By Brit Columbia
Pairing: Dee/ Ryo
Spoilers: To Volume 7
Timing: Set in June, a month or so after book 7 ended. Dee and Ryo recently became a couple in May. A New Day left off on Sunday night. This chapter takes place a few days later on Wednesday evening/Thursday morning.
Summary: Ryo is coming to terms with what it means to be a gay man in a straight world. He and Dee are also hunting the dangerous Lieutenant Abernathy...but who is hunting whom?
Disclaimer: I am not making any money for the writing of this work of fanfiction, nor do I own Fake or any of the characters created by Sanami Matoh. Andre is mine, however, and so are Jackhammer (John Hambler), Norman Gray, and Brian Webster.
Author's notes: Acronym help: An LEO is a law enforcement officer. A PO is a parole officer.
Thank you to the_ladyfeather, tripple_p, and shelly6441 for the beta help.
Justice, chapter 5: Prior and Prejudice
Previously in Justice: Dee and Ryo have so far been unable to get a warrant to search Lieutenant Mike Abernathy's apartment, and now they're meeting up with his street contacts so they can try to find out more about the Bad Lieutenant's illegal activities. In the last chapter, Ryo accidentally overheard Dee speaking with a male prostitute who expressed his low opinion of men who take a passive role in gay sex. Ryo felt upset with Dee for not defending the bottom's role more vigorously. Ryo is now evaluating what it means to be on the bottom.
"Wow, four messages from Jackhammer's PO," Ryo remarked, his first utterance after a silence of almost forty-five minutes that had lasted right through a hastily-eaten stand-up dinner at Mammoth Slice.
Dee took this as a sign that Ryo was ready to resume normal human contact. He had no idea what had triggered his partner's sudden bad mood earlier when they were walking around the East Village trying to find information on Ja Romeo, but he was used to it. Ryo seemed to have tides within him that ebbed and flowed in response to forces that were beyond Dee's understanding, despite the fact that he observed Ryo very closely most of the time. Dee couldn't think of anything he had said or done to piss Ryo off, except, of course, making them both late for work and getting them both screamed at by the Chief earlier in the day.
He looked at his watch. "Think the guy's still on duty?"
Ryo was already picking up the phone. "I hope so. Let's find out."
Dee's stomach growled noticeably and Ryo gave him a look.
"Oh, come on, it wasn't that loud," Dee protested.
"No, it wasn't," Ryo agreed. "But that was a jumbo slice of pizza we ate. I'm full. I can't believe you're still-- Hello, is that Norman Gray?"
Dee listened to Ryo's side of the conversation and concluded that Jerkhammer's Parole Officer had to be some kind of workaholic keener. Not only was it past 7:30 and the guy was still working, but he was also agreeing to Ryo's suggestion that they meet tonight. Obviously, he didn't have anyone waiting for him at home, or even a meaningful relationship with his TV.
Ryo hung up, and said, "We're in luck! He's able to meet us in about half an hour. This is great."
"Yeah, but we've got an appointment with Brian in half an hour," Dee said, looking at his watch again.
"Well, we'll have to split up then," said Ryo. "You go see Brian and I'll meet with Norman. We can trade info and discuss strategy on our way to the Bronx later."
"Oh, all right. At least I can have a muffin or something at Starbucks. Want me to get you anything?" Dee stood up and picked up his jacket.
"No, because unlike you, I have a normal appetite and don't need to eat like a family of six at every meal." Ryo reached out and jerked Dee's jacket right out of his hands. "And sit down. You don't have to leave for another fifteen minutes, and you haven't exactly done any paperwork yet."
"Dude, seriously! How much paperwork can I realistically expect to get done in only fifteen minutes?"
Ryo gave him a hard look. "Plenty. It's better to work on it here and there between appointments and calls, than to leave it all until eleven o'clock when you're tired and want to go home."
"If we're meeting Jerkhammer in the Bronx at ten, we ain't likely to be on our way home at eleven," Dee grumbled.
"Oh, you never know," Ryo said cheerfully. "We might get lucky. He might show up on time and tell us everything we need to know in the first ten minutes."
"Mmph. It's more likely he won't show at all." Dee yawned hugely. "Jesus, I'm tired. Thank God I'm off tomorrow."
"Detective MacLean?" The voice was a pleasant, mellifluous baritone.
Ryo looked up from the file he was writing in and saw an attractive auburn-haired man a few years younger than himself standing somewhat hesitantly in the doorway of the office. His guest was holding a hand up to shield his eyes from the shafts of bright light slanting in from the single window beside Ryo's desk.
"Yes, but please call me Randy," Ryo said with a smile. "You must be Norman Gray."
"Norm's good," responded his visitor, who seemed to be staring at him. There was a brief silence, and then he dropped his eyes, and to Ryo's surprise, blushed. "Nice to meet you."
"Please come in, Norm." Ryo hastily got to his feet. Maybe the young man was shy and needed a little encouragement, in which case Ryo could certainly relate. He also had to admit that it was nice, for once, to be in the presence of someone other than himself who seemed to have a blushing problem. Usually, he was the one sporting a pink face for no good reason.
"Here, you can sit in my partner's chair," he offered. "He won't be back for a while. Can I get you a cup of coffee?"
"No, thanks," Norm replied. "I'm fine. Please don't go to any trouble." He took the chair Ryo had offered and looked at him again. His hazel eyes were luminous and quite piercing.
Ryo blinked back at him, wondering why this guy kept looking at him in this rather disquieting way. Perhaps he reminded Norm of someone he knew. Well, there was no sense dwelling on it. The best thing to do would be to get down to business.
