December 16; 10:03am
Riggs gave one last poisonous glare over the top of the vehicle before jerking open the door. A deep frown still firmly in place, he threw his knapsack into the back of my car and then sat down in the passenger seat. Well, this assignment is off to a great start… I sighed softly. Early retirement was looking better and better on some days and it definitely looked like this was going to be one of those days … I slid behind the steering wheel and looked over at Riggs as I jammed the key into the ignition. "God hates me, that's what it is."
Turning around, he stared at me, eyes narrowing. "Hate him back. It works for me."
My statement had been more of a joke than anything but there was no doubt in my mind that Riggs was deadly serious. Between the absolute fury etched in his expression and the cigarette smoke streaming from his nostrils, the man reminded me of nothing short of the devil. Not knowing what else to say, I just started the car and pulled out.
December 16; 10:50am
Stuck in a traffic jam as usual. Driving in Los Angeles was the worst. It had been over forty minutes since we had left the police parking garage and we hadn't exchanged one word as we crept along with the rest of the traffic.
Although Riggs knew I had no desire to work with him; just as he had no desire to be pulled out of Narcotics, the fact of the matter was – we still had a job to do. And since despite all his problems, Riggs was considered an excellent cop, there certainly was no point in letting those talents go to waste. I looked over at him. "So, do you have any immediate thoughts on the case?"
"The case?" He threw his hands up into the air. "I don't even know what the case is… except for the fact that I'm sitting with a homicide detective – so my razor-sharp cop instincts are telling me there must be a dead body involved."
I managed to bite back my response, but my hands tightened around the steering wheel none the less. Taking in a deep breath, I asked. "So they didn't tell you anything?"
"No, I didn't even know about this shit until this morning."
"Well that makes two of us." I regarded him steadily for a moment as I wondered how Captain Murphy had explained the situation to him. He wasn't a stupid guy - surely, he had to know he was well on the way to being shit-canned due to his ever-increasing erratic behavior. He obviously knew the talk about this all being a special interdepartmental project was a load of crap. But did he really understand that this was probably his last chance before he did get slapped with that psycho pension? If so, he sure as hell hadn't done anything so far to improve those chances. No matter what, I figured I needed to tread lightly. I gave a jerk of my head. "The paperwork's on the back seat. No time like the present to get started."
"Sure, why not. Who knows …" he added sarcastically, "we might even end up accomplishing something." Twisting in the seat, Riggs reached back, grabbed the file and started reading without another word. We were still working our way towards our destination when he tossed the file over one shoulder onto the back seat and proceeded to stare out the window once again. I waited patiently, assuming he was gathering his thoughts on the case but after another fifteen minutes passed, which consisted of him doing nothing more than lighting yet another damn cigarette, I realized he wasn't planning on saying anything. Sighing under my breath, I found myself once again offering up a quick prayer of thanks that at least this was only a temporary assignment. I opened my mouth, about to explain to Riggs where we were going, but on second thought, decided to keep the information to myself. He'd find out soon enough and besides if he didn't care enough to at least feign some interest or ask even a single question about the case, I wasn't going to waste my time going over the details. Looked like I was going to be working the case with a 165lb dead weight around my neck. Happy 50th birthday to me.
Shifting my eyes momentarily from the ensnarled traffic, I gave Riggs another look-over. I really couldn't quite figure out what it was, but there was something about him that raised all kinds of alarm bells with me. At first, I felt bad about it… after all, as a black man on the force, I was well aware of others prejudging me and it certainly was something I tried to avoid - especially among my own fellow officers. But the fact that Riggs was now chained to my side for this investigation caused my own sense of self-preservation to come front and center. And besides, it wasn't the fact that I personally thought the man looked like a bum, or that he was white, or that he hadn't even bothered to shave or brush his hair before showing up for duty or that his breath smelled like he'd gargled that morning with a fifth of Jack Daniels … In fact, it even wasn't all about the dangerous reputation that proceeded him … no it was something else. Focusing my attention back to the road, my fingers drummed along the steering wheel - an ingrained habit of mine while deep in thought. Perhaps a new approach to the situation was needed. A more personal touch. Clearing my throat, I gave a smile. "So… you like it over in Narcotics?"
