CRACKERJACK’S WAS THE last place Master Detective John Simon expected to be on a Thursday night at eight. The night club was one of the latest trendy hot spots in Kansas City’s thriving Crossroads arts district just south of the city’s downtown, the dance floor packed with the young and on the rise, their feet pounding in synch with the thunderous beat two deejays were spinning from a raised platform at the center of the room. The scent of colognes, perfumes, sweat, body odor, and greasy appetizers filled the air in a toxic mix that everyone but Simon seemed to ignore.
His eyes searched the crowd, solidly aware he didn’t fit in. Forties, former star running back at K-State, divorced, an eighteen-year veteran of the department, he was the oldest guy in the room and his wardrobe stood out like an Elvis impersonator at a costume ball, especially with the fleece-lined coat he was wearing over the top. It was in the thirties outside, but almost tropical in the club. A few of the patrons gave him funny looks, others looked amused, but most just ignored him as he weaved his way through the writhing bodies, taking in every face. None of them were his man.
He stopped when he reached the corner and turned back to see how his partner was doing just as the beat changed to an old disco classic—retro was in—and the familiar strains of Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” echoed off the shimmering walls. The crowd cheered and began gyrating in unison like dancers in a choreographed routine, and right in the middle of them, matching every beat and move, was Lucas George. Dark skinned, medium tall, thin but athletic, with piercing green eyes and close cut hair, Lucas looked mid-thirties, though his actual age was less than ten. One of the first humanoid android models entered into service from Connelly Labs, he was also the first humanoid android graduate of the Kansas City Regional Police Academy. And he was Simon’s partner.
They’d met when Simon’s former partner was kidnapped. Determined to find her and those responsible, Simon had teamed up with the only witness, the android security guard at the warehouse, and thus his partnership with Lucas was born. Later, Lucas' experiences working the case with Simon and their budding friendship had inspired him to apply for the Academy. The rest, as they say, was history. Six months later, Lucas graduated top of his class, and now here he was on his first assignment as a full detective. Because of his special skills and nature, he’d skipped patrol and gone straight to work with Simon, the department wanting to take full advantage of this new resource under the tutelage of a senior man. Only Simon and Lucas were prone to trouble, all in the name of zealously pursuing justice, of course. Thus now they were working nights and weekends, having been reassigned from Central Division’s Property squad to the Generalist squad at Headquarters, until the department decided what to do with them.
This left Simon frustrated but from the way Lucas was smiling, he appeared to be just fine with it. He danced like someone who’d been doing it for years rather than perfectly imitating those around him, and the other patrons were treating him like one of their own. Lucas, unlike Simon, was wearing only a thin windbreaker because he had no need of a coat. If Simon had been the one dancing, he knew he’d be drowning in sweat, but Lucas didn’t have to worry about that. Simon watched as they all did air kung fu with their flailing arms and danced in a circle to the right in perfect unison, waiting off to the side to avoid a collision until the song was over.
As he continued scanning the crowd seeking the face of Peter Wacks, the low-life wannabe player who’d drawn them there tonight, his eyes lit on a glowing beauty that held his gaze. She was medium height with long reddish brunette tresses and seductive curves well highlighted by the slinky red dress she was wearing. Simon followed her long, seductive legs underneath to shiny black pumps that bounced in time to the beat. It was almost as if a spotlight had found her in the midst of the masses but in truth, she’d taken a position under one of the overhead spots lighting an aisle across the dance floor.
On looks alone, she was everything Simon liked in a woman. He had an instant urge to talk with her, duties aside. But to do so, he’d have to somehow navigate his way through a hundred gyrating bodies and around a raised platform, which for the moment at least appeared a herculean task. Instead, he stood there, enjoying the view until she noticed his stare, smiled briefly, and then slipped back into the crowd and disappeared.
