At the Waco Zoo in Texas, Detective Shmuley Myers sidesteps a tiger being hoisted by a forklift. The body of a woman and her dead Preborn lie just beyond it. Along with his GodForce partner Jethro Waters, he’s set on a hunt to find the monther’s murderer–before he becomes the next victim.
Set in theocratic America, where citizenship begins at conception, Texas’ cities are hungry places, groaning with generations of large families. Adding to his meshugganeh—crazy—life, Shmuley is also part of Upline, an underground group helping people escape reproductive bondage. As the body count rises, the chase leads Shmuley down an increasingly dangerous path, endangering him and his wife Chaha as the chase to catch the killer sprawls across Central Texas.
Dark future mystery solved by a unique police officer. As if you took a dystopian world right out of Handmaid’s Tale, and added an engaging, action-filled murder mystery, police procedural vibe. Shmuley, the main character, is unique in any book I’ve ever read, a religious Jewish detective. Colorful, quirky and a serious examination of a religious world.
The image of a phone on mine desk slab glowed. I tapped it. “Homicide, Detective Myers.” The two weeks of progress reports on cases that, collectively, said “nothing new” slid to the corner of the desktop vid. In the cube farm around me the day shift collectively oozed into the homicide squad room, coalescing from the cold winter rain.
“New hat, Detective?” Inquisitor Jethro Waters of the Preborn Investigation Bureau smiled from the screen up at me. Red hair, green eyes. The first time we’d met, a leprechaun he’d said he was. I hadn’t known they so tall grew. “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” was what he’d said back.
“Yes. And thank you, Inquisitor.” I touched it. Black felt, of course, with the requisite black band sans feather. Part of the uniform mine counterpart in the GodForce, now on-screen, quaintly called mine “eternal penguin outfit.” Mine religion demanded modesty, which was to wear black pants, a white shirt and undershirt, a tsitsis shirt with on its end fringes, a yarmulke, and a hat. To each a fashion burden of their own. “What can I do for the GodForce this morning?”
Jethro flatly looked at me. Usually, a smile he plastered on his freckled face. It went well with the red hair and for getting perps to talk a charm it worked. “Not a social visit, I’m afraid. We caught a two-gen this morning at a zoo.”
A mother and a fetus. “Human, I gather?” “Funny,” he said dourly. He looked drained.
I made a mental note to ask Chaya mine wife to ask his wife if anything was wrong. Wrong beyond his job. “Where and when?”
“This morning. At the Cameron Zoo in Waco. You know, the one with the big kids’ zoo?” he added seeing mine puzzling over that. A side effect of not yet having kids: not knowing all the kid places.
“Yeah. It’s a bit far from Austin. But our office is the lead on the case, and you’re my liaison. Dallas and Fort Worth are all tied up, and Temple’s got their hands full with the food riots up in Killeen and the base.” I pulled up mine hat high enough for mine forehead to scratch.
Which was higher, mine youngest brother of the seven of us informed me, than a year ago. “Okay. You picking me up?”
“I’ll be out front in ten minutes.”
“Should I have APD send a Forensics unit up as well?”
“Nah,” Jethro said. “The locals say they’ll handle all that. ‘Less y‘all got extra budget?”
“Gut,” I said. “Because we don’t.”
“‘Good,’ Shmuley, the word is ‘good.’ Your Yiddish is showing.”
I felt the blush add to the body heat from mine clothing layers. “Chaya and I were just out of town on a shabbaton. It’s like a religious retreat? I don’t know that I spoke a word even of English the whole time.”
“Well remember, you can always practice your American on me.” And with that, he faded from the desktop and mine virtual pile of paperwork reclaimed its space. I brushed it off into mine electronic filing cabinet and got up.
Austin got cold sometimes. Nothing like up north, but between the rain and the temperature, mine wool coat was a welcome weight on mine shoulders. I walked over to the lieutenant’s desk. Actually just another cube in the maze. “Heading out with Blessed Right Inquisitor Waters on a case in Waco.”
J.J. Dawson’s polished light brown dome glistened in the industrial light as he lifted his head up from some real-paper paperwork. Paper: sometimes it was like in the last century mine lieutenant was working in. “Bored in town?”
I shrugged. “GodForce liaison case.”
He grunted. “You do a lot of work for them. And you’ve got a caseload we pay you for. Looking to transfer?”
I laughed. “No.” No one into GodForce voluntarily transferred. Only into it were drafted young Saved men or women. Sure, some fanatics signed up. Or hungry people. “APD gets paid by the PIB for my liaison services, you know.”
Another grunt. “Are you taking a car?” “No, Jethro’s picking me up.”
“Good,” he said. “Copy me on the report.”
I nodded and headed for the elevators. I used the buffed metal reflection to pull mine shirt cuffs from mine jacket, and then the jacket out from the coat, and arrange the four sets of tsitsis fringes coming out from under mine shirt so they wouldn’t in mine holster tangle. Meh, close enough to good.
In the hallway, I waited for the elevator. After the 1970s constitutional amendment making citizens officially from conception, every woman was a potential murderer when their pregnancy didn’t turn into a baby. A year later, the FBI had an ugly stepbrother in the Preborn Investigation Bureau—usually called GodForce.
When to that added not letting women not get pregnant…well, for GodForce there always was business. Between every fetus as a real person treated like, and all the real people now the whole earth crowding, mine homicide detective career was busy.
I waded through a crowd of thin, pinched-looking people dressed in layers of Subsid-wear. They were either protesting an arrest or for food looking to rob someone. I kept to the sides of the ground floor atrium and went out the front doors.
Outside, the air was a wet, cold blanket. Mine wool coat quickly with mist-beaded, tiny glistening pearls. The GodForce cruiser sat by the curb. People a wide berth they gave it as they streamed in and out of police headquarters. Afraid of contamination. Maybe guilty a little feeling. I walked up to the open passenger door. A GodMother sat in the back, primly buckled up in the seat behind Jethro. I nodded to her and got in, putting mine hat in mine lap and flattening down mine yarmulke. Chaya joked that I was getting near bald enough to need a thumbtack to keep it in place, instead of bobby pins.
“Detective Myers, let me introduce you to our GodMother Inquisitor, Mary Elizabeth, a Sister of Raquel. She’s assigned to this case.”
“Call me Shmuley,” I said, at her nodding. “Detective,” she intoned.
Okay then. I smiled at her. “Any more info other than ‘dead woman in the zoo?’”
“An unborn and a mother, Detective,” the GodMother said. She was a middle-aged Hispanic woman whose wimple swallowed her head. “That is all that concerns me.”
“Vehicle, route for the Waco Zoo,” Jethro to the car said. “Lights and sirens in traffic.”
“Acknowledged,” the car said, and made its GodForce distinctive “bwip-bwip” noise pulling away from the curb. Traffic parted for us like a school of fish from a shark scattering.