He sits at the bar, nurses his drink without really tasting it. It's quiet tonight, and he wishes it weren't – he comes for the clatter and the chaos, the white noise. Makes him sharp, focused. Helps him concentrate. Silence just lets him stew.
He's half-tempted to head out, but he'd sworn off taking his work home long ago.
"Hey Sal," he calls, nodding to the television, "set me up here, huh?"
She flips on CNN, and he opens the folder at his fingertips, flicks the end of his pen just to hear the click. It's still not enough.
Footsteps walk the line of the bar, heavy and even, and for a second it's perfect – he squints at the file and thinks to the beat, thumb working the end of the ballpoint. When they stop, close behind, he can't quite keep up.
"Twelve years out, and you're still sittin' in this hellhole." The voice speaks at his shoulder, laced with vague amusement. "Thought you would've moved up in the world."
"If it ain't broke." He'd look up, but he already knows what he'll see, and he's had his fill of smug for one day. "The place is convenient."
"I meant L.A.," Henrikson chuckles, sliding into the stool on his left without an invitation. "But I am curious, now that you mention it. Thought you stayed off the sauce." A hand snags the glass - he inhales in a swirl of clinking ice, coughs a laugh after he sips. "Got to wonder about a man paying good money for club soda. Just not right."
It lands in the center of a pile of paperwork, carving a ring in the intake form, and he takes a long pull before he moves it away, feels it blaze a carbonated trail down his throat. They've been playing this game since Quantico.
"Alcohol is a depressant." Impairs the mind, dulls the senses. He's never had a taste for it, in more ways than one. "That's not a mood I want to help along."
He turns in time to see two fingers motion to Sally, mouths along with what he knows is coming. Vic's always loved his scotch.
"And what brings you to my neck of the woods? Last I heard, you were chasing Leopold and Loeb all over God's green earth."
"Just paying my dues. Not all of us can be local boys who made good." Sally brings his drink, and Henrikson sits back and lets it breathe, pulling at the knot in his tie and flashing a smile that calls her sweetheart without saying the word. "Cold lead."
Flat can't hide the bitter, and he nods in answer, understanding. Aren't they all. "How's, uh..." He blanks for a minute, blinks, tries to conjure this latest one's name.
"Don't hurt yourself, now. I wouldn't know, anyway."
It's gotten hard to keep up over the years, and he can't help but wonder if he'd ever known her name at all. "Sorry to hear it."
The shrug is almost imperceptible, and the scotch finally gets some attention. "Whatcha got?"
"Kid capped at a chess competition," he answers, turning back to the file.
"Crips have gone geek. What's the world coming to?" There's a snort, so full of derision it grates. "Gotta be a POI if they gave it to the golden boy."
He shakes his head, more for the thinly-veiled insult than anything. "The vic's a local computer whiz, off the radar. It's the shooter we're interested in." Fingering the mug shot, he stares into John Doe's dead eyes. They didn't change in the flesh - deliberately vacant, defiantly fixed. Perfect cover, since they also didn't miss a damn thing. "No prints, no priors. No name. Guy's a ghost in the machine. But he's somebody, has to be. This was a professional hit."
Even money says the kid hadn't even blinked when he'd drilled a hole in Andrew Goode's skull, squad-style.
"So you bend him 'til he breaks."
"Already did." He pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers, presses them into bleary eyes. "We got blindsided. Whoever his people are, they broke him out in transit from county. Neutralized two of my men."
"Well that's always fun. I can do you one better." He flicks his gaze over in time to see Henrikson suck down half his scotch, lips twisted into a grimace. Something tells him it's not the single malt. "Not only did my guys slip out of Baltimore lockup, they vanished from max sec without a goddamn trace."
Sipping his soda, he smirks without humor. He knows all about the ones that got away. "How close are you?"
It sinks into the air, settles, and for a moment he sees the boy he'd known way back when, eager but unsure. Liked him more then, but respect has its trade-offs.
"Not as close as I am tired."
He's more than a little familiar with that, too.
"The ugly ones always get to you," he offers, but it's nothing they don't both know already. "Greed, revenge, even the zealots. That's easy. It's by the book. There's no code of conduct for crazy."
