Hey, it's me again. Here's the corrected and, I hope, improved, version of the prologue. Hope you'll like it!
Many thanks to DianeM for being a wonderful beta!
Disclaimer: I don't own anything, that's why I work for a living. And I borrowed the title of this fic to a great historian named Carlo Ginzburg.
PROLOGUE FRIDAY 13TH
Friday, October 13th, 2006.
Brian Woods, 14 years old.
49 hours missing.
Last seen shoving a gun on a classmate's face.
Just like that. A simple thought that crosses your mind while everything around you decides to move in a slower fashion, like in a clichéd action movie. Or were the people around you moving faster? Samantha falling backward in a yelp after you violently pushed her while raising your gun and aiming at the silhouette hidden behind the concrete, cold pillar of the building in construction; Danny and Martin turning back at your desperate shout, their eyes growing wide as they watch you pushing Sam and raising your gun, aiming at some invisible target, utterly powerless; Vivian and Elena rushing towards you four; the silhouette coming out from his hiding place, gun in hand; everybody, everything seems to swirl around you, slowing, almost coming to a stop then rushing forward in a sort of macabre dance. In the end, it doesn't matter because a millisecond later you're on the ground, blood flowing from your temple, shot by a kid not older than fifteen give or take, shot by the very same kid you just spent two days of your damn life looking for him. From the first seconds, you have had this bitter feeling this Woods kid was bad news anyway.
Two milliseconds later, you're still able to think, that's good news. Three plain seconds later, you're still thinking, you must have been some lucky bastard. Hey! You can't be that unfortunate in the matters of the heart without a little compensation, can you? Some are lucky and win poker games. As for you, you've survived a parachute training accident, a car accident and a shot to the head. Good score, Malone. Well, you could say that if your head didn't seem to be on the verge of exploding, if the voices and noises around you weren't so distant, as if in another dimension, so close and far away at the same time. Actually, their dimension seems to glide further and further from you, and your vision is greyer and greyer from the stars and strange patterns concentrating before your eyes.
Always hated that sensation, from the very first time you saw stars in the middle of the day just after big Mörner's fist connected with your chin so many years ago to this very day. You can see Danny's wide eyes and, just for him, you try and fight just a little more. Poor guy, he doesn't need to witness this another time. Samantha's mouth is moving soundlessly and, with another effort, you still can distinguish her panicked but always stunning features just before more grey comes and engulfs her. A gentle hand is stroking your cheek, coaxing you into focusing for a few seconds more. Or maybe the said gentle hand just slapped you to force you to stay awake, you can't tell. However, an ironic smile forms on your lips because the grey dissipates for mere seconds, letting you recognize Vivian. Seems like roles are reversed. Now, it's her turn to ride with that damn ambulance and pace for hours in a sordid waiting room, waiting for some cryptic information not reassuring at all. Not something he'd wish for his worst enemy, but something his best friends are about to endure just because of some delirious kid who decided to shoot at cops and raised his gun on Samantha.
Gosh, you were sure, you were certain you had moved on at last. You were so sure. Hell! Anne almost gave you another kid. You took her and the girls on a two-week trip to Croatia this summer. It wasn't perfect, far from it; you had to put your blue helmet on more often you would have wanted to. However, to be fair, for a first try, it wasn't that bad.
Maybe they could try again, once the trauma of the miscarriage would heal. "It isn't the stress of the abduction," the doctor had said. "Sadly, some pregnancies just aren't meant to be," he had explained. Sure, but it would have been easier to have something, or someone, to blame but just fate. Far easier. Still, they have survived. Things are strained now but not desperate. The girls come and visit on a regular schedule, Anne doesn't spend entire nights locked in the bathroom crying on the little life that wasn't meant to be anymore. You had moved on.
At least, that was what your head kept on repeating but it appeared your body didn't seem to agree for it moved on its own volition as soon as you glimpsed the silhouette with the gun.
