|Brothers and Sisters
Author: La Guera PM
Curiosity killed the cat, and Danny Messer can't ever bring him back.Rated: Fiction M - English - Angst - Chapters: 4 - Words: 27,408 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 3 - Published: 07-08-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3033256
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, places, and events are propety of Anthony Zuiker, Jerry Bruckheimer, CBS, and Alliance-Atlantis. No infringement is intended, and no profit is being made. For entertainment only.
A/N: Contains spoilers for S1 and S2. Originally written for the Lyric Ficathon Challenge on Livejournal.
And everything I can't remember
As fucked-up as it all may seem
The consequences that are rendered
I've gone and fucked things up again.-"It's Been a While"--Staind
Curiosity killed the cat, Danny Messer would think later. And no amount of satisfaction will ever bring him back.
He should have known better, really, than to meddle in affairs that didn't concern him. Sticking your nose in other people's business uninvited led to unpleasant consequences and uneasy explanations in the middle of the night, and so it was best to leave people to their secrets. That lesson had been learned hard and swiftly in the Messer household, first at the hands of his father, who smelled of scotch and high-class Cuban cigars, and later, at the hands of his older brother, Louie, whose hands were no gentler. By the time he was five, he understood that his father's whispered conversations behind closed doors were forbidden to his ears, and by the time he was twelve, he had learned the same about the skin mags and weed under Louie's mattress. To each his own was a mantra that had served him well for years and kept his guts on the inside when so many other kids had been losing theirs.
But for whatever reason, he let his guard down that night, relaxed the rule that had so faithfully stood him in good stead, and in all the days afterward, when images of Don's contorted face and haunted eyes followed him down into dreams and up again into sweat-dampened wakefulness, he would wonder why he had been so foolish. Maybe it was because it was Flack, and Flack was neither Louie nor his father, who were cruel and jovial by turns, mercurial as the Chicago winds. For all his swagger and bravado, Flack was easygoing and fair, and he never threw a punch where you couldn't see it coming.
Or maybe it was simply because he wanted to know, to peek behind the curtain like he'd always wanted to on the rare occasions he'd gone to synagogue with his father. The idea of knowing something he shouldn't was dangerous, yes, and over the course of time, his father and Sonny Sassone would show him just how dangerous, but he hadn't minded. Danger had always held an erotic thrill for him even in the prepubescent days of boyhood, when GI Joe had held his attention more than the swinging hips and rounded breasts of a New York doll. Before his prick had shaken off the slumber of childhood, the bizarre joie de vivre of risk had coiled in his belly, light and hot and dizzying as a hit of nitrous oxide. Later, it had migrated to opposite poles of his body, nested in the fillings in his teeth and in the fleshy skin of his balls, prickling and absurdly heavy. Sometimes after a fistfight in the park or at the basketball courts, his mouth would throb with spent adrenaline, and his balls would be high and tight against his body, cock straining and twitching restlessly against the fabric of his underwear. Risk made the world brighter in moderation, and it was good to partake once in a while.
Especially when the risk was safe. Like Don. He had called Don his best friend for three years, and as best friends went, Don was A-1A. He was always good for a beer or a game of pool at Sullivan's after shift, and before that asshole, Lessing, put him on intimate terms with Verizon and the callused pads of Mac's fingers, he had been a lock for pick-up ballgames across the street from the 14th. Flack was a guy who always had your back. He was the first one into a scene, and if the situation warranted, he was the last one out. He was purebred cop and all business, and you always knew where you stood with him, whether you wanted to or not.
Flack was bald-faced, balls-out honest, and yet, there were spaces he-Danny-could not touch, was not allowed to touch. He had heard Flack tell of cases from his years as a beat cop, and of embarrassing mishaps from his Academy days, but the in all of their conversations held over beer and cheese fries, he had never mentioned his family. Not the one in which he'd grown up, teething on the leather of his old man's badge wallet, and not the one he planned to have someday, all blue-eyed boys and dark-haired girls, and all of them toddling across the kitchen linoleum with saliva-smeared grins on their faces and his shield in their chubby hands. He had broached the topic a few times, joking mostly, but sometimes not, and he'd shot the line of questioning down with a single look. He'd quietly labeled the subject discurso non grata and stuck to the safer topics of the Yanks and the Mets and the boneheaded doo-de-doots that usually fell into his lap at the end of a case.
