Day One

Presenting a new original story, “Day One,” by Matthew Costello, set in the same universe as his upcoming novel Vacation , a horror/thriller about a near-future where a massive drought has decimated all crops and livestock. In “Day One”, NYPD cop and family man Jack Murphy starts his first day of work at the 76th Precinct in Red Hook. With the onset of a food shortage, society is crumbling. Grocery store shelves are emptier by the week, and the city has gone from bad to worse. People are getting desperate. And hungry.
Jack and his new partner, Schiller, take to the streets on a blistering hot summer day, cruising around for hours until they can grab lunch. But when they get a routine noise complaint call, they get more than they bargained for, and must do all they can to avoid becoming lunch themselves…

 

1 — 76th Precinct, Union Street, Brooklyn – 8 a.m.

Jack Murphy shut his locker and tried to act as though what he had just done—stow his clothes and get out his handgun—was something he had done a hundred times before.

Instead of this being the first time.

“New blood—get your asses in gear. Eight a.m. means eight fucking a.m.!”

Two other just-graduated cops had come to this precinct in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. This was not the Brooklyn that Jack knew. Not the leafy streets of Bay Ridge, close to the Atlantic, where he’d grown up.

Jack didn’t know much about Red Hook, and what he had heard about it made it seem like a forgotten place. Somehow it had missed the train to gentrification.

He hurried into the morning room, where the cops on the beat got that day’s assignments. There were still a few chairs free, but the cops sitting next to the empty seats seemed to let their arms and legs sprawl into them as if daring any newbie to take a seat.

Go on—just try to sit here.

So Jack stood with the two other new cops to the side.

First roll call.

Starts here, Jack thought.

 

One of the new cops, a lean black kid who didn’t look more than eighteen, had already been assigned a partner. That was the way it would go down for all of them. You get teamed up with an old timer.

Someone to show you the ropes.

Or not.

Story was that this ‘mentoring’ could be the equivalent of hazing.

They like to weed the candy-asses out early.

That was the story back at the academy.

Jack didn’t doubt it.

He looked around the room to see who he might get as a partner. Like picking ducks at the carnival.

Which one was a prize, which one wasn’t?

“Okay, Murphy—you’ll be with Schiller.”

The sergeant’s announcement produced a laugh in the room. Some muttering.

The last pair-up announcement hadn’t done that.

A freaking laugh?

Why did I get the laugh? Is it that bad?

Then he saw a guy, this Schiller, turn and look back at him.

Big white face. Almost no hair, his shirt’s buttons struggling to stay buttoned.

No spring chicken, and he didn’t look in shape.

My mentor, Jack thought.

No prize-winning duck this time.

Schiller made a pistol out of his hand and gave Jack a shot and a wink.

Jack smiled back.

Which only made his partner roll his eyes and look away.

“Okay, boys and girls. Time to hit the streets. Hot town, summer in the city. Let’s make those streets of Brooklyn safe.”

And the cops got up out of their chairs, talking, the slow blue beast coming to life. No eagerness, no joy.

Jack and the other two newbies waited, like lampreys for a shark, until their partner rolled by.

*

Schiller took his hat off. Dressed in the summer uniform of a short-sleeved blue shirt, Jack saw beefy arms. Could be he was strong, or could be all blubber. His belly suggested the latter.

“So you’re a mick? When I joined the department, it was still fucking mick city around here. Now—well, you see. You got mutts like me. Everything and anything.”

For a moment, Jack felt like he had landed in Serpico.

Are we about to do our run to pick up money from our drops, from the bag men or whatever the guys doling out bribes were called?

That was one thing that was made clear at the academy.

That—and those days—were over.

No bullshit.

It would be nearly impossible to be a cop on the take these days.

Salary wasn’t bad. You could still retire after twenty years. Benefits were good. And you always had the brotherhood of blue.

It didn’t sound bad to Jack.

Especially when there didn’t seem to be any other options. The world had shut the option shop down.

When he got a shot at a slot in the academy, he took it.

“Fuck, it is going to hot today, Murphy. Fucking hot. And the AC in this piece of shit is fucking iffy. They keep saying they’re going to fix it. Overnight. But the car goes out every night… so guess what?”

“No one ever fixes it?”

“Bingo, Einstein.”

Schiller opened the door and got in, signaling Jack to do the same.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky today. Maybe not.”

