I. Seattle, February 12, 1975
“So, Dr. Rosenfield.” The man opposite him sprawled backward almost languidly, chair balanced on two legs. The eyes were razor-sharp, though, and they were all Albert was looking at. Everything else was a distraction, a test. One he sure as hell wasn’t going to fail. “Tell me again. Why, exactly, should we hire you to this office?”
Albert locked his fingers together, stopped himself from straightening his cuffs for what’d be the fifth time in as many minutes. Bastards had confiscated his pen before the written test, and at this point he was ready to kill just to have something in his hands. A scalpel, a lighter, a goddamn power drill, he didn’t care. A smoke would have been bliss – help still some of the quaking inside – but of course that wasn’t an option.
He wasn’t nervous, mind you. Why should he? Well, apart from the fact that, if he botched this, he wasn’t sure which other office would take him. But he wouldn’t botch it, now, would he? He couldn’t afford to.
He steeled himself and took the plunge. “With respect, sir, if you still need me to answer that, I’m not sure how you ever came to head this office.” Somehow, he managed to make that sound less like a sneer than a cold statement of fact. Peered up at his nemesis’ eyes to find them narrowed to slits, but not in rage. More like – amusement? “I have all the skills you’re looking for, the training, and the expertise,” he pressed on, slightly out of his depth. “I can do an autopsy in two-thirds the time that your regular Joe down here in the cellar can and turn up twice the clues, and I can –”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that, Agent Rosenfield.” White teeth glittered at him from across the table, and Albert fought the reflex to bare his own. He loathed the Agent, always had. He was an M.D., that was it. “But there’s one thing I don’t understand, so maybe you can explain it to me.” The smile turned predatory, and Albert braced himself for what had to be coming. “If your talent is so obvious, then why did the San Francisco office transfer you out? And don’t tell me they failed to appreciate your genius, because that excuse was old before you were born. So perhaps – just perhaps, mind you…” Soft thump as the chair’s front legs hit the floor. “You didn’t have all the skills they were looking for?”
Albert had expected the question. In fact he was surprised it had taken them so long to ask. Even then, it was enough to bring it all back, the rage, the injustice, and he wasn’t quite sure if he kept those out of his voice when he snapped, “I serve three things, Agent Earle, and three things only. Peace, truth, and the Bureau. When I serve an individual, those three always come first, as they should.” He blinked down at his folded hands, fingertips white from where he was squeezing off the blood flow. Untangled them before making himself meet those eyes. “They wanted me gone because I serve the truth rather than cater to people’s petty needs. I work for a higher purpose. I don’t compromise. And I want to work for someone who feels the same way.”
Earle leaned forward, looked at him long and hard and without blinking. “So if we don’t want you – you don’t want us? Is that what you’re saying, Dr. Rosenfield?” Long beat, then, almost slyly, “What if no one wants you? High morals are all fine and jolly, but in the end, this is still a job, and I can’t say I envy the ones you’d be working with.”
Albert didn’t know if it was anger, the skin-crawling drag of too many hours without nicotine, or – God forbid – nerves, that made him blurt it out. “You wanna know why you should hire me, sir?” Words dripping scorn, too late now to hide it, or stop the adrenalin from pumping. “Because I’m the best. Best you’re gonna find in a long time, anyway. And I’m not gonna beg for it. If there’s no fucking nitwit in the Bureau who wants me, I still know I’m in the right. So turn me down, if you want. Find someone less competent to walk on the leash for you.” The lie burst out before he knew. “I don’t even care.”
II. Pittsburgh, April 23, 1978
The first thing assailing him was the noise.
Well, no. The first first thing was the shaking, but he was a bit too busy hanging onto consciousness by the proverbial fingernail for that to sink in. The noise was the second thing – a godforsaken wail that tore at his eardrums, like a hundred nails drawn across as many blackboards all over the freakin’ state. Only there was a rhythm in this one, something that pulled at his memory, in a way that was almost… Pavlovian?
Yeah. And if he was capable of remembering words like those, he sure as hell had to be able to open his eyes.