Like the others, she's just a blurred silhouette now, but he can see her shoulders shaking, or maybe he's imagining it. A form tries to comfort her but she pushes it away in a jerk. Or the growing pain on the side of your head is playing with your perception.
You were sure she had moved on too, hadn't she? She even was the first to move on, wasn't she?
More and more grey, with a bit of red. More and more cotton in your ears. Your eyelids are heavier by the seconds. Everything's a blur. The guys around you. The memories assaulting you in a whirlwind.
Funny. What did Kevin Spacey say in this movie? 'Your entire life defiles in front of your mind's eyes' in a flash? So clichéd. Never been totally comfortable with this movie by the way, remember watching it along with Maria on TV. Seeing your own couple on the screen, even if distorted by artistic licence, isn't a good experience. But, coming back to the flash thing, you must say the movie isn't quite wrong either. And here you are, quietly reflecting on life and death, your mind wandering without a goal, jumping from a topic to another one without any logic while your friends try to keep you awake. Everything seems so chaotic from the growing silence that claims you. Then, in a last flash, you have the feeling you're just a few seconds from understanding good old Menocchio's conception of the world.
The cheese and the worms… Perfection and chaos. God's Creation and Humans. The life you dreamt and the life you actually lived, this last affirmation being from John Michael Malone only.
It hurts like hell; some moron is touching your head. Then the pain becomes too intense and morphs into a more worrying dullness. That was what your grandfather always said when examining his legs after the parachute accident. 'If you feel pain, it's serious, it's bothering, of course. But, believe me, son, if you didn't feel anything, it's when I would start worrying for good.' Then he used to add with relieved eyes: 'You've been really lucky you know."
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit…
Maybe not so lucky after all…
In the end, you can barely feel the paramedics lifting your limp body and installing it on a gurney. A few seconds later, you're in the ambulance, and someone is holding your hand. You try to squeeze it but your body refuses to cooperate. The paramedic on the right puts a needle in your arm.
Your last sensation is the disgusting sticky wetness beneath you head, on your left temple, on your ear, on your cheek, on your neck, on your loosened collar.
Then almost everything turns dark.
Four sad, powerless silhouettes watched the ambulances driving away from the construction site. The first rushing one was transporting their boss, their friend to the ER and most probably the operation room, the other one had a closed bag in its cabin, a closed bag containing Brian Woods' body, dead by a gunshot in the head because he had chosen the shortcut that gives you the impression of power but can end tragically any time.
Such a waste.
Brian could have chosen to be the standard teenager, going to school, playing ballgames, dating pretty girls, occasionally being involved in a bar fight… Instead, he had preferred to hang out with the wrong persons who promised him castles in Spain, big bucks and fast cars if he gave them a hand. So he did give them a hand, sold their shit in his school, made big bucks, bought a gun, used it to impress his classmate and make more money. Brian wasn't a monster, however. Just a kid who had made mistakes but still could go back in the right track. Just a tool unaware that his friends wouldn't hesitate to get rid of him if things turned bad. And dear God, things turned bad indeed. In the worst way possible, in fact.
Such a waste.
Brian was dead now and Jack in a frigging ambulance. They had worked so much to find the kid, they had worked so hard. Danny wanted to tell him it wasn't too late, that he still could choose another path if he wanted to. Vivian wanted to protect him from his so-called friends. Jack wanted to get him back sound and safe to his family. However, Brian had chosen. He had thought, God only knows why, that shooting at cops could buy his ticket back in the gang. He had decided the people wearing a badge were his enemies, and not the scum that had forced him to hide in the first place. He had chosen and aimed at Samantha. Then Jack sensed his presence, jumped in his line of fire and fired back in front of his petrified colleagues. Three bodies fell to the ground, one dead, one on the edge of consciousness, one alive.
Such a damn waste.