Simon's heart sank with disappointment. What was he—some lovestruck teenager in a disco? He shook it off, scanning over to where Lucas was still dancing as the song wound to a close. You have a job to do, John. Stay focused, he scolded himself. For a moment he knew what Emma meant when she accused him of being “overly fatherly.” He’d found that tone of inner voice annoying himself. But then the song ended. He shook it off and raised a hand, waving to get his partner's attention as Lucas chatted with other dancers and exchanged compliments and pleasantries. Finally, the android spotted his partner and began weaving his way over through the crowd.
“You have fun?” he asked as Lucas joined him off to the side.
“Yes,” Lucas agreed. “Good song.”
“You do remember we’re working here, right?” Simon replied.
“You told me to blend in,” Lucas said with a shrug. “I think I was successful.” Just then a young Asian in his late twenties walked by with a beautiful blonde hanging off his arm and raised the other to high five Lucas as he passed, each greeting the other with an enthusiastic “Dude.”
Simon rolled his eyes. “Well, when you’re done blending, what do you say we actually try to find this Wacks so we can get outta here?”
Lucas nodded. “Well, sure. At least until the next good song comes on.” He grinned.
Simon groaned. “Don’t get cocky. You’re still in training, remember?”
“Speaking of training, Emma says I should teach you how to dance,” Lucas said.
“No fucking way,” Simon said. “No thanks, pal.”
“She suggested it might help your social life,” Lucas said as they started forward together, weaving through the crowd around the edge of the dance floor. “‘You need to get out more.’”
Simon shot him dead with a glare.
“I was quoting her, not me,” Lucas said with an innocent look.
“By all means feel free to restrain yourself from quoting to me every single criticism my daughter tells you about me, okay?” Simon snapped.
“Just trying to help,” Lucas answered.
“Trust me, stick to your gifts,” Simon said as he spotted a familiar face twenty feet ahead along the edge of the dance floor near where he’d spotted the brunette earlier. He elbowed Lucas in the ribs. “I think I see Wacks.”
Simon grabbed him by the forearm and pulled him so he was facing the suspect as they kept moving through the crowd. “Let me take lead. You back me up.”
“Roger wilco,” Lucas replied, quoting some radio language he’d heard on a cop show that Simon found really annoying, but now wasn’t the time for that argument again.
They moved in on the subject now, who was talking to a woman with her back against a pillar. He was leaning in with both arms fully extended, one on either side of her, their faces a few inches apart as they talked—probably to be heard over the music. Simon didn’t get the vibe the woman was that into him...yet.
Simon grabbed him by the shoulder and whirled him around.
“Hey!” Wacks protested, stiffening as if ready to fight.
Lucas badged him and Wacks relaxed a bit.
“What do you want?” he demanded.
“To talk,” Simon said.
Wacks nodded back toward the pillar behind him. “I’m already talking to someone. You’ll have to wait.”
“Not anymore,” Simon snapped and Wacks turned to see the object of his attention being led onto the dance floor by another much better looking guy.
“Son of a bitch!” he spat.
Simon and Lucas each grabbed him by an arm and pulled him away from the dance floor through the crowd to a nearby booth, throwing him onto the bench as Simon straddled a chair on the other side of the table, chest against the chair back facing him. Lucas stood behind him to one side with his arms crossed, blocking any escape.
“What do you want?” Wacks demanded again.
“We want to know about Alma Watson,” Lucas said.
Simon grunted and shook his head. “Nope. Not gonna go down that way, asshole. The old woman you scammed out of her social security and savings. The one whose house you then broke in and cleared out.”
“What?” Wacks scoffed. “You’ve mistaken me for someone else.”
“Unfortunately, we haven’t,” Simon said and motioned to Lucas.
Lucas held up his cell phone and played tape of a surveillance camera with a view from across the street showing Wacks using a hand laser to cut a section out of the wide window of a house late at night with date and time stamp running along the bottom. “Caught on tape,” Lucas said.
“And that’s just the neighbor’s footage,” Simon said. “Fortunately, Alma’s daughter also got worried and placed a nanny cam in her living room just in case.”
“Would you like to see that one, too?” Lucas asked.
Wacks shook his head. “I was helping her when she locked herself out.”
“Nope,” Lucas said, shaking his head.