Not just noise, but lights too, blinding ones, just overhead. Not a room, surely. Far too cramped to be a room, and anyway, rooms didn’t jolt around like that, or operate sirens, or –
The pain was the third thing. A white-wash of it when he moved, tearing at his chest a few inches below his midriff, and somehow he knew that should have been unbearable, but it wasn’t. Hurt like hell, sure, but breathing through it took less effort than it should have. That was a hopeful sign, as was the IV in his arm, both of which signaled anesthetic, which in turn meant backup had turned up, if royally late. But if he was here, in the back of what he assumed could only be an ambulance, then where the hell was –
“He’s awake,” an unfamiliar voice called, and Cooper’s face appeared in front of him like a Brilliantine genie. Smile making him look almost angelic, except for the bruised cheek and black eye, which spoiled the effect somewhat. Several months and the occasional case together had bent his initial dislike of Cooper into a grudging respect, but he still wasn’t able to make heads or tails of the man, and that included reading his facial expressions.
“I’m right here, Albert.” Which was redundant enough he would’ve rolled his eyes, if that didn’t hurt his head so damn much. “Just lie still now. Hospital’s only a few blocks away.”
“I knew it,” he muttered. “I died and went to purgatory, now I can’t get to heaven till I’ve played Twenty Questions with you, right?”
“Not quite, but coherent enough.” Cooper’s smile swelled briefly, then shrank back to something vaguely resembling a normal human expression. “How are you doing, Albert?”
“Depends.” He took an experimental breath, let it back out. “How should I be doing?”
“Like a man who was shot in the chest, twice, then cracked his head on the edge of a coffee table. No major arterial damage, thanks to your bulletproof jacket, but you have broken ribs and a lacerated spleen, quite probably a concussion.” The whole litany still in that pleasant, tour-guide-type tone. Just then, the car swerved wildly around a 90-degree turn, and Albert bit back a curse as the restraints cut into his chest.
“Ah,” he croaked, when he got his wind back. “That explains a lot. So – our guy got away, huh?”
“No, he’s here in the ambulance. I got in a shot before he could pull the trigger on me.” Somehow Cooper’s smile had disappeared, had made room for an earnest, almost self-conscious frown.
Albert winced, licking dry lips. “Cooper, the guy tried to take both of us out. On a one-way trip! Tell me you’re not beating yourself up over –”
“I have a confession to make, Albert.” Voice so atypically bashful it brought him up short. “When we were waiting for the ambulance, I did something – rather forward, and I hope you won’t mind.” Long beat, that gave Albert just enough time to wonder what kind of ‘forward’ things one could do to someone unconscious from a gunshot wound, then, “I called your parents.”
“You did what?” He sputtered, furious, but it turned into a cough and he spent the next ten seconds or so hacking up something wet and metallic-tasting and disgusting.
“You were shot while on a case with me, Albert. I couldn’t help feeling somewhat responsible,” Cooper picked up the conversation, like the interruption hadn’t happened. “And there was no way for me to know how seriously you were hurt. So – I called them. I used the phone from the house.”
“Cooper –” Anger was a white-hot poker in his chest, but he didn’t even try to stop himself. “I haven’t spoken to those people in years, and there’s a reason. It’s none of your goddamn business to be calling them – from a serial killer’s phone, no less – ” And if he had any breath left and this wasn’t such a goddamn disaster, he probably would’ve laughed his ass off at the absurdity of it all. “How the hell did you get the number anyway?”
“From your wallet.” Sheepish look.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Cooper –”
“They said they were very grateful I called.” Softly. And if that made him feel just a little weak inside, just a little hopeful, he made sure to stomp it down on the spot.
“Well, I wish you hadn’t, anyway.”
III. Pittsburgh, July 16, 1979
Her office was a tiny place. Desk, chair, bookcase stuffed to the gills, a single large window, along with a potted plant that was really too big to fit into the one remaining corner. It was also painted a bright terracotta red, and, for reasons Albert couldn’t quite fathom even after years, invariably a sight for sore eyes.
