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Another Man's Shoes

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Henry wasn’t sure if Lucas thought he was being discreet—but if that’s what he was striving for, he was failing.

It didn’t matter how much Lucas covered his hand with his mouth and crammed himself against the door window of the van; they were trapped in traffic with the engine idling quietly. The entire crime scene forensic team couldn’t help but overhear his conversation, given it was the only point of interest.

The other three assistants were doing their best to pretend they weren’t listening. As Lucas took a breath to make another sally into the phone receiver, Henry closed his eyes and grasped for the threads of calm and patience. It wasn’t necessarily Lucas’ fault that New York traffic could drive even a man who’d spent two hundred years cultivating his patience to unprecedented levels of frustration.

“No, but—sure. I mean, I get that. Yeah, no problem. I swear, Saturday. Hell or high water, I’m there. Yeah. Yeah, exactly, I know. Thank you. Thank you so much, I’ll make it up to you.”

Lucas started a long series of variations on goodbye that seemed to take up another full minute, during which Henry could not help but check again to see if the traffic snarl had yet let up, even though the long stretch of red lights ahead of them hadn’t changed at all. Lucas finally hung up the phone and the sigh of relief from the other assistants wasn’t so much audible as visible, everyone finally able to relax and stop pretending so hard that they were ignorant to Lucas’ plight.

From his vantage point in the front seat, Henry could see Lucas in the bench seat behind via the rear view mirror. Lucas looked up in time to meet his gaze in the mirror and, sensing Henry’s mood and the awkwardness in the vehicle, reacted the way he usually did: more talking.

“So!” Lucas started loudly, looking around. “What’s everybody up to this weekend?”

There was an unsettled ripple of sighs and groans through the passengers, and the uncomfortable silence reigned. Henry glanced at Lucas again to see him slump against the window once more, looking disconsolate as he took the hint.

Despite Henry’s gentle attempts at providing guidance, Lucas still dissolved into incomprehensible gurgling whenever faced with a woman he cared for. Which, distressingly, seemed to be nearly every woman who crossed his path.

Not that Henry was doing much better—he was tongue-tied more often than not since his conversation with Jo a week ago. Since she found the photograph of Henry, Abigail, and Abe, and he’d told her the truth about his immortality, they’d been on uncertain ground. Whenever the opportunity arose for personal conversation, Henry’s nerves left him fumbling and desperately eager to find some way to fix things, and inevitably Jo took advantage of his floundering and excused herself before he could find his voice. They’d not exchanged a personal word, and he didn’t know if she wanted to.

While she’d listened, it was painfully clear she was not ready to forgive his deception. Gaining Jo’s confidence in exchange for losing her trust was a steep price to have paid, but there was nothing he could do until Jo was ready to talk.

Next to Henry, the driver perked up.

“I think we’re moving!” he exclaimed, and there was a whispered chorus of ‘thank god’ and ‘finally.’

In the meantime, there was work to focus on. Like everything else he’d ever experienced, Henry would survive this too.

 

***

 

“So the first time was my own fault, I can admit that. I got the days mixed up, and I stood Sabrina up by accident. And it was pouring rain that day, and she was soaked waiting for me.”

St. Vartan’s Park was ringed with yellow police tape, and the OCME van was parked on the sidewalk to avoid blocking the morning rush hour. Lucas dogged Henry’s heels as they ducked under the tape and made their way along the lightly gravelled walk leading into the heart of the small block-sized city park.

Despite Henry’s heavily telegraphed disinterest, Lucas continued to narrate the full details of his romantic efforts. Henry resigned himself to the flood of high-strung enthusiasm, but only half his attention was on Lucas’ words. The rest was focused on preparing himself for seeing Jo again.

“The second time wasn’t my fault at all—a pipe burst in the apartment above mine and my phone was drowned in the flood, so I couldn’t text her.”

Henry grunted an acknowledgement, since complete lack of response seemed unbearably rude, hoping this would be end of Lucas’ early morning rambles. Lucas unfortunately took this as his cue to continue.

“Which sounds like the fakest excuse, right up there with ‘my dog ate my homework’ and ‘oh sorry, I didn’t get that email, must have gone into my junk mail.’ So this is my last chance, I’ve gotta make a good impression.”

Henry patted Lucas on the shoulder, struggling to achieve an attitude of supportive bonhomie.

“I’m sure it will go quite well, Lucas.”