“Alma’s cell phone places her over at her daughter’s house that night,” Simon said.
“For her grandson’s birthday,” Lucas added.
Wacks looked like a deer trapped in headlights for a moment until a waitress appeared. She was early twenties and bouncy, like a cheerleader on too much caffeine. “Hey, y’all. What ya drinkin’?”
“No thank you,” Lucas said.
“Are you sure?” she asked sing-song. “It’s half price night!”
As Simon turned his head to frown at her, Wacks sprung up and vaulted over the back of the booth. He landed atop the next table, its eight jammed in occupants protesting loudly as glasses and plates clattered and drinks spilled, then hurriedly dodged as Wacks stumbled off the table and took off running.
Lucas went to give chase but the waitress and a passing couple got in the way.
“Fuck!” Simon said.
“So no drinks then?” the waitress asked innocently, all smiles.
“No tip either,” Simon snapped as he and Lucas took off after Wacks, who was fifteen feet ahead already, weaving through the crowd.
As he reached the bathrooms, Wacks pushed through and hurried down the hallway running past them and disappearing off into some other area of the club just as a song ending and couples started streaming off the dance floor, trading places with others as they did.
Simon and Lucas reached the bathrooms just as an incoming influx was jammed up by the outgoing crowd and struggled to push through and get to the corridor. Simon badged them at face level as he struggled against the flow. “Police business! Let us through!”
Everyone ignored them. By the time they managed to get through, Wacks was nowhere to be seen.
Simon patted Lucas’ arm. “You go that way. I’m going out the front and around. See if I can intercept him.”
“Gotcha,” Lucas said and hurried down the corridor as Simon turned back and fought his way through the crowd again.
Simon emerged from the club and immediately reached down to zip up his coat against the biting cold. Black pavement slick with ice and snow stretched in each direction, most of the spots filled with cars and trucks of all shapes, sizes, and colors in spaces clearly demarked by fading white lines. The lot was well-lit by spotlights in tall poles, thirty feet overhead, and Simon scanned it for his suspect as people chatted and laughed, car doors slammed, and tires crunched on snow and ice, moving past.
Deciding to check around the side, he turned back toward the side of the club any exit from the corridor by the bathroom would lead to and felt his feet slipping out from under him on ice, then he found himself face to face with the woman he’d been admiring earlier across the bathroom.
Suddenly, he was plowing into her as she tried to raise her hands, palms out, to stop him. They collided roughly, falling and sliding, him on top of her right off the sidewalk and out into the parking lot on a huge patch of black ice. They landed right in the path of an oncoming car. Simon tried to roll off but she was struggling too and they just wound up more entangled. The car started braking, but it was sliding, too, and Simon and the woman’s efforts become even more desperate. Then just as he cringed in preparation for the impact, the car stopped and he reached up to grab its bumper, managing to halt the slide and bring them to a stop.
He rolled off the woman as she gasped for breath and he struggled again for footing as he tried to rise. Two pairs of feet appeared standing next to him, and he looked up to see Lucas and a handcuffed Wacks staring down at him.
“I thought I was supposed to let you take lead,” Lucas said. “While you were making friends, I got him.”
“This wasn’t on purpose,” Simon growled.
“Okay, we’ll be in the car,” Lucas said and turned, pushing Wacks in front of him to head back for their unmarked KCPD Ford Explorer.
“Wait!” Simon said. “Help us up!”
Lucas stopped, grabbing Wacks by the handcuffs with one hand and extending the other to help Simon to his feet. Then he did the same for the woman, who was looking rather irritated now at the situation she’d found herself sucked into.
“Are you okay?” Lucas asked as he released her hand and she dusted herself off and examined her mud-stained dress and coat.
“No thanks to your friend,” the woman said, glaring at Simon.
“Partner,” Lucas said.
“I’m sorry,” Simon managed, thinking to himself she was actually more beautiful angry, then moaned internally at the cliché.
Lucas gave her a look of sympathy. “He’s only human.”
The woman looked startled by the remark and then barked a laugh as she carefully climbed back onto the sidewalk.