She had the door wide open – not that, with these temperatures, that made the place any less of a baking oven – and he lingered at the threshold, watching her juggle with files and reports. She was working her ass off, that much was obvious. The set of her mouth was a dead giveaway; so was the way she kept tugging her hair behind one ear. Observing was what he got paid for, what he was used to doing, so he could hardly switch it off, but still, it made him feel the slightest bit the voyeur. That, and after five seconds she’d yet to notice him leaning against the doorjamb. Which wasn’t like her at all.
He cleared his throat, noisily. “Don’t tell me. You miss Cooper’s tapes, don’t you?” Gave a crooked grin as she started, freezing mid-type.
Not missing a beat, she was on her feet before he’d taken another step in. Made a move as if to embrace him, stopped at about an armlength’s distance. Just for a second all he wanted was for her to smile, and then she did – a sad, cautious smile, but a smile nonetheless, and hell if the woman didn’t read his mind every damn time.
“Well, it’s not that I haven’t got plenty to do – it’s been chaos out here since Agent Earle disappeared, and then with Dale hurt, you away taking care of him, Earle’s wife dead…” Pausing for breath, she met Albert’s eyes, visibly shook herself. “Actually, yes. Call me crazy. I do miss those tapes.” Eyes crinkling slightly at the corners, those tiny crows’ feet she’d had since he’d known her, betraying her, as always. “What brings you here, Albert?”
Smooth, smooth, like she didn’t know. But then, that was always how she handled things: ask the right questions, then the answers would just give themselves. It worked, even with him.
“Cooper’s got company. His dad came in for a visit. Little awkward for me to stick around, and anyway, I’m sure he’s getting tired of seeing my face all day, every day. So far, he isn’t complaining, but –”
“So instead of going back to your own place for once, you come straight here?” Meaningful tilt of her head. “Albert, you’re a hopeless case.”
“Don’t start, Diane.” He forced himself to take the bait, but his heart wasn’t in it, and it just came out flat. “It’s not like I got anyplace else I need to be.”
She made a face like she had something to say about that, but swallowed it. “How is Dale?” Façade dropping away, and for a second it was all Albert could do not to tell her everything, spill all of the beans right then and there.
Instead, he just propped up his hip against the desk, scrubbed at a telltale stubble of beard. “Hell if I know.” He shrugged. “Most of the times it’s like everything I do – that any of us do – passes right through him. Like none of it is helping squat.” Harsh burst of laughter. “Never thought I’d say it, but I wish I hadn’t weaseled my way out of psychology back at college. You need fucking science to get through to that man right now, and I just… I – I don’t know –”
She didn’t embrace him. Diane never embraced, but somehow in the space of a few seconds he was left with the feel of her hands on his arms and the smell of her perfume in his nostrils – jasmine or lily or both, the same smell he bet she’d already been wearing when he was still in kindergarten. He always imagined she’d been part of this building from day one, and would still be here long after he’d retired, or quit, or got killed on the job, whatever came first.
“I can’t lose him, Diane,” he muttered. “Not like this. He’s a Bureau officer, I’d reconciled myself with the fact he could croak on duty, or I thought I had, but this…”
Her eyes were impossibly bright. “Well, I don’t think I could stand losing him, either.”
“No, I meant –” He cut himself off at the look on her face. Of course she’d known what he meant. The woman probably knew Cooper better than anyone and, through Cooper, him. He didn’t even remember how she ended up his confidante, or at least the closest thing he had to it, except that suddenly she’d been just that.
She shook herself, stretching the back of her neck. “Well, it’s past lunchtime. You want to get a bite to eat?”
“Thursdays at the office canteen?” He scowled. “No. But I probably should, anyway.”
That earned him a pair of raised eyebrows and a half-smile. “Well, if nothing else, you can have a latte; that’s still the only decent thing down here. If it were up to me, I’d say you need a dose of Valium, a bed, and a hammer, but then you never take my advice, do you?”