"Thank you for coming to see me tonight," he said. "I'm glad I caught you before you went home for the day."
"Me, too," said Norm a little too emphatically. "It was a close thing. I was just about to lock up when your call came in. But I've been wanting to connect with you. I understand you've found John Hambler."
"Well, not exactly...not yet," Ryo said. "We just got a number for him today and we've got an appointment with him in a couple of hours in the Bronx."
"The Bronx, huh?" Norm shook his head. "I knew he'd end up there. Listen, I'd like to get that number from you." He shifted in his chair to ease his Blackberry out of the pocket of his khakis, and Ryo's eyes couldn't help following the movement. He also couldn't help noticing that Norm had nice, narrow, athletic hips. Not as nice as Dee's of course, but-- he took a deep breath and forced himself to focus. What the hell was he doing, looking at this guy's body? What was the matter with him? To his dismay, he felt the warmth rising in his own cheeks.
Norm noticed. "You, too, huh?" he said ruefully. "But, you know, I've got this skin and this hair." He pointed at himself. "What's your excuse, Randy? You a closet redhead, or something?"
Ryo grinned at him, despite his embarrassment. "Maybe just at the cellular level," he said. "It's so annoying."
Norm rolled Dee's chair a little closer and peered at Ryo's face. "It's cute on you, though," he said. "I'd kill to have skin like yours."
"Oh! Er... um, thank you," said Ryo, suddenly feeling awkward. "What's wrong with your skin? Seems fine to me..." He looked politely at Norm's cheeks first, and then his chiseled jaw. A light copper stubble was beginning to show itself on the lower half of the other man's face, and it glinted in the rays of the setting sun. Suddenly, it seemed as though there was an edge of harsh brightness to everything in the office, including his guest, who sat there silently regarding him with that strangely intense gaze of his. Ryo blinked once and tried to return his attention to the business at hand. He wished Dee would come back.
"Uh, so, Norm," he began. "Am I to understand that you and John Hambler haven't been in contact recently?'
"That's right," said Norm. "He didn't show up for a meeting with me about two weeks ago, and when I tried to call him, the buddy he's been staying with said they'd had words and John had moved out. I've been trying to track him down, but I don't have too many friends in the Bronx."
"Well, I can certainly put you in touch with him," Ryo said, "but I have a bit of a proposition to lay before you first."
Norm leaned back in his chair, and Ryo figured he must have been feeling a little more relaxed because suddenly there was a hint of mischief in his eyes and a broad smile spreading across his face. It was a very nice smile, Ryo thought. It made Norm look younger and more approachable.
"Well, lay it on me, Randy," he said. "It's been at least six months since I received a proposition from a man who looked as good as you do."
Ryo's mouth dropped open in shock and his pen fell from his suddenly nerveless fingers. Not again!
"Oh, hey, kidding!" said Norm, raising both hands in contrition. "Sorry, if I offended you, there. You gave me the perfect set-up for that line, and I just couldn't resist." He looked genuinely chagrined. "Please forgive me. Man, my mom is gonna kill me when I tell her about this."
"Your-- your mom?" Ryo echoed, mainly because he wanted things to go back to normal as soon as possible and he couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Yeah, my mom. She says I scare all the good ones off by putting my foot in my mouth in the first five minutes." He shrugged and gave Ryo an appealing look of self-disparagement. "She's absolutely right, unfortunately."
"Well, er, it's fine," Ryo said. "No harm-- I wasn't-- I mean... don't worry about it," he finished lamely. Then after another pause, he blurted, "Do I, um, do I... give off gay vibes or something?" His face had never felt hotter in his life.
"No, Randy! You're very straight-looking and straight-acting," Norm said reassuringly, and then added softly, "I like that, by the way. It's just that I have a very highly developed sense of gaydar, particularly when I'm between relationships, which I am now." He gave Ryo an innocent look and said, "Just in case you were wondering, or anything."
"Oh...well, thank you for answering my question," Ryo said politely, not wanting to go anywhere near Norm's relationship status.
"Are you... sorta...new to the concept of being gay?"
Ryo couldn't look at him. "Yeah."
"In the closet, I take it?"
"Listen," Norm said. "If you ever have any questions about 'the life,' or want any advice, why don't you give me a call? I've been out since my third year in college, but I was closeted for the first two. I think I get where you're at."
Ryo looked at him, half-hopeful and half-wary, which made Norm break into that mischievous smile of his again. "Don't worry, I won't hit on you next time," he said. "I promise on my honor. And my mom's honor too, if mine isn't enough. Here, let me give you my personal cell number."
He moved in his chair again to fish a business card out of a slim holder he kept in his pocket, but this time, Ryo looked away. Norm then grabbed one of Dee's pens to scribble his number on the back before handing it to Ryo.
"You can ask me anything," he said sincerely. "Anything at all. I promise I won't laugh."
"Um, thanks," said Ryo, accepting the card and looking at it. "If I think of any questions, I just may, er, call you."
"Good! I'm a fount of information. Now what was that you were going to say about John Hambler?"
The man stood under a streetlight on Walton Avenue, taking quick, shallow drags of a cigarette while watching the street uneasily. Ryo assessed him with professional eyes as he walked toward him. John Hambler, AKA Jackhammer, was big, sinewy, and sallow-skinned, with a disfiguring scar on his chin. Just by the way he stood, it was evident that he had spent his whole life either fighting or running. He gave the impression of a man ruled by testosterone and adrenaline, and had almost certainly come to this meeting armed. Ryo guessed at least two weapons, possibly three. He wore a loose, beige shirt that was open at the throat, revealing part of a tattoo. He looked powerful and every bit as dangerous as his rap sheet had described.