Darkness clouds your vision but it seems you still can decipher sounds. Very distant voices. Vague feeling of moving, or being moved. Gosh, you had forgotten how much you hated those sensations. Because the memories always follow the sensations. Then, it's all this old same damn cinema once again. Fortunately, some memories are harmless. You feel big Mörner's fist connecting with your chin, you remember the sensation of an anonymous knee colliding with your skull whereas you were trying to crawl away from a ruck during a rugby game, you can see your crashed bicycle at the bottom of the most dangerous slope in Pittsburgh once again.
You were young; those were as many decorations for a deceivably quiet child, then teenager. Then, sadly, always come the memories you'll do anything to forget. The sensation of your parachute breaking, the fall and the crash in the trees brutally assault your mind. The Army took the blame; some guy visibly had been sloppy while folding the parachute back, and paid you a comfortable pension that financed your college studies in Philadelphia. Still, no amount of money can make up for the pain, the heavy medication, the months of physical therapy. The second unwelcome memories is this telephone booth just a few meters in front of your car when your sleepy eyes open just in time. Listening to your pride and restlessness, and taking your car to the physical therapy centre instead of calling a cab as usual hadn't been such a good idea. You had tried to convince yourself you weren't that incapacitated, and, as a result, you had prolonged your convalescence for two months.
Smooth, Malone, really smooth…
This state between consciousness and unconsciousness is really a hard place to be, you decide. It's a place where whatever control you thought you had on your mind dissolve into nothing, leaving you without any defence in front of your subconscious. Things you thought important escape from your tiny grasp whereas events or faces you wanted to forget reappear, more precise than ever.
Make them go away…
The commotion of your entry into the ER barely registers in your mind, as well as the doctors and nurses you see rushing to your gurney through half-closed eyelids. You would have never perceived their arrival if it hadn't forced the cool hand which had became your life line to let go of your own limp one.
Of course, you know they're doing their job. But you're on the edge between consciousness and unconsciousness and you have the right to be petulant and irrational. However, you don't have much time to ponder on this last distorted reflection. The dullness that had replaced the pain is replaced in its turn by an unknown feeling little by little. Soon, this sensation of having your brain crushed becomes unbearable, menacing to engulf him. Your right hand which milliseconds before was mourning the loss of the other hand is brutally disconnected from your brain, as well as the right part of your body. The almost coherent thoughts that were running across your skull like flashes seem to slow down more and more before coming to a stop, as if they were finally frozen.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit… Not that lucky AT ALL…
They were all gathered in the silent waiting room which had been their only horizon since Jack had been brought to the operating room three hours ago. Not really friendly –no waiting room in a hospital deserves the adjective– the room was decorated in such a way that the families and friends waiting for news about the patients could feel a little comfortable at least. Several bright green plants brought a lively contrast to the cream walls. A coffee machine occupied part of the wall on the right, and magazines were scattered on a small table. You could be fooled and think being in an ordinary waiting room for a routine appointment, if the equally ordinary noises and cries from the ER didn't invade the small sanctuary each time the door slammed open to let a rushing gurney pass in the background, you could be fooled if the other occupants of the room weren't that pale, if their eyes weren't red from unshed tears or from having cried too much, if the silence wasn't that damn thick, only interrupted by the coffee machine, by the pages of the magazines being nervously, mechanically turned, by the occasional contained sobs. Anne was sitting face to the door, clutching her head in her hands, flanked by Danny and Vivian who were trying to comfort her as well as them in the process. Samantha, Martin and Elena were on the left side of the room, sitting shoulder against shoulder, their arms crossed as a way to contain the shaking, their eyes lost into space. No one uttered a single word; each one was fighting their own internal battle to keep it together along with the other people present in the fateful room. On the right side, facing Samantha, an alarmed couple was sitting, clenching their hands together, waiting for news about their daughter who had been knocked over by a drunken driver two hours ago. Next to Danny, a mother and her son were mechanically passing through magazines, exhaustion visible on their faces. They were already there when the group had first walked in the room and no one had come and seen them ever since.