He matched her smile with a faint one of his own, let her hook her arm through his like he was used to it. For once, he didn’t care. “You’re right. I don’t.”
“They gave me the tapes from – that night. To transcribe,” she said, out of the blue. Stopped halfway down the corridor to look him in the eyes, suddenly looking all of her years. “That woman, Caroline. He really did love her, didn’t he?”
He nodded, wearily. “I’m pretty sure he did, yeah.”
“Do you think we could – you know… Lose him? You’re keeping an eye on him, do you? He’s not going to do anything –”
Stupid, like offing himself out of some weird sense of cosmic justice? He finished the question in his own mind, the same one he’d asked himself a dozen times since he took on the job of watching Cooper, ever since he came out of hospital. What he should have told her was “Not if I have something to say about it.” Instead he shrugged and said, “Hell no. Forget it. I was just being a sap.”
She didn’t look fooled for a second.
IV. Twin Peaks, March 2, 1989
“Albert, deputy Brennan is a kind-hearted person.” Cooper shot him a steely look, went back to buttoning up his shirt. On any guy other than Cooper, the stern delivery would’ve been ludicrous at best, had him in paroxysms of laughter at worst. Coop, though, was perfectly capable of pulling it off even when only half-dressed. Not that Albert had any intention of letting that sway him.
Sideways glance from Cooper told him some kind of reply was called for. “Then I’d recommend therapy,” he deadpanned. “Other than that, I fail to see what Deputy Poodlebrains has got to do with anything.”
The glance sharpened, turned to steel. “You’ve been harsh with him from the very first moment, Albert. I’m asking you to stop.”
“So ask. It’s a free country, Cooper, and I’m exercising my freedom of opinion.” That came out more defensive than he’d intended it – not that he wasn’t entitled. From his last close encounter with Twin Peaks’ law enforcement – its best and brightest, judging by what else he’d seen – he still had the black eye to show. Even forgetting it’d made him the butt of every joke at the Seattle office this past week, he had his pride and he had his principles, and both of them had been trampled twice over. “Hell, you think by holding that guy by the hand, you’re doing him a favor? He’s gonna crack his head against a wall sooner or later. Better it’d be me than someone else.”
Cooper’s eyes were shards of glass, dark and reproachful. “Was that when you thought when you went for Sheriff Truman’s badge?” Delivered just as sternly, and Albert fought down something very close to rage.
So, that was how it was gonna be, was it? Dale Cooper, protector of innocent souls? Protector of the pathetic and pitiful was more like it, these days.
He sniffed. “Don’t tell me.” Making sure the disgust showed on his face. “The good Sheriff is a ‘kind-hearted person’ too?”
Cooper pushed himself off the conference table, stood a little stiffly. “He is, in fact. And a good man.”
“As opposed to whom, exactly?” That was out before he realized, and the moment he said it was the moment he wanted to take it back. No use in sounding like a sullen five-year-old, even if he did feel betrayed.
Cooper’s eyes narrowed. “What’s going on, Albert?” Expression softening fractionally. “Is this still about you getting clocked by Harry, or is something else wrong?”
“Wrong?” He sneered. “Five bucks if you can tell me one thing that isn’t wrong with this goddamn case. Murder and mayhem, and you striding around like this town has just won America’s Most Hospitable prize.” Never mind threatening to fight me over some backwater yokel’s position, and not even showing the courtesy of telling me to my face. Having to hear that from Gordon, with the entire office as audience, had been the cake, but in the end he’d backed down. Well, what else was he gonna do? He was hardly going to fight Cooper’s ass for it all the way up the chain. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a smoke and I need it now.” At that, he shouldered past Cooper and through the door.
Damn Cooper and his moral standards, anyway, he thought, stomping his way down the corridor. Somehow, after everything that passed between them, he’d expected – something in return. Not that he wanted Cooper to feel in his debt, or anything as melodramatic as that. Coop wasn’t a guy who traded one kindness for another – his morals were absolute, irrespective of anything that came before – and Albert wasn’t one to remind him. But it would be a lie to say he hadn’t thought, or hoped, it would change something between them – more than it had, anyway. Most of the times, he felt they had something of a friendship going on, but it also took nothing at all for Cooper to turn steel-hard and distant, and you could never know in advance what was gonna trigger it. It used to drive him crazy, but he’d grown a thicker skin since then. At least, so he’d thought.
