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Four of Clubs

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When we graduated from Champ's care, we had left most of the hollow eyed survivors in ourselves behind. We had grown, learned. The damage had taught us our weaknesses, and any number of other things. We had solid totems, and we were steady, unshakeable dreamers. We came out humbled, but confident.

I celebrated. Called an old friend from New York while we waited the four days for our finalized paperwork to clear, and our positions to be readied. I couldn't face four days of nothing, and even then I'd hardly believed we finally got there. I drank a lot. Picked up two girls, partly because I thought I was hot shit and partly so they'd freak the fuck out over it and then leave me the hell alone.

I knew they kind of looked like each other, I just figured I had a type. I thought I'd let it go as long as it was still fun. I didn't know they'd call each other to compare notes on their new boyfriends only to find the notes matched. I didn't know they'd do it because they were mother and daughter. 

So I learned a valuable lesson my third day on the job - no matter how good it works to pick up girls by telling them you're in the CIA - don't fucking do it. Turns out they'll hunt your ass down pretty easy, since the building fucking says 'Central Intelligence Agency' on the front. Not that any actual  work gets done there, but I was new enough I had to be there. 

Con tried to stick by me, too. Said the woman must have been disturbed and had the wrong guy. Building attracted nutcases. My story didn't match up so close to his, damn shame. We both got suspended a week without pay. I got the further advice to 'be more fucking discriminate', which I think actually should have translated to 'be more discriminate, fucking'. 

I took it to heart, both ways. Even with a week off and time to think about how ashamed of my womanizing ways I was, I decided I'd keep away from girls for a while. 

Also I had to figure getting my partner suspended meant I had to make it up somehow. I hadn't asked him to cover for me, true (if I had the stories would have matched). But one thing you did, if you had faith in your partner, you covered for him. The other thing you did, was when you fucked up and made your partner cover, you brought beer and made up for it.

So I did it all. I rented a cabin, a boat. Hell, the guy grew up on a farm. I figured he at least knew how to fish. Seemed like the sort of wholesome shit he'd do. Obviously, he spent less time chasing tail than I did, so he had to do something with his time, I figured.

It had to be either fishing or golf. I was wrong on both counts, but who ever heard of a cop who spent his free time reading? Well, and watching hockey or football, but I didn't learn that until later.

So there I was, on the apartment landing, with a big case of Real Beer (not the usual American shit, he didn't drink it), my best apology ready, and he just stared at me like I was from Mars.

"I can't just take off all week," he said, and looked at me like I was deranged. Back then he still wore glasses in the evenings when he took out his contacts. In this case, I think he put them on just so he could stare at me over them like that. "And I don't like fishing."

"Hey, partner, you like beer right?" I just started stringing words together, to find the right combination. "Fishing is just drinking in a boat. Sometimes you haul your line in  and put a new worm on it for shitty spiky sunfish to steal, but that's it."

"My dog, man," he says, making excuses. I sense he's reluctant to forgive me for some reason, but at that point I had no idea what it was. Trouble is, I'm easy to forgive. Possibly my most important talent.

"Bring him," I said, 'cause really? Dogs, fishing, the outdoors. That's a good mix. Con gave me a stern look, and crossed his arms over his chest. I could see his shoulders coming up, sensed he was about to dig his heels in.

"If I have to drag you by your hair," I said, "So help me god, we are going fishing. Get your shit, I'll get the dog." 

He looked like he was going to argue, but he didn't. Con sighed, shut the door in my face, and was ready ten minutes later. I guess sitting in, reading and contemplating his navel for a week in solitude didn't really appeal to him, either. As much as it might have done me some good to take a break before I spiraled out of control again,  I realize now I was already hopelessly in need of his company. Maybe somewhere inside I thought that if maybe I could trick him down that spiral with me - well, it might be a controlled descent. I have trouble with those on my own.

The thoughts weren't fully formed at the time. I just felt the victory. He warmed up during the car ride, and we forgave each other in the middle of bullshitting away about nothing. Really, he hadn't done anything wrong, but I forgave him for dragging his feet.

"You know how to drive a boat?" he asked later that night. We'd both cracked open beers by then, played a game or two of War as we got tipsy. "'cause I got no idea." 

"Yeah, easy," I lied. I wanted him to think I could handle anything.

-

We came home the next day with him soaked through and in a sullen sulk, half barefoot since he'd lost a boot in the mud at the bottom of the lake, a new home for fish. I was muddied, but not as bad as him and the night had grown cool and stilled most of our laughter as we shivered our way home.

The dog looked at us, our gross condition, and decided to wag his tail by way of greeting instead of soliciting our attention directly.

"I got the shower first," Con said, and I listened halfway as he exclaimed in the bathroom over finding bugs in his hair while I aimlessly flipped channels with the volume turned almost off. No cable. I won't lie - I smiled 'cause it was so him, you know?