Henrikson's been bobbing his head, smearing the condensation on his glass with the pads of his thumbs. "And these boys are batshit crazy. Get their rocks off digging up graves and carving up girls, all in the name of doin' dead Daddy proud." He barks out a laugh, and it's an ugly sound - too thoughtful, too appreciative. In too deep. "But Daddy taught 'em too well. They've got brains in those sick heads. Only thing more dangerous than insanity is intelligent insanity."
"Truer words." He drinks again, tries to pretend he's not disturbed. It's not easy. Briefly, he envies his John Doe.
"But what can you do, right?" That grin is back, ever-changing. Conspiratorial this time, trying to smile away the slip. "Pavement gets pounded 'til the job gets done."
He cocks his head in agreement, eyebrows raised. "Idle hands are the devil's playthings."
"You and that book," Henrikson muses, and it's pointless to correct him. "Let me ask you something. When you get up in the morning, what do you strap on first – the badge, or the cross?"
"The badge," he replies. "Cross doesn't come off." His level look earns him a chuckle, deep and droll, but he's not surprised. In their line of work, a world of black and white and nothing in between, faith's either deep or it's dead.
The phone that peals isn't his, and he turns away while it's answered, tracing the lines of a barcode in black ink and committing the numbers to memory. He's missing something.
"I want a team there yesterday." It snaps above his head, making him turn back, and the very air has changed. "I'm on my way. Nobody makes a move until my say-so. Are we clear?" There's no wait for an answer, just the flick of a wrist and new hunger in dark eyes. He's gotten those calls. It's not hard to guess the context.
"Back to the grind." A hand claps at his back, falls solidly between his shoulder blades. "Good luck with your Keyser Soze, Jimmy Boy. And thanks for the drink."
This time, the wide smile is the last word.
And just like that, he's gone.
The place is dead again – half-empty, too quiet. He sits down anyway. He's got a hell of a headache, but there's a hand in his freezer and a heap of questions at his feet, and he's in no hurry to get home.
Sal's seen him coming, cues up CNN before he can even ask. She's already got his soda waiting.
He's brought a different folder this time, stuffed thick and worn thin. He can recite its contents from memory, and spent enough time doing just that, in the years when it filled his days and kept him up at night. But dedication's just another word for obsession, and the best are always gluttons for punishment – judgment's errand boys, shaping their lives from other people's sins.
It opens over the drone of an announcer and the clink of dirty glasses, noise that's less help than hindrance. The file is too familiar under his fingers, the picture clipped to the first page.
Her eyes are sharp, if world-weary. Always have been.
"In Monument, Colorado, a ruptured gas main is believed to be the cause of a massive explosion that destroyed the local sheriff's station."
It permeates the barrier he's still trying to build, and he spares the screen a glance. There's enough bad going on in the world without freak accidents chipping away the numbers on his side.
"The blast rocked the small community in the early morning hours, killing everyone on the premises. Among the deceased: FBI Deputy Director Steven Groves, Agent Calvin Reidy, and Special Agent Victor Henricksen. The local death toll has yet to be finalized, but at least six officers and staff were on duty at the time. Two fugitives, in FBI custody and awaiting transport, were also killed. In national news..."
The face is a flash in static, there and gone again, so like his own that it catches him off guard. It shouldn't – half the Academy had thought they were related. He'd always waved it off, chalked it up to bald and black.
"You okay there?" Sally peers at him, oblivious to the dead man who'd been right here with him just yesterday.
She hadn't paid attention. People never do.
He runs a hand over his jaw and flips the file closed with the other, shoving his soda away.
Two fugitives. He nearly laughs – bastard couldn't fail at anything.
There's another odd look when he orders, but Sal doesn't question it, and he has one in hand in seconds. It burns going down, a hot trail that pools in his stomach until he's breathing fire and blinking out smoke.
He drinks until it's done, knocks it back until there's no scotch left on the rocks, and stares into the facets of ice he's left behind.
Rhonda. Her name had been Rhonda.
His hands fumble for the file, a failure that may not be his yet. He nods to Sal, tosses a crinkled bill to the bar, next to his drained glass.
The other is still full when he leaves.