Everybody’s got a little hole in the middle,
Everybody does a little dance with the Devil.
—Emily Jane White
Hurricane X churns west over the North Atlantic, about to make landfall near Boston. Detective Eddy Harkness sweeps his hand along the inside of the windshield to clear the fog and searches for stragglers or thrill-seekers. He sees only dark windows, empty sidewalks, and street signs shaking in the wind. Albrecht Street is already a raging river and the emerald sky dumps more water by the minute. Cardboard boxes and suitcases, lost during the frantic evacuation, circle in the brown water, rising fast now that the sewers have given up.
Harkness slows the squad car to keep the engine from flooding.
“No one left, Harky,” Patrick says. “Whole neighborhood’s empty. Everybody’s gone, like they’re s’post to be.”
A roiling clump of brown fur and glinting eyes swims past. “Except the rats.”
“Bad sign when the rats start leaving, right?”
“Oh yeah.” Harkness keeps the squad car moving so they can finish the last blocks of the neighborhood check and head back to Narco-Intel.
Just before dawn, a weakening tropical storm meandering off the coast of Rhode Island hit a wall of cold air and turned ambitious. The winds ramped up to hurricane force and the storm took an unexpected jag northwest. The National Weather Service didn’t even have time to name the hurricane. Mayor O’Mara shut down the airport, trains, and trolleys. He ordered all citizens to shelter in place, evacuating only the Lower South End, protected from the storm surge by a rotting wood and earthen dam at the end of an abandoned industrial canal. If the Channel Dam gives way, the rising waters of Boston Harbor will sweep through Albrecht Square, empty now.
A gunshot echoes over the frantic windshield wipers and the drumming rain. Harkness pulls the squad car to the curb.
“S’post to be a drive-by,” Patrick says.
“So keep driving by, boss. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Can’t pretend you didn’t hear that.”
Another gunshot cracks above them.
Harkness stares into the darting eyes of his partner, so much happier back in Dataland than out on the street. “So what was that?”
“Some yahoo exercising his Second Amendment rights?” Patrick holds up his hands. “Let it slide, Harky. For once.”
Harkness shoulders open the door, and trash-laden brown water swirls into the patrol car. He picks up a crowbar from the floor and steps out into the knee-deep river raging down the street. “C’mon.”
“Gross.” Patrick squeezes his eyes closed and opens his door. He trudges through the cold water to the sidewalk and climbs up on a lamppost base. The wind rips back their orange raincoats, and rain soaks their uniforms. “So we gonna go door to door,” Patrick shouts, “all community-outreach-like?”
Harkness nods, eyes almost closed against the rain, dark hair whipping across his face.
“We don’t even know where those shots are coming from, Harky.”
Another shot sends glass raining down on the sidewalk from a hotel’s top-floor window.
Patrick just shakes his head.
“Let’s go.” Harkness rushes to the front of the building — door locked, entryway clogged with bloated bundles of the Globe. Back when Harkness was a beat cop, a semi-recovered crackhead named Chai ran the Hotel Blackstone, more shabby than chic, where aspiring rockers, poets, and ill-informed European travelers rented rooms by the week. The coffee shop served piles of sweet potato fries that worked as reliable beer sponges. The maids and bellboys did a lucrative side business in short-term love. Now the Blackstone’s a drug-infested SRO nightmare that the city’s been trying to shut down for years.
They pop open the door with the crowbar and step inside. A light flickers in the gloom from the empty desk clerk’s booth, where rows of plastic-tagged keys hang above an overturned red plastic chair. Harkness and Patrick follow a thin path where trudging footsteps have etched away a layer of grime across the lobby to reveal white tile.
Harkness clicks his radio to call in, his “Investigating shots fired” lost among dozens of urgent reports from across the rain-soaked city. Cars are abandoned on flooded Storrow Drive. A power station just exploded and shut down the Back Bay. Looters are smashing boutique windows on Newbury Street.
“Upstairs,” he says. They cross the lobby and climb the steps, the still air thick with the sharp smell of aging piss. At the top floor, Harkness counts the doors until they come to the center.
Harkness nods Patrick toward the closer side of the door and he takes the other. They press their backs against the cracked yellow plaster.
“Sure this is the right one?” Patrick whispers, still huffing from the stairs.
A shot rips through the door between them and dim light filters through the splintered hole.
“Seems likely.” On a normal patrol, they would have called for backup and waited. But this is no ordinary day. Harkness smacks the crowbar on the door. “Police,” he shouts. “Drop the gun and open the door, hands in the air. Now.”
Another bullet cracks through the door.
Patrick gives Harkness a flat stare, clicks his radio to leave the channel open, not that anyone’s paying attention. “Party time.”
“Cover the door.” Harkness cuts down the hallway to the other wing of the hotel. He pops a door and it flies open to reveal a dim living room, empty except for a pile of jumbled bicycle frames. He walks slowly to the far corner of the room, where a row of windows faces an air shaft. He grabs a tattered green T-shirt from the floor and wipes the window to clear away the fog of dirt.
Looking across the air shaft into the apartment, Harkness sees, a young boy leans against a radiator, tethered to it by a thick, shiny chain around his waist. He waves a gun with one hand and scratches his back with the other. Sensing someone watching, he turns. The boy can’t be more than fourteen but looks exhausted as an old man, eyelids drifting down as he stares at Harkness and wonders why there’s a cop in the empty apartment across the air shaft.
They look at each other for a moment. Then the boy holds up his hand and lets the gun drop.
Harkness nods, turns to retrace his steps.
Patrick’s face glistens with sweat. “Harky, w...