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The Crooked Line

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*** 

He took the entrance to 93 too fast and the Ford rocked, her right wheels meeting air then landing with a jolt. “Fuck,” he muttered under his breath as the groceries he’d picked up spilled all over the seat next to him, then, “Fuck,” because—

Well, just because.

***

He missed the turn. He missed the turn and had to go three miles out, three miles back, swearing all the way. Next time they did this, if there was a next time, he was gonna pick the place. No more driving to the goddamn countryside when the city would do just as well.

And then he remembered what Costigan had been through, what he’d done for the department and he swore again.

 

***

In the light of day, the motel looked dumpier than Sean remembered, if that was even possible. Someone had taken a few shots at the neon sign and the ‘y’ in ‘Sunnyside’ was hanging upside down. Even the parking lot had seen better days—the asphalt was full of cracks and those cracks were full of weeds.

Sean pulled in and stopped in the middle of the lot. No reason why he should be nervous—no one from the department knew he was here, he’d made sure of that. But recent events had set his paranoia meter on high and he couldn’t help himself.

He craned his head—the manager’s truck was in the shade on the far side of the office. A dirty Subaru was parked in front of the first unit. Both had been there the night before and the fact that it was three in the afternoon and past check out time just meant that whoever owned the car was staying a couple days, not waiting for his return…

Not believing his own assurances, Sean stayed put until he was positive the blandness of the place wasn’t a lie and no one was gonna come storming out from all corners, weapons drawn. Then he swung into the parking space in front of unit 12 and cut the engine.

He got out. The motel was so still—not the peaceful kind of still, but the dead kind, where it was hard to imagine life ever taking place. There were no birds chirping, no people in sight. The only things moving were the occasional car that sped by and the rustle of trees nearby. It gave him the creeps and he touched his weapon for comfort as he reached for the groceries. Food stuffed back into the flimsy plastic sack, he got out and went to the door, looking around one more time. He was sweating he realized, which was weird—it was only May and not all that hot.

He didn’t knock. He used the key the manager had given him the night before and was inside in a flash with the door closed and locked just as fast.

The room was pitch dark and smelled of mold and too many bodies, typical of joints like this. Sean couldn’t see much and at first he thought it was empty. Then he saw him. Curled under the covers but so slight he made only a vague impression. It was an illusion, like so many of his other characteristics because Costigan wasn’t slight, not by a long shot. Six feet with a set of pretty good muscles under all that pale skin—Sean had firsthand experience with those muscles, with those fists.

Feeling like he should tiptoe, Sean set the groceries on the dresser and edged around the bed. The kid didn’t wake up. Hell, he didn’t even move. How he’d ever made it a week in Costello’s crew, Sean couldn't figure.

Queenan, though, had always argued for Costigan, saying that he was tough, that he’d had to have been, else he would’ve long since broken. What with his upbringing and all.

It was the one of the things they’d argued about when they’d decided that the only way to get Costello was to plant a mole. Sean had said Costigan was damaged and would go the way of his uncle. Queenan had said, no, that Costigan's main influence had been his mother—she’d keep him on the straight and narrow even if she knew nothing about it, even if she was already dead. Sure he'd been right, Sean had kept tabs on Costigan for a month before grudgingly deciding that Queenan had been the one in the right.

The memory didn't make him happy and he frowned it away, then looked at his watch. He hadn’t planned on staying, but now that he was here, it felt weird, leaving so soon. Like he owed it to the kid to see if he was okay, to see if the head wound was as godawful as it had looked not twenty-four hours ago.

He reached out, but Costigan sighed heavily, his hand falling free of the covers. Sean stared at Costigan's palm, the way it curved up like it was waiting for his own. He muttered a low, “Fuck it,” then turned and left, making sure the door was locked.

***

He got home at five-thirty. He kicked his door open, kicked it closed, then headed straight for the kitchen to get a beer. He wandered out to the dining room and was taking that first fantastic sip when he noticed that Mrs. Darby’s cat was sitting on his ledge. Again.

“Get the fuck out of here,” he said without any heat. The damn cat had taken to visiting at odd hours, even coming inside when he left the window open, and he was almost used to its presence. Not that he was going to admit that to anyone else, anytime soon.

He debated dinner or shower, decided on dinner, then ended up under the shower anyway, scrubbing away the fucked up day.

***

Dinner, as usual, was the ready-made variety, heated up in the microwave. Sean didn't wait for it to cook fully before getting it out and that was as usual, too. He tossed the plastic tray on top of the papers and mail that littered the table and then sat down. turned on the TV in the same motion. Multi-tasking, he turned on the TV while he peeled off the plastic encasing the meal. He poked at the red lump with his finger. It was supposed to be meatloaf but looked like anything but, and he was thinking of ordering out when the news came on. He sighed and began to eat.

The first two news reports were the usual crap—the war in the Middle East, a population unhappy with the current political climate. The third, however, was the segment he’d been waiting for and he turned up the volume. The news anchor started off with the sob-story bullshit: three officers killed in the line of duty, justice being served, yadda, yadda, yadda. Then they showed the bloody crime scenes and down at the bottom in a row, the police academy photos.

The anchor spent the most time on Costigan, citing his bravery, his sacrifice. How his injuries were so severe that a closed-casket funeral had been necessary. While the anchor was blabbing on, they enlarged Costigan's photo until it filled the screen—he gazed out serenely with those clear blue eyes of his, as if he knew a secret and wasn’t about to tell.

Sean snarled and turned off the TV, then threw his mostly-uneaten dinner in the trash. He went to bed soon after, way too early but too damn tired for anything else.

***

The next day, he almost managed to go the whole morning without thinking about Costigan. It wasn’t that hard—there was the fallout from his pretend resignation and the faking of Costigan’s death—all the lies kept him on his toes. But sometime after two, he gave Ellerby a weak excuse of a meeting with Queenan’s widow and found himself on the road, heading north.

This time the sack held clothing. Bought after a quick pit stop at Walmart, along with a few other things he thought Costigan might need, he’d had to guess at the sizes. They were probably going to be too big because it wasn’t until he was walking out of the store that he remembered that Costigan had lost a lot of weight in the last year. Sean thought about turning around, then decided buying clothes for a man who no longer existed was crazy enough and kept on going.

***

When he pulled into the Sunnyside lot, the Subaru was gone. Instead, there was a beat-up mini-van and a sky blue Chevy parked near the office, and a dusty, late-nineties black Ford down by the other entrance. Sean's heart jerked in his throat when he saw the Ford—Costello had two just like it.

He put the car in reverse and hit the gas, backing up behind the far end of the motel until he was hidden from view. He got out and crept up to the corner and peered around.

There was no one around and he didn’t hear any shouts, cries or shots. That didn’t mean anything. Costigan could be in there, dead already, and there was nothing Sean could do about it.

Sean waited for a long, tense moment before reason set in. If anyone had popped Costigan, they’d hardly wait around for the cops. And why would they park a hundred feet away in clear view of the office and anyone who happened by? Sneering at his own over-reaction, he shoved away from the wall and stomped to room 12. This time, he knocked.

There was no response and he was getting ready to pound on the cheap wood when the door opened.

Costigan peered out, keeping the door between them. He glanced around, then stepped back so Sean could slip in.

Unlike the day before, the overhead light was on. It didn’t make the room look any better. In fact it made it look worse. “What a dump.”

“Yeah, well you picked it, so what does that say about you?”

Sean turned. Costigan was still standing by the door, hands stuck in his pockets. His voice was scratchy, like he hadn’t used it in years or like someone had spent an hour trying to squeeze the life out of him. His face didn’t look any better; there was still blood on his cheek, his neck. The head wound, though, looked really bad under the bloody bandage and he wondered if Costigan would make a stink if he told him to go to the hospital. Probably yes. “You complaining, sweetheart?”

“Not yet.”

“Good, because I stuck my neck out to get your ass outta there, so I’d be a little more grateful if I were you.”

He expected a lunge across the room or a quick retort, sharp and full of anger. Something like, ‘Yeah, and I gave up almost two years of my life for you, you goddamn bastard. All that for a crook you already had on the payroll.’

Which would be nothing more than the truth but Costigan didn’t lash out; instead he huddled deeper into himself and asked, “What’s in the bag?”

Sean looked down. Somehow he’d grabbed the sack of clothes and was holding it, the plastic handle wrapped around his fist. He tossed it on the bed. “A change of clothes. You smell.”

Costigan walked to the bed and looked at the bag like it was a snake.

“Well, go on,” Sean muttered, “don’t thank me all at once.” When Costigan still didn’t answer, he scowled and strode to the door.

“What about my money?”

Sean froze, hand on doorknob. “If it were up to me, you’d get nothing. But,” he added reluctantly, squeezing hard, wishing the doorknob was Costigan’s neck.  “It ain’t up to me.” He turned back around.