"Mr. Hambler?" Ryo stopped about four feet from him and the two men looked each other over. According to John Hambler's stats, he was supposed to have blue eyes, but his eyes seemed to be twin pools of blackness in the half-light. Ryo wasn't sure if it was the darkness that had changed the color of his eyes, or whether he was on some kind of drug that had enlarged his pupils. Apart from the occasional car rumbling by, they were practically alone on the street.
"Who wants to know?" The cherry of the cigarette flared briefly as the man took his final drag. He flung it to the ground at Ryo's feet. Ryo ignored it. He ignored the question, too.
"Mike sent me."
"Huh." Jackhammer sized him up some more, and apparently found him lacking. "Another broken pig." There was a world of contempt in his voice.
Ryo stared him down, equal contempt evident on his face. It wasn't hard to suppress his native courtesy in situations such as these. It was because of men like John Hambler that he had entered law enforcement in the first place.
"Whatever. Let's get down to business."
"Let's get out of the fuckin' light first, pig." The big man moved backwards out of the circle of the street lamp. The mouth of an alley yawned darkly nearby, and the stench of rotting things wafted faintly from it. Ryo followed him grimly. He was glad that Norm had suggested he wear a wire. Dee was nearby, although not in sight. He didn't think this meeting would turn violent, but it was best to be ready for anything, especially if Hambler was tripping on something.
"What's your name, pig?"
"Mike doesn't want you to know my name. He just wants me to tell you about a job."
"Did Mike fix my fucking problem?" Hambler demanded of Ryo.
Ryo snorted softly, a sound of disdain. "Which one?" he asked, looking as though he knew about several. In fact, thanks to his conversation with Norm, he did.
Flat black eyes looked at him for a long moment. "Never mind. Obviously you don't know shit."
"I know about your warrant," Ryo said. "Mike has a talent for dealing with these things."
"What the fuck did he say? Did he fix it?"
"There's a price. He needs you to move some junk for him."
"Come on, now. You know there's always a 'next time'."
"Where and when?"
Ryo hesitated. "Tomorrow. We're a little understaffed at the moment. There's no one to bring it to you this time. You're going to have to go pick it up directly from Mike."
"What? What the fuck happened to Ali?"
"I have no idea. He doesn't tell me everything." Ryo shrugged.
"Well, where should I meet him?"
"He said you'd know. He said, 'Tell him to come to me.'"
"What? What the fuck does that mean?"
"It means he's under the impression you know where his stash is." Ryo knew he was on thin ice here.
Jackhammer shook his head and looked both suspicious and pissed off. "That ain't how he worked it before. He always leaves the shit in lockers or cars for us. Or he sends Ali. No one knows where his stash is."
"I do," said Ryo coolly. "And for some reason he thinks you do, too. But since you don't, I'm not going to be the one to give you the info, because those weren't my instructions. Pardon me. I need to check in with him." He got out his phone and pretended to dial a number. He hadn't pressed the fourth digit before Jackhammer whirled and sprinted away. Ryo swore and took off after him, stuffing his phone in his jacket as he did so. He didn't know whether Dee had seen Jackhammer go, but he knew he had heard it. "Northeast, Dee, toward I-95," he said as he ran.
Jackhammer was surprisingly fast and agile for such a big man. He shot straight across Walton avenue, narrowly avoiding being hit by a taxi, which was forced to stop suddenly in a skidding screech of brakes. Intent on his pursuit, Ryo vaulted over the hood with barely a glance at the driver and hit the pavement running. Hambler was athletic-looking and had long legs, but in Ryo's estimation, he had the kind of body that could put out powerful exertion for a short period of time, but wouldn't be able to keep up a sustained effort at the same pace. Ryo knew that all he had to do was keep his quarry in sight. He hadn't seen Dee yet, but it wouldn't be long before he appeared. His partner could run like a cheetah when he had to.
Hambler was pounding down the sidewalk about thirty feet ahead of him. The street was virtually empty, and not particularly well-lit. It was lined with large concrete buildings with high-set, barred windows riding whorls of graffiti. Ryo figured that since there was no crowd for Hambler to lose himself in, the man must have a destination in mind. It was possible he had planned out his escape route beforehand, and as Ryo was now gaining on him, it probably wouldn't be much longer before the big man reached some sort of safety.
They passed a couple of teenage boys who whooped and yelled encouragement to Hambler. Ryo retained a 360-degree consciousness of his surroundings as he ran, taking in information with all his senses. It was possible Hambler had friends out here, allies, even enemies who might be invested in the outcome of this chase.
They thudded past a dilapidated and abandoned sofa with springs sticking out and one of its cushions missing. Ryo could feel the stale city air, redolent with exhaust fumes, swelling in and out of his lungs, doing its weary best to supply him with oxygen as he hurtled along. Hambler was much, much closer now; Ryo could hear his labored breathing. He wondered if the man would stop and give up, or perhaps turn around and fight? Where the hell did he think he was going?
Then he saw it, dead ahead. A rectangle of light on the sidewalk, an out-flung steel door. There was a black-haired woman hovering beside it, her anxious eyes on the running men.
"Querido, más rápido!" she cried.
Ryo put on an extra burst of speed, even as Hambler did, too. If Hambler got through that door, it would lock behind him. He could run straight through the building and get out on any of the other three sides. He would be beyond their reach for that short time he needed, long enough to escape. Ryo was not going to let that happen. He called upon his leg muscles and his aching lungs for one last surge of power. Thank God he had returned to his Karate classes in the last few weeks-- even the short time he had been back had gone a long way toward whipping him into shape.