He hadn't thought much of it at first, Flack's reticence to discuss either the family from whence he sprang or the family he would eventually sire. Rumor had it that Flack, Sr. was a notorious hardass, and hell, Danny's family were no great shakes, either. His father had been mafia muscle once upon a time, and until Louie spent his days building squares out of Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys and reading Clifford the Big, Red Dogs books in the perversely named "sunroom" of the rehab hospital, he had buried Sonny Sassone's bodies. So, Danny could hardly fault him for wanting to throw dirt on the family plot and bury the skeletons all the deeper. He would have gone right on doing the same if his DNA hadn't turned up on a cigarette butt in a grave at Giants Stadium and thrown the Messer closet wide open.
Still, it struck him as funny, the way Flack wouldn't ever talk about what he wanted out of life beyond a cold beer and the Knicks to make a goddamned basket, if you fucking pleased. He had no intention of getting married or having a family, but he was not averse to regaling Flack with tales of his conquests.
I'm tellin' you, man, he would say between sips of beer. This girl was a knockout, a fuckin' ten. Hips sharp enough to cut paper, and tits… He'd allow his hands to mold her prodigious assets from the air in front of him, lips pursed in soundless appreciation.
Yeah, well, all them assets ain't worth a shit if there isn't anythin' to back it up, Don would counter, and sip his own drink.
You mean, like brains?
Don would snort and crunch a chip of ice between his teeth. Naw, I don't mean like brains, Messer.
Comprehension would dawn then. Aw, you mean like talent, he'd say brightly. Well, you ain't gotta worry 'bout that. The things this girl could do with her tongue…
And so the conversation would go, he rhapsodizing about the oral dexterity of his latest paramour and Flack quietly listening, turning his glass in lazy circles on the table. Sometimes he would smirk at a particularly audacious embellishment of the female form, but often, he simply watched through half-lidded eyes and kept his counsel.
Eventually, the lengua-labial prowess of Cindi or Maxie or Debbie would hold no more charms for him. The act of remembrance was never as sweet as the act remembered, after all, and he'd lean forward in his chair, elbows propped on the cheap laminate of the table.
What about you, Flack? he'd ask, and push his glasses onto the bridge of his nose. What gets you hard?
Flack would only smirk and turn his glass in a slow, lingering circle on the table. You don't need to worry about that, he'd say.
That was it. Nothing else. Not even an index finger extended from the chilled curve of his glass and a You see that, Messer? The ass on that girl over there? That's what gets me hard.
When it came to his personal life, Flack was an utter enigma, and it drove him crazy. So maybe curiosity drove him to it.
It was the light that had drawn him here in the first place, wan and milky and spilling from the threshold of the detectives' bullpen. It had been unexpected at half-past midnight, and so he'd gone to investigate, folder tucked under his arm. Now, standing in the threshold with his elbow propped on the doorframe and his fingers grazing the flecks of sloughed skin from his eyebrows, he was torn between pity and incredulity.
The light was coming from Flack's desk, a bright, white pool that revealed the scene with unsentimental clarity. Flack was slumped at his desk, head pillowed on one arm. The other arm curled loosely around a large, white evidence box whose lid sprawled atop the desk like a dead insect, stiff and unsettling in the harsh light.
Aw, buddy, what are you doin'? he thought sadly. You were s'posed to go home hours ago. The doc'd have a fit if he saw you now.
Yeah, but did you really think he was gonna listen to the eggheads in the white coats, there, Dan? Louie, gruff and cocksure. He thinks with his balls, not his brains. Always has. No pussy doctor is gonna tell him how to do his job.
It had been three months since Mac had held Flack's guts together with some yahoo's filthy shoelace and some Marine know-how, and Flack was still a shade of his former self. Danny had gone to visit him at home after his release from the hospital and been appalled. His healthy, ball-busting friend was gone, and in his place had been a haggard collection of shadowed hollows and brittle angles, and Danny had wanted to cry. He was gaunt and sickly, and when he moved, it was ginger and palsied, as though his feet had forgotten the safe terrain of his apartment. He'd planned on asking him for a beer at Sullivan's, but that plan had withered on his lips the instant Don had opened the door. He'd wound up watching the Rangers game and trying not to notice the way Flack's t-shirt bunched in the concave hollow of his belly. Don had fallen asleep at first intermission, chin tucked to his chest, and Danny had left without a word, skulking out with a lump in his throat.
He'd hoped things would improve when Flack came back to work, but he was thinner than ever, and silent, a ghost drifting through the cramped aisles of the precinct in suits that had suddenly grown too large. He seldom joked, and when he did, it was brittle and weary, an act performed because he had always done it, and not because he enjoyed it. His eyes were dull, and he spoke only when he had to, and the first time Stella had seen him, she'd had to duck into the bathroom to pull herself together.
Danny was sure he knew exactly how she felt.