“Queenan's dead.”

“Yeah, he is but he'd have my balls if he knew I welched, so…” Sean shrugged as if that said it all.

He didn’t know what his voice had given away but Costigan shot him an appraising look as if he'd just spilled his guts and started weeping and moaning. Fuck him, anyway. “There’s a throwaway cell with the clothes," Sean growled. "I’ve pre-programmed a number in it. Call me in two days and I’ll tell you where to pick up your money.” He threw his key at Costigan and wrenched the door open.

“Sergeant?”

Sean didn’t turn around. Down by the office, a Chinese family was piling into the mini-van. “Yeah?”

“You and Queenan were right.”

“About?”

“Me being a cop. I’m not a cop.”

Sean nodded to the parking lot, nodded to the little girl who was watching him as her mother put her in the van. “Yeah. You’re not.”

He left without another word and it wasn’t until he was back in the car on his way home, that he realized his answer had stuck in his throat and he said it again to nobody in particular, “Yeah, you’re not.”

 

***

It wasn’t two days. It was five. Five long days that Sean didn’t notice were long until the evening of the fourth. He was finishing up his paperwork when he realized he’d taken his cell out and was touching it every so often, like that would make it ring, like he was waiting on a call from a pretty girl. He threw his pen down in disgust and then gathered up the crap that covered his desk and put it all away.

He left the building, ignoring the 'goodnights' thrown his way, intending on going straight home. He ended up driving to the Sunnyside, instead.

This time the night manager wasn't a him, it was a she, an older women wearing a sleeveless top that was fraying at the collar. Sean asked and the women replied, saying she was sorry, but the man in room 12 had checked out almost five days ago and no, she didn’t knew where he went.

The woman's brown eyes were flat and opaque in the blue fluorescent light and Sean wanted to swear at her for her lack of observation. And then he remembered why he’d pick this particular motel in the first place and just thanked her and got back in his car.

***

He was shaving the next morning, still half asleep because the fucking cat woke him at three, when he heard an odd sound—half ring, half buzz. It took him a second to figure it out and he was out of the bathroom, across the bedroom, diving for his jacket. He flipped the cell open on the fifth ring and barked, “What the fuck you think you’re doing? I told you two days! Two fucking days!”

There was a short pause and then Costigan said, “You always this cheerful in the morning?”

Costigan's voice was calm and clear, sounding better than he’d sounded in a long time and Sean’s swift anger amped up. “Fuck you, you Irish prick. This isn’t a game. You want your money, you do what I tell you to do. You got that?”

“No.”

“No?” Sean kicked the bed frame—with a screech of metal on wood, it slid a few inches. “No?”

“No. I’m not a cop. Not anymore. You can’t tell me what to do.”

“Yeah, you’re not a cop. Which means you’re a private citizen. Which means I can haul your ass in anytime I like.” He jabbed his finger in the air, wishing Costigan was standing right before him so he could jab him as well.

“If you’ve got something on me that’ll stick, you mean.”

Sean slumped down on the bed and fell back. There was a new water stain on his ceiling; it looked a little like the portrait of the Virgin Mary his grandma had hung in her bedroom. “That’s the least of my worries, princess. I told you—I’ve got a half a dozen charges waiting. One of them will stick.”

“Then why am I not in jail?”

Sean ignored that, muttering instead, “You being a private citizen changes nothing.”

“Yeah, it does.” There was a short pause and then Costigan asked, “So are we done?”

“Done with what?”

“You threatening me. Me threatening you. That whole fucking bullshit.”

Sean rubbed his temples, suddenly tired as if he’d missed an entire night’s worth of sleep and not just a few hours. “Where are you?”

“Nowhere special.”

“You heading back to North Shore? Pick up where you left off?”

He didn’t bother to keep the contempt out of his voice, but Costigan just answered evenly, “No.”

“They done with you?”

It was Costigan’s turn to ignore him. “What about my money?”

“Maybe you should’ve been a little nicer to them, maybe done a little more ass kissing. It’s probably not too late.”

“Dignam—”

“Yeah, all right.” Sean sat up. “It’s in a locker at Logan. All you gotta do is go pick it up.”

“Where’s the key?”

“I put it in an envelope and left it at your old place.”

“Jesus, Dignam! I can’t go—”

“Sure you can. You just sneak in. You’re good at that.”

There was a long pause, then Costigan said quietly, “You mess around with the money?”

His anger was back. “No, I did not. As far as I’m concerned, once I hang up this phone I’m done with you and I don’t ever want to see your face again.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“Stay away. I mean it. I don’t want to have to do any explaining about your miraculous rise from the fucking dead.”

“Okay.”

This time the pause was uncomfortable but Sean couldn’t make himself hang up. He could hear Costigan breathing, soft ins and outs, and he pictured him standing there in a phone booth, shoulders hunched, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes.

He looked at his watch—he was going to be late. By at least a half hour. “I gotta go.”

“Okay.”

“Have a good life,” Sean said sarcastically.

“Some best friend you are,” Costigan muttered, just as sarcastic. Then he hung up and all Sean was left with was a dial tone.

The fucker.

 

***

After that it was business as usual. Other than a bit of breathing room before the next scumbag took over, Costello’s death hadn’t changed much. There was still the same drug running, the same murders. It was less focused, yeah, but bodies still washed up on the shore, shootings still happened.

Within the month, Sean was assigned permanent duty under Ellerby which pissed him off no end. After a futile argument with his superiors, he went out that night and tried to drink the ‘promotion’ away, pondering his options, knowing there weren’t many. Not if he wanted to keep moving up, if he wanted to stay in the city. Besides, he loved the job and he was damned if he was gonna let someone like Ellerby drive him away.

So he smiled tightly when Ellerby made one of his stupid jokes. When he had to stand to the side and listen to one of Ellerby's inspiring speeches directed at his starry-eyed toadies.

And eventually, so slowly he didn’t even realize it was happening, Sean grew to like Ellerby, just a little. Ellerby would never replace Queenan—that wasn’t going to happen because no one could replace the captain. But Ellerby listened when Sean asked for advice and if a deal went wrong, he didn’t leave his men hanging.

By early fall Sean had grown into the rhythm of the new unit, the endless meetings, the endless paperwork that he always ended up taking home because it helped when the evenings were too quiet, too bland.

And he never, ever, thought of Billy Costigan.

 

***

“Yes, sir.”

Ellerby looked into his hand mirror and rubbed his jaw, examining his face. “And don’t forget the tape. If Kelly’s got a new connection, I want to know about it.”

“Yes, sir,” Sean repeated, not trying to be a wise ass, but Jesus, he wasn’t that stupid, was he?

Ellerby paused and looked up at him. “I appreciate the extra work you’ve taken on, Sergeant.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I know this detail isn’t exactly what you want out of the job.”

“No, sir.”

“Well, maybe,” Ellerby said as he went back to his mirror, “I can help you with that. How’d you like to get your nose a little dirty?” He looked up, then burst out laughing. “Not like that. You should see your face.”

Sean growled an internal, Fuck you, and then said out loud, “In what way, sir?”

Ellerby put his mirror away and stood up. “The organized crime unit in Hampden County is setting up a special team to track shipments of heroin coming across the border. They’ve got a guy up there, Tommy Monahan, who seems to be the key figure in all the brouhaha. They want to form a task force to take him down and have asked for additional manpower. They could use someone with a little experience and I thought maybe you’d like a crack.” He picked up his jacket and pulled it on. “It would mean a year commitment, maybe two. It’s a big operation.”

“How big?”

Ellerby slanted him a look that said ‘Does it matter? You’re gonna take it anyway.’ “A helluva lot bigger than anything they’ve ever handled.” He straightened his cuffs. “You’ll need to stop visiting Mick’s so much, of course.”

Sean covered his surprise with a cough.

Ellerby shot him a knowing smirk. “You don’t think you could hide that from me, did you? Drinking after hours, during hours?”

Yes, sir. “No, sir.”

Ellerby’s smirk broadened. “Well?”

“How much time do I have to think about it?”

“A couple days. No more. Luzio is chomping at the bit for this one.”

Sean nodded.

“Then go on, get that work done.” He nodded to the papers in Sean’s hand. “Then take tomorrow off and think about it.”

“Yes, sir.”

***

His cell was ringing when he got back to the office and he absently picked it up, just as absently saying, “What?”

“Do you always answer the phone like you just heard your dog died?”

Sean froze in the middle of sitting down. “Who is this?”

“You know who this is.”

He looked around and then got up and reached a long arm to close the door. “What’re you doing, calling here?”

“I just want—”

“I told you never to call, remember?”

“Jesus, Dignam, I just wanted to—”

“Are you brain dead or something? I told you—I told you—to never call anymore!”