"Just another day in the ER," Samantha mused bitterly as her tearful stare studied the other persons waiting in the room. As horrible as it seemed, she felt a little of comfort witnessing they weren't the only ones having a loved one in one of those operating rooms. It was petty. It was utterly egoistic. But she couldn't help it. How could she show sympathy whereas the man who had ignored her for the most of the year suddenly decided to acknowledge her existence and prove it by putting his life in line to save hers?
How could she think selflessly whereas the new woman in his life, the woman who had carried his child even for a little while was sitting on her left, her head clutched in her trembling hands, her lips forming a silent prayer? However, if she could have petty thoughts about the anonymous yet suffering people around her, she couldn't but feel sorry for the woman who surely was fighting desperately against the horrible hypothesis of losing the man in her life for the second time in less than a year. It wasn't she had never been jealous of Anne, on the contrary. She was still a bit ashamed of the thoughts of slamming a glass door back into her face the few times they walked out Jack's office together. But, sympathy was all she could feel. Actually, she was the one closest to know what Anne was enduring right now. She knew for sure the woman on her left could barely breathe through her constricted chest and throat. She was certain her eyes were burning from the salt of her tears, shed or still unshed. She could relate to her fight against the darker and darker thoughts. And, she had had the confirmation earlier that Anne was conscious of that uncomfortable bond. Samantha had stayed behind in the waiting room after Jack's admission into the ER. Then, minutes later, she had seen a devastated Anne running into the room. Bracing herself against the predicable onslaught about her imprudence, her incapacity as an agent –accusations her own mind kept on harassing her with– she had barely acknowledged the grieving woman. But the onslaught never came. Sad red eyes searched for her own sad red eyes. There was pain in those eyes. There was fear, huge fear. There was some sad, ironic regret too. Maybe the fact that less than a year ago she was in the same situation? However, there wasn't anger. Just some tacit understanding, empathy. After all, they loved the same man even if the dork barely deserved it.
But Jack wasn't hers to cry on anymore, so she sat between Martin and Elena, trying to look like the concerned colleague, nothing more. So spiteful anger was all she had left and she directed it towards the man in the operating room: "If you die because of me, I swear I will profane your tomb till my last day. Don't you dare escape like that, Malone! You owe me an explanation, you dumbass. Don't need you to play hero!" Still, all her resentful silent invectives weren't enough to contain the panic menacing to submerge her ever since she first saw Jack lying on the ground, blood flooding from his head.
Martin, while trying to stop his hands from trembling, observed Samantha from the corner of his eyes. Contradicted feelings assaulted him. On the one part, he discovered with horror what the others had been through when he had been shot the year before. He discovered that worrying about a friend going through a serious but scheduled surgery was one thing, but staying in a room with the blood of your friend still on your clothes was a really different matter. Briefly, his stare had crossed Danny's one, had considered his appearance, his bloody clothes –he and Danny had been the ones who had tried to stop the bleeding while Vivian had called 911 and Elena had dealt, or tried to, with Sam– and decided that no mirror could reflect his haggard attitude as well as the man in front of him. So this was what it felt like, feeling that powerless and angry and exhausted and frustrated and hopeful and pessimistic at the same time. Suddenly, he felt sorry for his cocky attitude towards his friends after the shooting. If he had known what it was like, he wouldn't have…
On the other hand, there was the woman next to him. Samantha Spade. He had seen her earlier in the afternoon, utterly panicked, refusing to leave Jack's side, climbing into the ambulance without letting go of his hand. Some foreigner could have explained this attitude by the fact their boss had just saved her life. But he, Martin Fitzgerald, knew better. The young man sighed, bitter nostalgia insinuating into his heart. He had loved her once. Maybe he still had deep feelings somewhere. But their failure of the year before had taught him one thing. Don't wait for the other one to deal with your problems. And, as a matter of fact, his heavy flirting with painkillers addiction, a sweet euphemism actually, was too fresh, as well as the things who sent him over the edge.