Schiller was already dripping. Dark blue splotches blooming under his armpits.

For the sake of breathable air, Jack hoped the air conditioning worked.

Schiller started the patrol car. The car’s AC wheezed, then seemed to pump out — something.

Jack’s partner put a meaty hand against a vent.

“There we go. Good. Cocksuckers will never really fix it. But today—“ a big grin—“looks like we’ll be cool.”

And Schiller pulled away from the station house.

 

While they drove around the neighborhood, Schiller reviewed the game plan.

It would be a standard patrol. Driving, checking out some abandoned buildings and warehouses, a nice, quiet day, waiting for any radio alerts that would make them divert from their patrol loop.

“I always go down here, down Dwight Street, first thing. Always good to show the shop owners we’re out here. Their tax dollars at work. And show any bums hanging out. Then—“ Schiller pointed ahead—“a quick turn up ahead, down Creamer Street. Some name, huh? Creamer! Good to run through the neighbs. Lots of empty houses there. Place has been hard hit, man. Foreclosures all over the fucking place.”

“Get squatters?”

Schiller laughed.

“Squatters? Yeah. But I don’t go looking for them unless they’re making trouble. Too much booze, too much sucking on the pipe, then things happen, y’know? Then you gotta clear out a place, round up whoever’s inside.”

Schiller took a breath. “If a place is abandoned, why the hell should we care?”

He looked away from the windshield.

“And man—do they smell. You better not get downwind of them. Wouldn’t want to be the team who has to load them into the wagon.”

Schiller nodded. Maybe he had done that job, loading the stoned, homeless maniacs into a police wagon.

“Could make you puke your guts out.”

Jack looked ahead. The streets already looked sizzling, the heat waves radiating off the pavement, a ribbony wall.

Is it always this hot?

But he knew the answer to that. Everyone did.

The answer was — quite simply — yes.

*

Jack had told his father before he died, after the baptism for Simon, what he was going to do. Christie’s teaching brought in most of the money… now that Jack’s construction work seemed to shrink weekly.

They wanted—needed a house. Not the two bedroom apartment they had. It was a good time to buy.

They looked at the Verrazano Bridge, the gateway to the suburban world of Staten Island.

His father was already dying. Months, the VA’s cancer docs said.

But what did they know?

Turned out to be weeks.

“Dad — I applied to the academy.”

His father had nodded, as if expecting that this was what Jack would do.

“Yeah?”

Never much for conversation.

“Two kids now. Christie has to take a leave. We got some savings. Should hold us until I’m out.”

“You sure you’ll get in?”

Jack took a slug of beer. He had trouble getting his regular brand, a little pale ale from Maine. Seemed like all the beer choices had suddenly narrowed.

Strange.

“See that’s it. Was hoping you’d put a word in. To some of your friends. Pull some strings.”

Jack smiled

His father didn’t.

If there was one thing about his dad, it was that he was by the book.

And ‘pulling strings’ wasn’t in that book.

His father had taken a swig of his beer.

Jack felt that his father couldn’t look at him and not think of his other son, the one lost, killed a world away by a stupid homemade bomb.

Then: “I want to be a cop, dad. A good cop.”

“No other kind,” his father said, repeating a litany held close.

But they had talked. They both knew otherwise. Maybe not corrupt cops. But lazy ones. Careless ones. Dumb ones. The cops marking time, counting the days.

Then: “What do you think, dad?”

His father nodded. And then—a bit of a smile, perhaps happy at last by the decision that his son had made for his life.

“I’ll get the word out,” his father said. A bigger smile. “Pull those strings.”

Jack grinned back.

“Then—I best go tell Christie.”

And Jack walked out to their small kitchen to where Christie sat with their new baby, such a perfect, beautiful boy, and Jack thinking…this conversation, this decision….was all about her, their daughter Kate—so smart—and this new baby who was all eyes and drool.

 

“Whoa. What’s that?”

Schiller slowed the patrol car. A couple screaming at each other on a corner.

Jack watched the man — lanky, white, with the crazy beard of a mountain man, push the woman hard. She was as black and as wide as the man was long.

She teetered backwards and then took a swing at the man.

With amazing aim, she caught the guy on his chin and he spun around, cartoon-like, before returning the favor.

Schiller hit the brakes.

“Gotta stop this shit.”

The two people seemed to take no notice of the car’s arrival, or the fact that Jack and his partner got out.