Hambler had maybe six feet on him. The door was looming. The girl had darted inside, probably ready to yank the door shut the moment her 'querido' was safely through.
Hambler was still maybe two car-lengths from the open door when Ryo's peripheral vision registered a sudden movement to the right behind a parked car. Dammit, more support for Hambler! He had planned out his route, all right. Ryo instinctively checked, got ready to tangle with whoever it was. It cost him the close distance he had laboriously gained between himself and his quarry, but before he could react, an object came hurtling from the car. It struck Hambler's lower legs and somehow got tangled between them. With a loud exclamation, the man stumbled and lost his footing.
He went down hard, taking the force of the pavement with one shoulder, rolling over and over. Ryo continued forward, leaping over the thing that had put an end to Hambler's long sprint for freedom: the missing cushion from the sofa they had passed. Ryo reached Hambler just as the ex-con rolled to a stop, his heavy-knuckled hand reaching under his loose-fitting shirt for the gun that Ryo had known from the outset would be there. There was no time to draw his own piece-- he went straight for Hambler's half-drawn weapon.
Practically right under his nose, a booted foot snapped out and kicked the gun against the wall. It was Dee, a dangerous grin on his face. He had both hands wrapped around his nine millimeter, which was pointed straight at John Hambler's head.
"Ryo, grab that girl," he said quickly.
As Ryo darted toward the open fire door, it abruptly slammed shut in his face. There was no handle, or any way to open it from the outside, which was what he had suspected. He settled for retrieving Hambler's gun before rejoining Dee. He kept half an eye on the door, however, in case the woman opened it again to offer her boyfriend more assistance.
"Well, well, if it ain't ol' Jerkhammer," Dee was saying, his hard green eyes on the gasping man on the ground. "What the hell are you doing out of Sing Sing? Last I heard you shanked a guy there for trying to make sweet love to you after lights out."
"I shanked a lot of guys, but none of 'em died and none of 'em squealed." Hambler replied in a breathless snarl.
"So you hung onto your brownie points and actually made parole," sneered Dee. "Lucky bastard. Imagine what a force you'd be if you were lucky and smart instead of lucky and stone cold stupid."
"Yeah, yeah, fuck you, too, dickwad."
"Face down, asshole." Dee glanced at Ryo. "Cuff him, bro."
Ryo did so quickly, knowing Dee would be covering both him and the door. The two young men they had passed earlier had caught up to them, but were nudging and muttering to each other at a safe distance. A bag lady and a bone-thin girl with 'junkie' written all over her were crossing the street to gawk at the unfolding scene. A passing car slowed down and its inhabitants shouted something indicating their deeply-felt lack of esteem for the police. Ryo's awareness of his environment remained finely-tuned and kept him poised for action as he efficiently frisked John Hambler for weapons, turning up a large Bowie knife with a ten-inch blade, and a zip-lock plastic bag containing cannabis. He was always on edge whenever he had to make a bust in the Bronx.
When Hambler was lying cuffed and helpless on the ground, Dee relaxed his stance somewhat, although he didn't reholster his gun.
"Okay, jerkoff, let's talk about that meeting you missed with your parole officer and the warrant that automatically went out on you for that. And maybe we should also talk about the piece and the weed."
"What's there to fuckin' talk about, pig? You got me, book me."
Dee nodded to Ryo to watch the street and the door. Ryo drew his weapon and stood guard, while Dee dropped into an easy crouch next to Hambler. "Well, you see, Jerkhammer, old pal, it don't have to be that way."
Hambler glared at him, waiting distrustfully. "Talk."
"We got bigger fish to fry than you. We're after someone you do odd jobs for. Give us a little cooperation and we can make your warrant problem go away."
"You think Mike's the only guy on the force who can pull strings? Our lieutenant is standing by to breathe fire all over your PO. Ten seconds on a computer and the right signature, and that warrant never fuckin' existed."
"You want Mike." Hambler said it without emotion, but his heavy brow was furrowed in thought.
"Yeah. And you're gonna help set him up for us."
"I got that."
"But right now, as of this moment, there's a blue warrant in the system with your name on it. You're down to exactly two choices. Back behind bars tonight, or back there later when you screw up again." Dee smirked nastily. "But hey, at least it's worth a few weeks of freedom, a few rolls in the hay with your little señorita there. And if you can keep your nose clean, you might even be able to head south with her when your parole is up."
"Johnny! Listen to him." The woman's voice came from behind the door, which sounded like it was open a crack. Dee didn't look. He knew Ryo had it covered.
"What I gotta do?"
"Get up, jerkoff. We're picking up an audience here. Let's go for a little ride."
Hambler struggled stiffly to his feet, without help from either of the two detectives. He looked around at the faces watching him. Some were angry, some were gloating, still others were distressed. He didn't give a shit about that. He just wanted to be sure that no one who knew Mike saw him leave with these two cops. It was fucking dangerous to cross Mike.
"This way, asshole. And don't pull any shit or I'll blow out your kneecap."
Behind them, the door opened wider. "Johnny!" an anguished voice cried.
"Get back inside, baby. I'll be back later," Hambler called reassuringly, although he was in no way sure about that. If these two cops expected him to pull miracles out of his ass, he might not be back later at all.
Behind Hambler's tall, hulking form, Dee winked at Ryo. Plan A had fizzled at the outset, but Plan B was working like ex-lax. So far, anyway.
It was past midnight when they finally returned to the 27th Precinct, and a different set of staff members was on duty. Ryo greeted Riz at the front desk and nodded to Ahmad who was tapping away on a keyboard near her.
"You guys on night shift again?" Ahmad asked.
"Nope," said Ryo. "We're just gluttons for overtime. We'll be knocking off, soon."