“I know, but I just—”

Right?

“Christ, Sean, you really need to learn to relax.”

The line went dead and Sean gripped the phone, wanting to hurl it through the window. He looked around again. No one was staring at him, no one had a clue that he’d just received a call from a dead man.

He paced back and forth, then lunged for the phone and hit the code for last number redial. The line rang a few times before good sense hit him over the head and he hung up, growling, “And stop calling me Sean.”

***

He stayed later than he’d planned, later than he needed. He gave himself no reason for it; he had a bad headache and being at the apartment wouldn’t make it any better.

He left at ten and drove straight home—no stopping by the bar and he told himself that it wasn’t because of Ellerby—he just didn’t feel like a drink.

Dinner was leftovers out of the container followed by paperwork and then bed. When the phone rang at ten forty-five, he was ready. “I’m tracing this number,” he said in a rush.

“Don’t be an asshole. Of course you’re not.”

“Christ, Costigan…” He rubbed his eyes. “You make me so fucking mad.”

“Can we leave your anger issues out of this for the time being?”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, I just wanted to say hi.”

Sean’s mouth dropped open. He held the cell out so he could look at it, then brought it back to his ear. “You gotta be shitting me?”

“No.”

He flung back the covers and got out of bed. “You call me up, risk my job, risk my life, just to say hi?”

“Yes.”

He went to the window and flipped the latch, then pushed it up. It had turned cool and he shivered; for the first time it actually felt like fall. From a distance away he heard a cat yowl and he wondered if it was Mrs. Darby’s.

“You still there?”

“You know I am.”

“So?’

“So, what?”

“How’re you doing?”

“Fine.”

“I read in the papers you got a promotion.”

Sean began to pace in front of the window. “What’s it to you?”

“Nothing. Just, you’re on your way, that’s all. Your wife must be happy.”

Sean stopped in his tracks. “What’s that?”

“You know. I bet she’s happy. Most wives are into that kind of thing, aren’t they?”

“Listen, asshole,” Sean said, his voice low and tight, “my marriage is none of your fucking business, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“I mean it. You ask about her again and I’ll—”

“Jesus, Sean, it was just a comment.”

“It’s a comment that’s fucking stupid.”

Costigan sighed loud enough for Sean to hear. “Look, I just wanted to see how you were doing. And since you’re bitching and moaning the same as always, I guess you’re okay.”

Sean sneered. “You know, Costigan, I don’t get you. One minute you’re all freaked out, ranting that you’re life is over, that you know Sullivan is the rat and you’re gonna kill him before he kills you.”

“Actually, I said I was gonna take him in before he killed me.”

“Whatthefuckever. Now you call up, pretty as you please, after I tell you not to and you want to know how I am? What’s that about?”

“I don’t know,” Costigan said slowly. “I’ve had time to think. I guess I’m getting my perspective back.”

“Perspective, huh? Sounds like you’re high. You still on drugs?”

“I’m clean.” And then, for the first time sounding unsure, Costigan added, “You talk to that shrink?”

Sean smiled and made himself comfortable on the windowsill. “I did. Standard procedure.”

When Costigan made no response, he murmured sweetly, “She was at your funeral. Did you know? Crying and all that shit. Made me wonder if you’d fucked her.”

“Shut up, Sean.”

“I mean, why would she cry like that? Billy,” he lowered his voice to a whisper, “did you fuck her?” He waited, then waited some more.

Finally, Costigan spoke, his own voice so soft Sean could barely hear him, “It wasn’t like that.”

Sean felt like hooting in victory. “Of course not. It was true love. True fucking love. The same as it was with Sullivan.” He heard a sound, like Costigan just choked, and his smile turned mean. This was so damn good. “You didn’t know that, did you? While she was fucking you, she was fucking Sullivan? The two rats, getting it on with the same girl. It was like a fucking opera or kismet—something like that.”

There was no response and his smile died, his triumph died. He began picking away the peeling paint on the sill. The windows and walls needed painting and then there was the mold in the bathroom… “So that’s how I’m doing, Costigan. I’m fucking fine.”

“Yeah.”

“And in the future, if you want to know how I am, just remember this conversation and don’t dial, all right?”

“Okay.”

“So we’re clear?”

“Yeah, we’re clear.” Costigan’s voice faded, then came back strong and sharp. “But you know what’s the most fucked up thing of all, Sean? You hate my guts—I get that. But, still, you’re the only one that knows me which makes you the only friend I got.”

Like the other times, he hung up before Sean could respond, leaving him to sit there, staring at the phone.

Feeling like an old man, he rose and set the phone on the chest of drawers, then got back into bed. He lay there for a long while, forcing his mind away from everything but the job Ellerby had offered. He might as well take it. It would mean he’d get out of the city for a while. Even though it wasn’t a permanent gig, a new perspective might help.

And then he groaned and turned over, cramming his face into the pillow, remembering‘…the only friend I got.’

***

The job wasn’t quite the way Ellerby had painted it. Yeah, there were trafficking issues and yeah, drugs were getting through somewhere, somehow. But the unit, a hastily pulled-together group of wet-behind-the-ears troopers, could hardly be called a task force. In fact, the night Sean arrived in Springfield and saw what was waiting for him, he went to the first bar he came to and had a good laugh over a couple beers. Task force. What a joke.

But he set to work as if Queenan was still at his back and assembled the team using a lot of colorful language and a lot of hard work. By October they were functioning like a real unit; by November they’d nabbed their first real lead, a low-life two-striker who finally talked after a week of threats and promises.

Sean didn’t sleep much, those first few months. He told himself that it was the job, that he’d catch up when Monahan was in the Federal pen for the myriad of charges Sean hoped to nail him on.

He also didn’t fuck much, either. He met a girl, someone who worked days at a local hospital, who seemed to like him fine. They went out a few times before he gave up on it. The sex was bland and forgettable and she ended up accusing him of being a fairy on their last date when he was too tired to get it up. He couldn’t bring himself to care. He told himself that it was the job, that if he was back on his turf, things would be different. Then he forgot about her and ignored the other offers that came his way.

He communicated regularly with Ellerby, not because he needed help, but because he was gonna use the job to get his first silver bar and he wanted to make sure everyone knew how many hours he was putting in. Ellerby realized it, of course. He made several references to the promotion and Sean figured he’d be Lieutenant Dignam by February.

And if he wondered, from time to time where Billy Costigan was, if he was even alive, he never let the questions make it to the surface of his mind.

***

“I’m telling you Sergeant, they were right there, sitting in a silver Caddy, as bold as you please. I was gone maybe three minutes, tops.” Gomez waved, as if that would make Jimmy Monahan and his boys appear out of thin air.

Sean peered up and down Main Street. Greenfield was a small town and even though it had been snowing all day and the car was fogged up with body heat, he could see enough. And there weren’t any silver cars around and definitely no Cadillacs. “And I’m telling you, Gomez, you fuck up again and you’re out. I’m sick of this shit. Driving all this way for nothing. Again.

“I’m sorry, Sergeant. I—”

“Listen,” Sean said in his most reasonable voice. “Why’re you here, anyway? Why don’t you go back to Mexico or wherever it is, and be with your own people?”

Gomez’ thin face closed up, just as Sean knew it would. “I was born ten miles from here, Sergeant. I am with my own people.”

“Eh,” Sean waved away his mild protest. They didn’t know how to argue here, how to push back when he pushed. It was so fucking boring. “Call it in. Tell them not to send the units. We don’t want to go chasing our tail out here. We’ll get them next time.” He opened the door.

“Yes, Sergeant,” Gomez replied. And then, he leaned across the seat, “Where are you going?”

“Where do you think? To get a drink.”

“That’s a firefighter’s bar, sir.”

Sean bent over to peer inside the window. “You think I care what kind of fucking bar it is? A drink’s a drink.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll see you in the morning.” He slammed the door shut, a little harder than necessary and waited for Gomez to drive away before crossing the dark street.

Gomez was starting to get to him. He was ten years Sean’s senior, but he acted like he was just out of school. If Sean was back in Boston, he’d have kicked him out long ago. But warm bodies were getting scarce and he couldn’t muster up the piss to do what he should.

Maybe he was getting old.

Queenan had said something like that to him, a few years after Sean had joined his team. ‘This job will wear on you and you’ll become more of what you already are. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. You’ll either end up retiring with honors or so corrupt even your own mother won’t speak to you. You best be prepared for that.’

Sean had retorted that he’d never been anything but a hardass, and his mother didn’t talk to him anyway, so it didn’t matter. Queenan had just smiled.

The bar was full, crammed with what seemed like the entire population of Greenfield. But then, it was a Friday night and in a burg this small, there wouldn’t be a lot of late-night entertainment.