For a moment, Jack debated whether he should take his hat.

Department protocol was…always be in uniform.

But with the rock-em, sock-em act going on there, maybe it was more urgent that they hustle and break up the battle.

Schiller had already gotten to them and Jack realized that though his mentor was a stubby guy who looked totally out of shape, he moved fast.

Move fast.

Something they drilled into you at the Academy. Every few seconds mattered. The difference between a gun being aimed and a trigger pulled, the difference between surprising someone or getting surprised yourself.

Jack ran nearly every day. Should prove useful, he thought.

“Okay, okay,” Schaller said, “You two—let’s stop this right now.”

A crowd had formed, young kids, a few nearby shop owners, people pausing on their way to the bus.

It was showtime.

The man responded by trying to slam the woman with a fist full to the face.

But the woman—good for her—bobbed in a way that would make Ali proud.

Then, the fatal move, she kicked her right knee up into the man’s groin.

The mountain man immediately doubled over like a marionette with his strings cut, coughing, puking.

The woman was about to administer another kick when Schiller put a hand on her shoulder.

Jack became painfully aware that he had done absolutely nothing…but watch the scene.

The woman turned to Schiller, same height, nearly eyeball to eyeball.

And the eyes…wide, wild.

What was it? Meth, crack, some oxy? She was flying.

“Keep an eye on the guy,” Schiller said quickly to Jack.

He turned to the bearded man who was in the process of recovering from having his testicles dented.

A glance back: the woman looked as though she was going to do the same to Schiller.

“Hang on. What’s the problem here?” Schiller said.

The woman’s eyes stayed on fire but at least she didn’t kick the veteran cop.

“He’s botherin’ me. That’s what’s wrong”

The man—Jack’s eyes on him, his body positioned between the man and his sparring partner—had finally stood erect.

“She’s hiding the food. Hiding it—and goddamned eating it.”

The woman spun away from Schiller, loudly performing for her audience. “That’s crazy. What food? What the hell is he talking about?”

Funny, Jack thought. The man –who also looked like he was soaring on some concoction—was so thin and lanky, and the woman….so much larger. If they really lived together, it would seem, on observation, that he might have a case.

“Okay, okay,” Schiller said. “I don’t know anything about that. But you two…” He paused, maybe hoping they’d flash on the fact they were now involved with the police “You two can calm down. Move this, um, dispute, off the street. Or we can run you down to the precinct. Spend the day and night until we get someone who can talk to you and sort all this out.”

Another pause.

“What’s it gonna be?”

The man and the woman looked at each other. Seemed doubtful that their fury had vanished, but now — Jack guessed—they clearly understood that they might soon be some place with no access to whatever drug was fueling their fun.

The man nodded, capitulating first, “Okay. We’re done. Yeah — ain’t that right?”

The woman eyeballed him as if he was on a menu.

Then: “Yeah. We got carried away, is all. Carried away. We’re okay now.”

Eyes still on each other. Silently screaming…this isn’t over.

Then Schiller turned to the crowd.

“Okay, folks, today’s match is over. Everyone move along.”

The man and woman somehow melted into the crowd. Jack moved close to his partner.

They stood there like statues, waiting for the people to vanish.

Then Schiller turned to Jack.

“Welcome to the NYPD.” He laughed. “Doing God’s work here, hm?”

Still laughing, he started back to the patrol car. But Jack, still walking beside him, asked a question.

“Get much of that? Drugs, fights? In the daytime?”

Schiller stopped. His face sweaty. The wet blue patches under his arms massive. The summer days so hot. Every day nearly a record.

Schiller hesitated as if thinking over the question.

No quick response.

Something there, Jack thought.  

“Like that? Lately…yeah.  And you know what—strangest fucking thing, Jack. Or maybe not so strange. So many of the fights…all about food.”

Schiller opened the door and got into the car, and Jack followed.

 

2 — Lunchtime    

For a while, they drove the neighborhood without saying anything.

Then Schiller said, “Best call in the incident to the desk sergeant. In case something happens later.” Another laugh from him. More of a grunt.  “Good practice for you. Why, I’ll even let you do the paperwork on it.”

Jack realized that whatever his first impression might have been, he liked Schiller. After all, he’d been bouncing around these streets for maybe fifteen years.

And he seemed okay. He seemed like a cop.

