Cycle 5 is a science fiction mystery novel that consists of 9 episodes. It also teaches you how to write your own fictional mysteries and solve real world ones. This is just a teaser. I don’t know when the story will be finished, but it would happen a lot quicker if someone found me a sponsor. Below are the first ten pages of the story. At the bottom of this page you’ll find a link to the entire story, an explanation of how to write mystery stories and a guide to thinking. The author’s commentary also explains who the killer is and how the first episode ends.
Hey, Kid. If you’re not back in 15 minutes I’ll assume you’re staying.”
Kid blinked at Officer Lezlie. Why did she call him “Kid?” How would she feel if he said, “Thanks, lady?”
A cold wind pinched Kid’s bare arms and reminded him he couldn’t just stand there in a dark alley gaping at a police cruiser all night. There was a warm, well lighted place he needed to be. He took a deep breath, turned an about-face and walked through the heavy, grimy door in front of him.
When he emerged on the other side he was half surprised to find himself in a seedy, back alley casino. The only other person in the entire place was a bartender who had a tag sealed to his shirt that said, “Ricardo.” Kid would have been intimidated by Ricardo’s huge muscles, but he had a sweet, Latino face pretty enough to make a preacher man blush. That wasn’t the face of a man who would hurt a child; that was the face of a protector. Kid felt like he could relax around Ricardo. It also helped that Kid had his own personal police escort waiting outside to back him up.
Kid took a deep breath and tried to mentally visualize his list of things to do. Agenda item #1: Tell the first person I see why I’m here.
“Hello, Mr. Ricardo, sir. My name is…”
“Didn’t ask. My question is why you’re still here?”
“I’m here to see Mr. Gabriel… He’s also known to go by the alias ‘Gabe.’ A police officer sent me here to see him.”
“A police officer, huh? Is Gabe in trouble or are you?”
“Hmmm. So where’s the nice officer who gave you this address?”
“Right. You old enough to read, Kid?”
“I’m fluent in reading.”
“See all the signs on the walls?”
“Read one to me.”
“Okay. This one says, ‘There are only two kinds of people in this room: Those who are buying drinks and those who are leaving.’” Kid was confused. “What about you? You’re here. Are you buying or leaving?”
Ricardo crossed his arms across his chest. “… Biceps like these means I don’t have to play games or answer stupid questions. Now the situation is simple, and I’m only going to explain it once. You can’t drink. So you’re leaving.”
Kid blinked. He was surprised someone with such a pretty face could act so ugly…and illogical. “What if I buy Mr. Gabriel a drink? I’d still be buying, but I wouldn’t be drinking. And Officer Lezlie told me I had to see Mr. Gabriel anyway. So you don’t really have a choice.”
“Oh, officer Lezlie said you had to see Mr. Gabriel?”
“Is officer Lezlie outside?”
“And don’t you forget it.”
Ricardo sneered at Kid. He meant for it to look intimidating, but with his dimples it had the opposite effect. Kid waited patiently for Ricardo to finish his face-saving ritual and then ask, “What drink would you like to buy?” But Ricardo didn’t ask that. Instead he reached below the cash register and pulled out a clear, unlabelled bottle. Then, instead of using a clean shot glass from the stack that was right in front of him he just filled up a used one that had been sitting on the bar. It had lipstick marks on the top and cigarette ashes in the bottom.
Ricardo filled the shot glass most of the way up and left it sitting on the middle of the bar. Then he looked at Kid and barked, “Ten V’s.”
Kid hadn’t rehearsed for this. He was out of his element. This financial transaction hadn’t followed any of the traditional protocols he’d been raised to expect. He blurted out, “We didn’t agree on a price…. And I didn’t order that, and there’s no way that’s worth ten V’s!”
Ricardo stared at Kid with the cold, emptiness of a serial killer. He seriously expected Kid to pay ten V’s for a tiny glass of what smelled like paint thinner that he hadn’t ordered and hadn’t agreed on a price for…knowing that there was a police officer right outside. Truly, the world had fallen off its axis.