He made his way to the bar and leaned over to catch the bartender’s attention. When the man finally looked his way, Sean tapped the Budweiser spigot on the tap and held up his forefinger. The bartender nodded.

He waited impatiently, drumming his fingers on the countertop. When the bartender finally got to him and slid the beer over, he slid a five in return, then turned around.

Gomez had been right. It was a firefighter’s bar. Every guy was at least six foot and built like a line backer. Or maybe it was some sort of first responder type joint because there were a handful of women mixed in with all the guys. They were all dressed alike: jeans, long sleeve t-shirts, with the occasional plaid shirt here and there. Like farmers, he thought with a smirk.

Most of them were giving him the stink eye, but he was used to that. Small towns like these—everyone knew everyone else, and they didn’t like strangers. But who cared about that? Sean didn’t like strangers, either, so they were even.

He downed the first beer in under two minutes, then signaled for another. He drank the second more leisurely, savoring the chill that turned to warmth the minute it hit his belly. He couldn’t stay too long. He had to get up early, Saturday or no Saturday.

But just a bit longer. Then he’d leave.

He left his place by the bar and circled the joint. To the far right was the darts corner. By the looks of the wall behind the three boards, there were a lot of shitty players in Greenfield. He sneered and kept going.

Along the far back, like almost every other bar he’d ever seen, were the pool tables. Divided from the main room by waist-high ledges, lit only by fixtures right above the tables. There were posters on the wall, a couple of cue racks, and, for some reason a stuffed deer’s head with keys dangling from the lower antler.

The place was crowded with waiting players and he had to push his way through until he found room near the deer’s head. It was an ugly piece of shit, mottled from fleas and age. One of its eyes was missing.

“It’s a tradition,” someone said behind him.

He looked around. There was an old timer near him, leaning on the ledge. He waved his bottle, indicating the players at the far table and said, “Tradition. They’re playing to see who gets to drive the hook-and-ladder tomorrow.”

There were two men bent over the table. The nearest, a black guy, was about Sean’s height, but broad, his grey t-shirt stretched taut over his back. The other guy was white and thin from what he could see. Which wasn’t very much. The watching crowd and the lamp fixture blocked his view.

“Is that so?” he said noncommittally. Like he could give a fuck who got to drive the hook and ladder tomorrow.

“It is.”

“Hope they won’t be too stoned to do it.”

The old man shook his head. “Not them. They know they won’t get another chance for months if they show up drunk.”

“Hmm.”

“You a cop?”

He raised his eyebrow. The man was giving him a look and he was suddenly reminded of the once-overs Queenan used to give him when him when he’d done or said something particularly stupid.

The memory smarted; sometimes he missed Queenan so goddamn much it was like a physical ache. He took a sip of warm beer and shrugged.

“Yeah, I thought so,” the man said with a grin. “You’re part of the task force that’s here to get Jimmy Monahan?”

Sean quickly scanned the area, searching for anyone too interested in their conversation. “You connected?” He leaned in close. “’Cause if you are, I’ll—”

“Hey,” the man murmured as he held up a hand. “Take it easy. My brother-in-law was on the force, that’s all. He’s been complaining about Monahan for years. He’s happy you guys are here. We’re happy you guys are here.”

The wind out of his sails, Sean straightened, and looked around again. They’d drawn a few curious glances, but just a few. “Sorry.” It was less than gracious, but Christ, you don’t say things like that out in the open. Back home, he’d seen men shot for less.

“You’re from the city, right?” The man nodded gravely. “I know how it is there. A man gets jumpy.”

“You got that right.”

“So, who do you think is gonna win?” He nodded to the far table.

It was an obvious change of subject. “You got me.”

“My money’s on William.”

Sean had opened his mouth, prepared to say, ‘Which one is William,’ or, ‘Is that so?’—anything to make chitchat because he was bored and ready to leave, when the other guy, the white guy, finally moved into view.

It was Costigan.

It was Billy fucking Costigan.

Wearing a clean white t-shirt and jeans, looking like he’d just stepped out of a fucking Calvin Klein ad even though a cigarette was hanging from his lower lip. He smirked at something the other guy said and even across the distance, Sean could see the bright blue of his eyes. There didn’t seem to be any scarring from the wound—Sean thought he saw a faint crease on his temple when he turned his head, but couldn’t be sure because his hair had darkened.

Feeling weird, Sean heard himself saying dully, “You don’t follow the state-wide smoking ban?”

“Oh, that’s just William for you. He’s trying to quit, but it’s not taking. He’ll put it back in the pack eventually.”

“Whatever.” He downed the rest of his beer and sat the empty on the ledge. “Nice talking to you.”

“You leaving? Don’t you want to see who wins?”

“No.” He had to get out of here. Costigan was taking his shot, bent over, ass in the air and something thick and nasty clogged Sean’s throat, like he’d swallowed a fist. He had to get out before the anger that appeared out of nowhere made him do something he’d regret. He nodded at the old guy and then turned and edged between two men, making for the front. But the crowd had grown and like a living thing, it moved, making him move with it, pushing him back into the pool room, into the clear space by the table.

Even then he would have been able to run for it, but Costigan made his shot and straightened to the applause, turning in a circle, his arms raised in victory. Their eyes met and Sean felt—

—just like that day that Queenan had taken him to the docks to meet Frank for the first time. So goddamn scared, mostly because he was sure he’d fuck it up and embarrass the Captain. He’d stood there frozen, absolutely fucking tongue-tied in a moment that went on and on…

It was like that time and nothing like that time because Costigan's smile had dropped and his eyes had widened. Or maybe it was the other way around—Sean was never sure 'cause he didn’t stick around to find out.

He turned and elbowed his way through the crowd, almost snarling in his need to fight clear. Through the bar and out into the street, forgetting for a moment where he parked. He went right, then remembered. Left, you asshole.

He almost made it. His keys were in his hand, his car not fifteen feet away when he heard running footsteps and, “Sean!”

God damn it.

He swiveled, feeling like he was turning into the barrel of a gun, like he should be raising his hands in surrender. That only made him angrier.

Costigan skidded to a stop a few feet away. “Sean?” And like they were long-time buddies instead of part-time coworkers—unfriendly coworkers, at that—Costigan reached out like he was gonna hug Sean. “What the fuck? What’re you doing here?”

Sean put his hands on his hips, put his bulldog on, and smirked. “Not checking up on you, princess.”

Costigan dropped his arms, but not his smile. “Yeah? Oh…” His smile faded. “You’re part of the op that’s here to get Jimmy.”

Sean groaned. “Does every fucking one know about that? Jesus fucking Christ.”

Costigan shook his head and like the old man in the bar, said, “No. It’s just, it’s pretty tight here. A lot of the rescue workers have relatives in the force.” He shrugged. “You know how it is.”

“I know that back in the city we keep to our own. We don’t go mixing it up with the ugly stepsisters. And we don’t blab to our families and friends about business.”

“Yeah, and how’s that working for you?”

And there was the Costigan he remembered—cocky and full of himself. But—even as he thought it—Sean realized there was something different about him and it wasn’t just the clean clothes… 

Gone was the furtive, belligerent attitude, the ever-present slouch. He stood straight, making their slight difference in height seem that much more. He’d filled out too, like he was actually eating right. And his accent, that was pure country club, all traces of the Southie kid gone, like it had never existed.

It all should have made him happy or at least, he should care little enough to be able to shrug his shoulders and leave. But…

“How’s it working? Like a charm. And what about you? You suddenly got the urge for the high life?”

“Nah. I work here. Well,” Costigan added with a shrug, “in Deerfield. I’m in their fire department.”

Sean sneered and didn’t say what sprang to mind, that all the amends in the world wouldn’t make the Academy forget and forgive, wouldn’t erase the past. It was pathetic.

A horn blared and he jumped, the noise breaking his odd paralysis—he turned around and hit the unlock button on his key. “See you when I see you. Which means never.”

“Is that it?”

“Is what, what?” he called over his shoulder.

“You just gonna leave? Just like that?”

“What else?”

“I don’t know.” Costigan shrugged his shoulders and stuffed his hands in his pockets, a familiar gesture and something in Sean’s chest twisted. “Maybe we could go out and get a drink?”

Sean stopped and looked up and down the street, like he was surveying the scene while he thought about it. A drink wouldn’t do any harm. It’s why he went into the bar in the first place. And would it kill him, sitting across from Costigan, trying to make small talk?

And suddenly he was weary. Too weary for anger or whatever he was feeling. He leaned back on the hood of the car behind him. “Listen, Costigan—”

“Billy. Or Bill.”

“Yeah, whatever.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Contrary to whatever the fuck you’re thinking, we’re not friends. We never were friends. We’re never gonna be friends, so just stop with this…” He gestured back and forth, between the two of them. “Whatever it is. Just stop it.”