"Yeah." Riggs didn't bother looking in my direction but kept his gaze focused outside the window. "Undercover work suits me."
Considering that he looked like he hadn't taken a bath in a couple of days, his comment seemed an understatement. But instead of making any further observations about his appearance, I just gave another smile as my eyes shifted downwards to focus on the wedding band he was wearing. "I don't envy you … undercover work like that … I think my wife would shoot me." I gave a sympathetic shake of my head. "I imagine that can't be easy on a marriage."
Turning his head around, Riggs glowered at me, his eyes narrowed into slits. "Well, I guess it depends on the marriage," he finally replied icily. "We do just fine."
"Oh, hey, I wasn't suggesting otherwise, really." All things considered, I knew I shouldn't have been surprised by the hostility in his voice, but the level of venom still threw me. It was probably an exercise in futility, but I plunged forward. "So … do you and your wife have any kids?"
Riggs turned the direction of his glare back out the window. "No."
Although his answer had consisted of only one curt syllable, the tone of Riggs' voice left no doubt that I shouldn't pursue the line of questioning any further - unless I wanted to risk serious bodily injury. So much for the personal touch … After another long bout of silence, I decided to give one last attempt at breaking the ice. "I'm an Army man myself too."
"Yeah?" Riggs looked back over at me, his angry expression now smoothed over although his blue eyes were still arctic cold. He stared for a long moment, openly appraising me before asking, "Vietnam?"
I nodded. "Before your time. I was there for awhile in '65. Just before I got out of the Army."
I could see that he was already losing interest in the conversation, so I quickly added, "So then … You were Special Forces, huh?" I managed a slight chuckle. "What did you specialize in?"
"Killing," Riggs said dryly as he turned away and once again it was the end of the conversation.
December 16; 11:20am
Just as I had predicted, of course, my day had indeed gone from crappy to total shit. Damn it, why did I always have to be right? I could handle being pulled from Dope - I wasn't happy about it - but I could handle it. It was just a temporary assignment after all, and I've had to work together with other detectives before in the past. Never for an extended time as Murphy had the good sense to see I worked best alone rather than with a partner - especially a partner who apparently wasn't even going to let me do any work. I may not have wanted to be here, but if I had to be, then I damn well better be able to fill my time with doing actual investigating; not sitting off to the side, twiddling my thumbs. By the look in Murtaugh's eyes, I knew that I was coming across as a threat so I decided to uncurl my fists and shove both hands into the pockets of my jacket. Took a deep breath and tried to keep the sharp edge out of my voice; although, of course, I was completely unsuccessful. "Hey look here, I may not be a Homicide detective but I still know how to conduct a damn interview." I had tried to remain calm when Murtaugh had told me that he wanted to talk with Michael Hunsacker alone, but his statement had immediately set my blood boiling.
"Hey, take it easy." Roger held his hands out, palms facing me. "That's not what I'm saying." He sighed. "It's just … it's just that I know him."
"You know him?"
"Yeah. I haven't seen him in a long time, but yeah, I know him. I just want to tell him the news myself. That's all."
I stared at Murtaugh a long moment, trying to decide whether he was just bullshitting me in an effort to avoid any further confrontation, but then finally decided he was telling the truth. The vic's dad was some old friend - fine, let him talk to him. I shrugged. "Okay." We both got out of his car as I suddenly gestured to my bag in the backseat. "Just need to get some more cigarettes. You go ahead." He frowned at me, his brows knitting together into a cautious line but then finally he nodded and headed into the bank building alone. I watched him for a moment to make sure he wasn't turning around then opened the car door. Rummaging around in the bag, I pulled out the flask that I kept in there, twisted it open and took a long drink. Not that I needed an excuse but if ever there was a day for drinking on the job, this was it. I always switched over to vodka during work since the odor wasn't as noticeable and despite my behavior, I wasn't looking to get kicked off the force, just killed in the line of duty … big difference. I took another swig and then tossed the flask back inside the bag. Pulled out a new pack of smokes. Hey, I wasn't completely lying at least. Placing one in my mouth, I lit it and followed after my partner into the bank.