“Look, Kid. Give me ten V’s and take this drink directly to the man in that room in that back, back corner around, over there…or leave. Preferably, leave.”
Kid took two deep breaths and counted to five. He wanted to say more, but he knew he’d been given a window of opportunity, and experience had taught him that if you meet a bully on a path and he lets you pass, you tip your hat as you go by.
Kid reached inexpertly into his back pocket and pulled out his neon wallet. It creaked open in his hands, and a single, glowing bill lit up the polyester folds. He lifted the bill out of the wallet carefully and set it down on the cleanest spot on the bar.
Ricardo stared at kid. Then, without acknowledging the ten V’s, he eyed the glass of paint thinner on the bar. Then he looked in the general direction of the back, back corner. After a short pause Kid realized Ricardo wasn’t even going to say thank you.
His respect for the man dropped a little more, but then again, Kid thought…Ricardo was obviously busy. He was probably just grumpy because he was so far behind on his cleaning and was in a hurry to get back to it. Kid understood. He gave Ricardo a kind smile that he tried to fill with consolation. “I hate cleaning my room too.” Then he picked up the tiny glass (trying to only touch it on the cleanest spots) and carried it to the back office as fast he could without spilling it.
When Kid reached the back of the casino he panicked because he couldn’t find the office door and must have gotten lost. At a complete loss he stopped at the only other door he could find that didn’t lead to a bathroom or say, “ADULTS ONLY” on the front.
He put his ear up to the door but couldn’t hear any noise coming from the other side. He looked down and saw light shining through the crack between the door and the floorboards. Kid didn’t want to knock in case he was just standing in front of a broom closet and the banging might alert the bartender who’d find out he was just wandering around lost and not buying drinks.
Kid shifted the stinking glass into one hand and accidentally spilled a little of its stink juice on his fingers. Eager to get this over with, he turned the door knob with his free hand and pushed the door open a few degrees. Inside he could see the end of a thick tarp covering a long, odd shaped piece of machinery about the size of a motorcycle.
He opened the door a little more out of curiosity if nothing else. Crammed all around the covered machine were boxes of playing cards, gum, and tissues. Kid liked cards and gum. He took a step forward and opened the door the rest of the way.
In front of him was a desk that had literally been cut in half so it could fit between the wall and the covered machine. Behind the desk a man was sitting in an overstuffed, leather recliner staring directly, motionlessly at Kid. The front of the desk covered the lower half of his body. So he looked like a grim Jack-in-the-box. The man wore tinted biker goggles so Kid couldn’t tell exactly where his eyes were pointing. Under the goggles his face was chiselled and stubbly just like a father’s face was supposed to look, but Kid knew better than to judge a man’s character by his face alone. So he looked down at the man’s clothes.
The first thing to catch his attention was the thick bomber jacket. It looked really cool. Kid wanted to be excited by that, but people who wear jackets that cool usually turned out to be jerks. Kid perked up a little when realized the jacket could be military-issue, and this man might be a veteran. Everybody knows soldiers save the helpless. Of course that meant that if Kid were talking to a veteran he’d have to be on his best behaviour, but the bomber jacket had random patches all over it, and Kid didn’t think veterans did that to their uniforms. Frustrated, he just stopped thinking and waited for the guy to give him a clue.
Then it occurred to Kid that this might be Gabe. Of course, it couldn’t be Gabe, because why would a police officer send him to talk to a possibly blind and disabled veteran in a back-alley casino on the bad side of town? Kid dug into his memory. How did Officer Lezlie explain the situation to him? She said she wouldn’t let him go to a bad place and that there were other places he could go.
This old ace pilot must know a place he can go. That made sense. He looked like a freewheeling guy who could flatter you if he wanted to. He was probably that guy who knew everybody. It all made sense now. Mr. Gabriel was some kind of freelance foster parent agent.