He ran into Truman on the way out. Blocking his only escape route, and he stood and scowled for a few long seconds before Truman cleared his throat.
“About that eye –” Oh, great. Now it was trying to be civil, was it? His esteem of Truman tottered down another few feet. “Guess I’m supposed to say thanks – for, ah, letting the matter drop.”
He huffed, coldly. “If you think I did that for you, you got even more sawdust in your head than I thought you had.” And really – where in hell was the sense in backing down after the facts? If he’d held fast to his actions, at least Albert could’ve respected him for that. Still, the man wasn’t apologizing. That was something.
“Trust me, I didn’t.” Truman’s look turned dangerous. “Though I’ve been wondering what you did do it for. Like, you and Cooper –”
“‘Me and Cooper’? What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
Unreadable look, and for a second, Albert had the creeping feeling he’d underestimated the man. Big time. “Well, I get the impression you two go – way back.”
“What if we do?” Defensive again, and he shouldn’t, he really shouldn’t let himself be baited into –
“So.” Truman said, still with that same weird expression. “You did it for Cooper, huh? Backing off?” Took a step to the side to let him pass, and somehow, Albert felt like he’d lost a battle he hadn’t even known he was fighting.
“Hell, no,” he sneered, pushing his way outside. “Paperwork for those cases is a bitch. Only one I did it for was me.”
The gleam in Truman’s eyes looked alarmingly like pity.
V. Twin Peaks, March 11, 1989
His first thought, seeing her in the hospital bed, was not of Annie Blackburn but Caroline Earle.
The face was only a part of it. Annie’s was fuller, with less pronounced cheekbones, though the hair was uncannily similar, a springy cascade of that same nondescript too-blond-to-be-brown. No, what struck him most was something more subtle. He couldn’t put a finger on it even if he’d wanted to – might have been as petty a detail as the set of her mouth or the shape of her shoulders – but somehow, she had that same look about her that he’d always associate with Caroline. Fragile as a pretzel, yet stubborn as hell.
The resemblance, he realized with a shock, almost came as a relief. As if, this way, he could make himself believe Cooper fell for Annie simply because she reminded him of someone else. Never mind that was hogwash and he knew it, because Cooper never ‘simply’ did anything. Least of all fall in love.
He’d never seen Caroline Earle in real life. Had heard Cooper rattle on and on about her, sure, but never about the physical, or at least never when he’d been paying attention. He’d done the autopsy, though. Had been peeling her open even as Cooper was in surgery, fighting for his life. He remembered counting the minutes, then the hours, by the parts of her that he examined; every scar, every wrinkle etched into his mind like an obscene three-hour memory game. Made all the worse because he resented her for everything that had happened and then some, and hated himself for doing just that. Having her at his mercy to cut open and analyze had been one of those obscene, cosmic ironies life throws at you when you least expect it. He’d forced himself to soak in every instant of it.
He suspected, at times, he remembered the dead far better than the living.
Annie Blackburn, at least, was still among the latter, which was why they were here. Why Truman was here, more to the point. Much as he hated to admit it, Albert was just tagging along for lack of anything more productive to do, short of gnawing off his fingernails up to his elbows.
The room was dismal and cluttered, like everything here at Hayseed Central, he thought, but with none of the satisfaction thoughts like those usually brought him. There was a woman at Annie’s bed that he placed, after a second, as Norma Jennings. Cooper’s cherry-pie idol, and that in itself was almost enough to make him turn and bolt right out of there. Instead, he managed a curt nod, tried to focus on the conversation, on Harry, on the color of the curtains, anything. Whatever kept him thinking about the real reason that brought him back to Twin Peaks – a reason unsurprisingly named Dale Cooper – would do just dandy.
