Ragged Justice

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: March 14, 2019

Reads: 61

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Submitted: March 14, 2019










Thomas K. Matthews










I loathe the night. My old joints complain and my bones ache. By day, I have the distraction of friends and a life unmolested by numbers. No numbers that plague me in the dark. When the sun goes down we drink and seek escape. Under the bridge we huddle like puppies, stealing each other’s warmth as cars drone above us, their tires humming over the surface of our concrete ceiling.

Jesus, I’m so old. I have lived beneath the bridge since my life was stolen. By whom I have no idea, only a dim memory of a different time when I was warm at night. In my mind cave, I hunker down and fight the disjointed memories, desperate to hide from the faces that urge my confused mind to sense what was.

But I refuse to think and wrap my blanket tighter around my shoulders, longing for daylight. Thoughts twitter like annoying birds, pulling me out of the womb of drink. I need more alcohol, or the night will swallow me, drive me more insane with the ghosts of unrecognized dead. A friend sleeps by me—I know he has half a bottle. While I lie tortured, he sleeps because he has drowned his consciousness. Come morning he won't remember what he had, only that he needs more. Carefully pushing aside his coat, I see the bottle tucked carelessly under his heavy arm. With a slight tug, it slides into my hand. Half a bottle of pretty good stuff. Vodka, not wine. Nearly a pint.

With my breath held, I open the top as carefully as a safecracker. This is wrong, I know. Danny will need this in the morning, he always needs a drink in the morning, I surrender to the need and drink deeply from the glass throat of salvation. The voices quiet and the faces of the ghosts fade as the liquor fills the empty spot, quiets the haunts and drives away the numbers. As I finish the last gulp and cough into my blanket. Light flashes above where we sleep and a voice hisses an urgent warning to others.

They come so often now we expect the pain and the torment. There is no fear because the vodka has made me full and peaceful. I’ve survived their beatings before. These boys with the shaved heads hate us, they come to steal from us and drive us away. But their words and fists drum on deaf ears and defiant eyes.

We stay because we love our bridge; we love our clan and we will always stick together. The light blinds me as I am pulled to my feet, but I am too drunk to see and too peaceful to care. One slaps my head and then pulls my face to the light by a handful of my tangled beard. I squint at the brightness. Through my half-lidded eyes, the light looks like the soft glow of the opening of heaven.

“That him?” A voice unfamiliar.

“Yeah, it’s him. I’ll be goddamned!”

The voice of a ghost. The numbers haunt it. I wish I knew what they meant. So many zeros and so much shame.

“What if the others wake up?”

“They won’t. These rags are too fucked up.”

I am ragged.

The numbers haunt that voice.

“Bring him. Move, old man. Don’t give us any shit.”

“I have no money. I swear,” I plead meekly, but they laugh.

Pulled and dragged, I stumble along because the vodka has filled me with peace and I want to sleep. They yell and they hit as I am pushed roughly into a car. I haven’t ridden in a car in a thousand years. We drive with no lights, and I wonder how the driver can do it, but then I remember that he is a ghost.

The bay is illuminated by the full moon and the water ripples with a light wind. Seduced by the softness of the car seat and the sway of the drive, I drift off into the peace. Shaken awake, I’m pushed from the car to the asphalt. There is a suck of breath, then my head drifts back to the quiet place, and I don’t understand their words, hushed and tense ghost voices, not the brashness of the bald-headed boys.

The vodka carries me farther into the void, but I wake when I feel a boot makes contact with my face. Striking pain and intense fear overwhelm me, and I roll into a ball as a second boot strikes me into another white shock of agony. But the pain slows down as the men kick more. It’s almost peaceful, and I welcome sleep as the men form a circle around me. Faded are the faces in my head, their familiar haunting voices, and the numbers. I dream the numbers and again wish I knew what they meant. I’m afraid of the numbers, and I am glad the vodka has stopped their calling and the pain of the heavy boots.

