Authors: D. E. Johnson
DETROIT ELECTRIC SCHEME
D. E. Johnson
Minotaur BooksÂ Â
Â Â New York
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE DETROIT ELECTRIC SCHEME
. Copyright Â© 2010 by D. E. Johnson. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Johnson, D. E. (Dan E.)
The Detroit electric scheme / D. E. Johnson. â1st ed.
Â Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
1. Electric automobilesâFiction. 2. Automobile industry and tradeâFiction. 3. MurderâInvestigationâFiction. 4. Detroit (Mich.)âFiction. I. Title.
First Edition: September 2010
10Â Â 9Â Â 8Â Â 7Â Â 6Â Â 5Â Â 4Â Â 3Â Â 2Â Â 1
For Shelly, you saved my life.
DETROIT ELECTRIC SCHEME
The first part of the body I saw was half of the left arm. It hung off the side of the hydraulic roof press, hazy in the dim yellow light of the gas lamps. I walked farther into the machining room, cutting through shadows of pulleys and concrete pillars. Odd flecks of matter on other machines sparkled as I moved. The factory was silent other than a slow drip, like a leaking faucet.
Closer nowâa black coat sleeve dangled from the steel plates of the press, pinched just below the elbow. A bright crimson cuff encircled a red wrist. A red hand sagged, palm out, five dark droplets stretching from the ends of red fingers, then letting go one after another and plunging into the pool two feet below. The room smelled of a butcher shopâviscera and blood.
I crept past the drilling machines and looked down the aisle. The lower half of a large man hung from the front of the press, trousers shiny black above dark-stained stockings and garters. His black button-top shoes, heels pressed against the machine, leaked still more droplets into the dark pool only a few inches below them. The body was upright and complete to the waist. It ended there, where the upper and lower plates of the press met, as if the rest of the man had simply disappeared.
My first thought was of a terrible accident, but the Anderson Carriage
Company's machine operators didn't wear suits, and no one would have walked away from this at six o'clock. I covered my nose with my handkerchief, crept nearer the puddle, and looked inside the trousers. The torso was huge, easily fifty percent larger than mine. The tops of the hipbones were sheared off, the rest a mess of blood and tissue.
Acid burned the back of my throat. I tasted bile and bourbon, and spun away from the body just in time to spray vomit across a stack of sheet aluminum. Hands on knees, I retched until my stomach was empty. When I could look again, I wiped my mouth and edged to the other side of the machine. The right arm hung in the same position as the left, but a gold ring encircled the beefy fourth finger of this hand. I reached out for the dripping ring finger and faltered, but steeled myself, took hold of the slippery wrist, and raised the arm. It was heavy but moved freely, like the arm of a huge marionette.
I held the hand up near my face and ran my thumb over the ring.
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
glinted out between thin crimson lines, with
and 1908 engraved on the sides. Now I saw a black monogram on the sleeve, almost obscured by bloodâJ.A.C.
John Anthony Cooper.
I let go of the wrist and jumped back. The arm thumped against the side of the press, and blood sloshed around my shoes. I backed away, reaching behind me for obstacles, not able to take my eyes off the ring. My heel and then my back hit the wall of the old battery room. I stopped, perhaps twenty feet away from the press, absently wiping my hands on my trousers. The factory was still.
This was insane. Cooper had called me at eleven, demanding I meet him in the machining room at the factory. I told him to leave me alone. We hadn't spoken in months, and I had no intention of beginning now. I was afraid Elizabeth had finally told him what I'd done, what she'd done. But he said she was in trouble and needed my help. Against my better judgment, I came.
From outside the room, a scuffle of boots on the concrete floor broke the silence. I whirled around, looking at the open pair of four-foot-wide doors that connected the machining room to the rest of the factory. Yellow light bounced up and down in a manic dance on the stack of
pallets outside the room. The footsteps got louder, echoing like an advancing army.
I panicked. I ran to the back of the room and jumped onto one of the workbenches, threw open the window, and dove headfirst onto the macadam below.
A shrill whistle cut through the air, and a shout rang out behind me. “Stop! Police!”
I hit the ground hard, but scrambled to my feet and hurtled across the test track to the field behind. With only threads of moonlight to guide my way, I crashed into the tall grass and immediately came down on a rock. I tumbled to the ground. Bolts of pain shot up from my ankle.
Behind me, shoes hit pavement with a percussive scrape followed by a thump and a curse. I jumped up again and ran, as best I could. Whistles screeched, men shouted, and the light of lanterns bobbed off the trees and grass. Surging adrenaline masked the pain in my ankle. I raced alongside the tracks past the Detroit Foundry Company and over Grand Boulevard, instinctively heading south toward my apartment, passing row houses, factories, and warehouses. The sound of the whistles faded, and the lights gradually dimmed until I could see them no longer.
I dropped to the ground at every sound, every passing streetcar and wagon. When I reached East Ferry Street, I crouched behind a tree. Clouds of steam huffed from my mouth as I peeked out, looking and listening for pursuers. I reached for the bill of my cap to pull it down farther onto my forehead, but it wasn't there. Now I saw that my hand was stained with dark splotches. I squatted and ran both hands through the frost-covered grass, the palms and the backs, over and over, erasing John Cooper's blood. My hands finally clean, I stood again and leaned against the tree, trying to think.
The machining room's concrete floor was covered with my bloody footprints. My touring cap was missing. The car I had signed out from the Detroit Electric garage less than an hour ago satâby itselfâat the curb next to my father's automobile factory, where the man who was going to marry the woman I loved lay crushed between two blocks of steel.
I straightened my clothing and limped the last six blocks to Woodward, trying to appear at home in front of the mansions lining East Ferry. From there I took a streetcar the last mile to the corner near the pretentious apartment building on Peterboro where I had lived for the last year and a half. The building loomed like a toy castle, gray granite with towers and turrets, but only three stories high. I crept up to the front door, digging into my pockets for the key.
I cursed. In my haste to meet Cooper, I'd forgotten to bring it with me. I hurried around to the back door, gripped the knob, and jerked up on it while giving a hard twist to the right. The door popped open. I silently thanked my landlord for his laziness and let myself in, treading softly on the stairs, hoping to reach my apartment unnoticed.
No sooner had I stepped into the upper hallway than the door to my right burst open. Wesley McRae leaned out, wearing black trousers with suspenders, an undershirt, and a derby. His long blond hair stuck out in tufts. “Not like you to just be toddling in at one in the morning, Will. On a Wednesday night yet.” He arched his eyebrows. “Care for a nightcap?”