Frank Falco sat down in his ragged old chair, propped his feet up on the edge of his well-used desk, and heaved open the bottom drawer. He pulled out a bottle of bourbon and a couple of glasses, and poured a shot in them both. He picked up one of the glasses and held it up.
“Freeport is a smoking hellhole of a city,” he said. He gulped down the bourbon.
Dan Tillsdale closed the door to Frank’s office, and turned to frown back at Frank. “I don’t think the new chief would like us drinking on the job.”
Frank pointed at the still-full glass on his desk. “If you don’t drink that I’m gonna have to fire you on my last day. Time to live a little.”
Tillsdale picked up the glass and shrugged. “Orders are orders!” He drank it down. The warm bite of the bourbon made Dan shudder a little bit.“I didn’t realize you actually hated Freeport so much.” He set down the glass.
“Hah,” snorted Frank, putting the glasses and bourbon back in the drawer. “How could I love it, especially after the last couple of years? I really can’t stand the place. Been here my whole life. 60 years. And now… I’m a walking cliche. A grizzled old ‘wounded veteran’ on his last day on the force. Except I’m not going home to a wife and kids. I’m going home to a moving van, and then it’s off to live in Wayward Coast.”
“It’s not right, what they’re doing to you,” said Dan. “After all that work you put in recovering from the shooting, and — -”
“Don’t want to talk about it,” said Frank. He pondered pouring himself the last of the bourbon.
“Right. Of course. Any big plans for your last day?” asked Dan.
Frank held his hands out to his sides, and then pointed at the bottle on his desk. “So far, this is it!”
Dan grinned. “You hear about that case the new girl Linda picked up yesterday? Got ugly. A deputy had to take a guy down.”
“Hah, yeah, I interviewed said moron this morning. He had it coming. Real prick!” Frank stood up and ran his hands through his gray hair. “I just hope we can get through the day without someone coming in that door and — -”
The office door flew open and Lance Richardson came in. “Chief wants to see you guys right now, something about a bank robbery and the syndicate.”
“Damn it!,” yelled Frank. “Figures.” He poured another shot of bourbon and pointed at Lance. “Wanna celebrate my last day? I bought a chocolate cake at the store, but if we’re getting sent out I guess we’re not gonna get to eat it.”
Lance shut the door behind himself. “Thanks Frank, didn’t think you liked me.”
“I don’t,” said Frank. “But you spend all day taking pictures of boring shit and dead bodies, so you probably deserve a little slack.”
Lance downed the shot. “Thanks Frank, that means a lot coming from you. Hope you enjoy your retirement. If i were running things I’d work you till you died.”
“Aw honey, don’t go getting soft on me because I gave you some bourbon,” said Frank.
Lance nodded, and left the office.
“Damn syndicate, thought they were done two years ago,” said Dan.
“Papers and the mayor can pretend all they want, I don’t think the Syndicate is a problem that’ll just go away. Not the way they’re handling things at least. Can’t just shut down a couple of meth labs and warehouses full of knock- off t-shirts, and then sweep the rest under the rug. Until we get the leader…” Frank’s eyes focused somewhere in the distance. “They’ll just keep coming.”
“And you would know,” said Dan.
Frank snapped out of it. “You’re damn right I’d know! Let’s go see what the chief wants.” He picked up his badge and gun from the desk.
Frank Falco didn’t like the chairs in the chief’s office nearly as much as his own. They were too hard and angular. They weren’t shaped right for people.
Larissa Lawson had taken over as Freeport’s police chief a few years earlier, and she didn’t want her officers comfy in her office. She wanted them to always be on edge, ready to jump out of the seats and get out there and do some police work.
Frank didn’t like this philosophy.
“Close the door Dan, and sit down already. You look like a sad clown stepped in your cereal this morning,” said Larissa.
“Supposed to be at Frank’s last day celebration. He bought cake. Bummed about being in here instead.”
Larissa frowned. “Sure Dan, it’s a good look to whine about work just because Frank happens to be leaving.”
Dan sat down in the other stiff chair next to Frank. His instincts told him to put his feet up on the desk, but then he remembered who he was talking to. “Heard you cousin had a rough day. Guy got tased though. Pretty funny!”
Larissa squinted. “You should probably refer to Detective Lawson as such, wouldn’t want people to think I was going soft and only transferred her here because we’re related. Truth is, I met her maybe three times growing up.”
“She’s a capable lady for sure,” said Dan.