The moment I stepped inside, it was obvious that Roger had already told Hunsacker about the new circumstances in regards to his daughter's death. The man was slumped over his desk, crying quietly, one hand clutching a framed photo. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, I hung back even further into the lobby, doing my best to impassively observe the man's response as any good detective should but at the same time, trying to give them a bit of privacy - both for their benefit and mine. Despite my best efforts, I could feel my chest tighten at the sounds of the man's sobs and I briefly looked away. Usually other people always figured the hardest part of being a cop was either the constant worry of physical danger or having to see dead bodies on a regular basis, but they would be wrong. That wasn't the hardest part of the job - at least not to me. Physical danger was more of an adrenaline rush than anything and I'd been dealing with dead bodies for so long that - good or bad -they rarely made an impact on me anymore. No ... to me there was nothing worse than what Roger was having to do right then. Having to tell someone that the person they loved was never coming home again. Having to sit there quietly, watching as the initial shock of the surviving family member gave way to a tsunami of grief so large and overpowering that they threatened to sweep you up in it as well … watching in uncomfortable silence, helpless to do anything but to finally say, "I'm so sorry for your loss." … I had always known that they were hollow meaningless words but until I had to hear them directed to me, I hadn't realized just how infuriating they truly were.
One of my hands instinctively reached down into my jeans pocket and I sighed with relief as my fingertips brushed against the hollow point bullet that I always carried with me… Still there… it was reassuring… its solid presence and the meaning behind it gave me one of the few comforts that I had left, a comfort someone like Roger Murtaugh couldn't possibly understand.
I had started carrying the bullet four months after Vicky had died and I'd only just been back on the force for a short while. Even though Murphy had been willing to bring me back on, Doctor Woods had managed to convince the department to force a personal leave of eight weeks and even then my return had been contingent upon an evaluation by her. I wasn't surprised, considering that she had been wary of me from the time that I had joined the police force but despite her best efforts to railroad me, I managed to pass and get back on duty. Since I had been gone for two months, my cases had long been transferred over to other detectives but Murphy was able to quickly get me assigned to a new task force and I dove back into my undercover work with a vengeance.
We were a tight efficient team and had managed to bust down a large drug ring and several major crack houses in a short amount of time. It was at one of the crack houses that we found a massive cache of weapons including the hollow point bullets. It really wasn't a conscious decision - in fact I didn't even remember putting the lone bullet in my pocket. But when I found it in my jeans two days later, I knew without hesitation that that was where it belonged and why it was there. At first I did nothing more than carry it around with me. I guess for those first few months I was still so numb, I couldn't really accept the fact that Vicky was gone. It wasn't until about six months later that I finally put the bullet into my Beretta and really contemplated suicide. Now it was a daily ritual of mine - this dance I did, trying to work up the nerve to pull the trigger. I knew that this fact alone probably made me crazy, but none of that really mattered to me. The time was coming … I could feel it. Some unfathomable something always kept me from pulling the trigger but with each passing day, my strong sense of survival eroded more and more. Soon enough there would be nothing left. And when that day came, I knew not even the job would be enough.
Suddenly Hunsaker's voice rose high, stirring me out of my private thoughts. I watched in silence as he grabbed onto his old friend's arm, urging him to kill the people responsible for his daughter's death. Roger spoke with him a moment, his voice low and then he crossed the lobby, heading back in my direction. Now I understood Hunsaker's anger - I know how it can overwhelm you to the point of no longer being able to think rationally, unable to focus on anything other than your pain but yet, at the same time, something seemed off. For the immediate moment, I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was an underlining desperation to the man's tone that spoke of something that didn't have to do with Amanda's death … something he wasn't voicing and I could tell by the look on Murtaugh's face that something was bothering him about it as well. The older detective did nothing more than glance over in my direction as he walked towards the exit. I gave one last look at Hunsaker, hunched back over his desk, his head in his hands and then followed Murtaugh out. Whatever was bothering my new partner, it didn't look like he was going to share it … Oh well, fine by me… I was way beyond giving two shits about it. Instead of discussing the situation any further, we headed for the car.