"Famous last words," muttered Dee, looking sidelong at his partner as they walked down the hall together. "Don't you have at least an hour of paperwork planned?"
Ryo sighed. "Well, I really should. But I've just done twelve hours of work on four hours of sleep, so I don't think I have it in me. Let's return the wire and get out of here."
"Amen. Want a ride home?"
Ryo hesitated for a moment before answering. "Sure. I hate taking the subway after midnight."
Dee thought he understood the reason for the hesitation. Ryo was probably thinking that if he accepted a ride, Dee might wrangle his way into the apartment and then into bed with him, and he was tired. But what Ryo didn't know was that he was tired, too. He wouldn't be making any passes tonight, but he still wasn't ready to let go of Ryo's company just yet. "Wanna go grab a beer or something before we call it a day?"
"No, thanks. If I drank a beer right now it would knock me unconscious."
"Mmph." Dee had expected that. "Hey, it's the end of our shift," he said, his mood turning mischievous. "Shall we return Abernathy's phone?"
"What?" Ryo had forgotten about that. "No. Too tired. Let's leave it for tonight. I'll talk to the Chief about it tomorrow."
"I'll take it home with me. I think I've got an old charger that'll work on it."
Ryo frowned when he stepped into their office. The light was on and he could have sworn he had left it turned off.
Dee walked past him to his desk, humming, and took his notebook out of his shirt pocket.
"Dee," Ryo said.
"Someone's been here."
Dee's tired eyes sharpened slightly. "You mean someone other than Sheldon and that trainee he's got in there with him?" They rarely locked their office when they went out in case one of the other guys needed one of their files.
"Where's Mike's notebook?" Ryo asked, his eyes everywhere.
"On me. Don't worry." Dee patted his inside breast pocket.
"Show me," said Ryo.
Dee took out the small, standard-issue notebook with its black cover, and opened it up to a page with Abernathy's name on it. Ryo felt a small measure of tension seep out of him.
"You think someone came in here looking for this?" Dee tucked it back into his jacket again.
"Among other things." Ryo was opening and closing drawers, checking that nothing was missing and trying to remember exactly what had been where. "But that notebook would be very hard to explain if it were found in your desk. Especially since your story about where you found the phone is so implausible."
"Yeah, well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. It's all about proof, dude. If he can prove I took it, he can say so. If not, it's slander."
"It won't be him, it'll be Siobhan. It's not slander if a defense attorney says it in a courtroom during a trial."
Dee shrugged. "Who gives a shit? Prosecution will object and it'll get struck down. I may not be as smart as Siobhan, but I know how far I can go. Besides, if this thing makes it to trial, Abernathy will have more to worry about than whether or not someone ripped off his phone."
Ryo stopped riffling through his file drawer and looked at him. "That's true," he said. "But so will we." He quickly looked back toward his files, regretting having spoken.
Dee sighed and sank down into his chair. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, babe. It won't happen for a while anyway. Not only do we still have to assemble enough evidence to actually nail the guy, but we're looking at a minimum of two, maybe three months from the arraignment to the first day of the trial." He reached out and squeezed one of Ryo's knees. "That means we have a certain amount of time to come to terms with whatever Abernathy and his lawyer wanna make of the whole gay angle."
Ryo nodded silently. He was terrified at the very thought of what may be said of him-- and asked of him-- in court. He would be under oath. The trial would make the news, and even if the particulars of his sexual orientation didn't wind up amongst the clips shown on national TV, everyone he knew and worked with in the NYPD would know. Pretty much everyone he knew in New York, too, since the local papers would all have reporters sitting in the courtroom every day that the trial went on. It would be impossible to remain in the closet after that.
"Don't think about it now," Dee said kindly, patting his knee to shake him out of his worrisome train of thought. "Just keep your mind on going home ASAP and getting some sleep."
Ryo wanted to say something brave and slightly sarcastic, but his exhausted brain couldn't come up with anything. Instead, he just nodded and pulled out a file marked TBL. The Bad Lieutenant. "Well, the file is still here," he said, more to change the subject than anything else. But when he flipped it open, he froze. "Uh-oh."
"These pages have been put back in the wrong order. Someone has definitely been poking around in our office."
"Thanks for breakfast, Ryo." Bikky was glad to see his foster-dad, even though he just sat there in his pajamas sucking up coffee with a brain-dead look on his face. "Um, you should maybe go back to bed after this."
Ryo just grunted sleepily in reply.
Bikky squirted ketchup liberally all over his scrambled eggs. A blob of it flew out and hit the tablecloth, but to Bikky's relief, Ryo didn't even notice. He furtively slid his plate sideways until it covered the blob, before he spoke again.
"Hey, did Aunt Elena call you back about the picture?"
"Hm?" His foster father's bleary eyes turned toward him and blinked slowly. Jeez, what a vegetable.
"Amt Elema," said Bikky with his mouth full. "The picture. What did she say?"
"Oh, the picture." There was a long pause while Ryo swallowed more coffee. "Yes, of course. Didn't I tell you? Sorry, B. The last few days have been so busy." To Bikky's annoyance, he lapsed into silence again, obviously thinking he had answered the question.
"What. Did. She. Say?"
"Huh? Oh, nothing because she hasn't seen the photograph. She's coming for lunch on Saturday. I'll show it to her then."
"Cool." Bikky was glad Aunt Elena was coming on Saturday. He liked her for a lot of reasons, not least of which was that she always slipped him some foreign candy when Ryo wasn't looking. She'd been doing it for years, and Ryo still hadn't caught on. Besides, he thought of her as family. She was the only aunt he had.
