Authors: Alex P. Berg
COLD HARD STEELE
A Daggers & Steele Mystery
ALEX P. BERG
Copyright © 2015 by Alex P. Berg
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Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents portrayed in this novel are a product of the author’s imagination.
Editor: Brittiany Koren
Cover Art: Damon Za
Book Layout: ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.com
Cold Hard Steele/ Alex P. Berg — 1st ed.
I watched the stunted demon fly up the stairs and take a death-defying leap into the abyss, only to be saved as he latched onto a hanging beam with superhuman dexterity. He whipped around in midair, launched his body into a spin, and landed in a crouch near a crowd of defenseless schoolchildren.
It would’ve been a bone-chilling sight if not for the fact that the little terror in question was my son.
“Are you all right, Jake?”
My ex-wife, Nicole, rode the pine beside me, her arm resting casually on the park bench’s back. An elastic band pulled her ash blond locks into a ponytail—the same style she’d sported during our little monster’s hair pulling days. Her round doe eyes sucked me in, tempting me with promises of warmth and compassion, promises that hadn’t exactly been met in the long run, though I’d had as much to do with that as her. Maybe more.
I blinked and responded with one of my typical, witty retorts. “Huh?”
“You’re distracted. What’s going on?” Nicole asked.
“Distracted?” I shifted in my seat, stretching my broad shoulders. “I’m not distracted. Why would you say that?”
Nicole raised an eyebrow. “You can’t lie to me, Jake Daggers.”
It wasn’t a threat or a boast, just a simple statement of fact. Nicole had a cute button nose right in the middle of her face that, despite its modest appearance, gave her unmatched olfactory powers. She could sniff out my fragrant fabrications the instant they hit the earth. I secretly suspected she had some basset hound somewhere in her lineage. It would’ve explained her big puppy eyes, as well.
Of course, she’d also amassed several years of experience sifting through my bunkum and lies. My inventive takes on reality were one factor that had helped scuttle our relationship, although my infuriating tendency to change the subject when confronted with a question I didn’t want to answer hadn’t helped either.
I harrumphed. “The little squirt really is fearless, I’ll give him that.” My son swung across the monkey bars before pulling himself up and scurrying across the top of them with glee. “He has no regard for his own safety.”
“What did you expect?” said Nicole. “He’s
“Hey now—I’m not that bad.”
My ex shot another condescending eyebrow my way. “Seriously? Have you looked in a mirror lately? Your nose didn’t point that way when we got married. And you’ve accumulated at least, what…three prominent scars since then?”
Nicole could’ve also noted how I’d added at least twenty pounds of sandwiches and beer onto my six foot, three inch frame since we’d married, or how a few isolated strands of gray had infiltrated my otherwise perfectly umber-colored crop of hair, but she wasn’t
“Ahh, so you’ve noticed,” I said. “I got the most recent one during a squabble with a heroin-addled dwarf. Though I like to think of them as distinguishing accents, not scars. So…do you like them?”
“The scars?” asked Nicole.
“Yeah,” I said. “Come on. Do they make me look sexier? I know chicks dig ‘em.”
Nicole rolled her eyes, but a reluctant smile nonetheless worked its way across her lips.
I grinned. Even though we’d been separated for a couple years, I tried to make an impression on her every time we met. I wasn’t sure if it was the desperate loner inside me or the bleeding-heart romantic that drove me, but today, both of those elements of my psyche pushed a little less forcefully than they used to.
I took a deep breath as I cast my eyes back onto the playground where my son continued to terrorize the villagers. I felt more comfortable around Nicole than I had in years. I wasn’t entirely sure why…but I had an idea, one that had been churning in the deep, dark recesses of my mind for a couple weeks now. I didn’t want to talk about it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to let the idea have free rein in my own head. But it was there, blossoming, making me chattier and less morose as it did so.
“So,” said Nicole. “Tell me about your new partner.”
I almost did a double take. Had my ex been taking telepathy lessons?
“Your new partner. What’s her name? Steele, I think?”
Shay Steele, to be precise. The Captain assigned her to me after my older-than-dust partner Griggs bowed out following a harrowing encounter with a pack of goblin cannibals. Svelte and saucy, with long brown hair and elfin features, Steele was quite the looker. She’d shouldered her way onto the force by virtue of her clairvoyant powers—powers that didn’t function
the way she’d first described them to me—but her deductive abilities were top-notch, and she was a great addition to our team. In all other facets, however, she was totally normal—just an average, sexy, young half-elf detective with exceptional observational prowess in a field dominated by grizzled, jaded hacks like me.
“How do you know about her?” I asked.
“Allison told me.”
“Oh. Right.” Allison Rodgers—the wife of one of my buddies down at the precinct. Her and Nicole bonded while we were married and had remained friends ever since.
“She said this new woman has some sort of psychic powers,” said Nicole.
“You could say that.”
For the time being, I was the only one other than Shay who knew the truth. I’d intentionally kept the Captain, as well as the other detectives down at the precinct, in the dark. Shay’s unique mix of spunk and sass had started to grow on me, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize our budding partnership.
“Shay uses her innate abilities to get a feel for the crime scene,” I said, “building a complex web of sensory images and clues in her mind that helps us narrow in on suspects and identify perpetrators in our murder investigations.”