He was glad to let Truman do the talking, for once. Even if that did gave his mind plenty of leeway to wander. He’d gotten the call early that morning, just as he was sewing up his last customer of the day and didn’t think he could go another hour without sleep or a double scotch, preferably both. Not the sheriff, but Hawk. Telling him Annie had been taken by Earle, Coop had gone after them both, and Harry had gone after him and was now waiting for all of them to reappear out of thin air at some mystical clearing in the woods. Well, okay, that wasn’t how Hawk had described it, but it was close enough. If it had been anyone other than Cooper, anyone other than Earle, Albert would probably have laughed his ass off for about five minutes, then gone back to business. As it was, he rang Gordon on the spot and asked permission to leave for Twin Peaks.
Arriving in town, he’d been surprised to find Cooper not just alive but fit as a fiddle, all smiles and reassurances. Too fit, given all he’d gone through the past night, plus the fact of Annie Blackburn still being in hospital. Kill him now if he could explain it, but from the second he’d laid eyes on Cooper, all of Albert’s instincts had been screaming wrong wrong wrong like a broken fire siren, and the feeling hadn’t abated one bit.
“No, we don’t think it’s wise to let you see Cooper for now,” the sheriff was repeating, softly, to both women. “It’s hard to explain, but I’ll have to ask you to trust me on this.”
Annie made a move as if to protest, then gave a faint nod. “He is all right, though? Dale? He’s –”
“Physically, he’s fine. But we think –” Pause, and a tortured look in Albert’s direction. “He might have experienced some kind of trauma last night, we’re not sure yet. He’s been acting a little strange. We’re trying to find out why.” Voice low and almost credible, and if Albert didn’t know any better, he’d have been tempted to let that voice lull him right into dreamland as well. Except, meeting Harry’s eyes just then, he knew they were thinking exactly the same.
Annie Blackburn didn’t seem convinced either, not by a long shot, and for a second Albert’s anger flared, shamefully and hotly, before he could bite down on it. If not for her, Cooper would never have been in this situation – whatever the hell that situation might be. It would be so easy to hate her now, for that reason or another. Except he couldn’t. Cooper had loved her, therefore there was no way in hell he could hate her even if he’d wanted to. And God, did he want to. In a way, that made it even worse.
“You blame me.” Annie’s voice cut through his reverie, and it took him a second to realize she wasn’t addressing Harry, but him. “For what happened to Dale. I understand. It happened because we fell in love. If he hadn’t come after me – ”
The sense of déjà vu was like a punch in the gut – almost exactly the words Cooper had used when telling him about Caroline. ‘It’s my fault. It happened because we fell in love.’ And how the fucking hell could she remind him so much of Cooper, when she was the one who’d gotten Cooper in this mess in the first place?
“It’s all right,” she said again. “I understand.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” he snapped. “Of course no one blames you.”
He was never sure if she believed him.
VI. Philadelphia, May 5, 1989
A classic cliché, is all he’d thought it was. That so-called mystical moment, climax of many an overrated novel or squalid B-movie, where time seemed to slow down and every observation, every noise seemed to be crawl by in a slow-motion blur. He’d never bought it as real, was sure he never would. He’d lived through his share of crises, and if there was one thing adrenaline did, it was speed up reality – not slow it down. All the rest was sentimental claptrap, nothing else.
He was wrong.
It couldn’t have been more than seconds. At the time, though, it felt like half a lifetime passed between the slam of the gun and Cooper’s body – Cooper’s body, but not Cooper – hitting the ground. Somehow the only thing that didn’t seem frozen in place was the blood, spilling between his fingers as he scrambled for something, anything, to staunch the flow. After years of exposure to corpses not bleeding, the sheer speed at which a living human drained of blood was almost surreal.
“Call a fucking ambulance, now!!” he bellowed, and Agent Williams, frozen at the door with the gun still in his hand, turned wide eyes at him, then launched himself down the stairs. Shock, no doubt. Still practically a kid – not an idiot, far from it, but no less prone to panic for that. Reflex shot, perfectly aimed. Only the wrong reflex. Not to disable. A killing shot.