"More orange juice?" Ryo asked him, after failing to notice that his glass was still full.
"No thanks, I haven't finished my first glass." Bikky rolled his eyes at how clueless Ryo was being this morning, but then was struck by an idea. "Say, Ryo, can I have fifteen bucks for my school's grad party?"
"Grad?" Ryo looked confused. "But you're only in Grade 7."
"Well, we're having a sorta mini grad party, anyway," said Bikky, making it up as he went along. "Some of the girls came up with the idea," he added, "and the principal okayed it."
"When is this party?" Ryo got up and started shambling, zombie-like toward the bedroom, which was a good sign because his wallet was in there.
"I'm not sure," Bikky called to him. "Sometime around the end of this school year. Pretty soon." He knew the secret to a good lie was not to be too exact with your details.
"Find out for me, okay?" Ryo emerged from the bedroom holding money. "I only have twenties, so you'll have to bring me back five later."
"Sure," said Bikky, thinking As if. He put his last bite of scrambled eggs in his mouth and stood up, still chewing. "Did you make me a sandwich?" he asked, reaching for the money.
"Yes, it's in your book bag." Ryo blinked and then looked down at the twenty-dollar bill as it disappeared into Bikky's shorts pocket. "Don't forget to ask your teacher for a receipt," he said, a funny little frown appearing on his face. "I think it's a bit strange for a Grade 7 class..."
Uh-oh, doubts were popping up.... Time for a distraction. "Ryo," Bikky whined, "how much longer are you gonna be working second shift? 'Cause it gets pretty LONELY around here in the evenings." He made himself look sad, which wasn't that hard because it was actually true. It was weird not having Ryo around except for brief chats at breakfast. He even missed perv-man. Well, maybe that was going too far.
That woke Ryo up a bit and got him right off the subject of the party and the money. Bikky had to force himself to keep a solemn look on his face. Guilt was a powerful weapon.
"Oh, Bikky, are you really lonely? I guess you must be. Honestly, I think second shift is the absolute worst for family life..." His eyes were all big and anxious as he looked down at Bikky. "Maybe I could ask Mrs. Hershey from downstairs to come and spend some time with--"
"No, Ryo!" Bikky's eyes widened in horror. That was the last thing he needed, that old bat tattling on him to Ryo about his secret ultra-violent computer games and choice of TV shows. "I don't want her-- I'm just sayin' I miss you." He had to look away from Ryo's guilt-ridden eyes. "So, how much longer 'til you're back home again in the evenings?"
"Just until the end of next week," Ryo said apologetically. "Then I'm back on days again. Well, I hope so. They haven't posted the schedule yet." He looked worried for a second, and then a cheerful expression came over his face. "But, hey, I'm off on Friday and Saturday, remember? We'll have two really awesome dinners together then."
"Can we have French fries?" asked Bikky, pushing the moment for all it was worth. "And ice cream?"
"I don't know about French fries," said Ryo, "but we can certainly have ice cream."
"And no dorkhead?"
"Ah, well, I think he's probably going to be around on Friday..." Ryo trailed off, looking a little doubtful. "But Saturday, he has to work from three to eleven."
"Whatever." Bikky shouldered his school bag and fought down the urge to give Ryo a hug. Hugging was for little kids who got scared of the dark and still thought their parents were cool and powerful beings. "I'm outta here. Have a good shift tonight."
"Thanks. I'll call you later." Ryo came with him to the door and started to reach for him, but eel-like, Bikky slipped under his arm and ran the short distance to the stairs. "Bye Ryo! See ya tomorrow."
The phone rang shrilly, startling Ryo into wakefulness. He yelped, his limbs jerking, and almost fell off the sofa. For a moment, he couldn't understand what he was doing on the sofa at home. Wasn't he supposed to be at work? He looked at his watch. Almost eleven-thirty. The phone continued to ring.
He snatched it up, caring more about making it quiet down than he did about who could be calling him, but nonetheless found that he cared enough to check the call display. Oh good, it was Dee, and not Bikky's school. He had had enough bad-news calls over the years from Bikky's principal. He pressed the talk button.
"Hello Dee," he said, trying to inject a note of alertness into his voice. "How's your day off going so far?"
"Pretty damn good. Got lots done already. I woke up at ten and I noticed that the leftover sushi I had been planning to eat for breakfast had 'mysteriously' disappeared..."
"What? Are you serious? You can't have been planning to eat that! Not even you would risk food poisoning on your day off."
"See? You may have saved my life by throwing it out. Hmmm, I'm gonna have to think of some way to make it up to you. Anyhow, you'll be glad to know that my fridge actually has food in it now. I've just come back from the market. How are you doing?"
Ryo lay back against the cushions with a groan. "Well, after Bikky left, I sat down with some of Abernathy's phone records and before I knew it, I passed out on the sofa."
"Good, Ryo, I'm glad. You needed the sleep. Second shift always kills you."
"It's not my favorite shift," Ryo admitted. "It's not good for Bikky, either. He spends every evening alone--damn!" He clapped a hand to his eyes.
"What's the matter?"
"I wanted to cook something for him to heat up for dinner, but I didn't have enough time to get more groceries."
"What's the rush? You've got lots of time."
"Not if I'm going to meet Andre at one-thirty and give him a new phone! This was your idea, Einstein. What are we gonna do about that? I don't suppose you picked up a phone for him?"
"Why yes, I did, ye of little faith. It's set up and everything. Shall I rush over now and bring it straight to you?"
"Never mind that," muttered Ryo suspiciously. "You can just meet me at the precinct. It's on the way."
