See chapter 1 for disclaimers and notes.
He told them about the heist. He told them about the argument over the radio on the way to the meet and even the Hillary discussion. Then he told them about the dream, that wonderful dream about killing McKussick that wasn't a dream after all.
They sat on the other side of the table and asked questions. But the questions were not what he'd expected. Instead of, "Do you really expect us to believe you?", he got "When did you realize that you had hit McKussick with the truck?" This was IA. They were supposed to be skeptical, hard-nosed and hostile. The panel he faced now was supportive, even nice. Of course, Dr. Grant and Deaq had already testified. Van supposed they had been very convincing from the way his interrogation was going.
"Thank you, Officer Ray. You can return to duty," the female captain told him.
"What? That's it?"
"That's it. We're clearing you, with the provision that you agree to see the department psychologist. We'll file the ruling tomorrow."
"But, usually...And Hill probably—I mean—"
She held up one hand to interrupt him. She turned off the recorder in the middle of the table then smiled at him. "Officer Ray, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Between your doctor's testimony, your partner's testimony, and some friends in apparently high places, this interview was just a formality. You were going to walk on this one, one way or another. Of course, it doesn't hurt that we believe you should. Back to work, Officer Ray. I hope we don't see each other again."
"Thank you, Captain." He made good his escape without another word. He knew Parish had gone to bat for them, but this was too easy. Too easy for his own conscience, as a matter of fact. After all, he had killed the man. Mitigating circumstances aside, his actions had resulted in a man's death. He was supposed to be a cop. He was supposed to arrest the bad guys, not run them over with really big trucks. God, why did he feel so guilty all of a sudden? It wasn't so bad before. As in, before IA let him off the hook without so much as a reprimand. They were supposed to punish him, right? Then he could get on with his life sans guilt. He would have served his penance. That was the way it was supposed to go. Any good Catholic boy knew that. "Oh, for Christ's sake, you aren't any good Catholic boy," he muttered to himself as he watched the floor tiles move under his feet.
Van looked up just inches from his partner's face. He nearly jumped back. "Nothing. It's over. They were nice. 'Go back to work, Officer Ray.' That's what she said. Just like that."
"Then why the lost puppy look, my brother? Let's get back to work. We gotta find Billie and finish this."
"Yeah, we gotta finish this." He nodded and pasted an unsure half-smile on his face for Deaq's benefit. While silently berating himself to get his head in the game, he followed Deaq out of the building.
They spent a sleepless night pacing the floor of the Candy Store. They half-heartedly tossed the basketball in the general direction of the goal for a while; then Van tinkered with a few of the cars while Deaq tried the computer for information on Gabriella once again. It was useless. The woman was an unknown. Deaq rubbed his tired eyes and tried to determine what was wrong with his world at the moment. Well, other than Billie being abducted. Something wasn't right. His eyes sought out his partner. He'd been over by the Ferrari a few minutes before, but he wasn't there now. Deaq stood up and moved around Billie's desk and out of the office. Where the hell was Van? And why wasn't he talking? Van was always talking. That was what was wrong. It was too damn quiet. He didn't want Van to be quiet. A quiet Van nearly died on him just days ago. "Van!" he yelled.
"What?" came a reply from above his head. He was on the balcony.
Deaq took the stairs two at a time then took the seat next to Van who was contemplating his shoes apparently.
"We'll get her back, V. Everything will be fine."
Only a nod.
"Okay, forget rule number two."
"What was rule number two?"
"That talking thing. Talk to me, Van."
"I'm okay. What was rule number one again?"
"The Neil thing."
Okay, he'd been fine before the IA thing. As fine as anyone would be before going up in front of an IA inquiry. Mad about Billie, yes. A little psyched about Hillary and a little pissed that Deaq blew his cover, but he hadn't been like this. What could it be? He was still trying to figure it out when Van broke the silence.
"I killed him, Deaq. I just killed him. Why did I do that? I'm a cop. I'm not supposed to do—I mean, if they are shooting at me, I can shoot back, but I ran him down with a truck, Deaq."
"Van, he was shooting at us," Deaq reasoned.
His partner rolled his eyes. "A truck, Deaq. I ran over the man with a big truck." Van held out his arms to indicate just how big the truck was. "His gun against a truck? Gee, wonder what was going to win that one."
"Van, he could have moved. He had the chance. Instead, he decided to stay there and shoot at us."
"That's supposed to make it okay? A truck was excessive force, at the very least. I killed that guy."
"Yes, you killed that guy. You killed the bastard who tried to kill you, who was willing to kill lots of people, tried to kill them. All for money. He was shooting at us. I chose to shoot back. Your weapon just happened to be a truck. In my opinion, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. And Van, you weren't exactly—"
"Yeah, yeah." He tapped his head. "Brain damaged."
"Hey! Don't talk about my partner that way." Deaq bumped Van's shoulder. "You should try to get some sleep."
"I'm not the only one," Van reminded him.
"Yeah, you're right. Kinda hard though."
Neither of them slept.
The call came at 6AM. Deaq nearly fell flat on his face trying to get to the phone. He got it before the second ring ended. "Hayes."