But then, another thought: is that me fifteen years from now?

After he called in the incident as ‘disorderly conduct’—Schiller’s suggestion, as opposed to domestic violence since it was hard to say who was thumping on whom — Jack asked his partner about what he had said.

“You said food? You’re seeing a lot of incidents over food?”

“Hell, yeah. Robberies. Shit like we just saw. Fights in the goddamn stores.”

“I know there have been shortages…”

Schiller shook his head. “Yeah, ‘kay, if that’s what you call it. Shortages. Had any juicy burgers this summer?”

“No. I mean, the price of beef…”

“So, what you call a ‘shortage’ is a crisis here, Jack. And you know who gets to deal with the shit? We do. All I’m saying…is that they better start getting more stuff on the shelves, at prices the goddamned schlubs here can afford. Otherwise, it’s gonna be an even longer, hotter summer.”

Jack thought about what Schiller said.

Sure, they had seen shortages in their new neighborhood on Staten Island. The glistening supermarket…with its shelves not looking so super. The corn desiccated, dried up things. Whole sections of meat gone.

And the price of cereal!

Jack wasn’t one for watching the news.

But yeah — something was going on.

He guessed it would all be temporary.

Those shelves would fill up in a few months time.

Had to be.

Then—for the first time—a completely different thought. What if…that didn’t happen?

What if, in fact, it got worse?

“So— “ Schiller said. “Speaking of food, I know a place where we can get a couple of dogs at not too extravagant prices. Celebrate your ‘day one’.” He grinned. “My treat.”

“I can pay for— “

“Sure you can. Precinct tradition though, Jack. One of the freaking perks of being your mentor,” he said, then laughed as he turned down a corner, heading to where the brackish waters of the Hudson raced to meet the Atlantic Ocean.

*

“It’s that place just ahead. Usually sold out by noon. But the owner keeps a few for the boys in blue. No graft there, just a little courtesy. We pay and—“

“Attention Squad Car 8839.”

Schiller nodded at Jack, who picked up the radio mic.

“8839 here. Officer Murphy.

“Reports of noises and screams coming from 2231 Henry Street. Proceed to investigate.”

“Roger that,” Jack said, mimicking the many times they rehearsed taking calls in the academy… now simply concerned with not sounding like a rookie.

Schiller threw the lights and siren on, and hit the gas.

“Guess those goddamned hot dogs will have to wait, Jack.”

*

They stopped outside the address.

Jack glanced at Schiller, who just sat there, looking at the house.

The neighborhood…not bad. Some row houses with little plots of green ivy. Garbage neatly in bags. A few brownstones, next to a row of apartment buildings. Trees on the street.

Didn’t look like a crack house, or a place squatters had invaded.

What’s he doin? Jack wondered.

“We going in?”

Schiller nodded. Then: “Yeah. Just want, you know, to look around the place. See—house has bars on the windows. Strange…”

The guy’s edgy, Jack thought. Too many years out here?

“Looks quiet now,” Jack said.

Schiller turned and looked at him, eyeballs on eyeballs. “Looks, Jacko—can be deceiving.”

Then back to scanning the house.

The radio crackled back to life.

“8839—are you at the residence yet?”

Now Schiller grabbed the microphone. “Roger. We’re on our way in.”

He put the mic back and got out of the car.

*

Schiller knocked on the door.

“Fuckin’ hot,” he said. “Getting to be that working nights is better than this shit. Almost a 100 degrees every goddamn day? Gimme a break.”

Jack nodded.

Another knock.

And then a sound from inside. Something moving.

“The screamer?” Jack said.

“Someone screamed. Right? Probable cause for our going in.”

Schiller stepped back and kicked at the door. But the door was no thin slab of wood or pressed fiber board; it was solid…maybe—given the bars—even reinforced.

Jack started to kick with him.

Then the training came back to him, reminding him that this was no exercise.

“Should I go to the back?”

“Yeah—go.”

Back there, maybe another way in, and out.

A chance to see who was still inside.

Jack raced down the narrow driveway that led to a neatly painted garage.

All the windows in the back also lined with bars. Like a prison.

But the back door—didn’t look as heavy.

I win, Jack thought.

He ran up the four steps of the back porch and rammed the door open, his shoulder feeling the blow—but the door popped open.

He walked into a kitchen.

His hand on his gun.

No reason to have it out.

Felt good enough — just with his hand resting on it.