They followed the directions of a uniformed police officer. Behind a line of park benches opposite a children’s playground, on a patch of grass bordered by a wrought iron fence separating the park from the sidewalk, Jo and Hanson were standing with their backs to them looking down at the body of their victim. On hearing them approach, Jo looked back over her shoulder.

Despite himself, Henry’s stomach did an acrobatic pirouette when Jo’s eyes met his. It was only the second crime scene he’d consulted on with her in the past week, and she’d avoided him the rest of the time. He gave her a polite nod, and she returned it with a tentative smile. His palms were uncomfortably sweaty, and he was stuck halfway between the urge to grab her and whisk her away to talk, and the desire to turn tail and flee from her.

“Any last minute tips?” Lucas said close to his ear, having leaned in to lower his voice. Henry started at the invasion of his thoughts and physical space. “What are Henry Morgan’s sure-fire dating methods? You’re pretty successful with the ladies. Or are you down to one lady right now?” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and nudged Henry with his elbow. “What do you think I should—“

“Lucas,” Henry snapped, his tension getting the best of his patience. He stopped and glared at Lucas, who had been caught off-guard by Henry’s shortness. “I suggest we focus on the job at hand. The trials and tribulations of your personal life can wait.”

Lucas leaned back from him, eyebrows raised. He looked from Henry to the detectives, and then back. He pursed his lips and nodded slowly.

“Okay, Dr. Morgan.”

Lucas’ tone and attitude indicated that he knew Henry’s sour mood had very little to do with Lucas. Henry’s ire deflated. Lucas was not a deserving target, but before he could apologize Lucas shifted his crime scene kit to his other hand, gave Henry a mock salute, and headed to the body. Henry took a moment to collect himself and pulled on a pair of blue nitrile gloves before he joined the group.

The victim was a woman crumpled on her side, resting on bright green spring grass dotted with yellow buttercups. Surrounded by the blooming hedge of hydrangeas that edged the patch of grass and the dappled sunshine coming through the maple trees above them, it was as idyllic a final resting place as one could find in the middle of the city.

Less idyllic, however, was the gunshot wound that had removed a portion of the victim’s head.

“Good morning, Detectives. Who do we have here?”

“Heya, Doc,” Hanson said. “Someone saw her through the fence this morning, thought she was a homeless person sleeping here, then saw the wound and realized she was dead.” He gestured to the destroyed portion of the woman’s head. “Called it in around 7:30am. No ID on the body, and so far the cops on the scene haven’t found a purse or wallet ditched in the bushes.”

“It looks like there was action,” Jo added, nodding to a few patches of the grass that were trampled and scuffed. “No clear footprints, but there was a fight of some kind.”

Henry circled the victim and then squatted down to peer into her face. Most of it was still there, the gunshot having struck under her ear near the hinge of her jaw. She had dark, thick wavy hair that was now matted with blood. Wide mouth, sharp nose, her skin and face lean and weathered, beginning to crease with age. In her early forties, maybe. He took one of her hands and flexed the joints, then dabbed at the blood on her skin and rubbed it between his fingers.

“She’s been here at least six or eight hours. I’ll have to get her back to the lab to know a more precise time of death.” Henry stood and tilted his head to peer at the body. The angle of the fall, the twist, the placement of the shot… He crouched once again and picked up the victim’s hand again to examine it closely. “Lucas, pass me a collection swab, please.”

“What is it?” Hanson asked as Henry swabbed the skin and dropped it into the waiting tube Lucas held for him.

“There are obvious signs of a struggle in the surrounding environment—trampled grass and divots, bushes damaged over there—and she has bruises on her arms.” Henry crouched down once again and pushed up one of the woman’s sleeves, revealing the purple bruises that had been peeking out below the edge of her cuff, then tugged down the neck of her pale blue button-down shirt. “There’s bruising around her neck as well. She was grabbed from behind and throttled. She fought against her attacker very insistently.”

“I can feel a but coming here,” Hanson said.

“But I think she had hold of the gun when it was discharged. Size and shape of the wound indicates a handgun, and in my experience there are only so many angles a right-handed person can achieve and still be holding the gun.” He mimed a gun with his fingers, holding it to the side of his head, gaze unfocused as he calculated angles in his head. “From the position of the wound, I would say she…”

Henry trailed off. Jo’s face had gone pale, her shoulders stiff and tense as she stared at him. He hastily dropped his hand.

In my experience.