"Oh, the spy-cinct. How private. Are you sure? Perhaps it would be better if we met in front of Abernathy's apartment building. Or the IA parking lot. Unless you can think of a better place, of course."
"Dee," said Ryo in his best condescending voice.
"Ryo." Dee was equally condescending.
"Cut it out, Dee!"
"I'm not doing anything. You're the one who's half-asleep and confused. Now what time are we gonna meet and where?"
Ryo forced himself into a sitting position."Look, in order for me to be at the 51st street station by 1:30, I'm going to have to leave here at 12:45... at the latest," he snapped. "And you'd better damn well not be late."
There was a short silence, and then Dee said, "You mad at me again?"
Ryo closed his eyes and sighed. It was an angry sound. "No, Dee. I'm sorry if I sound irritable. It's myself I'm mad at."
"Why? Because of the groceries? That's not an insurmountable problem, you know."
"I know. I... I just wish I hadn't fallen asleep. It's bad enough that Bikky has to spend every evening by himself, but he doesn't even have a dad who's organized enough to get supper ready for him."
"Jesus, Ryo, he's not ten years old anymore. He's thirteen! It's time he learned how to cook, anyway. You could fix dinner for yourself when you were thirteen, right?"
"Yes, I had to. My parents were often away on buying trips. It was pretty lonely for me at times. I want it to be different for Bikky."
"Well, there's no reason why the brat can't learn how to cook a couple of simple meals, starting with say, soup and crackers. Independence never killed anyone. Besides, you'll be doing his future wife a favor!"
Ryo laughed suddenly. "I never thought of it that way. You're right, Dee." Then he winced. "But remember that time the fire department called me at work because Bikky had tried to cook French fries? I had to promise Mr. Lee, the building manager, that I would never let Bikky touch the stove again."
"Yeah, I remember. But that was two years ago. He's older now. He'd die of embarrassment if that happened again. Anyhow, I've got an idea about what you can give him for dinner tonight."
"Oh? I'm listening."
"I've got a hankering for sushi, so I'm about to head out to Sakura to get some. I could pick up enough for all of us. Whatever you and I don't eat for lunch, he can have for dinner. I know he's not crazy about raw fish, but I know he likes California roll. Does he like Philadelphia roll?"
"Is that the one with the cream cheese?"
"Yeah. It's got cucumber in it, and the California roll has avocado." Dee's voice turned cajoling. "This is your big chance to get not one, but two green vegetables into him."
Ryo laughed again. There were times, like now, for example, when he had feelings to sort out and wanted to keep Dee at arm's length for a while. But it was hard to make it work, because his partner was always plotting and scheming to get close to him. It could be annoying, but it was also strangely endearing. "Sure, Dee. Sounds like a plan. When can I expect you?"
"I'll be there around twelve. And don't worry, I'm not gonna do anything to make you late today like I did yesterday."
"Good," said Ryo.
"Because," said Dee suggestively, "there's tomorrow... for that. We're both off tomorrow."
"We'll talk about it when you get here," Ryo said. "I don't have much time. Remember, I have to leave at twelve-forty-five to get there by one-thirty."
"Okay, got it. See you in thirty minutes."
"I love you."
"I know. Hang up."
"Bastard." Dee hung up.
Ryo was in the bathroom brushing his teeth after lunch when he heard the unmistakable U2 tune. Abernathy's phone. He immediately spat his mouthful of foamy toothpaste into the sink, and rushed out of the bathroom, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "Who is it?"
"Abernathy himself." There was a sneer on Dee's lips and his eyes looked almost scary. "Shall I answer this time?"
"No! Let him leave a message. Messages are potential evidence, whereas conversations are more difficult to prove."
Dee looked disappointed, but assented. After another seven or eight seconds, the music stopped. "I hope this message is even more incriminating than yesterday's," he said.
"Give him a minute to leave one," said Ryo and returned to the bathroom to rinse out his mouth. He looked at himself in the mirror and noted that he still looked tired, even though his body had managed to grab a couple of extra and unauthorized hours of sleep on the sofa this morning. There had been altogether too much overtime recently. He wished things would settle down to a dull roar, but it didn't look like that was going to happen anytime soon.
He came out of the bathroom again and put the leftover sushi in the fridge for Bikky, while steeling himself to listen to whatever The Bad Lieutenant had to say.
Abernathy's second message in 24 hours was downright chilling.
"Laytner and MacLean, through the process of deduction, I have worked out that it is you two prancing ponies that are currently making free with my cell phone. I suppose you also have something to do with why I can no longer access my messages or my account details. All I can say is that everything you are doing is traceable, and when the details of your illegal and underhanded dealings come out into the light o' day, you'll be lucky to keep your badges."
"Our illegal and underhanded dealings?" repeated Dee indignantly. "Sometimes I think this guy has a multiple personality disorder! We'll be lucky to keep--"
"Quiet, Dee, I can't hear the rest of it. Play it again."
Dee pressed a button on the phone and they listened again, their heads close together.
"...light o' day, you'll be lucky to keep your badges. Have you even spared a thought for my son Tommy throughout this campaign of unfounded persecution you're subjecting me to? Our children are both innocent, MacLean, but I remind you that it's sadly all too often the sons who pay for the sins of their fathers. I'll leave you to ponder that, you vile monstrosity."
"Jesus!" exclaimed Dee. "That wasn't as much fun as eyeballs and grapefruits." He opened his mouth to say something else and then hesitated, looking at Ryo with concern. "He's warning you that he's gonna target Bikky unless we back off."
Ryo bit his lip in consternation. "This is getting serious, Dee. What the hell am I going to do? I can't lock Bikky up. He and I spend most of the day apart." He flung his hands up. "He's out there, alone right now, completely defenseless."