The kitchen.  White tile on the floor, white counters, white appliances. Pristine.

But a few steps into the room, a smell. At first, like fish. Yeah, the stale smell of fried fish the next morning. But no — something stronger to this smell, a different odor.

No noises.

His partner at the front door.

Jack moved more cautiously forward, down a small hallway. Rushing — so they said during training—could be the quickest way to get killed.

Take your time.

A gunshot, a kick. The front door, lock blown off, opening.

Jack only feet from the living room.

A word, a yell from the room ahead…

“Christ!”

By the time Jack got to it he could see what had prompted Schiller to yell.

A body on the floor, the midsection open as if it had exploded.

The open cavity – empty.

“Shit,” Jack said. Then he took in the rest of the room, behind those barred windows and dark drapes.

Boxes stacked high to the ceiling. Cans of food. And shelves filled with more cans…bottles…jars. Enough stored food to feed an army.

Yet—and Jack had to admit this—it looked like someone had ripped this man open.

Ripped him open…

And feasted on his body.

The smell, the ooze…fresh.

Then he heard a sound.

Schiller was on his radio.

“We have a homicide. Send backup asap.”

Jack turned to Schiller, who he saw had his gun in his hand.

“The guy…he was in here, Jack. Minutes ago. Had to be.”

God—was the killer still here somewhere? Dripping blood?

He couldn’t get out from the front or the back.

Was there another way out?

Jack remembered passing the basement door, slightly open.

“Downstairs,” he said, and without waiting for an okay from Schiller, he turned back to the basement and started racing down the stairs.

*

Jack had his gun was out by the time he was halfway down.

So dark down here except for a few rectangular squares of light from smaller barred windows.

Except—one of those windows didn’t have bars. Someone had chipped or dug around them, and the bars had fallen out.

Jack raced to the dank basement’s window, at the same time spinning around, trying to see in the darkness if someone could still be down here, hiding, ready to jump on him.

Steps—as Schiller finally came down.

Jack got to the window and looked out.

He saw someone racing away, running through the back yards of the row of brownstones, climbing fences, leaping.

Jack turned to Schiller, feeling the adrenaline rish hit him hard. “There he is!”

Then saying something that immediately felt hollow, almost stupid.

“We can get him.”

“Backup’s on its way —” Schiller started, “just hold —”

But Jack took the steps back upstairs two at a time, running full out.

I’m a runner, Jack thought.

I’m going to run and catch that sick bastard.

*

Jack bolted, holstering his gun so he could grab the top of the fences that separated the houses.

He was fast, but the guy he chased seemed to be able to get over those fences with a near manic ease.

Far behind him, he heard Schiller yelling.

“Can’t get him, Jack.”

Then: “Wait.”

But Jack pumped harder, the distance closing, even as the guy he chased reached a wall—the brick wall of the first in a row of small apartment buildings.

In a minute, Jack would have him.

Except, the building’s fire escape was right there, and the guy leaped up — an amazing leap — and caught the bottom rung of the escape ladder, and as if in a demented video game, started crab-crawling his way up.

Jack reached the bottom of the ladder. He looked up. Only seven stories high. Then the roof.

Something about this made Jack not want to give up, unable to wait for more cops to show up, for backup to cordon off the block, to pen the guy in.

Something told him that whatever had…

…eviscerated…

…the man in the apartment wouldn’t be cordoned off so easily.

First leap, and Jack missed the bottom rung. Then again, another leap, wishing he was taller, and another miss.

Then, into a deep crouch, and he reached up with both hands to latch on.

In the best shape of his life, he caught the lowest rung.

Then releasing one hand for a wild swing, he hit the release which sent the ladder unfolding and rolling down to the ground.

In case Schiller ever caught up.

In case Schiller wanted to follow.

Jack climbed up as fast as he could, wondering: why am I doing this?

What the hell is driving me?

A brief moment thinking about his wife, Christie, and their three year old, Kate. And the newborn, Simon.

Family.

Immediately pushing that thought away.

Only one totally and completely mindful thought now: climb.

Climb fast.

 

3 — Up on the Roof    

The mad climb triggered oxygen debt, but Jack opened his mouth wide, forcing air in, gasping in order to keep on going.

Until he was able to grab the curved stone edge of the roof, and scramble onto the roof, thinking that the killer could be standing right there, ready to kick him down again.