“You sure you’re okay?” Lucas called after her.
“Yes, thank you,” she answered.
“Okay, have a good night,” Simon said cheerfully after her, but she simply glared back at him as Lucas turned and resumed leading Wacks across the parking lot toward the Interceptor. Simon followed.
“I don’t think she likes you,” Wacks said.
“Shut the fuck up,” Simon said.
“I think he’s right,” Lucas replied.
“You shut the fuck up too,” Simon said, frowning. “What about me? Not going to ask how I am?”
“You’re walking fine, just a little dirty,” Lucas said. “You’re always telling me you don’t like when I’m overly sentimental.”
Simon grunted. “Caring about someone’s well-being is polite, not sentimental.” They stopped a moment to wait as another car hurried past before crossing an aisle to the parking section where their car was waiting.
As they stepped out again to cross, another car spun its wheels to escape ice and pull out of its spot, spraying mud and water all over Simon, who tried to dodge much too late. Instead, the car shot forward and he stood there soaked and pissed, shaking his hands to flick off water as Lucas reached the other side and put Wacks into the back of the Interceptor.
“We waiting for a wagon?” Lucas asked as Simon finally joined him.
“No, you ride with Wacks, I’ll drive,” Simon said. “I’m fucking soaked.”
“You really should be more careful walking on ice,” Lucas said. “I expected you were used to it.” He climbed in back beside the suspect and shut the car door.
Simon heard a whirring overhead and looked up as a media drone dropped down in front of him.
“Smile,” it said in a sing-song voice as a flash flashed and Simon raised his arm to block his face but he was too late. “Thank you,” it added as it flew away.
“Fucking smartass robots,” Simon muttered and headed around the Interceptor toward the driver’s side. And he wasn’t just talking about the drone.
THE GENERALIST SQUAD was based out of the third floor at KCPD headquarters downtown at 1125 Locust. Built in 1938, headquarters was a nine story stone monolith located right next to the city's detention center; it housed offices for the Chief, his deputies and assistants, and various investigative units, including Homicide, Assault, Cyber Crime, Sex Crimes, and Generalist detectives. There had been a decade during which the Generalist Squad was eliminated but two years prior, Chief Weber had decided it was needed again due to an uptick in late night incidents requiring detectives and brought it back.
Simon and Lucas dropped Wacks at the detention center and then headed for headquarters, parking the Interceptor in its assigned space in the garage. They took the back elevator up to three and entered the squad room. Part of being reassigned was getting used to a whole new team of people, but fortunately, the Generalists were led by an old Academy classmate of Simon’s, Sergeant Brian Delmater. Late forties, tall, with a thickening paunch and limbs like most men his age, Delmater had a hardened face but a warm heart and a great sense of humor. If Simon had to be assigned under someone besides JoAnn Becker, his previous sergeant, Delmater would have been his first choice.
Like most, the squad room was a maze of soft-walled cubicles with file cabinets, copy machines, printers, and shelves scattered around. The outer walls were government-issue plain with off-white paint over thin, gray carpet. There were also several bulletin boards and two white boards scattered about, all of them filled with notices, wanted posters, suspect pics, or scribbled notes. Simon’s nose caught hints of highlighter markers, hand sanitizer and colognes, air fresheners and scented candles, and musty old files as he lead the way.
Simon’s and Lucas’ cubes were on the west aisle near the windows just outside a conference room and Delmater’s office. As they wove their way through past the other Generalists, several took note of Simon’s current state and reacted with a mix of amusement and surprise.
“You know, Simon, you’d think an O.G. would know to at least make himself presentable before he came to the squad,” joked Detective Benny Jimenez, thirties, Hispanic, thin with an eclectic taste in wardrobe. He tsked, shaking his head.
“Love the new look, Simon,” Detective Yanni Rankin teased. An Israeli immigrant around Jiminez’s age, he was all flash and style with slicked back, well-groomed hair, and a nice tan no matter what time of year it was.
