Author's Note: Inspiration for this song comes from Bon Jovi's song 'Everyday' from the album 'Bounce'. The first album released by my favorite Jersey boys of Bon Jovi after 9-11, there's a hard, determined, angry edge to this song that is distinctly different from much of their earlier 80's pop anthems. the whol 'Bounce' album signified a divergence from their pop roots onto a more emotionally mature, thoughtful path that I've come to appreciate. If you haven't heard it, I definitely recommend you look it up.
Chain rattled. The thump of his fists against the heavy, sand-filled punching bag was loud in the quiet of the precinct gym.
Just the way he wanted it.
Mike Laskey punched the bag again, feeling the satisfying thump of his fist against the bag again. He normally didn't work out. Had never felt the need to. His blond, boyish good looks had earned him more than enough female attention, both from the women he wanted to go out with and those he just wanted information from—they either perceived him as cute or they perceived him as young and innocent, both impressions of which he took full advantage of, both in his personal life as Mike Laskey and in his professional life as Officer Laskey.
And in his third life as a member of HR.
For those who had met him in connection with his activities as part of HR, they knew that his blond, young, boyish good looks had been simply a front, a way for HR to present a seemingly innocent façade to their illegal activities to their protection racket. Mike had been the one most often sent on the monthly courier runs to Lower Manhattan, collecting protection money from the shopkeepers there. Most of the time all he had to do was walk in and they'd hand him the cash, and he could leave without doing more than flashing them a smile; a smile they knew had a dagger in it, a promise of violence if they didn't pay up. Not that HR would ever send Mike Laskey to enforce their shakedowns, their edicts; no, that was left to the crew Patrick Simmons commanded. Having uniformed cops also serving as HR enforcers reminded the shopkeepers that owed HR money that there was no point in calling the police to report a shakedown—because HR had cops in their pocket. No, Laskey wasn't an enforcer. He was simply a courier, and HR used his boyish looks as sort of a PR front.
And that was how it had started.
It had seemed innocent. Anthony Spezio, a guy from the old neighborhood that Mike had grown up with, had asked him to stop in at a small liquor store and pick up a paper bag from the shopkeeper for him, because he'd been tied up and couldn't go. Mike hadn't known it at the time, but he'd been watched by HR carefully for a couple of weeks prior to that casual call, sort of a job prescreening, if you wanted to call it that, and the whole thing had been a test to see if he would pass it.
And he, like the idiot he'd been, had passed. With flying colors. He'd done exactly what a good little courier was supposed to do; picked up the bag, never looked in it, never asked questions, gave it to his friend.
And a couple weeks later there was another request.
Looking back on it now, he'd been an idiot. Although it hadn't seemed like it at the time. It had seemed like a favor for a friend, nothing big, nothing important. Casual. Even the fifth time he'd been asked to play courier, when he'd finally gotten enough curiosity to actually look in the packages he'd been picking up and realized there was a stack of cash in there, more than he'd ever held in his hand in his entire life. He'd asked Tony Spezio, innocently, what it was for.
And that was when Tony told him about his work with a small subsection of officers operating within the police department, taking protection money from shopkeepers. "After all, there are a lot of criminal elements in the city. It doesn't hurt to have a couple of shopkeepers loyal to us, who we know, where we're safe to stop and use the bathroom while on a beat, have a cup of coffee ready on a cold night and it doesn't hurt that they offer us a little extra to respond just a little quicker if they have to call 911."
So safe. So innocent. And when Tony offered Mike a little of the cash in the bag, to purchase a new watch that Mike had been looking at in a jeweler's window but couldn't afford on a rookie Officer's salary, he'd taken it.
And that had been the beginning of a long, dark road.
When they'd told him they were assigning him to partner an officer named Carter, they'd explained to him simply that she had gotten close to exposing them, was threatening their cashflow and their organization, and it had been Anthony Spezio who'd said it. Loyalty to his childhood friend won out, and he'd agreed to watch her, to keep HR informed of her movements, her activities.
She'd been defensive, even slightly hostile, when he'd first met her. It wasn't a secret in the department that she'd worked her way from rookie to officer to detective, and been broken back down to start the climb all over again. The reasons she'd been broken, however, were a secret to everyone but HR's personnel. And Mike. So he'd watched, and kept them informed—but at the same time, he'd been at first quietly surprised, and then later admiring of her tenacity. She held her had high, marched through her day without letting the snubs and attitude that the rest of the cops in the Department showed her at having been broken, and continued to do her job. She hadn't given up.