But when Jack rolled over, all he could feel was the sticky tar of the roof melting under the blazing sun. And ahead the killer kept running straight across the roof.

Jack sprang to his feet, now taking out his gun.

Could take a shot at him, he thought.

Could take aim, bring him the fuck down.

But if there was a chance he could stop the guy without blowing his brains out, he was going to take it.

Now, running flat, Jack closed the distance again.

The man reached the edge of the apartment and then, as if he had done it a thousand times, without slowing down, leaped from one building….to the other.

Like an animal. Like a gazelle.

No. Not like that.

Like a predator, throwing itself into the air.

The crazed person who ripped open that man back at that house ran the rooftops like it was something he did all the time.

Jack kept following, racing as fast as he could and then leapt, awkwardly, one leg in front of the other, from one roof….to the other, amazed that he actually made it.

A voice in his head…shoot him. Shoot the sick bastard.

The gun was there. A shot possible.

But there was only one more building ahead. No more jumps left.

The man would stop or Jack would indeed take him down.

Which is when the man…

What had once been a man…

Turned.

*

Jack stopped cold.

The person looking at him was covered in blood.

But it was the man’s eyes that Jack stared right into. Like dark, open holes, like someone on the wildest narcotic concoction possible, and that still didn’t capture the insane look.

And the hands, so bloody too…. but that wasn’t the thing that Jack noticed about them.

Dripping red, they were curled into near claws.

A second to register that this person had slaughtered and—apparently—eaten the man, ignoring the food hoard.

The bloody thing in front of him shot a quick look at the drop on the other side of the wall, then back to Jack.

Where’s Schiller? Jack thought.

Letting me handle this by myself?

Then: “Down on the ground. Now.”

The thing had already resisted arrest. Jack could shoot him, no questions asked.

But is that how he wanted to start his first day? Killing someone?

Even if the ‘someone’ in question seemed to have left humanity far behind.

“Get down on the fucking ground now—” He almost added the well-practiced ‘sir’, the absurdity stopping him.

Sir. Thing. Madman.

Whatever the hell you are.

Another look from the thing to the wall, and Jack thinking…he’s going to jump, going to leap over the side even though a seven story fall would certainly kill him.

But then — how much calculating intellect did the guy seem to have?

The thing turned back.

This near human.

And with dizzying speed, it leaped towards Jack, those claw hands stretched out, the fingers turned into talons ready to grab.

The killer flew into the air, one crazy leap, maybe two away. Jack raised his gun; he knew he had no choice.

Day One.

And he had to kill this….

When shots blasted out from behind him. One, two shots, and then the killer’s head nearly disappeared.

But it kept coming, now stumbling toward Jack. He leveled his own gun, still unfired, at the thing’s chest, mere feet away.

He fired once, twice, kicking the still-twitching man back, right to the edge of the building.

Finally, as if considering it, the bloody killer without a head collapsed to the gooey tar covered roof, and finally fell forward.

For a few moments, Jack didn’t move, didn’t lower his gun, didn’t do a damn thing.

*

“I should have shot him,” Jack said as they stood outside the building. The forensics team had already removed the black body bag, but a CSI team was still up on the roof, taking pictures.

Schiller shook his head.

“You did fucking shoot him, Jack.”

“Yeah. After you blew his head off.”

Schiller moved a bit, and positioned his stubby body right in front of Jack.

“Well, who the hell was it that gave chase to the guy? You. He probably could have figured a way down if you hadn’t gotten cornered it.”

Schiller laughed.

“Those running days are over for me. That’s for damn sure. Glad I have a young partner.”

Jack nodded. “And I’m glad I have a partner who can shoot.”

“That? Nothing. Close range. Easy.”

Then quiet. The afternoon sun still hot, both of them standing there, sweating.

Another hour and Jack’s first day would be over.

Then: “Thanks anyway,” he said.

Another few seconds of quiet.

“But there’s something I don’t get.”

Schiller looked up at Jack as if expecting the question.

“The guy who was killed—”

“Eaten,” Schiller said.

“Yeah. He was a food hoarder. Place was filled with food.” Jack shook his head. “Then why—”

Schiller put up a hand.

“Why kill the owner, leave all that goddamned food, and eat him?”

Jack nodded. “That is what he did, right?”

Schiller took a few steps closer. Most of the onlookers, the curious who lived on the block, had vanished. Still there were a few here waiting until the whole show was over.

