Mark threw his keys aside as he entered his apartment. He had thought for sure the apprehending of a drug dealer in the same apartment Johnny lived in would be enough to convince the San Francisco police department to start looking into Johnny’s assets. Instead he had been laughed out again.
“Didn’t you even test the DNA samples I gave you?” he had pleaded with his old superior, Sergeant Donahue. “Just check it against – ”
“Dammit, Mark, it came up negative,” Donahue had whispered, cutting him off. “And keep your voice down! I was supposed to have thrown your little zip-lock bags of ‘evidence’ in the trash as soon as you weren’t looking. If I had’ve been smart, that’s what I would’ve done.”
“There’s no way!” Mark insisted. “Are you sure – ”
“Sure as the lab geeks can be,” Donahue had interrupted again. Putting his hands on Mark’s shoulders, he had adopted a look of the utmost concern. “Listen, you need to drop this, Mark. I know it was hard on you, losing your partner, but this isn’t the way to go.”
“I can’t just let this go,” Mark shook his head. “You know I can’t. You know what that sick fuck did to Bailey.”
“I know,” Donahue had nodded. “And we’re doing everything we can to find that asshole and make him pay. But there’s no evidence that it was this Johnny guy that killed Bailey. And even if it was, this isn’t healthy.” Donahue’s hands dropped, his eyes sad. “We could use your help on this, Mark, but they’re not going to let you come back until you stop acting crazy. Go get some help or something, the department’ll pay for it.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Mark had sighed, before turning and leaving, ignoring Donahue’s protests to listen to him. “Sorry if I can’t take it.”
His bad mood had followed him out of the police station and into his car, like a storm cloud glowering above his head as he unlocked his apartment and stepped inside. He took the time to light some scented candles, hoping the smell of lavender would calm him down, before he flopped onto his bed, not even bothering to undress or get under the sheets, closing his eyes as he tried to block out the day.
The gentle light and sweet smell wafting over him, Mark managed to relax. His mind drifted as the apartment faded away, the idea of sleep settling in his body. The harsh, insistent beep of his phone, electronic and unnatural, shocked him out of his lull, shattering his calm and jangling him to total awareness. The apartment, all unsympathetic lines and angles, popped back into existence as Mark fumbled for the phone, groping blindly under the bed. Clearing his throat, he pushed the button to talk and pressed the white plastic phone into his ear.
“Hello?” he asked, still shaking the sleep from his voice.
“I miss you,” Lisa’s voice crept in a sultry tone, wrapping a tendril around Mark’s ear.
“I just saw you,” Mark replied, confused. “What are you talking about?”
“I just wanted to hear your sexy voice,” Lisa told him. “I keep thinking about your strong hands around my body. It excites me so much.” As Lisa spoke, Mark’s furrowed his brow, not sure what to make of her words. “I love you.”
“Is Johnny there?” Mark wondered aloud. There was no way Lisa was that daring, he hoped, but he shuddered to think of what might happen if his best friend knew.
“He’s…” Lisa hesitated a moment, “In the shower.”
A surge of adrenaline went through Mark. Lisa was being less than subtle, and there was a definite danger that her future husband might overhear. Mark was now fully awake and aware. “God, I don’t understand you,” he started slowly, hoping to dissuade Lisa’s needy tone. “Why do you do things like this?”
“Because I love you,” Lisa snapped. “You just don’t care, do you?”
“I do care,” Mark shot back. “But… We agreed. It’s over between us.”
“I understand, it’s our secret,” Lisa said softly, soothing. “But I still have feelings for you.” Now her voice was strained, almost crying. “You just don’t care.”
“God, I do care,” Mark groaned in annoyance.
“I have to go now. I’ll see you later, darling,” Lisa crowed, triumphant that she’d gotten that admission from Mark.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Okay,” Lisa whispered, cowed, “Bye.”
Sighing, Mark practically threw the phone down. All the things that had been bothering him, all the things that ran through his mind despite his best efforts – he’d almost succeeded in quieting them just long enough to fall asleep. And then Lisa had to call.