Costigan cocked his head, and when he spoke slowly, it wasn’t with anger, but like he was just figuring something out, “You haven’t changed. I mean,” he pulled a hand out of his pocket and mimicked Sean’s gesture. “You need a haircut and a shave, but you’re still the same.”

“What’s it to you?”

“Nothing. I just figured you would’ve grown up a lit—”

In two steps, Sean had him by the shoulder, by the throat. He spun them around until Costigan was on his back on the hood of the car, Sean on top. He gripped Costigan’s throat and dragged his head up, only to slam it back down. It felt so good, he did it again. “It’s not about growing up, you dumb fuck, it’s about doing the job,” he hissed.

“Looks like the job’s doing you,” Costigan whispered, not fazed even  though his breath was coming in gasps, his chest moving against Sean’s. He stared up at Sean, calm, just like in that picture from his Academy days.

And somehow all of Sean’s anger bled out—he could almost feel it seeping down his chest, his belly, to spill on the ground. He tried to hold onto it, but it was already too late—he loosened his grip and pushed up to stand a distance away.

Billy took his time getting up, wiping his mouth even though Sean hadn’t hit him and there was nothing to wipe away.

They stood there, only five feet of concrete between them, but it might as well have been fifty. There was some line Costigan was trying to get him to cross and he couldn’t. He only had a few friends and these days, and even they kept their distance. He’d changed too much over the years and wasn’t that person anymore, wasn’t sure if he ever really had been.

Without another word, he brushed his hair off his forehead, then strode to his car. When he got in, he turned the key and pulled away, not looking back.

 

***

This time, unlike all the times before, he wasn’t able to put Costigan out of his mind. He didn’t even try. He went to bed that night thinking of his ease with the guys at the bar, his smile when he hadn’t known Sean was watching. And how that smile had changed when their eyes met.

He woke up thinking much the same and he lay there, only half awake, replaying the night before.

He expected Billy to call as he went for his morning run, then while he ate breakfast. When his cell stayed silent, he told himself that it was a good thing. But that didn’t stop him from checking for missed messages when he got out of the shower. He told himself to stop being such a girl and get to work.

When he got to the make-shift office, he settled into the job and there he did put his private worries away. The unit was close this time, he could feel it, almost as if he was breathing down Monahan’s neck. And he was damned if he was gonna fuck it up, just because—

Well, just because.

 

***

His instincts were on the money. Three weeks later, the play he’d put in motion back in October paid off. He set out with his men, one of five units, and converged in a large backwater farm outside of Shelburne that shouldn’t have been the linchpin to Jimmy’s operation but was.

Later on, when he thought back on it, the night felt like he was watching a training lesson on how to catch a scumbag because the operation went down not perfectly, but perfect enough to count.

They came from all sides, through the snow-covered fields, taking the main house, the secondary house, and the two barns. All in sync with very little gunfire. They had one slip-up, a rookie named Reynolds, who tripped on a piece of farm equipment and accidentally shot a hole through his own arm.

Monahan’s men weren’t so lucky. Six died, but the rest, twenty-three all told, were taken into custody.

Sean cautioned himself that the victory could still sour. In a few months time, they could find out that the operation was a ruse, and that Jimmy was still running his drugs and weapons through a different route.

But that same instinct that had said, ‘Shelburne’s the key,’ also said that no, they’d taken the entire operation out and shut Monahan down.

The men were happy, of course. They gathered in small groups, going over the evening as Monahan’s men were separated, secured, and driven away.

Sean stood back and watched them, for once not scowling because of the mistakes, for once feeling a certain sense of satisfaction. It wasn’t too often that he felt such a clear-cut object lesson for why he did what he did.

“Sir?”

He turned. Gomez was trotting towards him, sloshing through the mud-mixed snow. “Yeah?”

“We’re going to meet at Jack’s when we get back and I was wondering—” He looked away, no doubt waiting for a biting comment from Sean about how they weren’t one big happy family and the op wasn’t perfect so why were they celebrating?

A month ago he would have said those things, but a month ago Gomez wouldn’t have offered—it looked like they were both getting used to each other. So he cuffed Gomez on the arm and said, “Thanks, but I think I’m gonna get some work done.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” And then, “You did good tonight.” Because as much as he hated to admit it, he was finally getting why Queenan’s men were so loyal—it wasn’t mollycoddling to give encouragement, it wasn’t weakness to care.

Gomez smiled then turned and went back to the group.

Sean stayed behind for the mop up. Two hours making sure everything was photographed, gathered, tagged and bagged. He wasn’t going to let Monahan slip away on a technicality, not after all this.

Finally, just shy of eleven, he trudged to his car, removed his safety gear, and got in.

***

He didn’t think about where he was going, he just drove. Methodically, keeping to the speed limit, tapping his thumbs in time to a twangy country music station, the only signal he could pick up. When he got to the Greenfield exit, he made a smooth right, taking the off-ramp at an even forty. Another right and he was driving down Main Street.

He pulled up in front of the bar and, for the first time, felt a momentary doubt. He had no idea if Costigan was a regular visitor, didn’t even know if he lived in town.

But he’d come this far; no sense in turning around until he was sure.

The bar was less crowded than his first visit but there were enough people standing around to make it hard to see. He took off his jacket and was skirting the edge of the crowd, making for the pool tables, when someone shouted out, “Hey!”

Sean looked around and saw Costigan sitting off to the side with three other guys. Not exactly what he’d had in mind, but whatever. He made his way over and sat down in the chair Costigan had kicked out.

“Hey guys,” Costigan said, “this is Sean. I worked with him in the city. Sean, this is Henry, Matty, and George.”

All three were different races, but they all looked alike and Sean nodded, forgetting their names as soon as he heard them. He could give a fuck who they were. All he cared about was that the table was too small for five grown men and he was sitting too close to Costigan, could even feel his thigh under the table, smashed against his own. He told himself to move, at least a little because he might as well be in Costigan’s lap.

The thought made his heart jerk and he began to sweat.

“What are you drinking?” Henry or Matty asked.

“Nothing. I’m still on the clock.” Which was a lie—he just didn’t want to sit here, drinking with them. Costigan ducked his head, hiding a smile. And underneath the table, he rubbed Sean’s thigh. Maybe by accident, the prick.

“What do you do?” Matty or George asked.

Sean opened his mouth to say, ‘None of your fucking business,’ but Costigan got there first, “He’s on the force. A detective out of Boston.” He shrugged when Sean glared at him.

They all nodded and he waited for one of them to ask if he was in town for Monahan, but one of them just said, “That’s a long drive home.”

“It is,” Sean said flatly, leaning back in his chair and draping his arm over the back, willing them to leave. ‘Get out of those goddamn chairs and get the fuck out of here, you cocksucking sons of—’

“Hey guys?” Costigan said, and odd note lying under his voice. “Why don’t we call it a night.”

“Yeah,” Henry or Matty said, getting up, exchanging glances with one of the other men. “C’mon. Will?” he said to Costigan, “You’ll be there next week, right?”

Costigan nodded.

They left without saying goodbye to Sean, which didn’t disappoint him in the least because he ignored them as well.

“Looks like you’ve made some new friends,” Costigan said dryly.

“Looks like I could give a shit.”

Costigan just snorted.

“Who’s ‘Will’?”

“Will,” Costigan said, looking down at his cherry-colored drink, “is a guy from Sommerville, out to make a name for himself.”

“Will sounds like a pussy.”

Costigan made a face and changed the subject, “I thought you weren’t coming back?”

“Yeah, well, I had a good night and wanted a drink.”

Billy didn’t point out the fact that there were other bars in town and plenty in Springfield. “I take it Monahan is in custody.”

“He is. We got him and his whole crew. They’re shut down.”

“At least for a little while.”

Sean scowled. “What’s it to you? You’re out, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

They were both quiet a moment. The crowd was thinning out and the place was opening up—if Sean was smart, he’d move, at least to the other side of the table. But he wasn’t smart. He was stupid and if he hadn’t been so fucking pissed about the captain, about Sullivan, he’d have figured it out a long time ago. Because there was only one reason he was here and it was sitting right next to him, smelling of laundry detergent and sweat.

He scowled again and finished his beer.

“You want another?”

Sean shook his head.

“You sure?”

“No, I don’t fucking want another,” he growled, lowering his voice at the end because the women at the table nearby turned to stare.

Costigan rolled his eyes and stroked his lower lip with his thumb. “So predictable,” he murmured sarcastically.

Sean leaned forward, elbows on the table. “You don’t know nothing about me,” he whispered, never once taking his eyes from Billy’s. “Nothing.” This close, Billy’s eyes were a crazy blue and so fucking needy and unable to help himself, he stroked Billy’s ankle with his boot.

Billy shot a quick glance around and breathed a harsh, “Are you fucking with me?”