“I dunno, Jacko. I. Don’t. Know.”

Another step. He lowered his voice. “But, man, I’ll tell you something. And you didn’t hear it from me, you got it?”

Another nod from Jack. The heat not letting up, sweat rolled off his brow — but he was nowhere as wet as Schiller who looked as if he had just come out of the shower with his clothes on.

Schiller looked around at the lookers-on. Then to Jack. “This, today…isn’t the first damn time I’ve seen this.”

“What?”

“I’ve seen it before. People attacked, killed….and no good god-damn question about it…eaten.”

For a moment, Jack couldn’t think of a thing to say to that. Then:

“I still don’t get it.”

“Welcome to the fucking club, Jack. Probably lots of us out here on the streets seeing it. Here, there. People killed. And someone chowing the fuck down on them.”

Suddenly the intense heat…felt like cold.

“But if someone was hungry, and they had all that food there, then why—”

“Precisely. Why? That’s the question, Jacko. Oh, hold on. CSI’s down.

Two men in short sleeves and tie and a woman in crisp business skirt and white blouse walked over.

“Who’s doing the paperwork on this?” the woman said.

“I am,” Schiller said.

The woman nodded. She looked at her two partners. Then: “And your suspected motive?”

Jack looked at Schiller, wondering how he was going to answer this.

“Robbery. Shot resisting arrest.”

“Okay, We’ll let psych services know. Get yourself over there asap.”

The woman looked at Jack, who stood quietly letting Schiller handle the conversation with the CSI team.

 “And, Officer Murphy, you chased him?”

“Yes.”

Another look at her two team members.

Then a smile. “Good work. One less….killer.” She took a breath. “Good work by the both of you.”

The three CSI cops turned and walked away.

Jack waited until they were out of earshot.

“So—that’s it? Robbery gone wrong? Straight homicide? Everyone says nothing about what really happened?”

Schiller nodded. No smile now. He looked deflated, drained by what had happened.

“You got it, Jack.”

Then:

“Welcome to the NYPD.”

 

4 — Nightime    

When Jack got home, to his just-bought house in a nice, quiet part of Staten Island, he had tried pushing away the thoughts, the images…the questions that today had summoned.

Instead, he anticipated what Christie might say when he walked in the door.

And more importantly, what he would say back.

It all went as he planned. The questions from her…how was your first day, how’d things go…?

The answers….reassuring, bland. The odd detail here and there just to cover the fact that he wasn’t saying anything. He described the street fight with the couple.

“Exciting,” she had said. “So now….you’re a real cop.”

He smiled at that, nodded.

And then, since Kate was running around, and Simon was crying for a feeding, the subject of his Day One was dropped.

 

Until both kids were down, Jack having read a story to Kate, flipping the pages of Go, Dog, Go and trying not to let his mind drift back to what had happened.

Then he came out to the kitchen and grabbed a beer.

Christie sat at the table, reading a paper, but really—he knew—waiting. “So your partner, he’s—”

Jack pulled out a chair and sat.

“Good guy. An old pro.” A slug of the beer. “Not in the best of shape but I guess that’s why they paired us up.”

A pause as she studied him. Christie was smart, one of the things he really liked about her. Intuitive. She was studying him, still with a smile on her face.

Then: “You think you’re going to like it?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Being a cop? Yeah. Seems to, y’know, to make sense.”

“Hm?”

“Being out there. Trying to help people. Protect them. Makes sense.”

Christie’s smile faded a bit. Perhaps some concern creeping into her mind.

Then she said: “I hear your Dad in that answer.”

A nod. Jack made no apologies for believing — like his father — that you had to do something to help people. Cop. Fireman. Soldier.

No doctors in the family yet. Maybe Kate someday. Maybe Simon.

And when they went to bed, Jack sensed that Christie wanted to make love. Her choice of nightgown. The way she moved.

It had been awhile.

Since Simon arrived….her body recovering, the fatigue.

Tonight was different.

He showered. And then slipped under the cool sheets as Christie turned to him immediately, without waiting.

And for a few moments, the day did indeed vanish.

*

But not later.

He had drifted off, the fatigue of his running, the tension of the day, the almost rough way he had made love to Christie — and he fell into sleep as if leaping off a cliff.

But he woke up.

At first, thinking it was just his nerves on edge.