Van waited anxiously as Deaq scribbled down the instructions for the swap. He hung up the phone and met Van's eyes. Van sighed. So, first they'd made a deal with the Devil and now they had made one with the Devil's bitch.
"Are you familiar with this area?" Deaq handed him the paper.
"Yeah, it's near Venice. I used to live near there. It's not the best area, mostly abandoned buildings and homeless people."
"Why am I not surprised that you used to live there?"
"I said near there. Not there, Deaq. I was right off the beach, man. It was great. I'd like to be there again actually."
"Whatever. We need to get on the road."
That was when it hit him. Van turned and looked at the truck that had been dropped off while they were at IA the day before. Somehow, he'd managed to ignore it until now. There it was, right in the middle of the Candy Store, but he'd been able to pretend it wasn't there. Oh, it wasn't the same truck. No, he'd broken the axle on that truck when he drove over McKussick, McKussick's car, and the concrete wall. It was a very similar truck though. He couldn't drive it. There was no way he could get into the driver's seat of that thing. His heart pounded, and he felt as if the air had been sucked out of his lungs.
"Think I'll drive this time," Deaq remarked lightly.
He could breathe again. "That's cool," he replied, just as lightly, he hoped. The look Deaq gave him, though, let him know that he had failed. In fact, Deaq knew exactly what had been running through his head. "Deaq—"
"Let's go, partner." Deaq opened the driver's door and climbed in.
It was Deaq's way of saying he understood. Van smiled. He went around to the passenger's side and got it. They didn't listen to the radio.
Gabby snatched her head up by her hair, and Billie glared at her through half-closed, unfocused eyes. "Got your fix for you. Your last one. At least from me anyway. I'm sure you'll be getting your own pretty soon, huh? Your boys are on the way with my diamonds though, so you and I are about to part company. I'll be sorry to see you go. I've had a blast. How about you?"
Billie didn't reply as the woman untied her wrists from the chair. She left them tied together behind her back, but at least she could stand up.
"In the meantime, we have to get ready." The needle was jammed into Billie's leg once again. Gabby looked into her face for a moment then let her hair go. Billie let her head drop again and waited.
Gabby was untying the ropes on her ankles. "You're gonna be a good girl, aren't you, Lieutenant? We're going to move out into the main part of the warehouse now. I have a little ambush set up out there and I want you to see it all. You see, your Van killed my Nick, so now I'm going to kill him. Eye for an eye. I think that's fair, don't you?"
Her legs were free. Gabby never saw it coming. Billie's kick caught her under the chin and the woman fell back choking. Billie moved swiftly to deliver two more kicks to the head and one to the ribs. She wasn't quite unconscious, but Billie didn't have any more time. Soon, the full effect of the heroin would kick in, giving even an injured Gabby a distinct advantage. Billie ran.
She could hear Gabby screaming behind her. If she got to her gun, she'd shoot Billie in the back. There was no doubt in Billie's mind of that. Still, she ran. She made it out of the building and kept on running. She tripped at the sidewalk and struggled back to her feet. It wasn't easy, given that her hands were still tied behind her. Plus, all the activity seemed to be speeding the heroin through her system. Gabby was still behind her, but now there would be witnesses if she shot Billie down. If the various junkies and homeless people who now watched her flight could be counted on to testify, there would be witnesses. One small worry in Gabby's mind could keep her alive.
There was just one problem. Billie had no idea where she was going, and while eyes watched the chase, none of them seemed to be inclined to stop it or attempt to find a policeman. Well, that was two problems, wasn't it? She was tired. She just wanted to sit down. Maybe she could call a time- out. She almost giggled out loud at the thought of the look on Gabby's face if she were to give her the T sign. She fell against a chain link fence but managed to stay on her feet and keep going. Screeching tires scared the hell out of her though, and she flung herself on the fence and held on. Gunshots. Was that gunshots? She instinctively dropped to the ground.
"Holy shit. Deaq! It's Billie."
Deaq was in a zone, driving and planning, when Van's voice derailed his train of thought. Sure enough, there was Billie. He might have mistaken her for someone else, though, had Gabriella not been following her. Billie had obviously been through hell. Deaq slammed on the brakes, fishtailing the truck about halfway between Billie and her abductor. Van was out of the truck before Deaq had gotten out of his seatbelt. He heard Van's warning. Shots were fired, and Deaq swore as he finally rounded the front of the truck. Van was still standing; Gabriella was not. But she was not giving up either. Van had clipped her shoulder.
"Don't do it!" Van warned her again.
"Drop it, lady! Don't make me shoot you." Deaq added his own warning as he moved slowly toward Billie, but with his gun trained on McKussick's crazy girlfriend.
"You killed Nick!" she screamed. "He was everything to me!"
Deaq took a quick look at Van. Would Van's unresolved guilt make him hesitate? "Van, get Billie. I'll get her." Deaq changed directions even before he'd finished his sentence. "Drop the gun!" he called out again.
