Solace in Silence
Author's note: To those who haven't finished playing L.A. Noire, this fanfiction contains huge spoilers! That was your fair warning. Well, continuing my noble tradition of writing about Rockstar protagonists and their wives, here's my attempt at penetrating the impenetrable and deeply intriguing character of Cole Phelps. I definitely would have liked to know more about his personal relationships, but that's what fanfic is for! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy. :D
This fanfiction is dedicated to my wonderful friend Sammy.
Cole Phelps' most pressing memory of the war was the inability to think. What civilians did not realise about the role of a soldier was that he must be tactical, unwavering in his goals, quick to make decisions and take risks, courageous, logical, firm in the choices he made; all of the hallmarks of a great strategist; but that he must also do all of this in the arena of war, where clear thinking was an impossibility. There could be no calm decisions when bullets rained down over your head, when corpses littered the path before you, when the next few minutes would determine the outcome of your life and the lives of the men all around you. So you were forced to act, react, and only when the smoke had cleared would you be able to view the plain truth and accept the finality, the irreversibility, and, all too often, the sheer brutality of what you had just engineered. You did the best you could, but in war your best was rarely good enough.
Like army medicine came that bitter pill to swallow: your country expected you to fight, to give up your sanity and your life and your conscience, and you would not even be given the chance every man should receive, a chance to consider the horrors you would be asked to perform before the act.
Even during breaks in combat there was little respite. One of the infamies of war were the long bouts of waiting, the hours upon hours of nothing to fill the hollow time. Yet even then, Cole had neither the space nor the ability to think. There were always wounds to tend to and more casualties to deal with, there was freezing ice water in boots and routes to plot and rations stolen by rats. Rather, he remained blank. This was a sensation which lasted for months, lingering even after he had been honourably discharged, and which he would forever afterwards associate with the war.
It may have been the reason why Cole was so drawn to police work. The police, when engaged in investigation, must be thoughtful and rational at all times. It was a job built upon thinking, upon the use of clear logic to better the world, at least in his mind. And there was no better prospect for a returning soldier who just wished to recall his student days at Stanford. Pensive days, contented days, when his brain, not a gun, was his greatest weapon, and when he had all the time in the world to contemplate whatever he desired. Pre-war days.
Logic was Cole's friend, he thought. Logically, young men were not cut down by gunfire on empty battlefields. Logically, friends did not watch friends die and look on as fate chose its victims cruelly, absurdly, with no concern for justice or rationality. Logically, war did not happen and nobody was punished for crimes they had no desire to commit. Maybe if he stuck to logic, he could return to an America that made some iota of sense now that the world had been flipped upside down.
He did not remember the exact moment when he came to understand that things would never return to the way they were. Yes, he had a job, a livelihood, his family, purpose and meaning; but the war had stolen something intangible from him. Perhaps it was when he held his wife Marie in his arms and all he could think of was a limp Japanese girl whose heartbeat he could feel dying under his fingers. Or perhaps when people he met congratulated him for being a war hero, and his only response was to feel the angry flush of shame. Or when nobody cared about the sacrifices he and thousands of others had made, because they still continued to commit crimes on American soil. They still sought to destroy the country from the inside, which he had fought to defend, thousands of miles away in the jungles of hell. It seemed more likely that it was a slow sinking into marshes, a horror of clammy realisation submerging his body and reaching his neck, all the more horrific because it had been so leisurely to show itself. It never would be the same, would it?
A job was a welcome form of escape. Cole submerged himself in detective work, because he knew no other way to function. It was difficult, tedious work. That was the type of work he liked best. But no man is an island, as Cole Phelps well knew, and even all the work in the world could not help him when he returned home and found no comfort to await him.
That was when Cole found Elsa.
God, how he wished it could have been Marie instead. He wished he could still be the man she loved, a man who knew how to love her in return. The war had even stolen away his wife. It was a horrible curse: quirks about her which he had once adored now irritated him. He forgot jokes that used to make her smile or the way to kiss her neck to make her tremble. At weekends he couldn't come to the park, no, or spend more time with the kids. He despised it when her patience finally broke and she yelled at him though sobs, twisting her wedding ring on her finger like a reminder, asking him what the hell was the matter and who the hell he had become. What could he say?
When he came to Elsa, however, there were no questions and no tears. There was only her singing, her eyes hooded and staring only at him, her seduction, the breathy invitation of her voice, her arms and her embrace. When he came to Elsa he forgot everything else because all he wanted was Elsa, Elsa, Elsa, Elsa.
Like him, Elsa was world-weary. Elsa had lived through all of that too. It was an irony that she was German, yes: that much he couldn't deny. But maybe all he'd needed was a kindred spirit, someone who understood, someone who could console him in warmth and laughter and a calming silence because they knew what he lived with every day in his secret heart. Elsa had her secrets and her demons too. She had the memories she would never tell to anyone, just as he did, and they both found strength from the shared non-sharing, because they both knew that secrets like that were best left buried under years of crushing silence. But they could be silent together, at least. Cole had never thought he could find so much solace in silence.