Flack had been approved for half-shifts last month, and though he'd been good about sticking to the schedule for the first week or so, Danny had known that it was only a matter of time before Superman found his cape. Sure enough, by the end of the second week, half-shifts had given way to full shifts and then some. Mac and Stella had pleaded with him to take it easy, but Flack wasn't having it. He wasn't a pussy, he insisted. He was a cop, for fuck's sake, and would they let him do his goddamned job? He came in tired and went home exhausted, sometimes leaning against the banister of the precinct stairs in a white-knuckled grip as he left.
He's naked without that hunk of gold, Louie pointed out with surprising practicality. Just like you were the two times you had to give it up. Handin' your badge over to Mac was like havin' your heart pulled outta your chest or getting' your dick lopped off with a pair of pinkin' shears. You were a cop as much as a mad scientist. That's what you were, and you spent the duration of the investigations wanderin' 'round your apartment and wonderin' what the hell you was gonna do if you couldn't be that no more. Wonderin' and worryin' if you'd end up like me, a deadbeat with no prospects and a dirty name.
Louie, that ain't-
The hell it ain't, Louie said flatly. That's your problem, Dan. You was always too damn sentimental. Anyways, if it was that bad for you, imagine how rough it musta been for him. Your pal was destined to be a cop since the day he was born and prob'ly before. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me none if the bit of jizz that made him in his ma's belly was stamped NYP fuckin' D. He grew up in the shadow of that shield, and you know how long them shadows can be.
"Yeah, I do, Louie," he muttered. "I surely do."
Damn right, you do, Louie reiterated unnecessarily. You know how even the coldest and lightest shadows can chafe and burn. You spent your whole life runnin' from mine and the old man's. Your pal, there, he didn't run. He couldn't, and he let it swallow him, slipped into it like a second skin. That badge became his heart, and that gun became his prick, and he lost 'em both in that explosion. Word has it that he spent five days in a coma with a plastic tube crammed up his johnson and some Brunhilda sponge-bathin his balls. 'Course he'd want that damn badge back. It's all he's fuckin' got, and the sooner he gets it back, the sooner he can forget that some scumbag got one over on him.
Yeah, well, that didn't mean he was just going to stand there and watch him work himself back into the hospital. That badge would be worth a whole lot of nothing if Flack collapsed on the job or took one in the head because he was too weak to hold his weapon. What kind of friend would he be if he didn't look out for him?
The kind that never once visited him in the hospital, sneered an accusatory voice that reminded him of Sonny Sassone, and he flinched.
That wasn't fair. It was too soon, too hard on the heels of sitting in that same room with Louie. He'd floored it to the hospital, intent on holding vigil with Mac and Stella, and then he'd gotten there and seen Flack in that same room, white and still and shrunken beneath the thin hospital sheets, and he just couldn't. He kept seeing Louie there instead, with his eyes taped shut and plastic ventilator hose shoved down his throat in an obscene parody of a cock. The world had grayed dangerously around the edges, and the contents of his stomach had threatened a mass exodus onto the industrial linoleum. Then Montana had been hovering at his elbow, perky, nosy, annoying, blessed Montana. She had been his lifeline, his way out, and he'd reached for her with the panicky desperation of the drowning.
"Sorry, I'm sorry," he'd stammered when they'd reached the safety of the hospital parking garage. "I'm so fuckin' sorry." Slurred and helpless, the penitence of a drunk wept into the sleeve of a priest's robes.
Lindsay had thought he was talking about taking so long to offer her a ride home, and she'd patted his shoulder and offered him a sympathetic smile and assured him that it wasn't a big deal. He'd let her go on believing that because it was easier, and because he was too tired to explain. But the apology wasn't for her and never had been. It had been for Don, for being such a sniveling pussy.
But you weren't sorry enough to suck it up and go back. Not for the twenty days he was there.
He pushed the thought away. What the fuck did it matter anyhow? He had gone to see him the day he got out, and yeah, he'd balked at how utterly wasted he'd looked, but he'd rebounded admirably if he did say so himself. He'd gone back a few days later with a sack of Chinese takeout for him and a tub of chocolate pudding for Flack's still-ravaged digestive tract, and they'd shot the shit and watched a spring training ballgame until Flack succumbed to sleep on the couch again. That had been their ritual twice a week until Flack had come back to the job, and then he'd backed off to let him sleep.
Apparently, he needs more sleep, his mind noted as he drew nearer Flack's desk.
Flack was snoring softly, and his outstretched hand twitched in the throes of a dream. You collarin' a perp? he thought ruefully, and reached out a hand to shake him.