His boss, his friend was in an operating room, Sam was barely keeping it together thanks to her wonderful pride, and seemed in a dire need of some friendly assistance; and all he was thinking about was his little self. The truth was that the shooting had woken up an unwelcome demon named Fear. As soon as he had felt the boy's presence, Jack had acted, a rash movement, but he had acted nonetheless while he had been paralysed by this voracious fear. The fear of failure, of being hurt, of suffering. Today's incident had showed him that if the NA helped him with the consequences of his most profound problem, nothing would be really solved until he confronted his demons face to face. He had to accept that every one is bound to face failure at least once in their life, even Martin Fitzgerald who had had to wait his thirty-fifth birthday to discover this eternal truth. One cannot succeed all the time. One cannot get what they want every time. Maybe helping Samantha as a real friend, and not as an interested one anymore, would be a first step in that direction. A difficult one, but a necessary one. With this last thought, he briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath before taking Sam's hand in his own, a reassuring smile on his face. "He's some tough cookie; you know that more than anyone." With a single sentence, he acknowledged for the first time her special connection to their boss in a positive way. "Sure he's gonna wake up tomorrow and growl after us because we forgot our paperwork." Martin sighed profoundly. It hurt like hell to become the 'good friend' but it had to be done. Actually, he had been too proud for too long and hadn't wanted to accept that being her friend and nothing more was all he could pretend to. The signs had always been there, he just refused to see them.
Elena sensed more than heard the hushed exchange between her colleagues. The events since this afternoon had confirmed some of the suspicions she had had about some strange dynamics since her first days in the team, but wouldn't dare and judge them. She liked them too much. Samantha was a good partner and working next to her and Jack day after day had helped her to rediscover her sense of compassion she had buried while entering the NYPD. She would never admit it, even in front of the executioner, but the umbrella Jack had brought back from Japan adorned her living room in spite of her daughter's comments about its 'ugliness'. She had learnt so much thanks to them, thanks to Vivian who had taken her under her wing for the first months, thanks to Danny who had been elegant enough not to mention her former husband and one of his very good friends –so good friends that Santí had chosen him to be little Iñes' godfather. After a few rough months, things had seemed to come back to some normalcy between them. She would never know what Santí had told him about their divorce, and what Danny had believed, but he appeared to have accepted she wasn't the only 'bad guy' in the story. Finally, she had felt she could stay for a while with this team; she had begun to share their compassion, their never ending hope, to fear for their safety and well-being.
And there she was, sitting in this maldita waiting room with the others, anguishing just like them about their boss's life. Demasiado dolor. For a few seconds, she wished she still worked for the NYPD. But Vivian was right. Working Missing Persons was a drug, and working with them was something she never dreamt about when she applied originally for White collars. So she gripped her medal dedicated to the Virgen María and prayed for the man in the operating room, for her new friends, for the woman next to her containing tears for a man who is no longer hers to cry, for the man next to them who tried to comfort the girl he loved while she worried about another man's fate.
Dios mío, Señor Jesús, santo Cristobal, escuchen mi oración y ayudenlos por favor.
Your thoughts seem to start moving again, the pressure in your head isn't that strong anymore. That's maybe good news. Maybe. Because as soon your brain starts functioning again, an unbearable pain explodes in your head, your skull, your brain.
But the throbbing pain's still here, ten times, hundred of times worse than the agony you felt in your crashed legs.
The pain doesn't stop, on the contrary. It goes on and on, invades your brain, paralyses your thoughts, makes delirious images dance in a whirlwind. The endless fights against other kids, against your mother's suicidal tendencies, against your hierarchy… Your mother in the fuming car. The bottle of vodka you emptied after your first mission in the military. The trees rushing towards you. The telephone booth. Gunshots resounding on the phone. Sam in a hospital bed, as pale as her sheets. An empty apartment. Holding Max's body. Clutching to his father's body. Anne in a hospital bed, as pale as her sheets. The silhouette behind the pillar. The gun. The gunshot.
Please, anyone, make this stop!
And, finally, somebody seems to listen to your prayers for once. Suddenly, the pain disappears. The haunting images disappears.
Everything is dark.