Why else would it be Cooper looking out of those eyes, and not –
“Cooper?” he grated, lowered his voice with an effort. “Coop? Tell me it’s you, and not –”
“Not – BOB,” Cooper breathed, and God, there was so much blood. Too goddamn much blood, and he couldn’t even see what he was doing, he couldn’t –
Under his hands, Cooper gasped and spasmed briefly, then lay still again.
“You knew. About BOB.” In a tone that sounded almost proud. “Albert. How long –”
“– have I known?” he finished automatically, tearing a strip from his own shirt and balling it up. “Long enough.” Took a breath, lifted Cooper’s shirt and pressed with all he had. “Just couldn’t prove it. We were hoping for something like this,” he managed, biting his cheek as Cooper’s mouth tightened around a groan, “for you to bait BOB into getting reckless, help us catch him red-handed, but –”
“You did a good job, Albert.”
For some crackpot reason, Cooper was smiling at him, and fuck, what for Christ’s sake was he doing getting himself smiled at when he’d just screwed up the only chance he had to set this right? He shifted his grip on Cooper’s chest. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Swallowed, hard, and suddenly felt on the verge of hysteria, or at least closer to it than he’d had in years. “Williams panicked when you – when BOB – fired that bullet. I should’ve seen it coming, should’ve made sure he stayed downstairs, but –”
Cooper’s smile had faded. “I didn’t hurt –”
“No. He’s fine, you didn’t even hit him.”
“I know.” Soft enough to be almost inaudible. “I was going to say ‘you’.”
“Me neither,” he said, then cursed as Cooper convulsed into a bloody cough. He couldn’t let go. If he let go, it’d be over in seconds, rather than –
Rather than minutes. That’s what he was thinking, wasn’t it? And he was thinking it because it was true.
“Annie,” Cooper muttered, at a pitch almost too low to hear. “Tell her –” And if the next words were what he expected they'd be, Albert didn't know if he could bear it, he didn't. “Tell her I regret nothing,” Cooper rasped, which was not what he'd expected, at all. “That she's safe now. Not her fault. You, too, Albert. None of this is –”
“You hang on, God dammit,” he cut in, more for his own sake than Cooper’s. “We didn’t get this far to have you giving up on me at the end. You’re gonna be okay, Coop, you hear me? You’re gonna be –” Only he was a liar, a goddamn fucking liar, and a stupid one too, if he thought for just one moment Cooper was gonna buy any of this. Leland Palmer had died in Cooper's arms, and now Cooper was gonna die in his, and there wasn't a thing he could do.
“But I will be, Albert,” Cooper’s whisper shook him out of it. “You don’t know – what it was like – all that time, when BOB –” And there was that smile again, a broken, brilliant thing of a smile that looked right somehow, even though it twisted his heart in his chest and left him queasy. “I will,” Cooper repeated, stubbornly. “Don’t you see? I am, now. You saved me. Whatever happens –”
Albert shook his head like an idiot, like denying alone could make it all go away. “Coop, as much as I want to believe that, I can’t.” He closed his eyes and panted around a rush of nausea that hit like a freight train. “Just – don’t ask me to –”
“Believe it. Please.” And if nothing else would have even gotten him to try, that one word did.
He never could refuse Cooper anything.
* * * * * * *
Philadelphia, May 6, 1989
She’d been crying. Diane, of all people, had been crying on the job, and in a way, that was nearly as shocking as everything that had gone before. Oh, she was doing a great job hiding it. Touch of eyeshade, dash of powder, all neat and newly done. Lipstick too, in a shade of red so dark it was almost the color of –
But, no. No, there was no way in hell he was letting himself go there.