“Looks like your new partner’s breaking you in right,” Detective Allie Williams said. African American, early thirties, tall and thin, a basketball star in college until she’d injured her knee, she was a crack shot and a looker, also with a strong sense of style.
“Hey, George, you sure you wouldn’t prefer to partner with someone who knows how to walk on ice?” Detective Louie Lenz teased. Short, pudgy, with thinning hair, he was the oldest of the bunch at early forties and dressed like a bum—old wrinkled suit, well-worn shoes, out-of-date ties, and cheap shirts.
Lucas smiled as Simon offered a mock laugh. “You guys oughta take your act to Vegas. You’d clean up.”
The four exchanged looks. “I always thought so,” Jiminez said.
“John,” Delmater called from his office as they passed his door. Simon and Lucas changed direction and stopped in his doorway. Delmater frowned, looking Simon over. “What happened to you?”
“Black ice,” Lucas said.
“You catch the guy at least?” Delmater asked, shaking his head sympathetically.
Simon tipped his head toward Lucas. “He did.”
“Well, that’s something,” Delmater said. “Go clean yourself up and get a warm cup of coffee. The wife sent some Brazilian she brought back from an excursion to Rio to visit our son. Good stuff.”
“Good coffee? In a police station?” Simon mocked. “You trying to ruin our rep?”
“And improve morale,” Delmater snapped back, grinning. “Enjoy it while it lasts.”
Simon gave a quick salute and walked back to his desk, Lucas following. “You get started on the paperwork, while I clean up, okay?” he said.
Lucas shrugged as he slipped into his chair at the cube next to Simon’s. “On it.”
Simon made his way into the conference room with a fridge, microwave, and coffee station. There was also a break room down the hall but Simon wasn’t in the mood for the walk, and if Delmater brought special coffee, he’d kept it close to avoid mooching by other squads. Police officers might fight crime, but they had few qualms about stealing from each other when it came to the best resources.
The rich aroma of real coffee, not the usual industrial mass-produced stuff, replaced the squad room smells of B.O. musty papers, and dust the minute he stepped through the door. Simon grabbed the pot and a generic white Styrofoam cup and filled it to the brim, then leaned against the counter as he sipped, savoring the special treat—real coffee. At least something was going right tonight. The hot liquid warmed his insides as it went down and he wished he had a Danish or donut to go with, but there was nothing today. After this, he’d hit the locker room for a change of clothes and a quick shower—as much to warm up as anything—then return to help Lucas with the paperwork.
But before he could even finish, Delmater was calling. “Simon! George!”
Simon groaned, carrying his coffee back out into the squad room. Delmater stood just outside his office with a note.
“What’s up, Sarge?” Simon asked as Lucas walked over to join them.
“1809 Grand, The Prism,” Delmater said.
“Fuck. Another night club?” Simon groused. His night had just gotten worse again.
“Suspect flipped out and tore up the place,” Delmater said. “They’re holding everyone as witnesses but the dance floor’s closed.”
Simon nodded toward the others. “Why can’t one of the others take it?”
“You two are the only ones who wrapped a case,” Delmater said. “Besides, I’m going too and I want Lucas’ take on this.”
“Why?” Lucas asked, surprised.
“Because the suspect is supposedly an android, like you,” Delmater replied.
“Can I at least get a shower and change first?” Simon asked.
Delmater shook his head. “I wish, but it’ll have to wait.” He put a hand on Simon’s shoulder as Simon groaned in protest. “We’ll probably just get dirty again slogging around at the scene anyway. I’ll buy you an early breakfast if we’re there long enough.”
“I choose the place?” Simon asked, brightening.
“With respect for the fact I’m just a poor cop like you, sure,” Delmater said.
Simon snorted. “A poor cop who just got a pay hike. You’re on.” He turned and led the way out of the squad room as Delmater leaned back into his office to grab his coat and then hurried to catch up.
“The pay hike’s not as great as you probably imagine,” Delmater warned.
“You bought a new boat and repainted your house,” Simon teased. “You’re doing fine.”
“I was until I made the mistake of offering you food,” Delmater mumbled as they headed out the door.