As silently and quietly as possible, Danny got up, trying not to wake up Anne who, exhausted, fell asleep ten minutes ago. Four hours since Jack had been admitted in the operating room. Four fucking hours! On shaky legs, he walked to the coffee machine. More than a mere hot beverage, he needed something to do, something to occupy his hands. It was the same nightmare all over again! At least, when Martin had been injured, they had been able to focus their frustration, their anger in a hunt for Dornvald. But this time, the culprit was already dead. There was nothing to do, absolutely nothing. Tears were burning his eyes. He couldn't believe it. How could he have missed the kid? How could he? The concern of not disturbing the other persons in the room, friends as well as strangers, was the only thing that prevented him to hit the machine or a wall again and again till he couldn't feel his fist anymore.
Puta madre… Si no sobrevive… Si no sobrevive…
He hadn't shown it lately. Well, honestly, he hadn't shown it for more than a year, but Jack always had been his model. Since the first minute he had put the man on a pedestal. The guy was everything he wasn't. He was a calm, focused boss who had taught him almost everything about the job. He was a loving father for his adorable girls, the kind of father Danny wished he could have had. That was why he had been so disgusted by his boss outburst at the end of the Terry Cotta's case. He couldn't understand him anymore. He had offered the position to Vivian, then had taken it back. The Jack Malone he knew didn't do this kind of things, did he? Meanwhile, Danny had discovered his affair with Samantha, which had contributed to shatter the idealized image in his head a bit more. That was why he had ignored his advice after the shooting the year before. And he had screwed up, repeatedly, which Jack had told him the hard way. Danny still could feel his boss's strong hands on his collar after the case of the bomb in a high school; he still could hear his angry words. His proud nature had taken time to perceive the fear behind the furious threats, to accept Jack had been right to rough him up at the time, to force him to open his eyes before something serious happened to him like any panicked father would have done. It had been a much needed wake up call, really.
Alguién, por favor…
Danny's musings were finally interrupted by a soft knocking on the door. The young man turned back and saw the exhausted but quite serene surgeon calling for their attention.
"I'm Doctor Thomas. I suppose you're here for Jack Malone, aren't you?" he enquired without any preambles.
At the sound of his voice, Anne jumped on her feet and walked to him, clenching her hands in front of her. Vivian followed her while the others stood where they were, unable to move, holding their breath unconsciously.
"Yes, yes…" Anne stuttered and stopped, her mouth moving soundlessly, unable to ask the true questions.
Putting a comforting hand on the woman's back, as much to reassure Anne as to comfort herself with this tiny human contact, Vivian asked the dreaded question:
"How… How is he?"
The surgeon let out a deep breath.
"Actually, I must say your friend is some lucky man. The bullet just grazed his skull and, except for a small fissure, didn't cause irreversible damages. Still…"
Anne, whose sanity seemed to depend on the surgeon's words, winced worryingly:
Jack Thomas sighed again. He hated this part, really. How can you explain to worried families that everything is reassuring but that the loved one isn't waking up soon?
"Just like I said, Mr. Malone's condition is reassuring; really. But the shock of the grazing bullet caused a serious trauma and the formation of a subcranial haematoma. Fortunately, we have been able to begin to drain it."
"But?" This time, this was Vivian who pressed the surgeon to go on.
One last sigh.
"We decided to plunge him into a medically controlled coma in order to observe and control the evolution of the haematoma, to protect his brain from further suffering."
A collective, predictable gasp resounding in the room. Patiently, Dr. Thomas went on:
"Like I said, it's medically controlled. Mr. Malone wasn't even near comatose state when he was admitted into the hospital. It's just a protection."
"And you're saying you'll wake him up whenever you judge it possible?" Samantha asked with a trembling, unbelieving voice.
"Exactly. As soon as the evolution is satisfying, we'll stop giving him the medication," the surgeon explained calmly.
"How long?" Anne enquired, her voice barely above a whisper.
Dr. Thomas shook his head.
"I can't say. A week? Two? Now, it's just up to Mr. Malone's capacity to heal."