What he had seen that day, what he had done, and—he admitted to himself—what Schiller had said.

That’s what he thought woke him up.

But then he heard a noise.

Something outside.

His eyes wide open now. A glance at the clock: 3:15. Not too many hours before he’d have to get up.

But he heard something.

Then a new sound. The small cry of a baby.

He got up, and slid out of the bed as quietly as he could.

He went into Simon’s room. In their new house, everyone had their own room.

He went to the crib. Simon’s eyes wide open. Not really crying but making noises.

Bottles of breast milk were in the refrigerator.

“What’s up little fella?” Jack whispered.

Simon looked at Jack, studying him, the baby’s face still neutral…but then that lower lip bending down, the howl about to begin.

A cry coming.

And before that infant tidal wave hit, Jack reached down and scooped up the baby, holding Simon close, his little head resting on Jack’s left shoulder.

He walked downstairs with his new son.

*

Now cradling Simon, he watched as the baby sucked at the bottle. Always hungry. Babies. Hungry, or with dirty diapers.

Then, when Simon stopped feeding, he let the plastic nipple slip from his mouth. But his eyes hadn’t closed. In the darkness of the kitchen, the baby’s eyes glistened, locked on Jack.

“You don’t look tired,” Jack whispered.

And he walked out to the living room, the first floor of the split-level ranch house dark, quiet.

Then the sound again.

Outside.

Jack’s eyes darted right and left as if he could see through the walls of the house.

He walked to the front door and looked out one of the three small glass panes.

The street outside—all quiet.

A glance down. The front door locked.

Then the sound again, now coming from the right. He walked over to the living room window that faced the driveway and the other house next to theirs.

Jack pulled aside the curtain.

Seemed empty and quiet there, too.

Until he noticed the lid of the neighbor’s garbage plastic bin pop up. Once. Twice.

A small head popped out. Too dark to really see more than the outline, but the shape was clear.

A raccoon. The neighbor had left the bin’s top unlatched. Or the clever raccoon had just figured a way to open it because, when you’re hungry, that’s what you do—

And then…

And then…

Holding his baby, it came back to him like a lightning flash.

When you’re hungry, you figure a way in.

Like that crazed guy who got into that hoarder’s house, and –

Yeah, go on.

It’s what happened.

Go the fuck on.

And ate him.

Another thwack as the raccoon came out of the bin, and leaped to the driveway.

Things must be tough for the raccoons as well.

The raccoon started waddling its way out to the street, a hungry nighttime Santa, paying a visit to everyone’s garbage cans.

Jack looked down at Simon.

His son was asleep.

And he walked him back to his bed.

*

But Jack didn’t go back to bed himself.

No, he went downstairs and still, with the lights off, he walked around. He looked at the glass panels of the front door. So easy to kick them in, and get at the lock.

And one lock? Jack could get through that himself in seconds.

The windows.

The building in Red Hook had bars. No bars here.

That would look strange wouldn’t it? thought Jack.

Bars on the window.

He could hear Christie’s voice.

What would the neighbors say? What are you scared of?

And in Red Hook, the killer ….the eater…the…

(What? The cannibal? What the hell was he?)

…got in through the basement. Need to check that too. All the windows, all the doors, the basement, everywhere — everywhere, because—

Well, he knew what he felt.

Not that he understood it.

But what he saw today—what Schiller said—scared him.

Like there was something secret happening, and maybe only those cops on the beat saw it.

Things changing, people changing.

The world changing

Jack stood there now, in his silent living room, the house, and the neighborhood totally quiet.

Nothing he could do now.

And in a few hours, he’d have to drive to the Red Hook precinct for Day Two. To be followed by a Day Three.

Four. Five.

But he knew — as sure as he knew anything — that there were things to be done here, right here in his own house.

Because when you see something.

(He felt gooseflesh rise on his arms.)

When you know something that others don’t.

You better take advantage of that knowledge while you can.

Before it’s too late.

Only then, with that resolve, with that promise, did he turn and start back up the stairs.

No more sleep came, though it felt good for his body to simply lie quiet and still on the bed.

In a few hours, the hot sun would rise, the city would again begin to cook, and Jack would again be back on its streets. Day Two, only now he’d be looking for more clues, more signs of what the future would bring. 

 

Day One Copyright © 2011 by Matthew Costello
Art copyright © 2011 by Jason Ramirez

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