He knew Marie tried. She kept up appearances. But it just wasn't the same. At home there was the girls, and constant noise and movement in that house. Too much. Marie never really had time for him because there were dishes to be cleaned and meals to be cooked and groceries to be bought, and when he did tear a rushed kiss from her lips she would respond distantly, smelling of kitchen appliances and detergent. Elsa had none of that. Elsa was cigarette smoke and resilience, lingerie and husky tones. Elsa was release. Elsa was sex.
Oh, and how they had sex. He shoved her into the wall and took all of her, took everything she gave him, and she gave it all. When he needed her he was rough and careless. He knew it. But she didn't shriek and push him away in shock as Marie did when he became too forceful: no, she made a fierce moan in the back of her throat and grasped onto him, urging him closer, as though he could and would slip into her skin if she willed it hard enough.
When he'd finished with a long day on the job all Cole wanted was Elsa. He couldn't handle home, with the girls chirping at him and Marie ignoring him, busy in the kitchen, whilst in his head the memory of corpses drenched in headlights still spun around and around, sickening, wicked to be infiltrating this happy family home. But it wasn't really fair, was it? Marie had kids and wifely duties and had to see the worst side of him; Elsa did not. She had time and patience for him. The scales were tipped in her favour. Cole couldn't fault Marie for what she did, even though he caught himself doing it sometimes and he hated himself for it. She was a good mother, a good wife. Even if she was tired when he returned home, when he needed her embrace she would always allow it, and even if she only wanted gentle loving, never the forceful, physical beast inside Cole, sometimes that was okay, because sometimes Cole did too, he just wanted to kiss her shoulder blades tenderly and hold her through a gauze of soft moonlight, and sometimes he would lie awake afterwards, listening to the sound of her sleeping, and think that all of it might just be okay in the end.
But there were other times too. There were rows. There were stony silences, little bitter disagreements over nothing, times when he would get so angry he thought he could hit her, but mostly just a slice of cold metal frustration lodged in his throat. He could never say what he wanted to say to her. He could never share the silence with her like he did with Elsa.
Cole and Marie had got married years before he'd gone to war. Those were days when men wooed childhood sweethearts and got hitched at twenty. America wasn't at war, but the scent and fear of war wafted over the Atlantic and sent a chill down the country's spine. It was a time for action, a time to be rushed and to be in giddy, heady love. He was a college student, she a waitress in a local café. He thought she was the prettiest little thing he had ever seen. He brought her flowers on their first date, they had picnics in tall grass, and he made sure to only propose to her once he'd saved up long enough for a ring. They were in giddy, heady love. They got married, quickly, happily, like thousands of other couples all around the country, for who knew what might happen tomorrow? Together they made a home, and within two months Marie was pregnant. Then it was Pearl Harbour. A collective terror settled across America. Cole finished his degree, then joined the Marines and began his training as a soldier. He had to work hard to provide for his wife and his little girls, to protect them, but it was all alright, because when he came home at night they could be together, and share their little joys and little tribulations, their humble little slice of the American dream. Life was very simple back then. And then all of a sudden it was 1945, black smoke and battleships and rushed goodbyes, and he was being shipped out, and he had to swallow the inevitability that his training was finally to be tested, that everything had been leading up to this. Then he'd gone to war. Then he'd gone to war. After that there was a thick black line, separating everything that came before from everything that came afterwards. An insurmountable division.
He had left her behind. When he returned somehow, over that churning sea, Marie still belonged to a world of bright colours and sunshiny days, of dogs barking on sidewalks and movie popcorn, lollipops, band-aids on scraped knees, barbeques, cold lemonade, sundresses, home appliances… where people didn't blaze and melt to death or gnaw their own leg off from hunger or die with sorrow in their gut and maggots in their eyes. Even if things were bad, they would get better in the end and good would always triumph over evil because that was the American way. But he was no longer part of that world. He had moved on, had shrugged off that false comforting image to see the world as it truly was: burning, bleak, black as sin. Marie was a whole world away now, and when he looked at her it was through a thick sheet of glass, inches thick, distorting her image, glass that could not be shattered no matter how much he yelled or pounded against it.
He could no longer feel her.
But he still loved her, of course. And the girls. More than anything. And more than anything he wanted to make them happy, wanted to fulfil the duty he had signed up for, the role he had willingly taken on. He certainly would never want to hurt them. But when he returned to that noisy house, when the girls played with their dolls and Marie recalled the latest rumours about their neighbours, he felt all of it floating above his head, passing straight through him, like he was a ghost sitting in his chair, a phantom they could not really see.
So Cole always returned to Elsa. Elsa was direct and frank. Elsa put her hands on his shoulders and stared right into his eyes, refusing to let him float away, anchoring him to the here and now, and every one of her touches reminded him that he was still human and still alive.
She was just so visceral. Nothing about her was dull or everyday, because she had experienced things which forced her to understood that life was too fragile, too slight to be blighted by monotony or even just plainness. Elsa detested plainness. She hated men who lacked in ambition or the desire to make something of their one precious spark of existence. Elsa would not stand idly by if she disagreed with something. Elsa was drive and resolve. The action, the movement, the refusal to sit still or waste a single moment, all of it appealed to Cole because all of it was so different to the senior officers he had encountered during the war, and the bureaucrats back in L.A. in their pressed suits, who sat around smoking and laughing and creating so little from so much. And, well… it was different to Marie.