Kid tried to imagine Mr. Gabriel sitting behind his half desk consulting with clean, law abiding, upstanding adults. His eyes darted at the paint peeling off the walls around him. It was kind of how he imagined a child slaver’s office might look. Kid locked eyes with Mr. Gabriel’s goggles, and a chill went up his spine. The strong man, in his military coat and dark glasses, looked like one of the bad guys from W.W.V.
The two stared at each other for what felt like hours. At first the silence was awkward. Then it became uncomfortable. Then accusatory. Then just plain cruel.
Kid’s fear gave way to anger and festered until he couldn’t take it anymore. Finally he kicked the desk and shouted, “What do you want with me!?” Some more of the little drink spilled onto his little hand.
The presumed Mr. Gabriel jerked his head back spastically. His arms twitched violently like an epileptic child with cerebral palsy, and he slammed his knee into the bottom of the desk with a sickening crunch.
As quickly as he’d sprung to life he snapped motionless. Kid waited and watched. The janitor pimp’s bomber jacket had shifted in the commotion uncovering a name tag sealed to his shirt that said, “Gabe.”
Kid looked back up to Gabe’s face so he could decide if he looked like a “Gabe.” As kid was studying him a genuine smile crept across Gabe’s eyeless face. He smiled so big his lips parted showing all his teeth. Then he was grinning from ear to ear. He held his hands up to the sky and shouted, “I’M ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!”
Kid’s instincts told him to run and hide behind the door frame, but another one of his instincts told him to stay motionless and not lose any more of the drink he was holding. Kid’s feet stayed still, but the rest of him shook like a leaf. Luckily, the shot glass was only a third full at this point. So he didn’t have to hold it as steady anymore to keep its contents from spilling.
Gabe still had his hands in the air and was pumping them like a victorious wrestler, but he put so much effort into it though that it hurt his head. Then he put his hands on his head. Then he put his head on his desk…and groaned.
After a few, long moments Gabe lifted his head slightly and pointed his goggles at Kid. “Why am I looking at you?”
“My name is…”
“Didn’t ask. Asked why I’m looking at you.”
“Officer Lezlie sent me…to give you…this.” He held up the lipstick stained, shot glass with its puddle of dirty cleaning fluid in the bottom.
Gabe smiled. Kid couldn’t tell if it was genuine or not.
With his head still more or less on the desk, Gabe reached out his hand in Kid’s direction and said, “So give it to me.” Kid performed as instructed and returned to his spot where he waited.
Gabe sat up in his chair and set the glass on the centre of his desk. Then he swivelled in his chair to his right and opened a cupboard on the wall opposite the covered machine. The sole content of the cupboard was an espresso machine. Gabe fumbled with his foreign machine and spoke to Kid without doing him the courtesy of facing his audience. Kid wanted to be offended, but Gabe sounded exhausted when he asked, “Why did officer Lezlie send you to give me that?”
“Well, you’re some kind of kiddie pimp, aren’t you?”
Gabe stopped what he was doing and leaned forward in his chair to rest his forehead on the espresso machine. He muttered something that Kid couldn’t hear.
Kid said loudly and slowly, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Gabe replied loud enough to be heard clearly, “I said, fuck my life.”
Kid was out of his element on so many levels. He didn’t know what was going on, but he knew it wasn’t going well. He wanted to say something nice to lift the mood, but he accidentally started thinking about his parents.
Gabe leaned off the cupboard so he was sitting upright in his chair again. In a few well-practiced swipes he finished putting the espresso machine back together and hit a glowing green button on the front. The machine rattled and wailed and spit its black, oily guts into an old, topless tuna sitting at the base of the machine.
Once the tuna can was full Gabe hit the green button again putting the coffee monster out of its misery. Kid started to say something, but Gabe held up his right index finger to shush him. Kid watched in silence as Gabe fished a large travel thermos out of the bottom drawer of his desk. He sat the thermos on the desk and unscrewed the top off. He sat the lid on the desk next to the colourful glass Kid had brought as a peace offering. Then, to Kid’s bewilderment, Gabe took the glass and dropped it, glass and all, straight into the mouth of the thermos. Then, to Kid’s disgust, Gabe took the tuna can out of the coffee monster’s mouth and poured its contents expertly into thermos.
