Vordach sounded mad. Wasn’t hard to figure why: that officer-involved shooting.
And the officer involved was none other than Det. Russel Compton.
“The guy had it coming,” he told the lieutenant. But that didn’t seem to be Vordach’s concern.
“Next time try to see the body isn’t found. Saying he had it coming just means I gotta fill out more paperwork…paperwork documenting that he had it coming. Next time somebody ‘has it coming’ try to see that ‘it’ disposes of the body.”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it, lieutenant….”
“Or pin it on someone else who has it coming.”
Pinning it on someone else naturally made Compton think of Harry Harrison. Everybody pinned things on The Rat, but nothing ever seemed to stick. That’s why they called him “stainless.”
“What’s the punishment going to be?” Compton wondered. He didn’t have to wonder if there was going to be a punishment, not when Vordach was this mad. Compton was hoping for a punishment detail that would get him out of the lieutenant’s sight until the paperwork was done.
Vordach was apparently thinking punishment detail, too. He didn’t have to go so heavy on the Swedish word for “punishment” to get the message across.
But he did. Lt. Pierre Vordach was anything but subtle.
“Straffan Gaffar means Punishment Street in Swedish,” he told Compton. “We got a call from Straffan Gaffar 39 last night and the beat cops who responded didn’t get a chance to finish the job. Here’s their notes. Go out there and investigate. Grab somebody from CSI and pull The Rat outa the tank. We all know he didn’t do it.”
As he assembled his team, Det. Compton thought about how irregular this bunch was. At least I got a good patsy this time. Maybe we can call ourselves The Punishment Street Irregulars.
The old man was sure of one thing. Civitas would trust only one person: Civitas.
Straffar Gatan 39 was a 10-story tenement, with four remaining apartments on each floor, but only the first three floors are still inhabited. Det. Ambrose Hab could tell that the construction was undermining the structure. Detective Hab usually noticed things like this. This time it wasn’t hard. One corner had already fallen away.
He wasn’t sure it was possible, but the inside of the tenement is even grimmer than the outside.
The worn carpet on the floor made a wet sucking noise with each step, and he could smell the mold, thick in the air. Cracks ran up the walls, and in many places chunks of plaster had already fallen away, revealing cheap concrete behind, stained with rust from the rebar.
Thick, rubber-clad cables were strung across the halls, laying on the floor in haphazard bundles.
The lighting was patchy at best, and even those few bulbs that hadn’t yet burned out could be heard to fizzle and pop from time to time.
Water gathered everywhere – the walls and floor are moist, and Hab heard a persistent dripping sound accompanied by the creaking and groaning of the building. Every so often, the sound of heavy construction – barely audible over the muffled sounds of the TVs in every apartment – made the whole building shudder, and a shower of plaster dust rained down.
He explored the first floor while the rest of them talked to the manager. It took none of the “detecting” for which Ambrose was so well known to tell there was once a lift in the tenement because hazard tape is strung across the entrance to the lift shaft. A single staircase corkscrewed around the lift shaft.
He had to make sure Civitas had the means to construct a device that could do what he needed to do.
Next to the entrance, Civitas could see Apartment 101, which had a sign affixed to it, the word “Manager” barely legible on its rusted surface.
The older detective — name was Russel or something like that — knocked on the manager’s door. When he didn’t get any response, he didn’t waste any time kicking it in.
“Not much patience for a nomad of the Great Rust Desert,” he thought, shrugging.
Before they could break the door chain, Sgt. Civitas saw the manager was standing behind the door, demanding they show their badges. But the detective was making some demands of his own, even as he showed the guy his badge.
“You the supe?” he demanded.
“Manager,” the guy standing in worn boxers and a stained t-shirt insisted. Civitas remembered some kind of cultural thing about supes and managers. Something about supes just being glorified janitors, while supes handled money. At low status, small variations in status must mean more.
And Det. Russel Compton seemed to understand that. By ignoring the title on the door, he was putting the guy in his place, back on his heels, defending his status. “Nothing more than a supe” seemed just the right way to get under his skin.
The guy had The Giant Eye on his TV set, which was surrounded by smaller screens, all blank. The Giant Eye was a little lowbrow for Civitas’s tastes. A prank-type candid-camera show, the pranks all seemed a bit mean-spirited to the CSI officer. But low-brow seemed to fit with the manager just fine.
When Compton asked about the smaller screens, the building manager — Lucius Diatorro was his name — said they were for a closed-circuit TV system that was out of order. Had been since he moved in, according to Diatorro.
But Civitas hardly needed the eye-roll from Det. Compton to see through that lie. The cables all over the place showed somebody had been trying pretty hard to keep it going as the power in the building got sketchy. On a hunch, he walked over and turned on one of the smaller sets.
It showed the other detective — Ambrose Hab, or something equally snooty — had already made it to the second floor. Second floor at least, since the layout was the same but there was no front door, just a window looking out over the construction site.
“I respect my tenants’ privacy,” said Diatorro, his lie unmasked. “Never tried that one.”
But Det. Compton was not having any of it and pressed the manager about the reported incidents. The guy looked really stressed and tried to swallow a bunch of pain pills, but Compton slapped them out of his hand. He managed to wash a couple down with a gulp of beer — which looked kinda stale to Civitas.
Before he knew it Compton had Diatorro up against the wall and was demanding he stop lying.
“I didn’t…didn’t hear anything. I musta been watching my favorite TV show.”
The manager had already denied having “tapes” of his tenants — Compton’s anachronistic word for video storage — but it didn’t take Civitas long to realize that Diatorro had probably taped over any video evidence from the CCTVs with reruns of the The Giant Eye.
The only information he got out of Diatorro about the residents was the fact that some “crazy cat lady” lived in Apt 202.
Once Compton got the manager to admit people sometimes used apartment 103 as an entrance, he immediately went to investigate.
Rat figured Det. Russel Compton was going to knock on 103 like he did at the manager’s flat, but the impatient cop just handed him his assault rifle and kicked in the door.
But the gangers inside were ready for them and opened fire as soon as the was flung open.
Harry Harrison wasn’t known as The Stainless Steel Rat for being slow on the uptake. “Probably got a warning from the manager,” Harry thought. If the manager knew the drug-dealers were using the open window to get in and out, he probably was taking a cut and acting as a lookout for the gang.
Harry recognized them as members of The Croaks, who controlled the drug trade in this part of town.
The bullets missed Harry, but the detective got hit. Harry doubted a glancing shot like that had penetrated Compton’s armor because the big detective immediately jumped on the first Croak and took him down with a single blow of his nightstick.
“That guy might just be dead,” Harry told himself and decided not to shoot anyone. Instead he stepped around behind the other gunner and tried to butt-stroke him with the assault rifle.
To no effect.
The third ganger had a knife. She tried to attack Compton with it, but he parried her blow and floored her with his riposte.
The gunner he had tried to hit from behind was still concentrating on Compton, but his shot at the big detective went wild, hitting the ceiling. It didn’t take for the nightstick to bring him down as well.
Harry noted that Compton hadn’t even extended the blades on the bludgeon.
Once the cops had revived the girl with the knife, they started pressing her for information on the screams the night before.
“It…it wasn’t us,” she stammered. Harry got the distinct impression the gangers were just as frightened by what had happened as the rest of the tenants.