Neon Noir: The Third Beat

Detective Robert Howell was not the biggest supporter of prohibition when it was initially talked about. A few years in, and he sees its value. Now he’s made it his personal mission to uphold the new law, and bring in every bootlegger. He’s gained the nickname of “The Wolf” among the gangs in Capital City.

Robert and Selene Howell

The city’s heart burns Robert’s ears. Each note, each beat lands like a freight train on his head. It’s a different feeling. He normally needs the city to help him fall asleep, but tonight it’s just noise. Tonight, it’s a distraction.

“If you’re going to stay up, at least let me sleep,” Selene says next to him.

“What? I’m sleeping. You woke me up,” Robert lies.

His wife rolls over, out of the blankets, and pulls the chain on the table light, giving an orange glow to the rest of the room. She rolls back, her eyes still speckled with sleep.

“You’re fidgeting in the bed, dear.” She sits up in her place.
“Tell me what’s wrong.”

Robert slides up, sitting next to Selene. He looks over her face studying her features. It was slender, graceful, and bronze. Her brown hair fell perfectly on her shoulders. Her dark eyebrows framed her expression of concern, and it makes Robert wonder if he should tell her.

“My mind is just stuck on a case.”

“This that speakeasy no one can find?”

“Yeah. The big ones are a problem. But I’ll need more men and cash to take them on. This one though?”

It was in the middle of Old Town. You couldn’t find it unless you were told where to look. Rumor says it isn’t real, or that it’s Hell, run by the devil herself.

“There has to be something to it. I get word about more booze being brought in than you’d expect those fat cats to drink. Someone is sneaking it to the neighborhood.”

“Putting a lot of work in this one.” She slides back into spot on the bed.

Robert turns, hanging his feet off the side.

Maybe a walk will settle my nerves.

The phone rings. Neither of the two question it ringing in the middle of the night like this. Each wonders when the last time was.

Robert gets up from bed, and heads to the kitchen where the phone is still ringing. He sighs and answers it.

“What do you have for me?” his voice is deeper. Darker. It’s a tone that scared Selene.

She turned over in bed, trying to shut her ears to the conversation Robert was having. He’d come back, say it’s an emergency and take off. If she tried asking what it was about, he’d brush her off and just say it was work.

But none of the other spouses of detectives know anything about it.

He finished his conversation, calmly setting down the receiver. Selene heard his steps in the hall as he came back in the room.

“I have to go. It’s an emergency.”

Selene said nothing, watching her husband put on a quick shirt and trench coat. As he left, he grabbed his hat from the hook.

Selene heard the door shut and the key lock. She wasn’t one for crying, but felt the fear nearly overtake her.

I could follow him. I could find out once and for all.

The thought left her mind and she laid down, wrapping herself in blankets once again.

Robert Howell

The air was cool this night. Robert’s coat billowed in the wind.

A walk is just what I needed. I’m beat.

Five minutes outside, and he was wishing he was back in bed with Selene. But he couldn’t go home. Not yet.

The city’s lights cast their neon glow on the walls and sidewalk. Robert couldn’t imagine the kind of people still out right now, but he knew what they were doing.

Some would be night owls, working late jobs, and sleeping during the day. Then you’ve got the hotels, the plays and shows, and other businesses that might go this late.

But he knew most of them, potentially all of them, would end up at a club. And they’d be drinking.

Can’t remember the last time I arrested someone for being drunk in public.

To Robert, it was working. The people were better. He had his doubts at first, but he quickly changed his mind.

Prohibition had lit a flame in Robert, one that other officers quickly noticed. When he made detective, he thought he finally had everything he needed to win his war.

He quickly found out he was wrong.

“Psst, down here,” a quiet voice whispered out the alley.

Unless you were listening for it, you wouldn’t have noticed it. The city’s heart would be too loud. But Robert knew what he was there for.

He stepped down, following the whisper to the back end, a darkness blacker than night.

“Why’d you get me out of bed, Cuthburt? This better be good,” Robert’s voice was deeper, much like when he spoke on the phone earlier that night.

“Shh! Keep your voice down!” the young man whispered. He threw his hands over Robert’s mouth.

The detective grabbed the man’s hands and pulled them off.

“I’m being quiet enough. Unless you were followed. You wouldn’t do that, now would you, Jackie-boy?” Robert still wasn’t whispering, but he was noticeably quieter.

“That’s just it! I’m not sure!” his voice was frantic but quiet. He was still just barely speaking above the city’s heart.

Robert releases Jack’s hands.

“What did you do?”

The detective’s eyes were adjusting to the darkness back here. His thin friend was pacing back and forth, his hair a disheveled mess. This wasn’t exactly new; Jack Cuthburt was a mess. So why was he being so quiet.

“I don’t know! I don’t know.” He stops and takes a deep breath. “I was careful. You know me, I’m always careful. I don’t have a particular want to die.”

“You never should have had to worry about it. It was simple. Tail Francis and get out. Hell, I told ya you could leave early if you thought he would notice you at all.”

“And notice we did.”

The voice was a deep rumble coming from somewhere in the darkness. Robert’s eyes hadn’t fully adjusted as he kept looking around for its source.

A heavy hand is placed on his shoulder.

Not like this.

Robert quickly grabs the hand and tries to move it off him, but it grips his shoulder tight, sending excruciating pain through his arm.

Jack has already turned and started walking away.

You traitor!

The last thing Robert sees that night is darkness.


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