What shall become of the treasure of the city, the gold of salvation, and the keys to the truth? I feel a new bloom of the pain from the footfalls. That voice from long ago, the ghost of the numbers is a voice from the depths of the past. It tells me that I would be better off dead. Darkness swallows me, the pain dies, and I once again lose myself in the relief of





At 9:25 a.m., best-selling true-crime writer Lou Drake and his wife Robin put their tray tables and seat backs into the full upright position. The city of San Diego drew closer and the Pacific Ocean ran to the hazy horizon as Robin clutched Lou’s hand. Though they flew first-class, the wider seats and free drinks did nothing to subdue her fear.

“You okay?” Lou asked.

She gave him a tight-lipped nod. Robin hated to fly, so she quietly prayed to God as the airplane dropped from the sky and settled to the asphalt at what she guessed to be death-defying speed.

After the tires chirped, the engines reversed, and the monster of a flying beast came grinding to a slow crawl toward the terminal.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Lou said.

“No, not bad at all,” she said.

Ten years retired from the NYPD, and now a household name, Lou Drake came to San Diego to speak at the San Diego City Writers Conference. Robin came along to speak with a real estate agent regarding their purchasing a high-rise condo on the harbor.

Once in the terminal, Lou dialed Patrick Hagan’s cell number and left a short message. A young driver, dressed in traditional black, held a small sign with Lou’s name scrawled in awkward cursive. Drake waved to the driver. He gave Lou’s identification a cursory glance.

“Thank you, sir.”

Drake smiled and recognized the eager nervousness that meant the driver was waiting for the right moment to ask for an autograph.

Probably a struggling writer himself, Lou thought, hoping to extract a nugget of pure talent- driven perfection that gets an agent’s attention.

The driver held the door for the Drakes. “The Hyatt?”

“Yes,” Robin answered.

The kid made his way out of the airport parking, merged onto Harbor Drive, and stayed in the right lane heading south. Lou closed his eyes and settled back.

“Long flight?” the driver asked.

“Always long from New York,” Drake said. “And we had to board at dawn. One layover in Phoenix.”

“If it is okay for me to say, sir, I love your work. I am looking forward to hearing you speak at the conference next week.”

“You’re a writer?” Drake asked.

The driver nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Then God help you.”

“Lou,” Robin scolded. “You could be more encouraging.”

“I’m just teasing. But the life of a writer can be a long row to hoe.”

“Honey,” she replied. “This young man probably has no idea what that means.”

Lou leaned forward. “Son, what’s your name?”


“Well, Josh? Let’s put it this way. You can write works better than Dickens, work harder than King, and spend as much money as Trump, and still not make a cent in the writing game.”

Josh glanced in the rearview mirror and gave Drake a smile.

“Or I can be as successful as you, sir,” he said.

“He’s got you there,” Robin whispered.

“That he did,” Lou said with a smile. Like before in Malcolm, New York. Back when all hell broke loose. When I got my big break.

“I take it back, Josh. Write your ass off and never look back.”

“I will, Mr. Drake. I promise.”





At the same moment, in the parking lot of the Mission Bay Aquatic Recreational Park, San Diego Police Department Homicide Detective Patrick Hagan gazed down at the dead homeless man on the grass. Hagan turned away from the corpse as the camera flash from the police photographer captured the grisly details. A clutch of uniformed policemen loitered near the door of the visitors’ center.

Hagan’s stomach reminded him he hadn’t had any breakfast, and he kept a distance between himself and the circle of officers around the body. The assistant from the coroner’s office spoke into a handheld recorder a few feet from the scene while the photographer packed his camera into a zippered nylon bag.

They all stood and stared at the mutilated victim. His white hair was matted with blood and his scraggly beard torn away from his chin where a heavy foot had landed with bone-crushing force. Turned to the right, his face was bruised blue and streaked with deep lacerations, one of his eyes was shattered. All the fingers on his right hand were mashed. White bone glared out of the mangled flesh. Both of his arms were obviously broken, but the left lay at a sickeningly unnatural angle. Blood ran from both ears and his nose was nearly torn from his face.

Frank Adams, Hagan’s partner, looked over his shoulder. “What do you figure, Hagan?”