"No, he's not, he's at school, surrounded by people," Dee reminded him. "If it'll make you feel better, I think the first thing you should do is call Bikky's school and reassure yourself that he's okay. Doesn't he have basketball later today?"
"Yeah, at four-thirty."
"Well, call him. Tell him to go straight home and lock the door, or something."
"Dee, if I say that, he's going to be scared. And he'll be all alone at home."
"Are you gonna tell him about Mike's threat?"
"I don't know. I don't want to freak him out, but... on the other hand, I actually think he has a right to know." Ryo frowned in concentration as he sent a text to Bikky's cell. "I just don't know if he's old enough to handle it."
After a couple of minutes, the phone rang.
"Yo, Ryo." Bikky's voice sounded light and carefree. "What's up? I wanna get back to English class. It's actually fun today! We're performing skits from this play we read about Aladdin. Dave can't pronounce the big words and Jim has to play a girl's role. Everyone's laughing."
"Bikky..." Ryo suddenly felt bad for dragging his son out of his class. Perhaps he was overreacting. Surely Abernathy wouldn't harm a child. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah...Why?" Ryo couldn't miss the alert note that crept into Bikky's voice.
"Did anything strange or unusual happen to you today?"
"No. Why?" Bikky demanded.
"We'll, um... talk later, okay? Just do me a favor and go home with one of your friends after basketball. I'll send someone to pick you up after, how about that?"
"Ryo, just so I understand, you don't want me to go home after the game?"
"That's right, B."
"How come? Is there a bomb threat for our building or something?"
"No, I just don't want you to be alone, that's all."
"Well, in that case, how about I take a couple of the guys home with me after the game and we all order pizza?"
"No, B. I want you to be in a place where there's an adult or two. Can't you go home with Dave? Or Jim?"
"Ryo, you can't just drop this on me and then go all mysterious. I mean, what am I supposed to think? And how am I gonna concentrate on school? And my basketball game?"
"I'm sure you'll forget all about it once Jim starts talking in a girl's voice for the play," said Ryo with what he hoped was authentic-sounding cheerfulness. "It's no big deal, B. Don't be worried. Call me from whichever friend's house you end up at after the game, okay?"
"Hello? Bikky? Bikky? Are you-- ? Damn it." Ryo sighed and put his phone away.
Dee gave him a sympathetic look. It seemed like most of his partner's phone calls to Bikky ended the same way. "I notice you chickened out," he remarked.
Ryo's cheeks went a little pink. "I just couldn't tell him. What do you expect me to say? 'We think this guy is a murderer and now he's after you?' Dee, he's only thirteen years old. Hell, he was still twelve less than six weeks ago!"
"But remember, he's a pretty smart kid. A survivor, too. We already sort of discussed the possibility of Abernathy trying to get to you through the brat back on the day of Eddie's funeral, so the concept is not exactly going to come as a big shock to him. It might be better if you level with him. But it's your call."
Ryo looked at his watch. "I have to get going," he said. "After Andre, I have a meeting with the Chief. I can't start off the day late."
"Come on, then. I'll give you a ride." Dee hooked two fingers in Ryo's belt and pulled him forward a couple of paces. "But you have to give me a kiss."
"No, Dee!" Ryo pushed him away. "I can't think about kissing at a time like this. Besides, kissing before work always leads to trouble."
Dee didn't let go of his belt. "Okay, I'll settle for a friendly hug. I'll just stand here and do my best to vibe 'safe and non-sexy'."
Ryo relented and smiled a little before taking Dee in his arms. "That's the trouble," he murmured. "There's nothing about you that's safe and non-sexy."
Dee's arms tightened around him, and he sighed in relief and joy as he nuzzled Ryo's ear. "So, you see me as, well, dangerous and sexy, then?"
"Maybe just a little." Ryo stiffened and wriggled out of his arms. "Come on, let's go."
"Who's his PO again?" The Chief looked up from under his habitual frown, his pencil poised in one powerful hand.
"Norman Gray. He works here in Manhattan."
"And he's on board with your plans for Hambler?"
"Yes. He says he's willing to give us a week."
The Chief grunted. "It might take that long to get all your props together. Especially the car. Have you looked into that?"
"Not yet, Chief. I just got in, but I'll make inquiries this afternoon. Hopefully there'll be something suitable that's due to be auctioned."
"And if there isn't?"
Ryo smiled, hoping he was projecting confidence. "I still have some friends at the 51st."
"All right, I'll leave it to you."
"About Abernathy's phone, sir. Should we give it back?"
The Chief folded his brawny arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair. "Not just yet, I don't think," he said thoughtfully. "As far as I'm concerned, that phone is to be considered evidence, rather than personal property. It's the best break you guys have gotten on this case in weeks. No, I think we won't give it back unless Siobhan comes at us with a court order." He leaned forward again, and Ryo thought he detected a ghost of a smile. "A little stress, a little more pressure-- maybe Mike'll crack and start making mistakes."
"I hope so." Ryo clenched his right fist. "I sure hope that with Jackhammer's help we'll get enough to nail him in the next few days. I'm really worried about my son."
The Chief nodded sympathetically. "You sure you don't want to send him away to stay with someone? Your aunt, maybe?"
Ryo shook his head. "Not so close to the end of the school year," he said and then added, "My aunt's not even in the country right now. She's flying back from Prague tonight. I'll be seeing her on Saturday, then in less than a week she's headed for Marseilles for another shoot. This is a busy time of year for her."
The Chief shrugged. "Your call. But it seems to me that Marseilles would be quite a long way out of Mike's reach."
end of Chapter 5