His hand froze as he caught sight of the evidence box. It was turned at an angle so that all but the first letter of the name was visible. He blinked and swallowed and stared, and then the hand meant to rouse Flack rose dreamily to his glasses and pushed them onto the bridge of his nose.
-LACK was scrawled across the side of the box in wavering block letters, and Danny was willing to bet that the cop who'd written it there had been balancing it on his knees and gripping a cup of shitty station-house coffee in the other hand. He palmed his mouth and tugged on his lower lip with a too-dry palm.
Hey! cried Sonny Sassone inside his head. Whatta we got here, Dan, my man? It looks like we got us a bona fide mystery. L-A-C-K. What's that spell, I wonder?
Danny shook his head as he stared at the box. Naw. Naw, it don't spell that. There's a thousand other things it could be-Black or Glack or Knick-Knack fuckin' Paddy Whack. It don't have to spell Flack. It's close, but no cigar and alla that. That's all. He tried to swallow, but there was no spittle, and the effort was an audible click in the stillness.
Yeah, maybe, Sonny conceded, but he was too bright, too casual. Maybe, Messer. If that's all it is, then there's no harm in lookin', is there?
He rocked on his heels and scrubbed his nape with his palm. Sonny was a bastard, but he was right. There was no harm in looking. Chances were, it did say Black or Glack, and even if it did say Flack, it didn't mean anything. Flack had come from a long line of cops, and maybe one of them had gone down in the line of duty. There was an entire section of the evidence and records room devoted to police officers who'd had the misfortune to die before forensics and ballistics could offer them hope of justice. They gathered dust in a darkened corner, and every once in a while, one of the guys from the cold squad would pull one out for another look. Most of the time, the boxes were returned to their space no better for their absence, but sometimes, they got lucky. Maybe his own brush with the slab had prompted Flack to take up the cause of a fallen ancestor.
So go on and look, Sonny prodded, and now there was a wheedling note to it. Then you'll know, and you can get the fuck outta here.
Still, he hesitated. Because-
Because it's none of your business what he's lookin' into, Louie supplied. Maybe he's investigatin' the death of a relative, and maybe he's lookin' at the murder of an old lady named Edna Glack. Either way, it's nothin' to do with you. Leave it alone and mind your own. Wake him up and take him home, for fuck's sake.
He reached out with the intention of doing just that and inexplicably found himself turning the box to the light.
"Oh, fuck," he said, and took a step back. "Oh, Jesus." He scrubbed furiously at his nape.
Flack, Diana E. 60-H-1093. OCT93, the box told him matter-of-factly, the black ink stark and pitiless against the scoured-bone whiteness of the box.
He scrubbed his face with his hands and slipped his fingers beneath the lenses of his glasses to press the frozen pads against his throbbing, disbelieving eyes.
It's nothin', he told himself. It's just a coincidence. Flack's old man didn't corner the market on that surname. It's just somebody with the same last name. Weird, yeah, but not impossible, and certainly not Twilight Zone material.
Then what's he doin' here after midnight? insisted Sonny Sassone. You don't burn this much time and energy on a fuckin' stranger.
All right, so Sonny had a point. Still, there had to be an explanation. Just because the name on the box was female, that didn't mean it wasn't a cop. The department's good old boy network, while still flourishing in scattered, festering pockets throughout the precincts and shadowy bars frequented by cops past their prime, had been steadily losing its grip over the past twenty years. His graduating class at the Academy had boasted twenty-two women, and word had it that before Stella wore a labcoat, she'd been a hard-scrabble Vice cop with a bigger set of ghoulies than most of the men. So, it was entirely possible-and, indeed, quite probable-that Flack, Diana E., had been a broad in blue.
He racked his brains in an effort to recall any mention of another Flack, either from Don himself or from the older purveyors of departmental scuttlebutt, but came up empty. There was a Wall of Heroes down at One Police Plaza that listed all officers killed in the line of duty since 1900, but he had never paid it much attention, preferring not to dwell on the alarming proximity of his own mortality. Now he wished he had. He made a mental note to check the wall the next time he found himself at HQ. If her name was listed, then it would explain everything.
And if it ain't? prodded Sonny viciously. Then what?
Then nothing. If it wasn't, he'd just let it go.
Bullshit, Sonny scoffed. You ain't never gonna let this drop, Messer. That was always your problem when you was comin' up. You always had to know things that were none'a your goddamned business. That's why your old man was always kickin' your ass and smackin' you in the fuckin' mouth, and why Louie stayed the fuck away from you once he got in. They knew you couldn't keep your mouth shut. You knew you weren't supposed to be listenin' at your old man's door, but you squatted there anyways in your socked feet, idly jugglin' your plums with your ear pressed to the door. Sometimes, you heard nothin', and sometimes you heard him stickin' it to your ma, and sometimes, you heard your old man talkin' on the phone to his cronies. Whatever you heard, you usually wound up with a fat lip for your pains.
