It's great that you could come visit. Something happened the other day that took me by surprise and I thought I'd share. Alex Drummond was kidnapped! Can you believe it?
Turns out it was by a fellow author's character, Jet. A friend if you can believe that. Emmy Jackson of Detroit, Michigan, got ahold of me after the fact and explained what happened, even including a transcript of the events. Talk about unnerving. I thought I was going out of my head. I might have pressed charges, but Alex told me not to, said there wasn't a task force or court that would capture or convict a fictional character. What can you do?
Here are the events as I know them:
“I'm nobody's main character but my own. The name's Alex... Alex Drummond. You know... now that you mention it, there is this fat guy with a goatee and a cap who tends to follow me around scribblin' things. Always shows up in the damnedest places. Once he even appeared in the bathroom while I was showerin'. Had to kick his butt out. He's a bit eerie. Kinda freaks me out from time to time, and that's sayin' somethin'.”
“I get the feeling you’re not freaked out easily. What do you do for a living?”
“Homicide detective.” Tips the brim of his fedora with a finger. “Nice to meet you, li'l Ms. Uber Driver. So Jet, where'd you get this spiffy ride?”
“Aw, I ain’t no Uber driver,” she says with a chuckle. “But I know where you’re going. The car’s special. A little old man gave it to me, though he insisted it was always mine. Go figure that, it’s older than I am. You don’t seem like an ordinary detective to me. Why am I getting that vibe?”
The fare peers around the cabin, somewhat uncomfortable with the question. “You could say that,” he says, tight-lipped.
“So you have a knack for solving the hard cases. I don’t mean it in a creepy way. But, you know. Like you were born with a special insight. Something that gives you an edge over the average guy.”
Tensing, Alex glances at the driver as the car speeds off. “Y-you can’t… I don’t know what you’re talking about, lady.” His hand drifts beneath his coat, eyes widening when he finds his holster empty. He never leaves home without his gun—never.
“Yeah don’t worry about that, you won’t need it. Think of this as a fever dream, and you’ll wake up wherever you wanted to go. I’m not here to challenge you. I just want to know why. You know, why you’ve made the choices you have. Why a homicide detective?”
Alex harrumphs. “Choices… those are dangerous. They can lead you down a ton of different paths. Anyone in my position could’ve turned out as an agent of misery or salvation.” Nodding, he adds, “The ghosts did it though, and my sisters. What would you do to help people in need? People who can’t help themselves?”
“When I meet folks like that, I never seem to have any idea what I’d do, until I’m already doing it. You sound way more grown up than me,” she adds with a grin and a wink. “Some days I wouldn’t trust myself to take care of me, let alone anyone else. Do you think you have, I don’t know, a purpose? Something like that? Do you believe in fate?”
“Fate? Not so much. If fate does exist, it’s meant to be broken. You really wanna know what I do? I listen. I watch and see through the visions of the past. I speak for the silenced… the dead. You could call it a purpose, but really it’s a choice. It was either that or go insane.”
“I imagine that takes a lot out of you. What keeps you going?”
“People need help. It does take something out of you… more than you would think, but who else is there? They speak to me as best they can, and I act for them.”
“Someone’s got to solve the unsolvable. You don’t come across as the tortured-loner type, though. I like that. Tortured loner homicide detectives are a dime a dozen, you know? Is there anyone else in your life? Wife, kids?”
City lights begin appearing through the car windows, flashing past, replacing the country hills and mountains of Tranquil Heights Alex is used to. Unsettled, he asks, “H-how…? Y-yes, I’ve got a family. What the hell’s goin’ on out there? Where are we?”
“We’re on Outer Drive, in Detroit. It’s a shortcut, don’t worry about it. This road goes everywhere. So, does your family know about your calling?” She adds quickly, “That’s not a threat or anything, if they don’t. I’m just asking. I get the feeling they don’t, though.”
Trying to look away from the growing traffic speeding by outside, Alex sinks further into the cushioned cloth seats. In for a penny, in for a dollar, Alex thinks to himself. “Yeah, they know, and my partner Hector. I couldn’t survive if they didn’t. Too many lies…. Too much sidestepping explanations I’d imagine. I couldn’t do that to Paige, and it would be difficult with Jamie, considering... Besides, she’s known as long as I have. Helped me through the hardest parts when we were teenagers.”
“I think that’s pretty fabulous, actually. Do you find that it helps having them back you up, rather than being Batman?”
Seeing no cause for concern, Alex replies, “Eh… yeah it helps, but it’ll give ya a heart attack at times too. A little of both. What I do, trying to bring justice to the dead, ain’t exactly safe. These people have gotten away with it for years, sometimes decades, and they aren’t ready to give up once I come snoopin’ around. Sometimes it puts a bullseye on my back and anyone I’m with. Probably why more people with the gift don’t advertise, like in the yellow pages or nothin’.” Alex wipes a hand over his sweaty face. “Is it gettin’ hot in here or is it just me?”
She reaches over and turns up the AC with a little smile. “You ever met anyone else who does what you do?”
“A couple so-called fortune tellers.” Waving a hand dismissively, he adds, “No one worth their salt.”
“So, no arch-enemies, then. If you had to choose, who or what would you say is your Moriarty, thematically speaking?”
