Bar Hopping With a Sledgehammer

by Nicole Clevenger (c)December 2003

Notes: Of course they're not mine. Don't be silly.

*

Sam looks up from his beer, and she's standing at the other end of the crowded bar. Standing next to some big guy he's never seen before, some guy in a black t-shirt who keeps leaning down to say things into her ear. She's wearing different clothes from when he last saw her, but it's definitely her.

Tina. His Tina.

He takes a drink he doesn't actually taste, and watches them together from his seat across the room. She's standing so close to him, his arm brushing comfortably against hers when he shifts to rest his elbow on the bar. Behind her a stool opens up; when she takes it the height difference between them closes a little. But not by much - she still has to look up to talk to him. Sam sees her put her hand on the guy's shoulder and pull him in closer, smiling as she tells him some public secret.

Something wet splashes and slips over the back of his fingers; Sam looks down to see that his hand is gripping the glass so hard that it shakes. Another wave of foamy liquid sloshes over the rim and down the side before he can force his white knuckled grip to relax. Sam takes a breath, takes a drink. No one around him has noticed.

She's looking around for someone - it's subtle, but he can see it. He's always known her better than anybody, his Tina. It's why she can't stay away from him. Why she keeps coming back. She thinks she's proving something by showing him up in public like this, appearing again and again with some new man on her arm like he's supposed to be impressed. Or threatened. But he's always the one she ends up leaving with. And, when they get home, he's always the one to put her back in her place.

It's some kind of game with her. She's probably looking around for him right now, wondering when he'll show. Maybe she wants to see if he'll go up against this new guy she's brought along. It'll probably make her hot, that bitch, watching them go a couple of rounds over her. Sam knows how they all like to play those stupid fucking games.

She keeps glancing around, but she hasn't seen him yet. The guy she's with looks like he hasn't shaved in days, and Sam wonders where she picked this one up. Probably at that club she used to work at. They told him she'd quit, but he never actually believed them - not the way they threw him out of the place before he had a chance to look around. Hell, this guy could've been one of the ones who sent him sprawling out the door onto the sidewalk that night. This guy could've been one of the assholes who lied to his face.

She takes a drink, and Sam's eyes slide down the white of her throat as she swallows. He knows what that skin tastes like, knows what those curves will feel like if he slides his hands under that sweater. It occurs to him that she might just be pretending to not know he's here. Teasing him. Making him wait for it. When Sam pulls his attention away from her body, he finds that the big guy's watching him over the top of her head. He narrows his eyes a little but Sam's not looking away - that's *his* Tina. This guy might not know it yet, but he's nothing but a stand-in. Just a way for her to make *him* jealous. Sam puts all this into his glare, letting the fucker know exactly what he's messing with if he doesn't back down.

The guy leans in for her ear again, not breaking the eye contact with him even as his lips are moving against the stray strands of her hair. Sam thinks he sees the lines of her back go tense for just a moment, but before he's sure, she laughs. That bitch is laughing.

He'll teach her not to laugh at him.

Sam's off his bar stool, squeezing through the loose clumps of drinkers between here and there before he even realizes he's going to move. His eyes are fixed on the green of her sweater, the gentle slope of her shoulders. He bumps into someone but doesn't bother to look; he's suddenly positive that if he takes his eyes off of her, that big guy's going to make her disappear.

He comes up behind her, and she's wearing new perfume. She always seems to smell different these days. Every time he sees her now it's slightly off; sometimes he catches the scent he remembers in a crowd, only to find she's not around. If he remembered what it was called, he'd buy her a bottle for her birthday. She used to like it when he'd do things like that for her.

Sam says her name but she doesn't turn. Thinking she can't hear him over the hum of all these people, he says it a little louder; this time she glances his way, but her expression isn't welcoming. Her eyes travel over his face, and there's no trace of recognition in them. He waits for her to say something. She goes back to sipping her beer.

No way is he going to let her dismiss him like that; his fingers closing hard around her elbow are more than enough to get her to face him again. She pulls her arm out of his grasp, looking at him like he may have lost his mind. But she's not afraid of him - she seems almost *distracted*. Her glance darts past him for a moment before returning to his face, and Sam begins to wonder if maybe he's not who she's waiting for after all.