A very poor choice of wording. He was not used to sharing the world of his work, which overlapped his intimate relationship with death, with anyone who knew where much of his knowledge sprang from. Especially when that someone was on very tentative ground with the entire concept.

“So you’re saying it was suicide?” Hanson’s brow was crinkled in confusion at Henry’s abruptly abandoned thoughts. Henry stripped off his gloves slowly to cover his lapse and gather a response.

“Possible, but with this level of struggle, I think it unlikely. There was at least one other person involved, according to her injuries. She may have been coerced in order to make it look like a suicide.”

“Great, now we just need to figure out who she is.” Hanson flipped his notebook closed and tucked it into his inner jacket pocket.

Jo, who was regaining some of her composure and colour, nodded her agreement. She stooped down on the opposite side of the body from Henry, but her attention was on the jeans pocket on one hip, which bulged slightly. She rooted inside it and pulled out a set of keys. Flipping them in her hand, she held up a blue and red keychain for inspection.

“‘Far Horizons Flight School,’” Jo read aloud. She made a thoughtful noise, then stood up. “Think our vic wanted to be a pilot?”

“With luck, the flight school knows who she is,” Henry said.

“I’ll give ‘em a call and see what I can find out.” Hanson pulled his phone from his pocket and walked away.

Jo and Henry were left facing each other over the body.

“Sorry I’ve been avoiding you,” Jo said.

The admission took Henry by surprise.

“I assumed when you were ready to talk, you would let me know,” he said.

“Yeah. It’s taken a while to get my head around things.”

“I see. Have you had any luck?”

On the afternoon where Jo had come looking for answers, cornering him with a picture plucked from his past, he’d told her the salient facts—which boiled down to surprisingly few. The picture was of his family, and he explained both Abe and Abigail to her. He was over two hundred years old, and did not age, and the mechanics of his death and rebirth accounted for most of his odd behaviour. The rest was thanks to an immortal shadow Henry had not asked for, but had been forced to deal with—a man who’d murdered his wife, and threatened to take Henry’s life and friends from him.

Getting that far with Jo had taken most of the night. He’d been hoarse by the time he was done, and was only greeted by her blank silence. As an offer of good faith, he’d let Jo look through his laboratory, to see the physical items that connected him to the past. She’d plucked items from shelves at random, as if spot-checking his story. Had she thought she’d find fake books filled with empty pages, like his home was an elaborately staged hoax meant to fool her?

She’d pulled one of his journals from the shelves to flip through it; one of his oldest, from before the turn of the Twentieth Century, when he’d still been hopeful that he’d see an end to his state, eagerly plunging himself into every modern medical advancement with enthusiasm, running endless tests on himself in hopes one might explain his condition. The look she’d given him when she lifted her gaze from the page to him—the confusion, the horror, the fear…

She cut their night short after that. He’d not been able to get a personal word with her since.

“That flight school is in New Jersey.” Hanson’s voice cut in. He was strolling back to them, his hand in a fist and stretched out towards Jo. “They’ve got an instructor matching our vic’s description. You wanna rock-paper-scissors for who gets the honour of the hour drive?”

Jo held out her fist and on the count of three bobs she kept her fist tight, while Hanson spread his hand flat, palm down. By Jo’s exasperated sigh and Hanson’s victorious grin, Henry assumed that she’d lost the little game of chance.

“Fine, I’ll get out there and see what I can find,” she said. She turned to Henry. “You want to ride along? If you don’t need to get right back to the morgue.”

Her tone was deceptively casual, but the subtext of her offer was very clear: I’m ready to talk if you are.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to be trapped for an hour with only conversation to keep them occupied, even if he was eager to know where they stood, but he couldn’t refuse her first overture.

“Lucas, could you arrange for the body to be taken back to the morgue and get the autopsy started?”

He half-hoped Lucas would find some reason he needed to attend to the preliminaries, but Lucas didn’t even look up from where he was taking notes on the position of the body.

“Yup, I got this. Have fun in the wilds of New Jersey.”

And that was that.

“I’d be pleased to accompany you, Detective.”

Jo nodded hesitantly, and Henry suspected she similarly hoped there’d be a reason to put this off.

“Give me a few minutes to check in with the cops who taped off the scene, and I’ll meet you at the car.”

Jo turned on her heel with Hanson at her side chatting over plans to divvy up their investigative workload. Lucas straightened up and came to stand next to Henry, arms folded over the clipboard pressed to his chest.