“Moriarty… So you’re a Sherlock fan. Good to know. Well, ever since I was a teen there’s been a serial killer in Tranquil Heights. The beat cops and detectives have never been able to catch him because he only kills once a year, a ritual sacrifice on September 20th. Never seen a serial killer with such willpower. Been goin’ for fifteen years straight now, but I’m gonna catch her this year if it’s the last thing I do. Pretty sure who she is already.”
“Wow. That’s a lot of dead bodies. And a female serial killer, too? You don’t hear about those every day. So is this a vigilante thing, or are you working within the confines of your official job?”
Alex unconsciously pats his shoulder holster again. “I’m a homicide detective. I do what I can, but yes, it requires a little finesse. Psychometry isn’t upheld by the courts, you know.”
“So you do cross the line once in a while, then?”
“Not if I can help it. I don’t want these killers gettin’ off on a technicality. I try to do what I can to dot all the ‘I’s and cross my ‘T’s, but it’s not like they play by the rules. I just kinda adopted the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared. You gotta in my line of work or you won’t live long.”
“How do you want to see it end? If you had your choice?”
“If I had my choice, this murdering S.O.B. would have been caught after the first victim. She’d be in prison for life, no chance of parole. And fourteen people would be alive instead of burnt as ritual sacrifices.” Alex grimaces at the thought. He has relived the murders, seen and felt them through their eyes.
“So I mentioned Holmes earlier—sorry, the detective thing always makes me think of him. Here’s a funny question. Would you rather work with Sherlock Holmes, or John McClane?”
The question catches Alex off guard, but a smile creeps to his lips. “Never been asked that. So Holmes or Die Hard, right? Man, that’s a good one.” Alex scratches his head. “Sherlock is more my speed, trying to figure out the crimes. The difference is, I normally know who the murderer is—or at least what they look like—from the beginning. I just have to work backwards to find enough evidence to satisfy a court of jurors and a judge. Sherlock and I would get along just fine, but there comes a time when a little John McClane has to come out. Murderers aren’t the type to just roll over once found. They’ve got an agenda, a plan, and handcuffs and a prison cell with Bubba and a bar of soap aren’t normally part of it.”
She nods. “I get you on that. It sounds like you’re on the right track. Is there anything that makes things hard for you? What keeps you up at night?”
A shudder runs through Alex as countless memories flood his mind one after another, nightmares from the past. “Yeah, you wouldn’t believe how often I wake up in a cold sweat. Reliving death isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and a brain can only take so much. My stepfather, the Drunk, had his demons and hurt a lot of people. I relive my own horrid past at times, but other times I’m haunted by the victims. They say everyone’s got an ounce of humanity in them, but I can tell you, there’s a few who don’t. They relish inflicting pain. Dying at their hands again and again is just… gruesome.” Wiping the sweat off his forehead, he continues, “Just be glad they don’t haunt your dreams, too.”
“Sounds rough. I can empathize—nobody ever makes it easy for characters like us, do they?”
“Nah, never.” Changing the subject, Alex asks, “So where abouts are you from and how’d you come to pick me up instead of the Uber driver?”
Jet laughs. “I’m a Detroiter, born and raised. And I picked you up because I wanted to meet you. I could explain, but it would take longer than we have. We’re almost there. Where were you going, by the way?”
Alex blinks, momentarily stunned. “Uhh… right. To the veteran’s hall for a big dinner. The boss is gettin’ an award or somethin’. My wife has my car since hers got a little… damaged.”
“Hope it’s not a black-tie event,” she says with a nonjudgmental glance at his clothes.
Alex grumbles, “Yeah, but I ain’t eating. Got stuck with managing security. I don’t think Lieutenant Tullings liked the way we took down the last baddie.” He shrugs. “Such is life.”
“Oh, man, that’s terrible. Punishment dinners are the worst.” Jet taps the car’s turn signal to the left and makes an abrupt, dizziness-inducing right turn. The street she turns onto is instantly familiar, despite the completely unfamiliar surroundings on the road she called, “Outer Drive.” They’re right in front of the veteran’s hall. Looking behind the car, there’s no sign of the intersection they just turned at. “At least you’ll be on time,” she says as though there were nothing strange about what just happened. “Good luck, Alex.”
The door opens of its own accord and Alex stumbles out. He clears his throat and turns around, but the car is already moving up the block, the engine barely making a sound. “Th-thanks,” comes out as a whisper.
* * *
Emmy Jackson grew up in and around Detroit and has traveled to every corner of the United States, but always goes back. The second book in his "Empty Cradle" post-apocalyptic urban-fantasy series, Shiloh in the Circle, debuted in 2013, following up The Untimely Death of Corey Sanderson. Similar to Mad Max: Fury Road, both books have been praised for featuring strong female characters and themes beyond simple survival. During the fifteen years he spent building the world of Empty Cradle, he often lived like one of the scavengers from his stories, rescuing and repurposing forgotten items. He even spent three years living a nomadic life in an RV. Emmy lives outside of Detroit, Michigan, with a dumb but adorable cat and is working on the third Empty Cradle book when he is not building wasteland vehicle projects or turning broken cellos into lamps.
To find out more about Emmy Jackson, visit his author site at http://www.emmyjackson.com.
Weston Kincade ~ Author of the A Life of Death collection, The Priors, and Strange Circumstances