“You two about done with this pointless chatter?,” asked Frank. “What’s up chief? Knew I wouldn’t have a quiet last day, so let’s get this over with.”
Larissa pulled a photo out of a folder on her desk and handed it over to Frank. “Need you to look into this and keep it under your hats. Had a robbery this morning at a small bank downtown. We have video evidence of at least one perp and we’re gonna arrest him this afternoon.”
“Why even send us out then?,” asked Dan.
“Shut up Dan,” said Frank. “The chief’s your boss and so am I till the end of the day. We’re still cops here.”
Frank studied the photo. He felt a damp cold begin to well up in his stomach. It was a picture of the floor in the bank’s vault. A hastily spray-painted green “S” in a circle adorned the cement.
Larissa swallowed. “We haven’t seen much Syndicate-related activity this year, and — ”
“And you thought your secret campaign against them actually worked. But it didn’t. This is them,” said Frank. He handed the photo back.
“You’re sure?” asked Larissa. “The symbol is so crude. It doesn’t look like — -”
Frank nodded. “It looks right to me. They’re regrouping. We never cut off the head.”
Larissa frowned. “We’re still not even sure he exists. And this isn’t a good photo — ”
“He’s out there,” said Frank. “If you’d just let me — ”
“Go check out the bank, look for any other clues, and pass them on to the detectives. I don’t want you going rogue on your last day. We’re paying you a lot of extra money in your retirement package to keep this all quiet. We can’t have the city freaked out about some mysterious criminal organization that might not even exist.”
Frank’s eyes burned with anger. He stood up. “They exist dammit! How do you explain this?” He ripped open his shirt, revealing two large ugly bullet hole scars in his chest.”
Dan’s eyes widened. “Getting a little saucy in here Frank. Didn’t you just remind me that the chief is my boss? Pretty sure you’re committing sexual harassment right now.”
Larissa rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry about what happened Frank. I know you don’t believe me, but I am sorry. These decisions didn’t come from me. They came — -”
“They came from the top, I know, I know,” said Frank, buttoning his shirt back up. “We never found the woman that did this in our ‘secret operations.’ Everyone we rounded up was small time. We need to get to her, and her boss.”
“The case is still open, and I have confidence we’ll get to her,” said Larissa.
“She’s probably long gone by now,” said Frank. “And our evidence is shaky at best.”
“Just get to the bank. Find what you can. You wanted one last shot at the syndicate. This is the closest thing I’m authorized to give you. Then retire and have a good life,” said Larissa. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll find something big. But we just need you to clean up the evidence so we have a good case against the guy we caught on film.”
A man in a pristine dark green suit sat calmly in a high-backed leather chair in his office, tapping his fingers on the arm. An array of computer screens graced his desk, each with a different live video feed from somewhere around Freeport. He was paying attention to the feed from the police department.
“Who knows? Maybe you’ll find something big,” said Larissa on the screen.
The man in the suit smirked. “So, they’re giving Frank Falco one last shot at finding me? I welcome it. Let’s have some ffffffun!”
A blond-haired lady walked into the room. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Yes! Come in Faith darling, have a seat,” he pushed out a small rolling chair next to his desk with his foot. “I need you to finally finish what you started years ago. He’s the last loose link in the chain before we can rebuild our clever little empire. Everyone else is in our pockets already.”
Dan and Frank got into their car, with Dan behind the wheel.
“It’s your last day Frank, do you want to — -”
“No,” said Frank, shaking his head. “Haven’t touched the wheel on the job since the shooting. Keeps my hands, and my conscience, free for whiskey.” He pulled a little flask out of his pocket to show Dan.
Dan snorted out a laugh. “And you wonder why they’re pushing you out the door.”
“They’re pushing me out because they don’t really want to investigate my shooting. They’re pushing me out because they want to deny the syndicate exists. They’re — -”
“Of course they don’t want to acknowledge the Syndicate, Frank, because it’s a crazy idea!”
Frank looked at his partner like he was seeing him for the first time. “Oh really Dan, really? After all this time?”
“I’m not saying I doubt you,” said Dan. “But think about it. A big criminal organization operating right under our noses? That’s so elusive we can never catch all of them? That we barely have any evidence even exists?”