“That sounds like a much more useful tactic than your go-to favorite of beating on people until they talk.”
“I’d say it’s a complementary skill,” I said.
“So,” said Nicole with a raised eyebrow, “I hear she’s pretty, too.”
If there was a portion of Nicole’s mind that yearned for reconciliation, I’d never caught wind of it, yet the mere mention of a pretty woman caused her hackles to stand at attention like a fresh group of army recruits. Most women were that way. Watching the reaction could make for great fun—assuming you weren’t the unfortunate sap at which the hackles were aimed.
I rubbed my neck. “Ehh, she’s alright. She’s tall, slender, and has bright eyes, if you’re into those sorts of things.”
Nicole sneered. “If I recall correctly, you’re into anything that has breasts and walks.”
“That’s patently unfair,” I said. “I’ve never once hit on a dwarf
an ogre. I tend to draw the line at women who have beards or can crush my pelvis under their own weight.”
Nicole sighed and turned her attention back toward the playscape where our little scamp tempted gravity by testing the limits of his grip strength. A breeze whistled through the trees overhead. A rickshaw clattered over the cobblestones of a nearby street as children laughed and screeched, chasing one another through the park.
Nicole spoke without looking at me. “You could go talk to him, you know.”
She didn’t have to specify who. Nicole didn’t voluntarily spend time with me in the park to reminisce about the good old days.
“Maybe later,” I said. “I don’t want to interrupt his fun.”
“He gets to play in the park all the time, Jake. I think he’d rather spend time with his father.”
I chewed my lip. “I just don’t know what to say most of the time.”
“Say anything,” said Nicole. “Tell him a story, or a joke, or about your week. Or better yet, ask him about his. It doesn’t matter what you do or what you talk about. He just wants to spend some time with you. He might not express it very well when you’re around, but he does miss you.”
Nicole’s words struck me in the chest like a hot knife. Lax was too kind a word to describe my recent parenting style. I’d been failing as a father, and I knew it. And as much as I complained that I didn’t know what to talk to my little guy about, I did know a great icebreaker.
I was terrible at them, but what sort of father would I be if I couldn’t even summon the courage to apologize to my own son for not being there often enough. With a sigh, I picked myself up off the park bench and headed toward the monkey bars.
The midmorning sun beat on my neck as I strode down Schumacher Avenue. My legs were already complaining after the long walk down and back from the park. I intentionally rented a place close to the precinct so I wouldn’t have to suffer through unnecessary bouts of aerobic exercise, but after our divorce, Nicole had moved farther west in search of neighborhoods where trees weren’t something wizened old men talked about in stories of myth and legend. The distance to her house was one of the reasons I visited my little guy as infrequently as I did—or at least that’s how I rationalized it.
As I turned the corner, the 5
Street Precinct’s massive seal of justice—a low relief casting bearing the image of an eagle holding a pair of scales in its razor-sharp claws—came into view. Passing under it every day for a dozen years had dulled its effects somewhat, but my heart still puffed in pride at seeing it. I gave my friend Tolek the kolache vendor a wave before waltzing under the seal and through the wide double doors into the precinct.
Despite the midmorning hour, the pit was mostly empty. The only person at his desk getting any work done was Rodgers. He spotted me as I entered and stood up to intercept me.
“Hey Daggers,” he said. “You’re late. You just notice the sun’s up?”
Rodgers flashed me his trademark sly grin. With his sandy blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and boyish good looks, he could smarm his way through interrogations with the fairer sex with ease, but his charms didn’t have quite the same effect on me.
“‘Late’ is a qualifier,” I said. “Since I consistently arrive at work at a later hour, I’d argue I’m not coming in late, I’m coming in virtually on time. So get your facts straight.”
“Right,” said Rodgers. “It may be later than you usually come in, but it’s still far too early for circuitous bullshit arguments like that.”
“Circuitous?” I said. “Nice. You been hitting the thesaurus again?”
“A little. Is it obvious?”
I waggled my hand in the air.
“So,” said Rodgers, “what’s the real reason for today’s lateness? Did you pick a fight with a gang of knife-wielding gnomes? Fall into a hole that led to an alternate dimension? Or did you just drink too much and get hungover again?”
“A worse fate than any of those three options, old pal,” I said. “I had a date with the ex.”
, date?” Rodgers eyed me with distrust. “How’d you convince her the fate of the universe depended upon her giving you one more chance?”
Rodgers’ quips usually fell flat, but he’d been practicing. I’d have to step up my game.
“Hardy-har,” I said. “No, not that kind of date. We got together at the park so I could spend time with the munchkin.”
“Oh,” said Rodgers. “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad. Don’t you like spending time with your son?”
“But what?” asked Rodgers.
I hemmed and hawed. “I don’t know. I guess it’s that…when I do hang out with him, it makes me aware of how little time I spend with him. And it makes me realize I’m a horrible father.”
“Ahh.” Rodgers clapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Daggers. We all deal with that to some degree. Allison would love for me to be home more often, but somebody’s got to put food on the table. Besides, no matter how much you ignore him, he can’t possibly grow up to be any more damaged than you are, right?” He grinned again.
“Thanks, bud,” I said. “Coming from a paragon of honesty and compassion like you, that means a lot to me. I’ll store your blessing in the back of my mind and dig it up on cold, dreary days to give me a boost.”