Gabe closed all his coffee paraphernalia back up in the cupboard and leaned back in his chair. When he was comfortable he held up his finger again pre-emptively shushing Kid. With his silence secured he picked up the awkwardly large travel thermos, swished its contents around so it rattled like a paint can, and then took a long, slow sip.
Gabe sat the thermos back down on the half-desk and let out a desperately grateful, possibly exaggerated sigh of relief. Then he stated loudly and matter of factly, “Officer Lezlie can come in now.”
Kid stuttered liked the frightened child he was. He started to turn towards the door to do the walk of shame out of the casino, but Gabe held up his finger again and said, “Don’t bother.” Then he took another leisurely drink from his thermos.
Next thing Kid knew Officer Lezlie was standing in the doorway behind him. She startled him a little, but he was just glad to have someone tall at his side. She patted him on his back and straightened his collar. It made him feel a lot better, and he noted that she seemed to have really good timing at everything.
Lezlie stood like a police officer and looked Gabe up and down like a dangerous suspect. Gabe looked her up and down just as closely. Gabe was the first to speak, “Since you had the last word last time you may as well have the first word this time. Before you say anything though, I just wanted to point out how low it was of you to use a scared little kid to do your dirty work.” Gabe took another drink of his thermos rattling the glass inside.
Lezlie answered using her police officer voice, “I’m here on business.”
Gabe shrugged. “It goes without saying that business hours are closed.”
Officer Lezlie shook her head gently like an unimpressed mother. “I sure hope you haven’t lost it.”
Gabe didn’t shake his head, but he still looked unimpressed. “Translate that sentence into man-speak.”
“This kid’s parents are dead. I got the case and him. Gabriel, will you please take those goggles off of your head and look at me?”
Impolitely, Gabriel did not take the goggles off of his head. Visibly disappointed, Officer Lezlie went on. “Look, Gabe. I don’t have the time or resources to even begin following up this case. If you don’t have anything better to do than sit around committing suicide then you’ve got time to do one god damned decent thing in your life. You can always get back to your pity party afterwards.”
“You know, you honestly could have guilt tripped me into taking the case without bringing the victim’s kid over, which, by the way, it worries me a lot that you did and makes me not want to help you.” Gabe reached into his bomber jacket and pulled out a silver cigarette case. He took a cigarette out and put it in his mouth but made no effort to light it.
Lezlie said, “I’m not here with him to manipulate you. I’m here with him because I can’t take him to the C.F.U.C.”
“Yeah? Did one of them finally burn it down?”
“Not yet. I just can’t take him there. You know what it’s like. He’d get eaten alive.”
Gabe cocked his head like an owl and took a good, long look at Kid. “Fair enough. So take him anywhere else.”
Gabe sat there with a very unimpressed look on his face for a few moments, a look exaggerated by the unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. Slowly, he took off his goggles and set them on the desk next to the thermos. He had big, beautiful, brown eyes that would have looked deep and kind if they weren’t grotesquely blood shot. With the goggles out of the way Gabe rubbed his temples earnestly. Then he rested his forearms on what little desk there was in front of him and looked Lezlie in the eyes. He took a few moments to choose his words carefully, and then enunciated them clearly enough to be understood, even with a cigarette in his lips. “Try not to suck anyone’s cock on the way out.”
In one, graceful motion Lezlie slapped Gabe across his face hard enough to leave a red imprint and send his cigarette flying.
“You’re taking the case, and the kid is staying with you.”
“You said that. Not me.”
“And I wasn’t asking. I was telling you.”
“You truly, truly hate me? Hell, you know what? I don’t feel guilty anymore, because you’re not just an ex with a grudge who I slightly overestimated. You’re one of the crazy ones I warned myself about.”
Unsurprisingly, Lezlie slapped Gabe across the face again.