"Come on, baby," he says. "Let's get out of here. Go somewhere we can talk."

Her hand inches its way toward her purse, but she doesn't get up to go with him. The guy she came with is still around, but he's a couple of feet away now. Acting like he's not paying any attention to what's going on between them. "Look, buddy..." she says, her eyes still giving more time to the rest of the room than to him, "I don't know who you think I am, but I'm not her. And I'm not interested. Okay?"

Her features waver, and for just a second he sees someone else hiding in the angles of her face. Sam blinks; Tina returns. She's just pissed because he's not playing his proper part in this fucking game of hers: normally he'd take more time. Buy her a drink. Pretend like they'd only just met. It gets her hot, this fantasy of being picked up by a stranger, and usually he's willing to play along for a while. But he isn't in the mood for any of her shit tonight.

When he gets her home, he's going to remind her what happens when she doesn't do what he tells her.

Sam grabs her arm, prepared to pull her off the damn stool if that's what it takes. A heavy hand lands on his shoulder before he can even so much as tug; he knew that asshole was paying more attention than he seemed to be. Sam's much closer to this guy's height than she is, but he's still got at least forty pounds on him and it looks like it's all muscle. Feels like it's all muscle, if the grip on his shoulder is any kind of a hint. He's between him and Tina now, and though the voice in his ear is calm, there's no mistaking its intent.

"I don't think she wants to talk to you," the big guy says, low under the din.

*

A quarter after one and their suspect still hasn't made an appearance; Eames smothers a yawn and straightens up from her slump against the bar. The beer she's been nursing all night is still almost half full - she's willing to bet that by now it's good and warm as well. Maybe flat too, but she's not going to try it to find out.

Goren, though - he's just crazy enough to brave it. With a tiny toast, he swallows the rest of his own beer and sets the empty glass on the bar next to hers. He tries to cover, but she still doesn't miss the grimace. He drags a lazy palm over his mouth, his jaw, and looks around the room.

"He's not going to show," Goren says, sounding faintly annoyed. There's fewer people around now, and she doesn't have to guess at any of his words through the cloud of a muffled roar.

"The Great Detective in action," she mutters, but she remembers to soften it with a smile. It's been a long day, and her butt's gone numb from hours spent on this stool. It's possible she's getting a little snarky.

In return, she gets an amused crinkling of the eyes in a sideways glance. He's tired too, but he's not taking her sarcasm personally. He never does. It's more than Eames can say for some of the men she's worked with. The bartender's watching them again, but by now he seems to have figured out that they're not going to be his best paying customers of the night. It looks like it might make him suspicious, but there's not much to be done about that. There's no backup waiting for them outside on this unofficial stakeout of theirs; they're not really expecting trouble, but they've still got to stay alert. And that means - among other things - only enough alcohol to let them blend in with the crowd.

Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" begins its whine through the cheap overhead speakers - for the second time tonight - and Eames groans. She's always hated this song. Maybe because it seems to follow her to every dive bar she's ever had the dubious pleasure of spending time in. If there's ever been a cue to leave, this has to be it.

She hurls a spiteful look at the jukebox in the corner before turning back to her partner. Goren's the picture of mid-week casual, an average guy unwinding in a local bar at the end of another ordinary day. Sleepy eyes and a comfortable slouch, and even though she knows it's all an act, she can't help wondering if this is what it really looks like. If he ever actually stops moving like this. Is calm like this. They spend most of their time together because they spend most of their time working; she might consider him a friend as well as a partner, but she's always had the feeling that there are parts of Bobby Goren she's never gotten to see. Eames wonders if this is just another skin he's slipped on, or if this Goren is one he's pulled from memory.

Relaxed looks good on him.

Those eyes flick over toward her, and Eames, unexpectedly, feels like a schoolgirl caught staring. She looks away, lets her own eyes play over the faces of strangers in the dim light. Suspect? No suspect here.

"Something wrong?"