“I don’t think you’re out of the doghouse yet,” Lucas said. “You ask me, I think she’s still ticked about the pugio thing—or whatever it was about, because someone still hasn’t told me,” Lucas said, his tone a pointed prompt. “But I didn’t get fired, and you didn’t get fired, so I assume whatever you said to her—“

“Whatever I said was between me and Detective Martinez,” he said, cutting Lucas off. If this was the alternative to being stuck in a car for an hour, he’d take the car.

“Okay. Right, yeah. Sorry.”

Lucas’ wounded air was unmistakable, and Henry’s guilt flared once again. He owed the young man so much more than he could say, and definitely more than the meagre thanks he’d offered before he left to face Adam. At the time, he’d assumed it would be the last words he and Lucas would exchange. Instead it had been business as usual the next day. Lucas hadn’t pressed at first, likely because he wasn’t eager to highlight his own role in the theft of evidence, but his broad hints were less subtle with each passing day.

Lucas started turned away, but Henry put a hand on Lucas’ arm to stop him.

“I’m sorry, Lucas. Given what you risked on my behalf, I am in your debt. I realize I’ve been less than forthcoming about the details, but the matter is finally closed and I’m eager to move on. I hope you can understand. It’s been…” he searched for some way to describe the emotional roller coaster of the past weeks. “It’s been difficult.”

Lucas’ expression softened, taking on the same quiet empathy he’d borne looking across the table over Abigail’s bones. It was horribly exposing to have colleagues—friends—who now had so many windows into his private life, but he still hoped he could unsnarl the knots Adam had tied in his life.

“Yeah, I understand. Good luck, I guess…”

Lucas trailed off as he spoke, gazing with a furrowed brow at something over Henry’s shoulder. Before Henry could ask, Lucas pushed past and bent to examine the bushes lining the grassy patch. Henry joined him, and Lucas scooped one dusty pink globe of blooms and nudged it towards Henry for his inspection.

“The night I met Sabrina at the movie marathon, she was wearing a shirt exactly this colour. So she must like this colour, right? Flowers and colour—that’s gotta show I’m paying attention and care, right? I could get her a bouquet of these…whatever they are.”

“They’re hydrangeas,” Henry supplied. “Matching the colour may be a challenge, as they are a natural barometer for soil pH balance. They’re typically cultivated in blue for commercial sale. However, it’s a fine choice—in the language of flowers, hydrangeas mean heartfelt gratitude for understanding. That might fit your needs.” Henry examined the blooms. “On the other hand, they can also mean frigidity and heartlessness.”

“Oh.” Lucas pulled at his chin in thought. “Any flowers that mean ‘I promise I’m not going to mess up this time, please like me I think you’re amazing?’”

“I believe you’ll need an extensive variety of flowers to convey that particular sentiment,” Henry said. He glanced at Jo, who was still talking with Hanson. “But if you figure out the combination, be sure to tell me if it works.”

 

***

 

“Flight has always appealed to the human spirit.” Henry watched out the window as the city fell away behind them. “In 1909, at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, the Wright Brothers demonstrated their airplanes with rides around the Statue of Liberty. Now it’s commonplace to see machines zipping across the sky, but then? There were millions of people, all captivated, staring upwards to catch a glimpse of metal hurtling through the sky.”

Jo had stopped responding to his conversational gambits about fifteen minutes back, instead letting him natter on to fill the gulf between them, but this time she glanced over at him.

“You were one of those millions of people. 1909, watching airplanes fly for the first time.”

“Well, that wasn’t the first time airplanes flew, of course. The first manned flight, while only short, was conducted in—“

“Henry.”

He swallowed down the rest of his nervous rambling.

“Yes. I was there.”

The elephant in the car had been acknowledged by both of them. Jo’s fingers tightened on the wheel, and the muscles of her jaw tensed as she ground her teeth together. She shook her head with a short humourless laugh.

“Just when I think I’m getting used to it. Then it’s, ’I saw airplanes fly in 1909.’ Or ‘I know how people shoot themselves in the head.’”

“Jo,” he said, closing his eyes with a wince. “When I said—I didn’t mean it like that.”

“You’re not even a little bit subtle. I can’t believe I didn’t…” She huffed in frustration and didn’t finish the thought.

“I’m sorry, Jo. I don’t know what to say to make this easier.”