He used up most of the hot water, too. Maybe to get all the mud out, or maybe out of spite.  In the shower,  I felt relaxed enough for the first time in ages to get a hand on my own dick and actually get somewhere. I tried to be utilitarian about it, since the feeling sparked up fast enough from 'god, I think I could stand to get off,' to halfway there with a few rough strokes. 

The water turned cold suddenly and I had to work for it. Instead of letting it slip away, I pulled harder, suddenly desperate to reach climax in an uphill battle as cool water bombarded my shoulders and back. I let my mind start up - dangerous, as I was pulling in great gasps of air, cautious of how audible I was. I had heard Con - and that stated it again - clearly. I should have been embarrassed that he could hear me, maybe, but instead I just wondered if he'd used up so much hot water doing the same thing. 

That was a thought. Don't get me wrong, I have a policy against jacking off to straight guys. Hell, he was my partner and I should have known better, but I'd seen that look on him today. I knew something about him that he didn't know about himself - maybe something that he didn't want to know, yet. So I let my thoughts turn over him standing with his feet just where mine were, his hands on his dick, and suddenly the cold water didn't matter so much. 

I envisioned rounded shoulders, his head angled down to watch what he was doing to himself, the motions through the whole length of his strong arm. The steady, squared stance he'd take to keep himself upright through it. I didn't get much further, far enough to envision what he must actually look like beyond those points of what I absolutely knew about him, before I came like crazy and let that wipe out thought entirely.

God, I must have made a hell of a noise, I could feel it happening low in my chest, a growl, when I became aware again. I was braced back against the wall, the shower's  handle pushing uncomfortably into my shoulder while the frigid water washed away all traces of my sin.

-

LUCID LOG - HR 22 SINGLE SUBJECT

Con knows. Looks at me when I leave the bathroom shirtless and still damp, and instead of totally ignoring it or giving me shit he just - grins. Like he knew a secret. It wasn't much of one, since I don't think anybody'd be surprised to hear I whacked off in the shower sometimes.

"What the fuck's that look for?" I challenge him, refusing to feel any remorse or embarrassment at all, and Con just shakes his head.

"Just never heard of anybody turned on by cold showers," he says, still shaking his head at me.

"Next time, you can give me a hand," I tell him, wanting to shock him into being quiet, push back until his ears began to burn like mine did, unexpectedly. I get half that - he turns quiet, thoughtful, like he is fucking weighing positives vs. negatives. Then he shrugs his shoulders.

"Thought you'd never ask," he says, simple as that.

-

But by the time I got out of the shower, he'd already gone outside to cook dinner. Con was a firm believer that you not only could cook anything on a grill, but that you should. I was willing enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, since anything he'd ever put on there had been delicious coming off again, and by this point I felt half-starved. 

I watch him cook as the sun sets, quiet, while the dog puts his head on my lap apparently ready to let us touch him now that we were cleaner. Princess.

"You really didn't know they were related?" he asked, after a long silence and looking up from the food to me, and I just laughed.

"I would have done it anyway," I said, grinning uncontrollably. "I just can't fuckin' help myself."

Con shook his head in a gesture somewhere between tolerant amusement and just not getting it. Typical.

-

I kept out of trouble for a long time after that. I think I had already started waiting - in my own way. I work a lot, weird fuckin' hours. It's hell on any regular relationship, and I'd never wanted one anyway. I like sex and loathe commitment as much as the next guy.

But maybe I didn't fuck around quite as much as I could have. I didn't - I dunno, didn't want to give the wrong impression. I was waiting for Con to add up numbers and come up with two.

Almost a year, even. New Years passed over us, and back into spring. Work was new and hadn't yet worn us down with the disappointments. We took our little victories where we could get them, closed down some inexperienced teams trying to break into the business and told ourselves next time - next time it'd be some guys who had done some real damage.

One thing I noticed - Con was soft as hell. He had a natural 'good cop' touch, it was just how he was. So he'd let me go off, let me play wild and hard-ass, for the ultimate goal of scaring these - kids mostly - into taking this shit seriously. I loved it. I wound them the hell up and watched him coax turnaround after turnaround out of belligerent assholes who thought that if they didn't agree with him this time, he'd walk back out the door for good and I'd be there. Just me, them, and the metal briefcase I let them believe was a PASIV.

He was almost always at the office before me, and usually even though it was because he wasn't sleeping, on Mondays he looked less like shit warmed over than I did. Weekends - what can I say. We still didn't spend that many off-hours together yet, he was kind of a homebody and I hadn't quite learned how to ask. (It was just by taking the lead and insisting, which I would figure out soon.)

I was surprised when he called me on a Friday, sounding exhausted. I remember he'd said the last time we'd gotten together for him to grill us food, 'the end's getting close', about the dog. I didn't think the dog looked any more decrepid than it ever had before, or any different at all really, but Con could just look at the thing and know.