His voice, when it comes, is so close to her ear that she can feel his breath tickling at her hair. She almost jumps, startled by the sudden immediate proximity. He's been doing it all night, this practiced intimacy - it helps their cover as much as her delighted laughs and flirty touches, and it's really the best way to hear each other inside all of this noise. But she isn't expecting it this time. She's getting tired and she's starting to slip; irritated, Eames pulls her focus back. She paints her face with an appropriate smile and leans that much closer to him.

"Nope," she says. Her voice is lighter than usual, sweet and unconcerned. She's still looking aroung, trying to balance her concentration on the room with the pretense of being wholly wrapped up in the heat of his presence beside her.

"Because you, ah... you looked like you wanted to say something."

Goren's hand is on the small of her back, five splayed fingers slipped possessively into the darkness between her and the wood of the bar. She's sure it makes for a nice touch to the overall image. He pulls back a little to get a look at her face; her eyes land on his for a moment before dancing away again to the room at large.

This time he gets a genuine smirk instead of a bubbly grin. "I was just wondering if you bring all your dates to places this nice."

Goren snorts, straightens up and removes the hand. "Only the ones who'll appreciate it," he says to her with that familiar ghost of a smile.

"Oh yeah. I can't wait to come back tomorrow." She squashes another yawn and runs a hand through her hair; her partner excuses himself to thread his way toward the restroom.

They've been told that the man they're looking for likes to hang around this particular bar a lot; by all accounts, he's a regular fixture from Thursday nights on. Eames hopes that his no show tonight is nothing more than a fluke, that he's not actually staying away because someone tipped him off. They don't have enough to pick him up yet, but they're hoping to be able to keep an eye on him until they do. If he starts avoiding this place because he knows they're nosing around, it's going to be almost like having to start from scratch in order to track him down.

At least her friend from earlier seems to have left. For a minute there, Eames had thought that the only thing that was going to dissuade him was a flash of the shiny badge tucked inside the unzipped pocket of her purse. That, or the gun in the shadows beside it. She certainly didn't want to show him either, just in case anyone was watching, but the guy didn't look like he was planning to take a simple no for an answer. He didn't much look like the type of man who ever did.

Goren had put a short distance between them after warning her of his approach, faking it cool on the off chance that it was someone coming over with some kind of information they could use. She could see him looking everywhere but at her and her new friend, confident that she could handle herself even as she was silently cursing the whole thing as a hassle. But despite the apparent nonchalance, Eames knew he was hyper-aware of every detail of what was going on. And, when it became obvious that this was something more than just another pick up attempt in another dingy bar, he'd swooped in and saved her from having to give their act away.

Whoever this Tina girl is, Eames is damn glad she's not her. She hopes Tina's on a one way ticket out of town, putting as much distance between herself and that jerk as possible.

Goren returns, picks his jacket up from where he's left it on the bar top beside her. She wonders if it's sticky. Things she sets on bars always seem to end up sticky.

"Shall we go?" he asks her.

Eames gets down from the stool to find that one of her feet is half-asleep; she shakes it a little, waiting for the inevitable pins and needles. If she turns around, she's sure she'll see the imprint of her butt on the meagerly padded cushion. She wonders if it'll still be there when they show up again tomorrow.

Goren nods to the bartender; the man looks a little surprised, but he returns the gesture. Points for them - now maybe the guy won't throw them out on sight if he's working when they come around again. Management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, Eames thinks, including nonpaying loitering cops. She leads their way out of the emptying bar.

The cool air whispers across her face when they step outside; the side street is almost deafeningly quiet after the constant hum of chatter and clinking glassware. She hears Goren take a deep breath somewhere behind her, and she smiles into the darkness. They didn't get what they came for, but Eames supposes that all in all there are worse ways to spend a work night. She looks toward the end of the block, visualizing her car waiting around the corner.

Something needs to be said, out here in all this cold silence; Eames opts for a classic. "So..." she says, blowing on her cupped hands as she glances back over her shoulder, "your place or mine?"