“We have this!,” said Frank, pointing to his chest. “And we have this,” he said, digging through his wallet. He pulled out a white business card with a bright kiss of purple lipstick on it. It said “I’m Sorry, Frank” in black letters above the lipstick. “It’s real evidence! It was left by — -”
“By your mysterious lady assailant, I know, I know,” said Dan. He put his head in his hands. “We’ve been over this so many times. I don’t doubt that you were shot Frank, you have the wounds to prove it. But there were no bullet casings. The fragments they took out of you were too small to identify. The business card had no fingerprints on it, and that lipstick is sold at every store in the city. We had nothing to trace. Also, why are you carrying evidence around in your wallet?”
Frank grimaced. “They told me they didn’t need it any more. Been saving it for when I have the time.”
“The time for what?,” asked Dan.
“Just drive Dan, we have to go check out this robbery so I can clean up my desk and go home.”
The bank was a mess. Papers all over the floor. The vault door blasted open. Bullet holes in the counters and wood splinters everywhere.
A nervous-looking bank manager ran over to Frank and Dan when they entered. Just he and a few uniformed cops were the only people in the building.
“Thank god you guys are finally here. I’m tired of giving the same statement over and over again. They told me I couldn’t go home till I did it one more time for you guys.”
“This place is a goddamn train wreck,” said Frank. “Jesus. It looks like it should be full of bodies.”
“They came in shooting,” said the bank manager. “Two guys and a lady, dressed in black, with white masks over their faces.” He said this all with a rehearsed calm. “They didn’t shoot at any of the customers, just the bottom of the counter. I don’t know how they missed everyone. They didn’t try and stop anyone from running away either…except for me.”
“Go on,” said Dan. “Why’s there a big hole blown in the vault door?”
“They asked me to open the vault for them, but I said no.”
Frank snorted. “Everyone’s a hero.”
“It didn’t slow them down for long,” said the manager. “They pushed me aside and I hid behind the front desk over there. They blew the vault open, were inside for a few minutes, then ran out. I don’t think they even took anything.”
Frank blinked. “What?”
“I don’t think they stole any money. We’ll have to bring in our crew to check, but it looks like they just made a big mess and ran out.”
Frank noticed a white mask on the floor. It looked like something out of a low- rent production of Phantom of the Opera. He picked it up. “These the masks they wore?”
The bank manager nodded. “The girl threw that off for some reason as they ran out the door.”
“That’s strange,” said Frank. “Must be how we got her on video. Chief said it was a guy, though.”
The bank manager shrugged. “I can only tell you what I saw.”
“Let’s take a look,” said Dan, motioning towards the back. “You planning to write any of this down Frank?”
Frank shook his head. “Not like I get to do anything about it tomorrow, right?”
Dan sighed and took out his notepad.
The vault was a mess, sure enough. Money all over the floor. Safe deposit boxes broken. And a big weird “S” symbol graffitied on the floor.
“I hate to admit the chief was right, but this does look different than the old ones,” said Frank. “More hasty. More rough.”
“Maybe it’s a copycat,” said Dan. “Someone that read one of the few stories that got through in the papers and wanted to play with us.”
“Maybe,” said Frank. “Explains why they wouldn’t steal anything. Might just be some bored kids who — -” Frank went silent.
“What’s the matter?” asked Dan.
“Not sure yet,” said Frank. “Thought I saw — -” he pushed some money around on the floor. “Got any gloves on you?”
Dan rolled his eyes and handed Frank some blue latex gloves. He quickly put them on.
He pushed some of the money around near the S symbol, and picked up a business card from the floor. It was white. It had purple lipstick on it. It said “I’m Sorry, Frank” in black letters.
“Still think I’m crazy?” asked Frank.
Dan raised an eyebrow. “I…huh. I don’t know what to say.”
Frank had new resolve in his eyes. “Well, I’ve seen enough. Time to fix this myself,” said Frank. He put the card in his pocket. He took out his badge and his gun and handed them to Dan.
“What…what do you want me to do with these?,” asked Dan.
“Finish up here and tell the chief I went home early. I’ve got some work to do. And a moving truck to stop.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Dan as Frank walked out of the vault.
“Should have done this years ago!,” yelled Frank over his shoulder.
The man in the high-backed office chair smiled at the bank’s security feed on the monitor on his desk. “He found your little calling card, Faith. I bet he’s going to get his gun at home. Get ready, time to take him out. Make sure you’re there before he is. Should be easy pickings!”
Faith Falco pushed a magazine into her 45, and smiled at the green-suited man.
“I won’t miss this time, dad.”