Leland Dashiell was one of the rising stars of the city police force, making detective younger than anybody before he moved into his dream division: homicide. Life on the street made his dream job into his worst nightmare. City Hall and corruption on the force gave him more trouble than the criminals he was hired to catch, and, disillusioned after an incident with the police captain he doesn’t like to talk about, he took to the streets instead. This time, Leland Dashiell would catch criminals, and he’d do it on his own terms. His way.

His first case, The Comfortable Legend of the Unnamed Phantom, came when a murder victim’s best friend turned up in need of help. He knew the story well. The cops didn’t like to take more than a few minutes with any investigation, so when things seemed funny, the victims turned to private detectives like him. The friend was desperate and, more importantly, he paid cash. Dashiell hit the streets to see what he could dig up, stopping by the crime scene first.

To say it was a slaughterhouse would significantly understate the carnage. The victim put up quite a struggle, which explained how blood got on the ceiling, but the truly interesting part of the scene was a bloody footprint that didn’t belong to the victim. Dashiell’s police training lead him to suspect a thin man was responsible for the crime, and a threatening note at the scene was another clue. Someone wasn’t pleased with the victim, but was he angry enough to kill? To murder?

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The client hadn’t offered much at the initial interview, so Dashiell headed his way in search of more information. Two things became clear when he answered the door and took Dashiell’s coat: One, he was a slim man who knew the victim well. If there’s one thing the police department teaches you, it’s to never trust your wife or your best friend. Two, he was left-handed. Dashiell had never been the churchgoing type, but even he knew that you could never trust the sinister nature of a southpaw. The client gave up a few names, though he seemed a bit twitchy. The wheels were already turning in Dashiell’s head, especially when the client’s alibi didn’t check out.

All that remained was a motive, which seemed like a dead end, but one Anne Do finally gave Dashiell the clue he needed. She clammed up under questioning, right up until he reminded her that he might’ve left the department, but he still had friends on the force who could find something in her background or turn a broken taillight into a murder conviction. Lots of murders go unsolved, and the department is always happy to close up another one. Amazingly, she remembered a loud argument the victim had the night before his untimely demise with none other than his best friend, the same one who hired a private detective when the victim turned up dead. Call it a miracle.

The argument turned out to be over the sticky fingers of the victim’s slim, left-handed best friend. He liked to steal, and didn’t much care who he stole from. Maybe he got caught, or maybe he’d had enough, but he finally turned to murder. Murder, it turned out, carried a much longer sentence than theft. Faced with the evidence Dashiell collected, he confessed right away, and the police hauled him off to jail. Happy ending? There are no happy endings on the street, sister, and Dashiell wasn’t about to go home counting his reward and a job well done.

The victim was connected with the Dies Arcanum Brotherhood, a shadowy group that liked to work out of the local churches. Somewhere along the line, he’d made some enemies with the Order of Socrates, a social club that also happened to run things in City Hall with the efficiency of the Tammany Machine. While the Brotherhood was pleased that the murder of one of their own was solved, the Order was not. Dashiell was going to be fighting City Hall again, and this time, he wouldn’t have a badge to protect him.

Topping things off, since his client turned out to be the guilty suspect, Dashiell wasn’t going to get his fee. You can’t squeeze blood from a stone, and you can’t squeeze a deadbeat client when he’s already in a cell for a long time. He’d gained some valuable experience and skills from this particular case, but it wouldn’t keep the lights on or pay the rent. Hell, it was only after an hour of begging that he got to keep his office.

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A knock at the door made Dashiell grab his .38, just in case the landlord was back, but that was when a long-legged dame walked in. It seemed her son was found dead on the floor of his apartment. The cops said it was a heart attack, which is what they always said when they didn’t want to waste an hour at a crime scene. More importantly, he’d been in fine health the last time she’d seen him, and even more importantly than that, she was wearing nice clothes, which meant she could pay. Widows, mothers, the aggrieved; they always paid, and always paid well.

“Sit down,” Dashiell said, ignoring the momentary flicker of the lights overhead, “and tell me all about it.”

Finding out the truth is what being a Sleuth is all about.

Shannon Drake rides a polar bear to work.

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