Goren's thoughts, as usual, are somewhere else. But Eames has only a second to enjoy his blink of confused disorientation; a strangled growl and a glinting arc of metal split through the night, and her partner goes down with a surprised grunt and a dull thud.

Her weapon's in her hand and her purse on the pavement even as the assailant is pulling back for another blow. "Police! Drop it now!" she yells, and her voice bounces off the high brick walls around them. Maybe it staggers him a little, but he's already moving with another downward swing. Eames aims high for his shoulder, feels her finger tightening on the trigger. She just barely manages to stop herself when Goren's hand shoots up to grab the piece of pipe as it's whistling toward his head.

Flashes of motion: Goren surging to his feet. The metal clattering off the edge of the sidewalk. The perp slamming face first into the wall and Eames coming in fast with her weapon trained on the bulk of his shadow. They're all breathing hard and loud in this vacant confined space, and their guy is spitting mad. He gets a look at Eames, and his disjointed mumbling ramps itself up to the volume of a shout. He calls her a bitch, a whore, and several other things off the list that guys like this have hurled at her countless times before.

She realizes it's the jerk from inside. The one who's so set on finding a girl named Tina.

Eames hears noise spilling out from the bar behind her, and she looks back to see the bartender and some of the more curious patrons hovering in the rectangle light of the door. A glance at Goren shows her he's got this situation in hand - she hears the jangle of his cuffs under the words of the Miranda - which leaves her to deal with the neighbors. Clicking the safety back on her gun, Eames retrieves her purse and moves across the narrow street.

Badge in hand, she assures the civilians that there's nothing to see. Ushers them back inside. A couple of them try to peer their way past her into the night, but all they can make out is the double-headed darkness of two men against a wall in the gloom. Eames tells them again to stay inside, then turns her back on them and heads back to her partner. She can't do anything about them looking, but she can take their main attraction away.

The three of them head awkwardly toward the car, Eames trailing slightly behind as she phones the incident in. She'd hoped to be home within the hour, but it looks to be Paperwork Hell in their future instead. She wishes she'd had another beer.

Goren wrestles the perp into her back seat and slides in beside him; it looks to her like he's favoring his left side. Eames gets in the front and tries to catch his eye in her rear view mirror. She steals glimpses the entire way to the station, each shine of oncoming headlights an echo in her mind of the glint off a swinging metal bar. Their guy seems to have calmed down somewhat, until at one red light he lurches forward only to be pinned back fast and final against the seat by the strength of Goren's right arm.

The arm stays where it is for the rest of the ride.

*

"So let me get this straight," Deakins says. It's the next morning, and he's perched on the edge of her desk with a cup of coffee in his hand. "Your unauthorized tail on someone who's not officially yet a suspect accidentally turned up a serial killer we didn't even know about?"

"Some cops have all the luck," Eames says.

"Sounds like your luck almost ran out." He takes a drink of the hot coffee. "Any idea on how long our perp's been at this?"

Goren returns before she can answer; he drops a file on his desk and lowers himself stiffly into the chair. "His girlfriend, Christina Waterson -" a half-gesture in Eames's direction "- she moved out close to four months ago. Since then he's been picking up women - women he believes are her - and taking them home. He's... he's violent. He beats them. Wants to punish them for walking out on him." He rubs at his eyes. "But when he goes too far and kills them, he blocks it out. It's... like it never happened. Like she just walked out again."

"And the cycle starts all over." Deakins shakes his head. "How much time did you spend with this guy, anyway?"

Goren shrugs; Eames notices that he only really moves his right shoulder.

"Missing Persons is working on it, to see if they can do anything with some of the prints they found in his apartment," she tells Deakins. "They've already got some of his neighbors looking at pictures. Maybe somebody will recognize a couple of these women."

"Great. Then all we have to do is figure out where the hell he put the bodies."

Neither partner has a response to that.

The phone on Goren's desk rings, breaking their three person silence. Deakins gets up and moves away in the direction of his office; Eames sips at her own coffee as she boots up her laptop, trying to shift her thoughts from this case to the open one of their own.

"At least *Tina* made the right choice," she says, to no one in particular.

end.