He watched, stiffly, as she stood and came up to him. Closed the door behind him almost in reflex. Federal Agent or not, he’d fully expected to break down last night – either releasing Cooper’s body to the morgue, or later, arriving in an empty flat to realize the next time his phone rang, it wouldn’t be Cooper. Couldn’t be Cooper ever again. But the crash hadn’t come, and sleep, thanks to two little tablets and three fingers of Scotch, had actually been dreamless. Diane, on the other hand, looked like she hadn’t slept a wink.
She hovered for a second, then, before he knew what the hell was going on, she was in his arms and sobbing against his chest. Not the loud, heaving, demonstrative sobs the likes of which prime-time T.V. had etched into collective consciousness, but the quiet kind. The bad kind. Just a rhythmic shaking of her shoulders that, if he didn’t know better, could’ve been anything from laughter to a case of the hiccups.
For the first time he realized how much smaller she was than him. Smaller by ten inches, easily, because putting his chin on the top of her head was no effort at all. Her hands were small too, cautious weights at the base of his spine, and suddenly his own eyes stung, furiously.
“Fuck, Diane –” was all he managed, and then for about fifteen seconds, he couldn’t say a damn thing anymore.
Later, he sat scrubbing his face in her office chair while she dug for tissues, already looking more composed than he’d thought anyone capable of in that amount of time.
“Who’s doing the autopsy?” she asked, with her head still turned. Making it sound like a perfectly neutral question. In truth, it meant do you trust anyone enough to let them, and he wasn't sure he knew the answer to that.
“Browne,” he rasped. Scowled and cleared his throat, but the lump that got stuck in there didn’t budge. “Decent guy. Intelligent enough. Anyway, cause of death’s obvious.”
She offered him a tissue, withdrew it when he shook his head. “I heard you asked Gordon for a leave of absence.” Worry sharp in her tone but, bless the woman, she didn’t voice it. Yet. “What will you do?”
“Not shoot myself through the head, if that’s what you’re worried about. For that I would’ve taken a day off, not a month.” He managed a raised eyebrow at that, if not the sarcasm to go with it. “Going up to Twin Peaks first. There’s a message –” Shaky breath. “A message that Coop asked me to deliver. After that – home, probably. Not Seattle home. Home, as in, go see my folks.”
She even had the grace to look surprised. “Well, I’d swear this is the first time I heard you refer to that as ‘home’.”
“That’s because I didn’t think I had one.” Watching Diane’s eyes narrow, he fell back on a sigh and a shrug. “Got a brother, too. Lives in Vancouver. Two kids. My dad’s not in great shape – diabetes, he’s had it for years – but my mother’s fit as ever. Still has her old mouth, too. Don’t tell me, it runs in the family.” Sensed Diane’s smile on him rather than saw it, and just for a second felt like a weight had lifted from his chest. “Do you know – it was Cooper who made me get back in touch with them? Practically twisted my arm about it.” Which was, of course, all he needed to have it hit him all over again.
“About Dale…” Her hand squeezed his shoulder, but not, something told him, to comfort. To ask permission. “Did he – suffer?”
For about one second, he considered flat-out lying. Then he nodded. “Physically? There’s no way that type of injury could not have hurt like hell.” The hand wavered, and he rushed to go on, “He didn’t look like it, though. Seemed – at peace with it, if you can believe it. Told me – no regrets.” Another tissue appeared at his elbow, and now he did take it, blew his nose, forcefully. “Which reminds me – the new kid, Williams. Came in from San Francisco last month. He was the one that –”
“I know.” Well, of course she did. “He didn’t come in today. I wondered.”
“Yeah.” He chucked the tissue at the bin and missed. “Looked pretty shocky yesterday – not that I was in a mood to pay much attention. They’ll sign him up for a chat with the office shrink, but we both know how much good that does, don’t we? So, ah –”
“I’ll keep an eye out for him.” She smiled, faintly, but when she drew back her hand, it didn’t look all that steady.
“Albert, what really happened yesterday? Gordon keeps telling me there was an accident, but… it's hard to believe that Dale, of all people –”
“It is, huh?” he muttered. Pushed up out of the chair, but couldn’t quite get himself to face her. “God, Diane. It’s a long story.”
He told her anyway.