"My dog's dead," he said, after 'hello'. I felt this surge of electricity like - god help me, like here was my opportunity after two years of knowing the guy. I'm a piece of work.

"Christ," I said, "I'll be right there." I was already getting up like I had to rush or it would be too late. He made a sound on the other end oft he line like he was about to say 'no' but instead he went quiet for a long minute as I yanked my coat on and then said, "Thank you." 

I feel less guilty about breaking the speed limit now that I'm not a cop, but in this case I should have been ashamed anyway. I accomplished a twenty minute drive in seven and a half minutes, then lied and told Con I'd been out in the area anyway. If he believed me or not, it didn't matter. 

"You - okay?" I said, eyeing the body motionless on the dog's bed. It could almost have been asleep, but limbs stuck out a little unnaturally from death throes, the dog's eyes were open, and of course it's chest did not rise or fall. 

Con shook his head. He wasn't crying, but he looked - well, like his dog had just died. The whole set of him was slumped, and he let me put an arm on his shoulders, get him to the couch, and sit him down. I fixed him a drink, told him to drink it, and not look.

I don't know why I had to fix it, but I wanted to put that dog back together. Good as new. Better, if I could have managed. All I could do was put his legs back under him, pick up the limp, lop-eared head and put it on his paws. The eyes wouldn't close, but he fit neatly on the dog bed, and without having to ask I took the blanket off the back of the sofa and put it over the dog. My hands had found one or two damp spots in the fur. Tears, I think.

As 'better' as I could make it, without having power to turn back time or reverse death. So I looked up, and he was watching me against my orders, his hand smeared flat over his mouth and his eyes in a new emotion. I'd never seen misery on him before, and I didn't want to see it on him ever.

"Okay?" I asked, my hand on top of the blanket that hid the corpse.

"Okay," he said, behind his hand. "He was an old dog."

"Yeah," I said, watched him take off his glasses, push his fingers over his eyes, and then get up . He gave me back the glass, half finished. I drank the rest myself, putting my mouth over where his had been. 

"Hell of a way to spend a Friday night," he said, "but would you help me dig a hole?"

A grave, he meant. I'd never done that before. I laughed morbidly, helplessly - and answered, "Real friends help you bury the bodies."

He couldn't laugh, but he got the idea. He lived in an apartment, so we drove back out to his Ma's farm, and she gave us both shovels. We dug. I let him do most of the work because he wanted to, he seemed to need to, so I just took over when he exhausted himself.  I got out of the way again when he'd caught his breath and was ready to keep digging. It didn't take as long as I'd thought - a dog's not as big as a person. Filling it again seemed to take no time at all, but by then my hands were cold, my nose freezing. We stood close, hands in our pockets and eyes on the grave, nothing to say. I started to reach for him - to I don't know put my hand on his shoulder or around his middle, but his Ma interrupted.

"Boys," she told us grown men, standing in the doorway with a cup  of coffee in each hand as if she were calling us in for supper. "There's coffee and it's damn near late enough to be early. Come inside, drink, go to bed. Guest room's made up for you, David."

Con's Ma had the good sense to put a healthy amount of whiskey in my coffee and I'm not sure what into Con's - maybe three or four ground up Normisson, since before he'd sat down he'd looked like sleep was the furthest from his mind, and then he'd practically fallen asleep at the table.

It struck me, as I let him lean on me up the stairs - my insistence, that he'd grown up here, but there were hardly any traces of this life left on him. Like he had rubbed them off, discarded them, all but his mother, whom he tolerated with the best of humor. Another piece of him, this past, that he hid from himself.

-

I called around a lot that week. I had some friends in the area, sure to have what I was looking for. Con dragged through his days, quiet, thinking. He began to look better though, bit by bit.

I made all my plans in secret, told him twice when I had to cut out of work early that I was meeting a girl, and he didn't even bat an eye.

Saturday morning, ten a.m., and I knocked on his door. The puppy was perfect - a papered border collie with the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. I'd looked at two with serious intent, then finally decided on the one which would leap into trouble before it was sure it could get out of it again.

Con barely looked at it - the dog was struggling, paddling paws against my arms just to get to Constantine, because he just radiated 'dog person', I guess, and his eyes passed over it for half a second and then up to mine. Like I'd just come along and ripped all the scabs off a barely closed wound. His throat worked, the puppy whined and he wouldn't look at it, would not let it soften his heart like I knew it would if he just looked. He shook his head, one motion - a leftward jerk and then a return. 

"Take it away," he said quietly, and shut the door on any arguments I might have made. The puppy peed in my car as I took it back to the farm I'd got it from, and as I cleaned up the still-warm mess, I thought what an apt metaphor it was for my life.