“Not yet.”

“Jesus.”

Sean could actually see Billy’s pupils dilate, see the flush that spread across his cheeks, and aw, fuck, that did it. His dick, his lame ass dick, had decided that now was the time to come to life and he wanted to groan. He’d have to do the old, drape your coat in front of your crotch routine, something he hadn’t had to worry about in years.

“You live around here?” he asked around the lump in his throat.

“About two miles west.”

“Good.”

“It's hard to find. You’ll need to follow me.”

“Not a problem,”

“Give me a head start. Five minutes. I’ll wait for you at the end of the street.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Billy grabbed his jacket and was gone.

Sean didn’t watch him go. He stared at the glasses on the table and listened to the conversation around him. It was all the usual bullshit about everyday events—the guy directly behind him hated his job; his friend hated his wife. The woman at the table to his left was bitching about the time it took to care for her ailing mother and how her sister wasn’t helping.

Sean didn’t have any problems like that. His parents and brother were doing fine as far as he knew—he hadn’t talked to them in months, but that was business as usual. His ex-wife was living it up in Annapolis with her new husband and fuck her very much.

His workload sucked, but it was also exciting. It gave his life meaning. And if he didn’t have anyone to come home to, well, that also meant he could come and go when he pleased. There were always trade-offs. Everyone knew that.

Still, it didn’t mean he had to live like a monk, did it? He could do what he wanted with anyone who was willing and he saw it again, Billy, pupils blown, face red, looking like all he wanted was to be spread out on the table, then and there.

Sean shot up out of his seat and left the bar, four minutes early.

When he got outside, he took a deep breath. The cold felt so damn good, chilling his overheated skin, sharpening his desire. He looked around and there, down on the next block, a tall figure was striding away.

He ran, slipping on the icy pavement, glad no one was around to see, but it wouldn’t have mattered—the way he felt, the whole fucking world could watch and he’d still run, still fall.

Costigan heard him coming when he was about fifty feet away. He spun around in a half crouch, then straightened, holding his hands out like he was saying, ‘Here I am,’ or maybe, ‘Bring it on.’

Sean brought it. He rushed him like he would a perp, sending them back against the hood of a Chevy. He landed on top, not giving himself time to think. He grabbed Billy’s jaw and kissed him. Not gentle or nice, but hungry, almost eating up the slick feel of Billy's mouth, his tongue. And fuck, the way Billy responded, not pushing but pulling, pulling Sean in like he was just as starving…

Sean moaned and ground down, trying to find purchase, but the angle was wrong and it wasn’t gonna work.

He dragged himself upright and jerked his head. “C’mon. You drive.”

“Yeah,” Billy muttered as he rolled off the hood and wiped his mouth. “I’ll drive.”

***

Later, all Sean remembered of that first drive was that Billy had a piece of crap Bronco with a busted heater and it was so fucking cold, the windows kept fogging up. He sat in his corner of the seat, drumming his fingers, not really watching the dark world go by, not looking over at Billy because who knew what he’d do if he did? He needed to get to some safe place to let go.

The house sat by itself at the end of a twisty road and Sean’s first impression was that it matched the car—old and falling apart. Not the place anyone who was, ‘Out to make a name for himself,’ would choose. Only someone looking to hide would live here.

But, he thought as Billy pulled under the carport, at least there weren’t any neighbors. That was something.

He got out and followed Billy up to the side door and everything would have been cool, but as they walked up to the side door, Billy dropped the keys with a muttered, “Fuck,” and they both tried to pick them up at the same time.

That was it for any leftover control and in the rush of blood and lust, Sean’s reality splintered and all that was left was a series of impressions that flashed on and off like a fucked up film.

…Billy, up against the screen door, moaning into his ear, saying something about, “Let me, let me—”

…In the dark house, stumbling around, barking his leg on a table, swearing into Billy’s mouth ‘cause he couldn’t let go, not even to rub his motherfucking shin…

…Tripping along a hallway, wall to wall to wall, then into a room that turned out to be a bedroom, clothing protesting as they tried to get naked at the same time. Falling onto the bed sideways, then not as he wrestled Billy to his stomach and slid on top, mounting him, almost crazy because Billy was so damn warm, so damn smooth…

…Billy reaching, stretching, grabbing a tube of slick that he tossed, snickering when Sean missed…

…Fingers, one two three, in Billy’s ass; Billy gasping, arching back, driving him deeper. Trying to go slow because he wasn’t a rapist, damn it, and who the fuck cared if Billy’d been in prison and had taken it up the ass more times than he’d like to count as he kept insisting over and over, forcing Sean in when he finally got his cock lined up and—

And as suddenly as it started, the stuttering reality slammed to a halt and everything went scary quiet, scary slow.

Nerves stripped bare, senses completely alive, Sean felt it all—the cold on his back, the warmth everywhere else because Billy was like the fucking sun, inside, outside. The way he felt, muscles and bone and tattoos moving sleekly under Sean’s fingers and mouth, like something from a porno or his most secret, never-tell-anyone dreams.

And the sounds—springs creaking, fabric rustling, the little moans that Sean thought were Billy’s until he realized they were his own, moaning like a whore, only he wasn’t faking it, this was real and too real and he was trying to hold on, trying to live the moment as it came, trying, trying—

“Billy,” he muttered into Billy’s neck, thrusting harder, faster, the angry pain working up from the base of his spine. “Billy…”

***

They didn’t move for a long time. Long enough for Sean to get truly cold and he’d move, get under the covers. If he could ever move again.

Finally, Billy gently elbowed him off and they fell to their sides to stare at each other. That didn’t work—it was too much, too intimate. Sean rolled to his back and covered his eyes with his arm.

“Are you hungry?”

“Huh?”

“I asked, are you hungry?”

Sean snorted and peered at Billy from under his arm. He was staring back, calmly. “You gonna cook for me?”

“Do you deserve it?” And then, before Sean could answer, he added evenly, “No, I was thinking of this diner in town. I sometimes go there, late at night.”

The, ‘When I can’t sleep,’ was there in his eyes, but Sean didn’t call him on it. He was, as his ma always called it, in a mood. Maybe because he was so tired—it had been a long day, after all. “Yeah, that sounds good. I could eat.”

Billy nodded and got out of bed and went to the bathroom, casually nude. Sean watched him covertly, remembering prison. And for the first time he wondered how it had been. It couldn’t have been easy, looking the way he did, even with his chameleon tendencies, his survivalist instincts.

The thought made him angry, and knowing he was angry made him even angrier. He chuffed at his own crazy emotions and got out of bed to gather up his clothes.

He was half dressed when Billy came out of the bathroom, still naked, and gestured, ‘It’s yours.’

Sean tried to give him a sarcastic ‘fucking right,’ and couldn’t. He brushed by, feeling like the world had gone spinning off its fucking axis and he was there, spinning with it, unable to jump off.

 

***

This time, the drive to town seemed endlessly endless. Discomfort had replaced desire and Sean, never the best at chitchat, couldn’t speak.

The diner was around the corner from the bar, a pale blue oasis of light that looked surreal and lonely in the grey night.

As they were crossing the sidewalk, Billy slipped on a patch of ice and Sean caught him without thinking. There was a sick moment, holding Billy tight to his chest, when all he wanted was to pull him close, kiss him again.

He let go, even pushing a little. Billy shrugged and led the way into the diner.

The place was almost empty. There were only two customers, both  at the counter, each sitting a ways from the other. A waitress with a pot of coffee came in from the swinging doors and her face lit up when she saw Billy. She waved the coffee and called out. “Look what the cat dragged in.”

Billy smiled and waved back. “We’ll sit in my usual place, okay?”

“Wherever you want, honey. Be there in a minute.”

Billy grabbed two menus and led Sean to a booth in the back. Neither of the men turned to look as they passed.

“The meatloaf is good,” Billy said as he sat down. He slid a menu to Sean, already opening his.

“I hate meatloaf,” Sean retorted even though he really loved it.

Billy didn’t look up. He was calmly reading the listings like he’d never seen them before. “How can a guy from Southie hate meatloaf?” he asked absently.

“You eat it twice a week for your whole fucking life, you learn to hate it. Not everyone grew up in a mansion eating steak and champagne, princess.”

He thought he’d done a pretty good job with the snark, but Billy didn’t react—he just nodded.

Sean tossed his menu down. He’d have the hamburger—they couldn’t screw that up, could they?

The waitress, ‘Hi, I’m Jonelle,’ finally came by with two cups and a the coffee. She sat it all down, then got out her order book.

“Hey, beautiful,” Billy said finally looking up, a smile breaking through his calm. It was the smile from the other evening, that night in the bar when he’d won the pool match and a surprising burn of jealousy sparked in Sean’s chest. “How’re you doing?”

