell them what? That an old lady kicked my ass? Not a chance. Only reason I’m telling you is the booze. Can’t visit the station this liquored up.”
I finished my pint and nodded for the barkeep to refill my glass once the paperboy left his tip. I asked him about the story he’d just heard and to fill in any parts I might have missed. He gave me the address to the woman’s house, the one I saw burn down. As I reviewed the notes there was one part that stuck with me, she changed overnight.
Was I going crazy thinking there might be some kind of invasion going on? Was the old woman replaced or were these shapeshifters finally playing their cards after all these years? Had I been dealt the Joker once again? Life’s deck never sorts that one out before playing.
I woke up to the smoke alarm going off. Never rings on pasta night, but it sure knows how to invade dreamland during the good parts. I’d have to learn French after the next night cap.
Once to my feet I made my way to the room with the couch and the screen that spits the white noise I leave on to fall asleep to on the nights the trains refuse to stop hollering past my window. The screen was on but the volume was turned real low. Someone had been in my apartment. The alarm was by the door and I could feel the heat coming from the hallway as I walked over to rip it down and stomp on it. I’ve never had good luck with apartments. Maybe I’d be better off writing in my spare time instead of chasing trouble. Then again that wouldn’t pay the bills now, would it?
The handle melts my palm, so I throw a shoulder into the door and into the lit hallway. I hear screams, others trapped. I mutter something about skipping that glass of water before bed and barrel into the door across the hall. Inside is Glenn Hardrow, an older schmuck than myself, and a sore loser at chess. I throw his comforter over him and make for the door. I can hear the sirens announcing their arrival. Chances are they’d be too late for some.
Someone dressed in black with a mask over his face comes for Hardrow. I tell him I got the old man, but there’s still some others I heard calling out for a savior. The young volunteer who missed his hockey practice takes to the stairs and saves some lives. I get Hardrow outside before my lungs become kindling. Paramedics run over and lift him onto a stretcher. They come for me but I wave them off, I didn’t even have the money for rent this month, much less the cab ride they’d give me in that white wagon.
I make my way to the nearest bar, a few bucks tucked into my shoe. I order a scotch and water. I’d finally have that glass before bed.
At the bar I tried to figure out what could have been taken from my apartment before the arsonist burnt it down. With the TV on someone had been in there and deliberately turned it to the foggy channel. Sometimes Glenn and I would put that one on during a match to drown out the other’s muttering. Had Hardrow been in my apartment and turned it on out of habit? I asked the barkeep for a double, down it, and head out towards the hospital.
The nurse at the front desk was blonde with thick black rimmed glasses warn out on the sides. Throughout our two minute conversation she took them off four times to rub her eyes, probably working the longest shift of her life. Welcome to adulthood, you’ll sleep better in your sixties…so they tell me. She let me know the room of Hardrow after a bit of explaining our relationship. “We play chess a couple times a week, more his idea than mine. He hasn’t beaten me yet, but always thinks ‘today’s the day’. He drinks vodka on the rocks, supplies it himself of course.”
I knocked on room thirty-two before creaking the door open. Hardrow had the TV on the foggy channel at a low volume. I sat by his bedside and grabbed his unopened pudding cup. Between mouthfuls of butterscotch I asked him how his night went.
“Crazy thing, wanting to listen to the white noise like that. Guess you grew used to it during our matches all those times.” Without a vocal response he looked over at me, a dead glare in his eyes. He looked as if he’d been beaten by an ex-wife at Monopoly. I prodded him for a few more questions but he wasn’t biting. I pressed the call button by his fingertips to signal the nurse.
“Is there something wrong?” she asked as she stood by the door, in one hand on a container of piss, the other holding a crumbled up light green gown.
“Do you guys have chess here at all? My buddy here could use a game to get his mind off the night’s events.”
“Sure thing. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Once the match was set up on the platter they had placed on his lap I took the first pawn out to pasture. He stared down at his options. He always played his first pawn like a mirror version to my own, but this time he moved a knight out into the open.
An hour went by and I was on the verge of putting Hardrow into a check. He was taking longer than usual with his turns, as if waiting for a timer to go off before he could move, two minutes on the dot each time, i’d been checking. With a few swift maneuvers he outsmarted my plans and turned the game back around. Hardrow usually always got flustered early on and would begin to make poor decisions halfway through the match. He didn’t even have a drip of sweat on his brow.
“Check,” he said as he slid a bishop.
“First thing you’ve said since I’ve been here, Old man.” I moved my King out of harms way.
“Check.” I was in the ringer again, this time to a knight. I moved my King but it was clear the game was coming to an end.
“Checkmate,” he declared with a blank stare. You’d think that after all the games we’ve played, all the times he’d lost to me, that his first win would at least bring a little excitement. At least that’s the thought that crossed my mind.
“So what’d you do with the real Glenn Hardrow?”
The shapeshifter looked up at me and scowled, the first real expression i’d seen out of this new Glenn. He quickly flipped the board and tray off his lap and sprung out of the bed towards me. I was able to react and land of punch on him, knocking him off the bed onto the floor on the right side. He got up and lunged towards me again, except he wasn’t Glenn anymore once back to his feet but a body builder with the agility of a yoga instructor. He slammed me to the wall, the world in front of me turning into the aftermath of a flash-bang. I got to my feet and tried to regain composure when I heard a loud crash. He had jumped through the third story window and landed on his feet as a cat. Feline or not that had to hurt. He’d be injured, but have a good distance on me by the time I reached the ground floor. Before I could reach the door I felt faint again, the back of my head bleeding.
Find out what happened on East Ave in the Free ebook By Dan Leicht
©Dan Leicht 2016