Then came the night at the bar. And that had been an eye-opener. He'd thought he'd planned it out so neatly—the proprietor was a member of HR, could back Laskey up with the weapon stashed under the bar table. But Carter had somehow turned the tables on him, had turned him into her eyes and ears into HR. And because she'd been pumping him for information on what they knew about her, he'd had to start asking questions, keeping his eyes open.
He'd thought he could handle it. Thought he could feed her just enough about HR to keep her off his tail and still feed information about her back to HR—to Simmons, in particular. Simmons had a major hard-on for her. Hated her with a passion. He grilled Mike on a regular basis about what she did, who she saw, and in particular, her dealings with the Man-in-the-Suit. For a short time, Mike had even enjoyed the double-game—he saw himself as a kind of double agent, like in the spy novels he'd read and loved as a kid.
But the more questions he asked about HR, the more he came to see that it wasn't as innocent as he'd thought. He learned things he'd rather not know. In the process of finding out what Carter wanted to know, he started seeing things that he didn't like, things that didn't sit well with his conscience, poor little tattered rag that it had become. Little things that nagged at him, bothered him. Things he wished he didn't know but no matter how he tried to ignore, nagged at the back of his consciousness. And so when Mr. Juskiewicz had told Mike he didn't have the full amount, Mike had cut the guy a break.
He hadn't expected Patrick Simmons and Tony Spezio to show up at his door and practically drag him out to Mr. Juskiewicz's store. Had been completely paralyzed as he watched two men he'd considered to be his 'friends' beat up an old man, break all his fingers, and then cut one off. He'd been completely unable to do anything, unable to figure out what to do as this evidence of HR's true ugliness was revealed to him in all its grotesque glory. Had been unable to ignore the blackly rotten corruption called HR after that, as he'd finally had no choice but to believe what he'd been trying not to see since Carter had suborned him into being her double agent.
When he'd gotten into the car the morning after, he hadn't intended to tell her what he'd seen. It had just burst out of him. During the time he'd ridden with her, partnered with her, he'd been trying very, very hard not to see that she was a good cop, and a good person, in every sense of the world. She treated everyone, from the homeless guys on the street on up to the detectives who had formerly ben her colleagues and were now her superiors, with respect and consideration, no matter how badly they snubbed her and treated her after her demotion. She always had a kind word and a smile, but she could also be fiercely protective and ruthless in defense of him and whoever needed her help at the moment. He still remembered her stopping another beat cop from kicking a homeless man lying passed out on the pavement one cold night. He'd watched as she put handcuffs on him and arrested him for public intoxication, but then instead of bringing him back to the precinct, she'd stopped at a homeless shelter, uncuffed him, and took him in. When she got back in the car she'd looked challengingly at him, daring him to disagree with her, but he'd just shrugged.
He hadn't told her—hadn't had the courage to tell her—that he agreed with what she'd done.
And the Man-in-the-Suit—he'd overheard one of her phone conversation once; she'd called him John. A little bit of information that Laskey hadn't seen fit to tell Simmons—he'd made an excuse to himself that there were millions of people with the first name 'John' and that name wouldn't help Simmons at all. But the real reason was that he'd seen what Carter was doing; when she hit a brick wall that legal means couldn't achieve, she'd call 'John' and later there'd be a piece on the news about some violent crime having been prevented. She had connections outside the department just like Mike did—but her connections saved and helped people, where his—just did the exact opposite.
And so the story about Mr. Juskiewicz had burst out of him that morning.
He'd expected her to twist a verbal knife into him. Expected her to say 'I told you so'. But instead, she'd listened. Had shown him sympathy. Hadn't hurt his feelings any more than he already was hurting. When he'd said "I don't know who I am anymore," he had said it more to himself than to her. He hadn't expected her to view it as a plea for help, for advice. He'd realized, that night at the store looking in frozen horror at Mr. Juskiewicz's freshly-severed finger, listening to this man he'd known all his life screaming in pain, that he was in way over his head.