“Robbery gone bad, maybe a joy killing. Looks like at least three perps made a circle around him and just kept kicking him till he was dead. The coroner will let us know what the cause was and, hopefully, we can put it in the hopper. I won’t lose any sleep over it.”

The photographer said with a laugh, “Jesus Hagan, the guy’s dead. He may have been a rag, but he was still a human being.”

“Man, he sure hates them, doesn’t he?” a cop in blue whispered.

“Hey,” Frank said. “Hagan’s opinion is if they insisted on living outside the laws and expectations of normal society, they should be exempt from the services that society offered to normal citizens.”

"That’s harsh.”

Hagan had a closer affinity to the street that no one but he understood. As a ten-year veteran of the SDPD homicide force, Hagan was witness to every form of human devastation possible.

“And, whoever did this was either really pissed off at this guy or flying on something,” Adams said.

The group stepped back as the coroner went by with the corpse on a stretcher.

“Ready, Frank?” Hagan called.

Adams nodded.

“Let’s get some breakfast.”

“You look pissed,” Adams said.

Hagan shrugged.

Adams laughed. “Relax, this one will go down easy. They’ll get a cause of death and the uniforms will roust some skinheads, and it’ll get put down as a robbery gone haywire, and the department will wash their hands of it.”

“Yeah,” Hagan said. They went to the car and drove into the restaurant district.

Adams pointed. “There’s a parking space.”

The two detectives left the car and entered a small diner on the corner. They took a seat at the counter as a young waitress approached them, leaning down on the counter. With a long-fingered hand, she pushed short blonde hair behind her ear and took their order. Then she went to place the order with a sway of her shapely hips.

Hagan’s phone buzzed, and he gave it a glance. “I missed Drake’s call. I’ll call him later.”

“Yeah,” Adams said. “I’ll call my famous friends back at a lunch. They keep calling and bothering me. What a pain.”

“Smart ass,” Hagan said.

The meal arrived, and they ate quietly. When Hagan had finished, he tossed a twenty down for the twelve-dollar tab and they left the diner. Most Fridays were busy downtown as the working class prepared for a two-day reprieve from the grind and the ragged prepared for a weekend of hopeful prosperity. This Friday was especially bad as it was the day before two major events in San Diego’s annual calendar.

Most prominent was the Comic-con that took over the convention center and inundated San Diego with costumed fans, each reveling in the fantasy of the graphic novel and video game culture. Less visible, but a draw nonetheless, was the Homeless Veterans Stand Down in the shaded grassy knolls of Balboa Park. Both events drew crowds of unusual origin and persuasion, and both brought dollars and chaos to the city.

Hagan steered slowly through the city teeming with business people walking to meetings, couriers on foot and bikes, and convention visitors.

“What a zoo,” Adams said.

At the convention center, the throng of geeks and freaks clogged the intersection despite the fact the light signaled a “don’t walk” hand. Hagan sighed and finally thumbed the horn and startled the crowd. They parted, wearing expressions of shock or anger.

“Careful,” Frank warned. “They might revolt, and then you’ll be inundated by an angry mob of storm-troopers, half-naked girls, and aliens.”

Hagan sped down Harbor Drive. In half a mile they dropped down into the parking basement of the SDPD. Then they rode the elevator to the lobby floor where Hagan slid his ID card through the security lock. The door buzzed, so they pushed through into the corridor between the back offices and the front reception and booking area. It was busy. Benches full of citizens waited to speak with officers, and one uniformed policeman stood between two scruffy veterans who were yelling at each other.

“Starting early,” Adams said as they went back through the maze of desks to the hallway that led down to the homicide department.

“We have a party out there,” Hagan said to Detective Andy Reed.

“Another beautiful day in Paradise. What’s up with the dead homeless?” Reed asked.

“Kicked to death and left to rot. Pretty badly messed up. He’s down at the meat shop now.”

Adams chuckled at Hagan's nickname for the coroner’s office and smiled. “You’re going to love this,” he said. “Detective Chief wants you two to go down to the coroner’s and look into this one.”

Hagan sighed. “Okay. Anything else cooking?”

Reed said no.

© Copyright 2019 Thomas Kaye Matthews. All rights reserved.


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