“Always the better for seeing you, honey. You guys get that fire out yet?”

The question had the air of an insider joke, but Billy grinned as if it was brand new and the funniest thing in the world. “Finally.”

“You want your special?” she asked, already writing.

“You know it.”

“And your friend?” She didn’t look up.

“A hamburger, hold the mustard,” Sean muttered.

“Everything else?”

‘Didn’t I just say that?’ “Sure.”

She wrote something else, then gave Billy another sweet smile and returned to the front.

“You’re a real charmer,” Sean muttered.

Billy made a face. “Her husband ran out on her a few months ago and she’s got a sick kid. She could use some charming.”

His tone was mildly reproving and Sean glared out the window. He didn’t need Billy to tell him he was acting like an asshole. He knew it, but couldn’t seem to stop.

He caught sight of himself in the glass—he looked pissed off. Pissed off and unhappy. Normally, that’s the way he liked it, but tonight?

He turned away from his reflection and poured a cup of coffee. “You want?” He shook the carafe.

“Nah, thanks. I’ve got to get up in a few hours and I need to sleep.”

Sean sat the coffee down and picked up the sugar. His discomfort had increased—at this rate he’d soon start fidgeting, or, God help him, babbling.

It didn’t help that Billy showed none of the same unrest. His eyes were rimmed with red and he needed a shave, but he sat there, one arm along the back of the booth, completely relaxed as if he did this every night, fuck a guy then go out for a late dinner.

Sean snarled silently and poured too much sugar in his coffee. He turned his glare on Billy, daring him to make a comment.

He recognized the signs—his ‘mood’ was working up to fucking angry and soon he’d either resort to shouts or fists. Neither was acceptable, not after—

“Okay, boys, here you go,” Jonelle said cheerfully, breaking Sean out of his dark thoughts. He sat back as she sat the plates down. “You need anything else, let me know.”

“Thanks,” Billy said, reaching for his sandwich. “It looks great.” Sean couldn’t make out what it was—maybe tuna?

“It should. It’s a fresh batch.” Jonelle started to walk away, then stopped. “Hey, hon, how’s school going?”

Billy shot Sean a quick glance, then went back to his sandwich. “Good,” he said without looking up.

“You gonna be leaving us soon?”

“My credits didn’t transfer, so I’ll be here until next May.”

She patted him on the shoulder and turned to go. “That’s good, honey. We need you here.”

Billy nodded and called out, “Tell Tommy thanks.”

“Will do,” she said over her shoulder.

Sean waited until she was out of earshot, then asked, “Who’s Tommy?” He was stunned by the news and was trying to make sense of it.

“The cook.” Billy nodded to the front. “He makes the world's second-best meatloaf.”

“Who makes the best?”

“My mom. Well,” he amended with a shrug, “she did.”

“Figures,” was all Sean could come up with. He took a bite of hamburger, not really tasting it.

Billy dropped his sandwich and leaned over, both arms on the table, saying tightly, “Okay, I know you’re dying to ask, so I’ll tell you. Yeah, I’m back in school. I work as a firefighter to pay the bills while I take classes. And, yeah, I decided to give it a real go. Try to make something of myself.” He straightened and picked up his sandwich again. “Okay?”

Sean opened his mouth to snarl back but what came out was, “What are you studying?”

Billy was just as surprised. He paused, sandwich halfway to his mouth, then mumbled, “Medicine.”

“What kind?”

“Oncology.”

It took Sean a moment to remember what that meant—cancer. He tried a smirk when he said, “What a shocker.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Just that you might as well use those brains.”

“Give it a rest,” Billy sighed. “My SATs weren’t that great. I had to take them again.”

“What’d you score this time?”

Billy shrugged and muttered, “Twenty-two hundred.”

And Sean wanted to slug him for that—he made fun, yeah, but no one should be ashamed of being smart. If he had Billy’s brains, would he still be on the force? Maybe, maybe not. He ate another bite of hamburger then put it down; he wasn’t hungry any more.

“You know, it’s weird,” Billy said quietly after a moment. He’d finished his meal and was rolling his pickle from one edge of his plate to the other.

“What is?”

“Everyone. Always telling me I was too smart to be a cop—you, my mom. Even Frank.”

Sean leaned forward. “Frank? Frank Costello?”

“Yeah Frank Costello. He told me he liked my dad, that he was smart. And that I should go back to school and wake the fuck up. Or words to that effect.” He shrugged again. “How messed up is that?”

Billy’s voice had dropped to a whisper, a dull pain in every syllable and Sean wanted to reach over and tell him it was gonna be all right, tell him that he was doing the right thing—

He shoved his plate away and got to his feet. “I gotta get going. It’s gonna be a long day tomorrow.”

Billy looked up. Whatever he saw in Sean’s face made his face go blank, made him stand up and dig into his pocket. He brought out a twenty and dropped it on the table, then picked up his jacket and left.

Sean followed slowly. He nodded to Jonelle on the way out. She smiled again, just as friendly and tired as the first time and he had to resist the urge to go back and leave her a bigger tip.

When he got outside, Billy was standing by the car, looking up.

“What’re you staring at?” Sean asked, even though he knew.

“The stars. Look at them. So many,” Billy said in a hushed kind of voice.

Sean looked everywhere but up. “Whatever.”

“C’mon, Sean,” Billy urged, touching his arm. “Look up.”

“I know what stars are. I’ve seen ‘em a million times.”

“Not like this. You’re used to city stars. These are different.”

“Whatever the fuck that means, they’re the same stars. And I can’t wait to get back to them,” he lied cruelly. The thought of returning to Boston, something he’d been looking forward to ever since he got here, left him almost depressed. “And that’ll be soon, Costigan, after the bust I made tonight.”

‘Costigan,’” Billy repeated mechanically, head still tilted up. “When you were fucking me, it was ‘Billy.’

“Yeah. Billy. Costigan. Will. You’re a whole bunch of people, aren’t you?”

Billy frowned up at the sky. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Sean stuck his hands in his pockets and shifted nearer. Billy smelled like sex, like he’d just got out of bed, mouth still wet from his kisses. “You don’t think I don’t know that you’re still living double? That the people you seem so taken with don’t know who you are?” He was almost hissing, suddenly so angry at the deception. “It’s just like a year ago, you playing everyone for a fool.”

“Including you?”

“Yeah, includ—” Sean stopped mid-speech, stunned by what he’d almost said, what, apparently, had been burning in his chest for days now. “That don’t matter,” he backtracked viciously. “I’m not the one lying to everyone, I’m not the one still underfuckingcover.”

“You sure about that?”

Sean cocked his head, startled. “What’s that supposed to mean?” And then, because it was pissing him off, “Will you look at me?”

Billy finally turned his head from the night sky. He gazed at Sean and said placidly, “It took me a while, but I finally figured it out.”

Sean shook his head, confused by the detour in the conversation. “Figured what out?”

“About your wife. About why you were so angry when I asked about her.”

“What’d you figure out, Einstein?”

“That she left you. Or you left her, I don’t know. All I know is you wouldn’t be so angry if you guys were making it.” He shrugged again.

Like it was no big deal, the fact that Sean had been living alone for over two years now. That he’d come home one night and found her with another guy—in his house. That she’d taken the house, the money, and never looked back. That even now, he couldn’t make himself take off the ring because what would that say about him, that he couldn’t keep his own women? “That don’t change the fact that you’re still lying.”

Billy scrubbed at his hair, fucking finally showing the same anger that was coursing through Sean’s body. “I’m not.”

“Yeah, and who knows the real you?”

“My shift boss,” Billy muttered. “I told him the first day ‘cause I didn’t want there to be any bad blood between us. And he needed to know what he was getting into.”

“Yeah, and who else.”

“Just you,” Billy whispered as ran his hands over his face like he wanted to remove it. “Jesus Christ, just you.” He said it like it was a death sentence or maybe a curse. “And you don’t want to know me. You said it. Over and over and I fucking didn’t listen. I tried to do it—make a decision and stick with it like she said, but I guess third time’s a fucking charm for me.” He dropped his hands, standing there hunched over, like a puppet without strings.

Sean stepped closer, confused by the words, unsure who ‘she’ was even though he had a good idea. He reached out but Billy batted his hand away, every gesture sharply antagonistic, like it was back in the beginning when they’d disliked and distrusted each other.

“And you,” Billy added, “you’re never gonna let me forget. You’re never gonna see me any other way but the rat that got Queenan killed. I was just a fucking tool. A fucking tool that you just fucked.” He barked a laugh, demanding, “Right?”

Sean shook his head. He was prepared for everything but this level of anger, of grief. “I—”

“Whatever,” Billy interrupted coldly before Sean could finish. “You know how to find the highway, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. The keys were in his hands and he was in the Bronco before Sean could blink. He looked over and it had to be a trick of light that made his eyes shine silver. “And this is me saying it this time. Don’t call, don’t write.” Billy took off with a roar, spraying gravel and dirty snow all over the place.