When you got older, you made the mistake of askin' Louie 'bout what happened after he chewed your ass for getting lippy. You asked him if he ever made it to Atlantic City, and he blackened your eye for you, called you a smartass. He left soon after that, packed a duffel bag and lit out for parts unknown. He saved you from your own sorry-ass curiosity, but he ain't here to do that now, and you can't stop yourself. You never could. You're askin' for trouble stickin' your nose in that there box, and you don't know enough to fuckin' care.
He's right, Danny, Louie said, and there was a gentleness in his tone that Danny hadn't heard since he was a kid, snot-nosed and toddling after him in Louie's hand-me-down clothes. You were always a curious little bastard. Remember that time you took my remote-control car apart the day after Christmas to see what made it go? Dad kicked your ass for that 'cause that stupid car cost him sixty easy. I'da kicked your ass, too, if you hadn't looked so goddamned miserable, flushed and bug-eyed, with snot danglin' from your nose and glazed on your upper lip. I just gave you two for flinchin' and called it even.
That's why you got into science. You liked to see what made things tick, knowin' why things was the way they was. It's why you went after Aiden even though she was outta your league, and why you're always askin' Mac out for drinks even though he turns you down every time. They both played things close to the vest, and that intrigued you. It was the thrill of the chase that got you hard. The conquest was almost an afterthought.
It's too late for Aiden, God rest her soul, but Mac is still here, and you're convinced that if you get him lubed up enough, he'll unbutton the Marine coat he never really took off and let you see what's under that cold, white skin. It's a longshot, but the only losers are those who never take a gamble in the first place. Flack's the same way now that you think about it, all buttoned-up and secretive behind that smile and those mother-of-God ugly ties he wears. You wanna see what he's hidin' even though you know you shouldn't, because as the old public service announcement always says, Knowledge is power.
Leave it alone, Danny, warned the voice of his conscience, his personal Mac who piped up now and again. Flack never asked you a single question about Louie while you were at the hospital. The least you can do is extend him the same courtesy.
As usual, Mac was absolutely right. "You're right, Mac," he said, and laced his fingers behind his head. "You're absolutely right. I'm just gonna put the box the way I found it, and then I'm gonna pretend I didn't see nothin'".
He leaned over the corner of the desk, his torso scant inches above Flack's back, and shifted the box. The movement caused the topmost page of Flack's desk calendar to bulge obscenely, and he flattened it with his palm.
Flack jerked in his chair. "Fuck!" he shouted as the back of his head struck the bony plate of Danny's sternum, and then his feet were pedaling the wheeled office chair away from the desk. "What the fuck-," Sleepy and dazed, and his hand was fumbling for his sidearm.
"Hey, whoa, whoa, there, Don," Danny wheezed. His hand curled into a tight fist against his sternum, and his knuckles kneaded the tender spot where the back of Flack's head had made contact. "Take it easy. It's just me." His other hand braced him against Flack's desk.
The hand groping for his gun stilled, and his other hand cupped the back of his head. "Messer? Jesus Christ. What the fuck are you doin', loomin over my desk like a perp lookin' for lovin?"
Danny snorted. Fuck you, Flack. You ain't my type." He forced himself to stand upright, and his solar plexus throbbed in protest. "I was passin' by on my way out, saw the light, and thought I'd take a look. You all right there?"
Flack prodded the back of his head. "Yeah, I think so. What time is it anyway?"
"Quarter to one."
"Shit." Flack rose from his chair, and the hand massaging his scalp dropped to his side and pressed just above the hip. "I was workin' an old case. Guess I musta fallen asleep."
"Your side still hurtin' ya?" he asked. Casual, but laced with the faintest tinge of concern.
"Naw, naw," Flack said quickly, and moved toward his desk. "Naw, I'm good. "It's just-the doc says I got some scar tissue that might pull for a while." He gathered a stack of papers from his desk and placed them into the box.
Why you lyin' to me? Danny thought sadly. Flack always talked faster when he was bullshitting, as though his mouth thought to outpace the harsh light of truth, and his hands always danced and fluttered. You know I got your back. Just like you had mine when I went off the rails with the fuckin' Minhas shootin.'
"Didn't the doc give you somethin' for the pain?"
"Percocet or some shit," he said dismissively. "I stopped takin' it as soon as I got out of the hospital."
