Monsters Old and New
Chapter I: Trust
Rusty read the letter twice. It was brief, a single sentence written in a familiar hand.
Sharon watched him silently from behind her desk, her expression unreadable.
"Know that I didn't want to show you," she said at last. Her voice, too, told him nothing of what she was thinking. "But you would've found out sooner or later, and I—I... well, now you know."
There was the stutter, and there was the smallest of small hitches in her breath. Rusty glanced down at the letter once more, then took a second look at her face. She wasn't impassive, he realized. She was afraid.
And that, more than anything else, terrified him because he had never seen fear on her face. He looked away.
"What happens to me now?"
It had to be asked, though he dreaded the answer.
"You're going nowhere."
Rusty raised his head. She sounded almost firm enough for him to believe her. "I thought Emma would've—"
"I don't care what Emma wants," Sharon said bluntly. "I care about what you need, and what you need is to be kept safe."
"See what happens if anyone tries to take you from me."
The corners of her eyes lifted in the faintest of smiles. Not reassured, Rusty set the letter on her desk. He found he couldn't look away from it.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I never wanted any of this."
"Do not apologize." The vehemence in her voice took him aback.
"But..." Rusty smoothed the letter beneath his hands. "You didn't sign up for this."
"I've been doing this a long time, honey," she said gently. She reached across her desk to tug the letter from him. "You think this is the first—or even the worst—threat I've ever gotten?"
"Yeah?" he challenged. "Because you worked with so many murderers in internal affairs?"
Sharon slid the letter into a drawer. Out of sight was not out of mind, and Rusty breathed no easier.
"Yes, actually, I did."
"Really." She sounded almost amused. "What did you think I did?"
"I dunno." Rusty shrugged. "I thought you just, like, watched the other officers on the cameras or something."
Sharon actually laughed. It was strained, and she rubbed her thumb against her other fingers in that way she did when she was worried about something, but it was a laugh nonetheless. "That's not how FID works, no. We saw our fair share of criminals, too."
The lines around her mouth tightened suddenly, and the smile she offered him was strained. "It was only that the criminals and the police officers were often one and the same."
"I am fine," she said, in a voice he'd come to learn meant that she wasn't at all, and cleared her throat with her fist pressed to her mouth. "But none of that is really relevant now, and—"
"Why do you always do that?"
"Do what, exactly?"
"You make me tell you everything," he said. "Which, okay, I get it, and I know I should've told you about the letters and I'm really sorry about that, but—you never talk about yourself, not really."
She considered that a moment, arms folded. Then she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and said, "You really should have told me about the letters. You're right about that."
"But," she added softly, "it's true that I am private about many things."
"That's not fair."
He waited for a "you should know by now that life isn't fair" or maybe another "you are the child in this relationship". What he got was an, "Okay."
He stared at her in surprise.
"Contrary to what many people believed, I did not actually enjoy investigating my fellow officers. That was often very... difficult," she said. "But it had to be done, even if it was unpleasant. Occasionally, it was very unpleasant."
"That's all I get?" he pressed, when she didn't elaborate. "Come on, you have to tell me more than that."
She gave him a long look.
"I trusted, admired, and respected my FID officers," she said, and a look of unbearable sadness touched her face before she controlled it. "I also arrested my favorite detective for murder in the first degree. And that is all you get."
"That must've been hard," he said. He was still intensely curious, but there was a note of finality to her tone and he knew better than to ask again. Maybe someone else would tell him the story.
"Oh yes," she said, pursing her lips. "Back to the matter at hand, I have some additional... concerns about these letters of ours."
"That there were no fingerprints on them, you mean?"
"That, and..." She trailed off mid-thought, her eyes straying to the window overlooking the murder room.
Rusty twisted around in his chair to look too. It was a perfectly ordinary scene. Lieutenant Provenza worked a crossword and ignored Detective Sykes. Lieutenant Tao cradled the phone between his shoulder and his ear, typing furiously away at his computer and speaking to Detective Sanchez. Lieutenant Flynn was bent over his desk, and Buzz was in his corner with two computers in front of him.
He saw nothing unusual there, but Sharon's face furrowed in worry as she took it in.
"It's nothing," she said, but nothing in her voice reassured him. Her troubled expression deepened the longer she watched.
"You said you'd never lie to me, Sharon."
She winced. "I did, didn't I?"
"You did," he said. "So tell me."
"I trust these people too," she told him. "And I don't want to alarm you."
The edge of Sharon's desk dug into his forearms when he leaned forward. "Why? Did you figure something out?"
"This letter that I received—" She tapped her finger against the drawer she'd stowed it in. "It is postmarked the day I was informed of the other threats against you."
"I don't understand."
"So," she said, "I would very much like to know how our mystery writer knew to address this letter to me instead of to you."
"Oh," he said, and sat back in understanding. Sharon's gaze landed on the murder room again, and he turned for another look "You think that—"
She shook her head. "No. I don't believe it's one of them."
That did little to alleviate the sick feeling in his stomach. Rusty swallowed against it, but it only grew the more he thought on it. "You're sure?"
"As sure as I can be," Sharon said. "I believe we're looking for someone close to but not in this department, or someone in the district attorney's office and for whatever it's worth, I think the latter is more likely."
"You're not just saying that because you like everyone here?"
"No, I'm not," she assured him. "If nothing else, I can trust that no one here wants Phillip Stroh walking the streets a free man."
That, at least, he could believe, and Rusty felt marginally better. You had to know how to read people, doing what he'd done, and he'd learned to read everybody here. He'd learned to like them.
"So... what do we do now?"
Sharon surprised him by smiling. "Now Lieutenants Flynn and Provenza are going to take you to dinner."
He stared. "What?"
"There's someone I need to speak to after I leave here today. Until we get this sorted out, I want you close to me. And when that isn't possible, I want you with people I can trust to keep you safe. I told them burgers were fine, and to let you have as much soda as you wanted."
To his utter surprise, Rusty heard himself laugh, and he thought Sharon relaxed to hear it.
"You really think you can get to the bottom of this?" he asked her.
"If it's the last thing I do," she promised, rising. "If you make it home before I do, they'll wait with you at the apartment, all right? Don't let them talk you out of doing your homework."
He hugged her hard before he left, his arms all the way around her and his face buried in her shoulder. It was still strange, this sort of thing, but it was getting easier and Sharon held him tight.
Her thumb grazed his cheek when she released him, and she gave him a tiny nod. "Trust me," she murmured. "Now go and have a good time, okay? I shouldn't be too late, and you're safe with us around."
But was she safe with him around? That was the question that gnawed at Rusty as he left the station later with the lieutenants, and worry weighed like a stone in his stomach.
What will he do without you?