She seemed to be ignoring Deaq though. Her eyes remained on Van as he knelt beside Billie. The gun lowered after a long moment, however, and Deaq thought it was over. He took another step toward her. "Now put it down and kick it toward me."
But that was not what she did. The gun snapped back up, her intended target clear.
"Van!" Deaq shouted a warning as he pulled the trigger of his Desert Eagle. She went down, the hole in her chest insuring she wouldn't get up again. But she had gotten her shot off, he realized, and he spun around, praying both his partner and boss were still alive. They were flat on the ground.
"Billie?! Billie? Are you okay?" Van was gingerly trying to get Billie off of him. Obviously, she had shoved him down and covered him. Deaq rushed over.
"I wasn't hit," she mumbled. Her voice was slurred, though. Deaq helped her up into a sitting position, allowing Van to sit up as well. "But we have a problem, guys."
Van got it first. He closed his eyes tight and swore. Then Deaq clued in.
Billie was in the hospital a few days before she was transferred to rehab. She was doing really well. As long as she finished her rehab and tested clean every few months for the next year, she'd keep her job. Van had no doubts that she'd be back.
Hill was back, too. He was not quite the asshole he had been. In fact he was much more agreeable—when they saw him at all, that was. However, Van wasn't holding out much hope that he wouldn't revert back to an asshole as soon as the Commissioner wasn't looking. At the moment, however, his only comment was that at least they didn't lose any more of the diamonds.
Living with Deaq had turned out to be an adventure. A short, and not to be repeated ever, adventure, but an adventure. Van had tuned out on the rules. Besides, it was a stupid signal. A flower on the porch? Why would Van even notice that some flower was on the porch that hadn't been there before? What the hell did a daylily even look like? So it wasn't really his fault that he'd gotten that quick flash of Deaq's goods, so to speak. Deaq had apparently seen his in the hospital, so Van figured they were now even. Hearing Deaq's little pet name had been a bonus. Deaqie. Van laughed to himself.
One week ended, though, and Van didn't have a place to live yet. "Yet" being the operative term. So he'd moved into another hotel until the closing. Well, probably a little longer than that, he admitted, as he surveyed his pending purchase. Ironically, he'd spotted it on the way to get Billie back from Gabriella. It needed some work, most of it cosmetic, except for the new windows and the new front door. He had to have those before he could move in. Removing the graffiti from the little stucco cottage would take a few coats of paint. The floors needed to be refinished. He'd always liked hardwood floors over carpet. Less static electricity, after all. The kitchen needed to be updated, and the laundry room plumbing was broken. Otherwise, it was perfect. Just two blocks off the beach, right in the middle of Venice. He was home again.
A car door signaled Deaq's arrival and Van stepped out of—well, where the front door would be once it was installed.
"You have got to be kidding me." Deaq shook his head. "This is what you're going to live in?"
"Yeah. It just needs a little work."
"V, I know we don't make a shitload of money, but can't you afford something with a door and some windows at least?"
"I can afford to put a door and windows in this place. I like it."
"It's a shack." He moved to one of the broken windows and looked inside. "'Shuggy B was here,'" he read from the living room wall.
"But he's not here now. And won't be again. Come on, Deaq. It's got character! It's got a story!"
"I hope it's not a long story."
Van smiled. "It is, so I'll spare you. Just—people were happy here once. I'll be happy here. It suits me. As far as the job, I'll stay in the hotels and fancy houses when I need to keep up appearances, but this will be home. I need a home, man."
"I feel you, Van. I do. But here?"
"It'll clean up nice. You'll see."
"Okay, okay. Change of subject. How's Hillary?" Deaq asked in that smug way of his.
"Oh no, no one word answers, Van! Spill."
"Things are going okay, I think. At least as well as you and Rosalind, Deaqie."
"I will kill you, Van."
"Nah, you won't. You don't want to break in a new partner," Van replied. It was an offhand remark, said in jest, but Deaq suddenly looked away. When he looked back, Van knew the conversation had just turned serious. He wasn't sure he was happy about that.
"Deaq, what about rule number two?"
"Screw rule number two. Why is that one the only one you remember, Van? You forget them all but the one I should never have made. I'm sorry about rule number two, okay?"
"Besides, I was just going to say that I was glad you're still around."
"Thanks. Glad to still be around."
"And what? Can I invoke rule number two?"
"No. And McKussick, well, he deserved what he got. He brought it on himself."
"Look, I'm dealing with that with the department shrink. Could we not discuss this?"
An awkward silence followed.
"You better get a burglar alarm for this place." A pointed change of subject if Van had ever heard one.
"Let's go see Billie, partner."
Then he was suddenly wrapped up in a hug. Just as suddenly, it was over. He couldn't help the little snicker that escaped.
"Shut up and get in the car." Deaq strode away from him. Sentimentality time was over. Deaq was back in his usual form.
Too late though. He knew Deaq cared now. He knew Billie cared. Plus, he had a potential relationship with a woman who was not a criminal. Maybe he wasn't quite as alone as he had thought. And he had a home. He was getting that life that Deaq, and even McKussick, damn his soul, said he needed. Cool.