Of course you did. Stubborn bastard. That explains why you were movin' so gingerly that first time I stopped by your place. Probably hurt like a motherfucker, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's why you're getting real acquainted with the walls and backs of chairs around here.
"Well, you know, if they're helpin' you, maybe you should-,"
"What are you, my fuckin' mother now?" he snapped. "I ain't turnin' into a fuckin' skel on account of that Lessing asshole. 'Sides, I can't be on that shit and interrogatin' perps. Might miss somethin'." He picked up the lid of the evidence box and placed it reverently atop the box.
Danny held up his held in a placatory gesture. "Hey, all right. No problem. I'm just…just tryin' to return the favor here." He pushed his glasses onto the bridge of his nose and fought the urge to fidget.
Flack paused in the act of smoothing the top over the box and looked at him for the first time. Exhaustion smudged beneath his eyes like soot, and his cheeks were sharp hollows. In the wan light of his desk lamp, his skin was nearly translucent.
"Return the favor?" he echoed softly, and his brow furrowed in confusion.
Danny nodded, a single, fluid bob of his head. "Yeah. For bein' there durin' the Minhas…thing."
Thing. Such an innocuous word for the first event that had nearly shattered his career. So neat and deliciously vague, a word that denoted casual unimportance, a spot of bother that could be cleared up with a minimum of fuss. It was safe and sterile and devoid of any emotional investment. He wondered how long it would be before he started referring to Louie's savage beating as the Louie…Thing.
You already got a Louie Thing Messer. It sits up there in the rehab hospital and wears your brother's face. It eats pudding and drools with your brother's mouth and does both imperfectly. Sometimes when you go visit it, it's sittin' in the rec room and tryin' to match the shapes to the holes in the box, and ain't that a bitch, because the thing wearin' his face can't seem to make his hands work properly. They're jerky and wobblin', like that spastic retarded kid you used to see limpin' up and down the steps of PS 321. A bunch'a the other kids used to ride his wrinkled, mutant balls and throw rocks at his ass as he wobbled his way down the street. You never did-you were a candyass even then-but Louie did, and you never had the balls to step up to him. You go and look at him now, slurrin' like a drunk and pickin' up Duplo blocks with hands turned to claws, and you wonder if it's that kid's Divine retribution, if he ain't out there somewhere with your brother's old yearbook photo taped to a cheap voodoo doll, stickin' pins in his head and laughin'.
Funny thing about the creature wearin' your brother's face, though. It ain't just the hands and tongue that's fucked up. It's the mind, too. He don't remember things he should. There are gaps in his mental photo album, and they come and go. Sometimes, he remembers everything and can talk for hours about the sorry-ass Mets or the rack on the day nurse or that time you tag-teamed the Battani twins at Coney Island, and those are good days, fuckin' A days.
But there are a lot days-too many, in your opinion-when he doesn't remember anything. Days like that, you walk up to him, and he just stares at you with vacant eyes and drool on his chin. You don't wanna, but you wipe it off-he's seven years older, and you're fuckin' wipin' drool offa his face like he's a fuckin' helpless toddler-and then you sit in front of him in that hard plastic chair and talk until you're hoarse in the hope that somethin' you say'll jog his memory, but it ain't no use. He just stares with that glazed, faraway expression, and occasionally he smiles at somethin' just outta your range of vision. On the really bad days, he don't remember your name or his name or Pop's, and on those days, you run with your tail between your legs.
Shut the fuck up, Sonny, you bastard, he thought savagely, and swiped the back of his palm beneath his nose. This wasn't about Louie. He couldn't help Louie anymore, and maybe he never could, but maybe he could still do something for Flack.
"Oh." Flack's lips curved in a gentle, tired smile. "That wasn't anything special, Messer, you fuckhead. That's what friends do."
Oh, yeah? Then why the hell did Mac hang me out to dry? He stuck his fingers in your guts and cut deals with God for your life. But me? I was a throwaway, a threat to his precious fucking lab, and he'd'a thrown me under the bus if push came to shove. If that's what friends do, then where the fuck was Mac when I needed him?
"Here, lemme help you with that," Danny offered as Flack picked up the evidence box.
"I got it," Flack snapped, and pivoted the box out of his reach. Then, more softly, "I got it, all right?"
Danny ran his fingers through his hair. "Yeah. Yeah, okay. Sure."
Flack carried the evidence box out of sight, held in both hands as though it were a sacred artefact. When he returned five minutes later, he plucked his jacket from the back of his chair and draped it casually over one shoulder.
"Hey, so, you wanna grab a drink at Sullivan's?" he asked.