Leaving Sean to stand there with his mouth open, wondering what the hell had just happened, wondering what the hell he was going to do now.

Nothing for it and fuck Billy Costigan anyway.

He turned and strode back to Main Street, relieved to find his car still in front of the bar. There was a ticket under the wipers and he was tempted to tear it up, but the last thing he wanted was to have to come back here to face a judge. He was done with fucking Greenfield and everyone in it.

He stuffed the envelope in his pocket and got in. The car wouldn’t start at first and he muttered, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you…,” not sure who he was swearing at—the car, himself, or Billy. Finally the engine turned over and he peeled out, trying to remember where the entrance to the highway was.

Not off the first street he turned down and he circled back to Main, not paying attention, too focused on the jumble in his mind. It wasn’t his fault that Billy’s mom had died, leaving him all alone. It wasn’t his fault that Billy had put too much faith in their non-existent friendship, and it wasn’t his fault that Billy wanted something he couldn’t give.

He took the next street and that wasn’t it, either. It dead-ended and he wrenched the car around, heading back to Main. He was wondering if he was going to have to do the unthinkable and go back to the diner or call Billy for directions when a memory popped up, one he hadn’t thought about in a very long time.

‘We deal in deception here. What we do not deal with is self-deception.’ Said in Queenan’s matter-of-fact, take no prisoners tone that still managed to be gentle and understanding.

What would the captain make of him now, lost in so many ways?

He braked suddenly, skidding to a stop.

‘Know thyself,’ was line that Queenan used to quote because he loved Hamlet and knew the play pissed Sean off, knew that all that wishy-washy crap drove him up the wall. But…

…know thyself.

…and don’t be a fucking coward.

…stop fucking around and admit to what you want, who you want, because life was too short for bullshit.

“Okay,” Sean said, hearing his own voice, but also the captain’s. Okay.

He gave the Ford some gas and turned south, hoping he could find his way.

***

He did, although it took him a few tries and it was three in the morning when he finally pulled up behind the Bronco. He cut the lights and the engine and sat there a moment, eyes closed. His knee hurt, his back hurt and he was too tired for this. He could sleep in the car—the rear seat was big enough. He could turn around and go back to Springfield, like he should’ve done four hours ago.

He could also stop being a pussy and get out of the fucking car.

Later, he wondered how long he would’ve stayed there—five minutes, five hours? But no matter—when he opened his eyes, Billy was on the porch, arms crossed, a cigarette hanging from his lips.

Sean got out and forced himself to take the ten steps to stand in the middle of the snow-covered yard. It was like crossing into unknown territory and he tried to tell himself that he wasn’t shaking.

“I guess you listen as good as me,” Billy said quietly, the cherry on his cigarette glowing brightly.

‘Well.’ I listen as well as you,” Sean retorted. “You’d think a guy who could quote fucking Hawthorne could manage some decent grammar.”

Billy opened his mouth but no words came. He was squinting like his eyes hurt, scrabbling at his own elbows. Sean was reminded of the day they had their first face-to-face. The kid had been nervous, fussing with his tie, his hands. But the minute they’d cornered him, him and Queenan, Billy had settled into himself and the telltale ticks had vanished.

He wasn’t sure what it meant, that Billy couldn’t keep his hands still, but he’d take it as a good sign—it was the only thing he could do. “So, are you gonna invite me in or do I have to stand in the fucking snow all night?”

“Why?”

“Why, what?”

Billy shook his head sharply, smoke trailing from his lips. “No. No more games.”

“All right,” Sean nodded, conceding. “Why? I could ask you the same thing.”

Billy unbent far enough to stab his finger at Sean, accusation in every line of his body. “I told you.”

“Yeah.” He made a face. “I’m your friend. I remember.”

No! It’s because you know me.”

Frustrated, Sean threw up his hands. “Why is that so important?” He turned in a sharp circle and threw up his arms. “Jesus!”

“It’s important because…” Billy frowned and shook his head again, like he was trying to shake something loose.

“Well?”

Billy leaned on the post, threw his cigarette away and began to pick at the peeling paint. “You were right and you were wrong. I’ve always been two people, from the time I was little. And not even my mom saw both.”

Sean still didn’t get it. “So what was I wrong about?”

“You said most people live double lives and are fine with it, but that’s not true.” He tore off a big piece of paint and dropped it. “They may lie, steal, and fuck around, but inside, where it matters? They’re still themselves. They are who they are.

Okay, yeah, he got it. Finally. He knew what Billy was talking about because he’d been on that edge before. But even at his deepest undercover, after he'd done things he'd never thought he could do, there was always that kernel of Sean Dignam that he’d never, ever lost.

So how would that have been, growing up not knowing who you were, always bouncing between one life to the other? He thought he’d known, but now he wasn’t so sure. Queenan had tried to tell him, that day they’d reviewed the new troopers, trying to find just the right man. ‘That one,’ Queenan had said, pointing at Billy’s Academy photograph. ‘If he manages not to go crazy, he’s our boy.’Sean had smirked in response and told Queenan he was too fucking soft, 'cause back then he'd thought Queenan had been talking about Billy's pretty face, his hopeful demeanor.

He rubbed his eyes as if that would make the memory disappear and muttered, “I don’t, you know.”

“Don’t, what?”

“Blame you for Queenan’s death. I never did.”

Billy cocked his head and asked cautiously, "You don't?"

"No, I don't."

“He died for me.”

Billy’s voice was raw with grief and Sean scowled. “It wasn’t your fault. He was doing what he had to do, what he wanted to do. If I blame anyone, it was Costello and that fucking rat, Sullivan.”

“I’m assuming that’s why you killed him.”

Sean crossed his arms. He hadn’t realized Billy knew anything about that. It didn’t matter—if he had to relive the moment, he’d pop Sullivan all over again. Still… “He’d have hated it. Queenan, I mean. What I did.”

“Yeah.”

“But it was important. He was a good man. He didn’t deserve to die that way.”

“Who does?” Billy said, not sarcastic, but like he was really asking Sean’s opinion.

It caught Sean by surprise. “He’d have said the same thing. And,” he added, walking closer until he was at the bottom step. “Yeah, you’re right. I do know you. I do know who you are. I’ve always known,” he added, a little helplessly because he wasn’t even sure what he was saying, just that he had to say it.

“So who am I?”

Asked as if Billy was just as confused, just as lost. “You’re William Costigan, Junior,” Sean murmured, his heart in his fucking throat. “You were born in 1984 to William Costigan, Senior and Catharine Costigan, both departed.” He touched the metal railing for balance—the world was tilting again, slipping from under his feet only this time he didn’t want it to stop.

“‘Both departed,’” Billy quoted, voice barely above a whisper, head still bowed, fingers finally still.

“Yeah. But you’re still alive.” He was feeling his way, trying to say the words that would fit, that would work. “And I bet your mom would be real proud of you. Of you going back to school and everything.”

And that was it. Billy jerked his head up, searching for any bullshit, any lies. Finally, he pushed away from the post and straightened. “What time to you have to get up?

‘Five, if I want to get to work on time.’ “It’s Saturday. I’m not working.”

Billy raised his eyebrow at the lie, but he just said, “Do you snore?”

Sean didn’t hesitate. “Yeah.”

“And how ’bout dreams? Am I gonna get kicked or punched if you have a nightmare?”

“I don’t dream.”

“At all?”

“Uh-huh.”

“That’s not natural.” Billy wasn’t smiling, but it was there, just behind his clear, direct gaze. He nodded to the front door. “C’mon.”

*** 

Sean didn’t dream that night, but Billy did.

Something powerful and horrible, because he woke Sean out of his half-sleep with a moan already bleeding into a whimper.

Sean lay there, on his side, frozen, wondering what to do. Billy had kicked off the covers and was at the very edge of the bed, arms wrapped around his chest as if he was trying to crawl into himself. Or hold himself back from doing something terrible.

Billy's skin was sickly white in the moonlight and Sean remembered finding him at the abandoned building, bodies and blood everywhere, even on the walls of the elevator car. He’d run up, knowing, knowing, that when he rolled Billy over he’d be dead.

And he’d been just as white, just as still…

Sean made a noise deep in his throat, protesting the memory, the way his stomach hurt because of it. Billy moaned again and curled up tighter and Sean found himself up on one elbow, reaching out. He told himself not to be a sap. That he’d long forgotten tenderness, that he’d never been any good at it anyway.

And that he’d fuck it up and make things worse.

Still, that was his hand touching Billy’s cold shoulder, his voice murmuring soothingly as Billy woke with a jolt, “Hey… It’s all right… Hey…

 

 

fin.