But instead of saying something cutting, which he fully expected (and fully deserved), she'd given him a piece of advice he still remembered—and would never forget. You can't deny who you are. You can't just shut off a part of yourself to satisfy the people around you. If they can't accept you for who you are, all of you, then it's time to find some new friends. And that was when he'd realized that nagging bit of discomfort he'd been trying to ignore was his conscience, and she was right, he'd subsumed that part of himself because his 'friends' in HR found his conscience to be 'inconvenient' for them.
He'd deliberately ignored a lot of his 'friends' calls after that. Hadn't wanted to talk to them. Wanted to get himself out, but he didn't know how. He didn't want to be a double agent, didn't want to play this game between Carter and HR. More importantly, he didn't want to play HRs game. Not anymore. And that resolve had been solidified the night at the piers, when he'd stepped into the shipping container that reeked of human waste and confronted fourteen terrified children.
He stopped hitting the bag. He wanted out. That was it. But HR wouldn't let him out. Their retirement policy—well, Carter's ex-boyfriend Cal Beecher had been an example of that. And Laskey didn't want to die. Maybe he should talk to Carter. He was positive she'd help him, get him out. And in return, he would tell her everything. Give her everything he knew. Like who was at the top of HR's hierarchy. He didn't want this anymore. He wanted a real life, a long one, with everything life would have to offer. And he was not going to find that with HR.
He heard voices in the hall outside the gym, and stopped moving. He was the only one here, and he didn't want anyone asking why he was here this late at night—it was nearly midnight. He crossed the gym, switched the lights off, waited in the dark and the silence for the voices in the hall to go way.
But they paused just outside the gym door. "So the last of the requested items are being moved into the safehouse now?" Laskey recognized the voice. Patrick Simmons.
"Ropes and tow chains. The car battery and the jumper cables are already there. Hey, you think it would be easier to just have the beams for the cross taken there, let Walker make that cross for the cop bitch the way he wants it?" And Laskey nearly gasped. Detective Robinson. But…Tony Walker was dead. The entire department had been talking about it since it happened. Walker had died in the hospital, on the operating table having a broken collarbone repaired so he could stand trial. Walker was dead.
"Ssh. Not so loud." Simmons. "Remember, he's Wesley Langford now. Per the deal we made with him, he has a new identity. Wesley Langford."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. Okay. As long as he keeps up his end of the deal, takes Carter out. Been a pain in my ass. Wish I could be there to watch her scream."
In the darkness of the gym Laskey clamped a hand over his mouth to stifle his gasp of shock and revulsion—and to keep himself from vomiting. He'd seen what she looked like when she came to the precinct for a visit after coming back from the Catskills, before she'd been cleared to return to duty. Bruised. She hadn't even been able to walk without pain. She'd limped into the precinct to drop off her report; for God's sake, she'd been beaten to within an inch of her life. Tortured. And Robinson… Robinson wanted to see that. Watch that.
No matter how much Laskey hated someone—and right now that person was Patrick Simmons—he wouldn't be able to watch as that person was beaten. Not even Simmons. And Joss Carter—was doing her job. Being a good person, and a good cop. She hadn't deserved what happened to her. And she certainly didn't deserve Simmons and Robinson sending Tony Walker after her again. Laskey didn't think she'd survive it a second time—not even with the Man-in-the-Suit's help.
"He asked for something thicker than roofing nails this time. Think he wants to do more damage to her hands this time." Robinson was snickering.
"Get him whatever he wants. Go back to the railyard and pick up a couple of railroad spikes. That'll satisfy him. Those will crush the bones in Carter's hands, do some real damage. Not that she'll be using her hands again—or doing anything again when he gets done with her this time." Simmons was dismissive.
"Okay, I'll do that." And that apparently ended the conversation; seconds later the echoes of their footsteps were gone and Laskey was alone in the silence of the gym again.
No. Not Carter. She hadn't deserved anything that had happened to her, and right now Laskey was the only person who could prevent this from happening. And he had to do it. No matter what it cost him, his job as a cop, even his own life—he had to stop this from happening.
And the only person who would believe him was Joss Carter herself—and the only person who could keep her safe was John, the Man-in-the-Suit.
They'd know about it. Laskey would tell them. Laskey would tell them everything. No matter what it cost him personally, he had to keep this from costing Joss Carter everything.