Danny started to protest that sleep would do Flack much more good than booze, but changed his mind. Getting out of his cramped apartment for something other than doctor visits and appointments with the department shrink would do him some good, too.
"Yeah, all right. You mind if we take a department car instead of walkin' or takin' the subway?" Flack narrowed his eyes, no doubt convinced he was being kid-gloved again, and so he hastily added, "In case you haven't noticed, Flack, it's hotter than a stripper's silicone tits out there, and you might be Superman and alla that, but me? I'm all for the air-conditioning."
Flack laughed. "Yeah, okay, Messer, you pussy. Wouldn't want the ladies to see your pit stains. Fuckin' metrosexual."
Danny grinned and started for the door. "'Least I'm bringin' the ladies to the dance. How long's it been since you've had a woman in your apartment?"
"A gentleman never kisses and tells, Messer. 'Sides, it's called standards."
"Standards, my ass. You're just a picky bastard," Danny retorted, and then he was gone, striding down the hallway toward the vehicle requisition lot.
Ten minutes later, they were in an Avalanche, windows rolled up and air-conditioning a dull roar in the cabin. Danny's fingertips were already blessedly numb as they curled around the steering wheel, and he was sure he could see the air as it eddied and whorled from the vents, an amorphous impression of form that refused to coalesce. Flack sat in the passenger seat, arms folded across his chest and forehead propped against the cool glass of the tinted window. Now and then, his fingers would knead the spot where cold surgical steel had met vulnerable flesh, soothing remembered pain.
You ask him about it, and you'll be drivin' yourself to the oral surgeon's with your teeth in your pocket, Louie warned, and so he kept his mouth shut and his eyes on the road.
Despite his earlier resolve to let the matter drop, he found himself thinking about the name on the evidence box as he drove. Flack, Diana E. formed in the dust motes that danced in his high beams and in the lazy whorls of cold air inside the SUV. He wondered who she had been and why she was so important to Flack, and how she had died in the fall of '93. From the corner of his eye, he saw him rubbing his side again, broad, white fingers petting the uneasy flesh beneath his shirt.
The epiphany, when it came, was so startling that he slammed on the brakes, and the SUV screeched to a halt on the howl of tortured rubber. Flack jerked forward in his seat, the nylon of the seatbelt cutting into his shoulder and midriff.
"Ah, fuck," he shouted, and dug frantically with his thumbs to relieve the pressure on his abdomen. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" he hissed, and tugged at the belt.
Danny didn't answer him. He was too busy grappling with the enormity of the possibility that had presented itself.
Maybe he's been married before. It would explain why he never wants to talk about settlin' down or havin' a wife and kids. Who wants to talk about what they lost and open up old wounds?
His imagination, which usually devoted its formidable powers to crime-scene reconstruction or whether or not the girl at the Starbucks counter was wearing silk panties, wove a scenario of stunning clarity. He could see Flack in his mind's eye, a fresh-faced rookie with a crisp, blue uniform and polished black shoes. The bill of his cap was stiff and well-oiled, and his equipment belt was in perfect order-gun and nightstick on the left, radio and cuffs on the right, spare cuffs on the right rear. He was an A-1A rookie with a perfect pedigree.
He was twenty-two and married, living on the Lower East Side with his junior-college sweetheart in a shitbox apartment with more roaches than amenities. Their bedroom was just big enough for the two of them to sidle around in, but they made the bedsprings sing on most nights, and there was coffee and a goodbye kiss in the morning before he trotted down the front steps and headed for the precinct, whistling as his shoes clicked on the pavement.
Maybe they'd talked about starting a family, joked about baby names while they flipped through the TV channels and played gentle grabbass to the canned laughter of David Letterman. Maybe they even had. Maybe the EPT had come back positive in the days before October of '93, and maybe they had spent a few months reading baby magazines and trying to figure out a workable budget on a rookie cop's salary.
And then, boom, all gone. Just like that. Danny had seen it before from both sides of the microscope. During his stint as a beat cop with the 31st, he'd responded more than once to an Aided where some poor bastard had just dropped where he stood, victim of an aneurysm or a heart attack. Later, when he'd traded his blues for a white labcoat, he'd come face to face with victims who came home to find love dead on the floor or sprawled in the bathtub with their underwear around their bloating ankles. He knew how fast it could go on you.
If there's an evidence box at the PD, she did not go gently into that good night, the voice of logic pointed out.
"Yeah," he murmured to himself. "Yeah."
"Messer. Messer!" Flack had undone his seatbelt and was snapping his fingers in front of his face. "Dammit, Messer, you havin' a fuckin' seizure or somethin'?"