The car engine’s whine pitched up as her tension got the best of her, the car racing along with her thoughts, and it was another five seconds of silence before she took a deep breath and her speed moderated along with the conscious relaxation.

“Your, uh…” She cleared her throat, like the term immortality was stuck in it and refused to come out. “Your condition. That’s not what I want to talk about.”

The night she’d come to his door with the photo, he’d answered all her questions as best he could, trying to help her understand who he was, but he’d known in time she’d return with a thousand more. He hadn’t expected it to be about anything else other than the very obvious, impossible issue.

“Then what do you wish to discuss?”

Jo signalled and changed lanes, and their speed dropped as she took an exit off the highway towards the airfield. She waited until they were well off the highway before she glanced at him again.

“You’ve lied to me. A lot.”

“Jo, I told you why—“

“I know. ‘Because you had to.’ But I’m not talking about the…the stuff about you. The last month, all the running around behind my back? I could toss you in jail in a second for the things you did—things that had nothing to do with hiding your life and protecting yourself.”

Henry looked out the window and away from her accusations. He’d known it from the moment he decided to steal the pugio that Jo might never forgive him. Even though hints of guilt lingered in the very far, quiet corners of his mind about what he’d done to Adam, what he’d done to his friendship with Jo, it was buried deep beneath the bitter satisfaction and he wasn’t sorry for what he’d done.

“I was trying to protect you, Jo.”

“I get that, but you’re not above the law, Henry. Maybe you think you’re indestructible, but that doesn’t mean you get to run off on your own and handle it however you want.”

“I am indestructible. You must admit that has its uses when it comes to investigation.”

“Procedures exist for a reason. I get that when it comes to your life there’s some things you say you can’t avoid, like fudging birth dates or paperwork or whatever. But evidence tampering? Coercing witnesses? You’ve been on a personal vendetta. I can’t let you do things like that.”

A personal vendetta. Of a sort, he supposed. One that had been thrust upon him, not one he’d sought out.

“Maybe I was wrong, Jo, but I didn’t know what else to do. I care about you, and Abe, and the other people in my life. I didn’t want anyone else hurt because of me. Adam took too much already.”

She bit her bottom lip as she darted another glance at him. He’d let himself get upset, and his own voice had risen sharply. He turned away from her to focus on the empty fields surrounding the access road to the little airport. They were already green and shaggy with the fresh spring grass. The entire world was starting over—perhaps he soon would be, too.

Jo sighed heavily.

“If that had happened to Sean… I might have done the same thing in your position. To wonder that long must have been hell.”

It wasn’t forgiveness, but it was at least a shadow of understanding.

They rolled into a large open parking lot by an airplane hangar, and Jo shut off the engine and turned to Henry. She looked him over silently, assessing and prying at whatever she could glean from him. He’d grown used to the cautious look she wore when she was around him, the one that had settled in and never left when she’d held out her hand for the pugio he’d fully intended to plunge into Adam’s heart should it be him that stepped through the door, but it still pained him to know he’d so rightfully earned it.

“Am I on probation, then?” he asked.

“How about we try doing things by the book from now on and see how it goes. Keep things simple.”

“I believe I can manage that,” he said. “You have my word, Detective.”

Her expression relaxed, the curve of her lips softening into a smile, and Henry echoed the expression, drawn in immediately. Henry tamped down hard on the swell of warmth she inspired in him; keeping things simple did not involve indulging his feelings for her, no matter how much they kept butting to the fore of his thoughts.

“Great.” Her firm confidence faltered and her eyes darted away as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Okay. Good.”

“And…” She paused in her reach for the door handle as he cut in quickly, and he licked his lips with nervous unease. “The rest of it. My immortality. Is it really as simple as that—you believe me?”

There was a visible flinch when he used the term, and his heart sank. However, he held his tongue as she relaxed into her seat again, mouth pursed.

“It’s, uh…taking some time to settle in.” She gave him another tentative smile, a welcome sight. “No more supernatural surprises for a while, okay? If aliens are real, or the government’s got secret telepaths or something, don’t tell me. I’m still working on this one.”

Her gentle tease triggered a relief so powerful that Henry struggled to keep his composure. His unsteady exhale gave him away, and Jo gave him a quick and reassuring pat on the hand. She got out of the car before he could respond in kind.

Henry had a second chance—a rare thing in life. Patience and honesty was all she asked in return. Neither were his strongest suit, but he’d do his best.