“Gabriel, look at yourself. You need a reason to live. Look in front of you. There’s a human being standing here who is going to get torn apart by this city if someone doesn’t help him. Maybe if you saved his adorable little life it’ll make up for half the things you’ve screwed up.”
Gabe rubbed his temples again and decided to put his goggles back on. From behind his tinted mask he looked at Lezlie and Kid and back at Lezlie some more. Then he said to Lezlie, “Go tell the bartender I need a refill.”
Lezlie glared at Gabe until he got the point that she was glaring at him. Then she turned around slowly and walked back to the front of the casino at her own pace.
As soon as she rounded the corner Gabe turned to Kid and asked, “What street do you live on, kid?”
“Fifth Street? So that’s in the first quadrant.”
“Decent neighbourhood. You got a lot of friends?”
“Yeah? Don’t you play outside a lot?”
“I’m not… I wasn’t… allowed to stay out after the street lights came on.”
“Of course not. Do you understand anything that’s going on here?”
“I’m supposed to stay here?”
“That’s the impression I get too.”
“You don’t want to be here, do you?”
Kid looked at the ground. “I don’t have anywhere else to be.”
“You don’t have any other family? What about all your friends? What about your best friend? You want to stay with him?”
Gabe leaned back in his chair. He was about to say something else, but Lezlie walked back in and set another shot glass, even dirtier than the first, on the desk, and next to it she laid a silver, shimmery piece of paper. “Here’s the case file.”
Gabe looked down at the paper, up at Lezlie and back down at the paper again. “I’m still waiting for you to say you’re joking.”
“Well, you keep waiting, and I’ll try to not to suck anyone’s cock on my way out.” While Gabe thought about that, Lezlie gave Kid one last hug and a few heart felt words of advice. On her way out the door she stopped and said over her shoulder, “I’ll have the kid’s estate transferred to his new guardian.”
Gabe perked up for the first time in a while, “Really?”
“I already want to shoot you in the face. If you waste this I won’t have any reason not to.”
Gabe perked back down. He seemed to be having a hard time finding the words to express exactly what he wanted to convey. He settled with, “I didn’t ask for this.”
Lezlie didn’t turn around. She spoke to the empty casino in front of her. “Well, that’s life isn’t it? The thing is to make the most of it anyway.” Then she left.
Gabe kicked the bottom of his desk (on purpose this time). He looked at the kid taking up all the free space in his home office. He looked down at the document cluttering up all the free space on his desk and then back up to the kid taking up all the free space in his home office again.
“You tired, kid?”
“What would you say about taking a nap on that cot back there?” Gabe jerked his thumb towards the cot crammed behind his chair. Kid nodded his head and then started to move, but Gabe said, “Before you do that that though, take a step back.” Kid performed as instructed. Then Gabe shouted, “PANTS ACTIVATE!”
Kid stood there unsure what kind of reaction was required of him.
Gabe looked disappointed, and the effect was exaggerated by the goggles on his face. He sighed in resignation, and said, “Well, throw me my pants. They’re behind the door there. Then why don’t you go to the bathroom and use it or something? Then you can climb in the back and get some sleep.”
Kid performed as instructed. In the bathroom he scrubbed his hands raw trying to get the stink off of them. Then he put his face under the tap and took a long drink and let the water pour over his face. Eventually he returned to Gabe’s home office refreshed, or so he told himself. Gabe was leaning against the wall in front of the desk…wearing pants and reading the case file. Kid climbed over the half-desk and then over the over-stuffed leather chair and fell onto the cot in the back of the room. He felt like he deserved a prize for navigating the obstacle course so deftly, but laying on the cot felt more like a punishment than a prize. He slept anyway, because he felt safe barricaded in the back of a closet full of hidden guns guarded by a mad bomber and a gigantic metrosexual bouncer.
Kid didn’t know how many hours he’d slept or how many hours he’d laid there going through various stages of grief in his tiny mind. It didn’t really matter. He didn’t have any place to be.