Danny blinked and shook himself. You, uh, you ever been married?" he asked suddenly.
"What?" An eyebrow rose in confusion. "What the fuck are you talkin' 'bout? You havin' a breakdown on me?" Flack peered closely at his pupils.
He shook his head. "Naw, naw. Just…have you ever been married?" he persisted.
"No, why? You proposin'?"
Danny shoved him good-naturedly into his seat again. "You ain't my type. And you need a Tic Tac."
"Then why are you askin'?" Flack reached for his seatbelt.
"Nothin'. You just never bring it up, is all."
"What? My personal business? That's why it's called 'personal business'. Now, are we goin' to the bar, or you wanna play Freud some more?"
Danny took a deep breath and started driving again. "Sorry. Thought there was a cat in the road," he said lamely. Flack snorted, but said nothing.
Sullivan's was all but deserted by the time they arrived. Most of the cops who frequented it had either gone home or on shift, and last call was in little more than an hour. A barmaid slouched from table to table, wiping condensation rings from the surfaces with a ragged dishtowel, and behind the bar, the bartender was wiping down cocktail glasses with bored familiarity.
He thought Flack would make a beeline for the bar and the big-screen TV like he usually did, but instead, he slid into a booth furthest from the bar and let his head loll against the back of the seat at a dangerously obtuse angle.
"Seen enough Sportscenter to last the rest of my goddamned life," he said by way of explanation, and turned his head to stare out the grease-smudged window at the street and the blurred reflection of the neon sign in the glass.
Everything's changed since the last time he was in here, he thought as he trudged to the bar. The last time he was here, we were all here, raisin' a toast to Aiden and swappin' stories about how great she was. I was halfway to smashed that night, and he drove me home. He still had all his guts then, and Mac wasn't havin' nightmares about dead Marines. Stella still thought Frankie was Prince Charmin. Louie was already in the hospital, but there was still hope. Everything had gone completely to shit, and I remember thinkin' that maybe we gotten through the worst of it. I shoulda known better. Bad news always comes in threes.
He was careful not to look at Aiden's table as he returned to the booth with two longnecks and a Manhattan. He'd thought of it as Aiden's table ever since they'd raised their glasses and bottles in her name, and though he could not stand to sit at it himself anymore, he bristled whenever someone else did.
He slid Flack a beer and set the Manhattan in front of him. Flack picked up the beer and took a long swallow, and Danny sat down to nurse his own in silence. They did talk eventually; sports, mostly, or the hot redhead Danny had spotted while working a scene in the Bronx. Anything but the way Flack's free hand kept stealing beneath the table to nurse a private pain. Flack sipped his Manhattan and chased it with sips of beer, and Danny watched him closely all the while.
It was all right at first. The booze loosened him up, and soon, he was showing glimmers of his old self, leaning forward with his elbows on the table and stirring his cocktail with his index finger instead of the dinky, red straw. He even managed to get vehement about the Rangers, slapping his palm on the table when he wanted to emphasize a particularly heinous bit of dickery by team management. It was turning into the best night out in a while.
And then his fool tongue ruined everything.
"So, what was that case you was workin' when I found you?" he asked.
"Case?" Flack smiled and dipped his fingertip into his cocktail glass.
"Yeah, you said you were workin' an old case."
"Oh. That. It's no big deal. Just an old file I'm lookin' at." He was still smiling, but it was fixed now, and his eyes were flat and guarded.
"Why you diggin' up old bones when you got fresh bodies every day?"
He shook his head, brought the glass to his lips, and drained the contents in a single gulp. "It's just somethin' I gotta do. Leave it alone, Messer."
"Talk to me here. If it's an old case, maybe I can help you out. I am a science nerd and alla that."
Flack set his glass down on the table and stood up. "I gotta get home," he said abruptly.
"I can drive you." He made to rise.
"No." Sharp, desperate. "No. I can take a cab. There are still some things I can do for my fuckin' self."
"Hey, c'mon, Flack," he called as Flack turned to leave. Why won't you talk to me here?" Then, when Flack gave no sign of acknowledgement, "I saw the name on the box."
Flack froze and slowly turned to face him again. "Did you?" he said quietly, and his mouth twisted in a bitter grimace. "'S that why you asked if I was ever married?"
"I was sixteen in the fall of '93."
"Who was she?"
"Leave it alone. I'm tellin' you. Just let it go. She ain't your business." Dangerous and pleading at once. "Just let it go," he repeated, and then he was walking away, hand pressed to his side.
He should. He really should, Danny decided as he watch Flack limp into the summer heat. But he couldn't, and in the end, he didn't.