And that was the key difference: Marie concerned herself with recipes and stitching, gossip and grocery shopping, errands that Cole needed to do, simple everyday things, and she thought the world was a simple, everyday place where things were exactly as they appeared and where the murderers were bad and the cops were very, very good. Elsa knew better. Elsa could pass through those illusions like she passed through smoke at The Blue Room, and emerge just as strong and real as ever, a woman who was not afraid to cut her own path and look life right in the face.
Once, after he had been with Elsa, Cole had considered returning home to Marie right then and admitting everything, even as the sweat of his infidelity dried on his skin. The guilt had set his hands shaking. But Elsa had come to him then, threaded her fingers through his, let her hair fall over his shoulder and kissed his neck. The edge of one of her fingers was cigarette stained and the whiskey they had shared was on her breath. The moment had passed. He stayed with Elsa, kissed each of her fingertips despite the cigarette stains and whatever hardships they had endured all those years, turned round to pull her into his lap, and together they made their way through the guilt and the wrong to find a small resounding place where things could only be right.
Cole Phelps knew there was nothing more beautiful in the world than a rule adhered to, but this was the one rule he had to break. There was wonder to be found in order and structure, a security that had supported him his whole life. Elsa taught him that there could also be wonder in mayhem.
When he kissed her lips he was rescuing himself. She was his saviour because she had come to him and had not denied him. She was his saviour because she accepted him when Marie no longer could. She was his saviour because each and every day he needed her strength, her love, her courage, so he could carry on and become a better man, to rectify the mistakes he had made.
If he could do that… all might be well. If he could erase the thoughtless errors of those warm scorching nights in Okinawa, the evils he had been forced to perform, and the evils he kept on performing even now. If he could return to a time when he did not need constant action and effort to occupy him. If he could reclaim his silence and his solace, and become Cole Phelps once again.
The Chichester Chapel stood tall and proud on the day of Cole Phelps' funeral.
"Swine! You belittle his memory!"
That woman was shrieking, tearing from the chapel, her shoes echoing like blasphemy off the high vaulted ceiling. In the front row, Marie squeezed her eyes shut and clenched tighter upon the hands of her daughters. She had to force the sobs to remain constricted in her throat. The harshest blow, the deepest burn, was knowing that she was here, so close by, the only one disrespecting all that Cole stood for, the one who had led him astray, too inebriated to see the hypocrisy of the scene she was making, and she was ruining everything, even his last moments of dignity, and worst of all, she was grieving for him just as Marie was, and she had absolutely no right. Did she have no shame? Openly mourning for a married man as his wife sat mere feet in front of her? Marie could do nothing. The disgrace crept up her cheeks and inflamed her throat. In the stifling silence after the woman's departure, Marie became aware of how still the girls were on either side of her, their small hands clutched in her own, as though they were afraid to move. Then the service resumed, a sense of normalcy returned, and she could open her eyes again.
Elsa stopped once she reached the exit, unsure of where to turn next. Deflated now, she leant against the mighty edifice of the chapel walls and shakily lit a cigarette. Biggs came to join her. She said nothing, but she did allow Herschel to place an awkward hand upon her shoulder as her eyes blistered with tears.
"Let me drive you home," he said.
She nodded in acquiescence. He went to start the car. Once the engine was running Elsa stamped out her cigarette and walked over, slipping into the passenger seat.
"It's over now," Biggs said as they drove away. "They can't hurt him any more."
"Oh no, Herschel. It will never be over. Every time the Vice boys take a bribe, every time the truth is hidden by corruption, it will be like they're spitting on his grave. They will never let his memory rest. His sacrifice will never mean a thing." She stared blankly out of the car window, finally too drained to hurt any more. "There will never be justice for a man as good as Cole Phelps."
As Marie looked on inside the chapel she felt like she was dead too, stone cold in that casket with Cole. He had been killing her slowly, she realised, for years. It had been like a disease: a tumour growing upon their relationship, sapping away all of the love and the hope they had once nurtured, mutilating them both in the process. It had left Cole an adulterer, and Marie a husk. She and the girls - they had all been at his mercy. And as he became a man she didn't recognise he had used that power to kill them all. It was cold blooded murder of the heart. Or perhaps, unbeknownst to Marie, he had killed them years before, without meaning to, without even realising he was doing it, in that faraway cave in Okinawa.
The service was over. She had not even been listening. Now people were shuffling to their feet, trying to hide their eagerness to leave this place of bereavement. Marie remained seated. She listened closely then, tried to hear the voice of Cole in her heart as she had once done, long ago. She remembered the young man she had married, proud, intelligent, who had left to fight for his country, and the tired, silenced man who had returned in his place. She listened for the memory of the man she had once loved. Marie heard nothing.
For Marie Phelps, there was no solace in silence.