Lisa – her glittering green eyes, her bright smile, her zest for life… And her future husband. The images flashing between Mark’s eyes were now torn between two themes. One instant it would be Lisa’s body, sprawled over the spiral staircase in her condo, somehow melted into the steps and angles as if it were the most comfortable place in the world. The next instant it would be Johnny, and the last glimpse Mark had had of his former partner, Bailey.
Bailey had been Mark’s partner, but also his best friend. They’d each relied on each other, trusting enough to put their lives in the other’s hands, until the day Mark had received a call to tell him Bailey was dead. Killed. Murdered. One of the leads the two detectives had been chasing had whirled back around to bite him.
The crime scene was still imprinted on the backs of Mark’s eyelids, still haunted Mark’s dreams. Bailey, in a dumpster, stabbed in the gut so many times pieces of him were sluicing out. The fury of the crime was unimaginable, meant to send a message.
In the end, though, the message hadn’t mattered. Bailey and Mark had been the only one following that particular trail, and without Bailey’s eye for detail and ability to see connections no one else could, the trail went cold. Without Bailey’s faith in Mark, Mark had seemed like a lunatic, a mad dog bent on revenge and looking for the nearest target.
Gritting his teeth, Mark dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, trying to force Bailey’s end out of his mind. All he succeeded in doing was bringing back Lisa. Lisa, who brought his thoughts back to Johnny, who brought his thoughts back to Bailey.
Sleep would be impossible that night without some help. Mark got out of bed and padded into his bathroom. Without turning on the lights, going by memory, he swung open the medicine cabinet and retrieved three sleeping pills. He swallowed them dry before chasing them with a few generous swigs from the forty of whiskey sitting next to the sink.
“You’re free to go,” the officer growled, pulling the door to the cell open with a squeal. Chris-R looked at the cop with disbelief. The man had been glowering at the drug dealer all night – although, to be fair, his death stare had been returned by Chris-R. No one at the police station had any reason to trust or even like Chris-R. Why, then, was he being let go?
When Chris-R didn’t move, the guard answered his question. “Your bail’s paid.”
A few minutes later, the drug dealer’s possessions – minus, of course, his gun – had been restored to him and he was jogging down the steps outside the police station. The officer’s explanation had only raised more questions. Chris-R definitely didn’t have the money for bail, and he didn’t think he knew anyone who did. The only call he’d placed had been to his mother, to tell her he wouldn’t be home that night. He didn’t tell her where he really was. He couldn’t put her through that.
But that meant no one knew where he was. How would anyone know to post bail? he wondered as he walked along the sidewalk, a streetlight above flickering out. He still didn’t have the faintest idea as a car came roaring out of the darkness, screeching to a stop right next to him.
Chris-R barely had time to react before two men hopped out of the car, shoving him into the narrow alley he had been walking past. For the second time that day, Chris-R found himself held in the iron grip of two attackers, their faces hidden by balaclavas, but instead of being surrounded by clear air and empty skies, tall brick walls seemed to close in on him on either side. He kicked, his feet dragging through the trash strewn over the floor of the alley, as he was hauled behind a dumpster, out of view of the street.
A fist connected with Chris-R’s gut, knocking the air out of him. As the edges of his vision became tinged with black, the distinct sound of clicking echoed down the alley. Footsteps, Chris-R recognized. High heels. Struggling to hold his head up, he saw a pair of long, graceful legs, sheathed in a tight black skirt, come from around the dumpster.
“Oh, hi, Chris-R,” a sultry voice greeted him.
“Who…” he coughed, still trying to breathe. Finally lifting his head, he saw blonde hair and green eyes staring down at him with amusement before losing strength and letting his head drop. “Who are you?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Lisa giggled cruelly. “What matters is that you brought drugs to my home. That you almost got police interested in where I live.” She reached down, her soft hand under his chin, tipping Chris-R’s head up to look at her. “And I can’t have that.”
“Wh–” Chris-R managed before pain sliced through his stomach, so much sharper than the punch. The feeling intensified, although he didn’t think that was possible, as Lisa twisted the knife. Chris-R’s body shuddered as he spat up blood, his mouth opening and closing as he tried in vain to speak.
“Shh,” Lisa softly soothed him as she stabbed, again and again, into Chris-R’s torso, savagely ripping him apart.