The first time it happened, Captain Moreno didn't pay it much attention.
She figured it was just Riley being dodgy – default setting, she suspected. Or perhaps the detective just didn't want to bother – that too, she could consider. John Riley wasn't particularly bad – yes, he was frightening, sometimes, and there was that Smirk Thing, as Fusco called it, and he was a pain to deal with, but he wasn't, per se, a bad cop – or, God forbid it, what people called a dirty cop. No, Riley was...
Well, Riley was different. The police captain was pretty sure she was missing something very important about him – like, it's only his secret identity, her comics fan subconscious was hissing in the back of her brain – and she was almost certain he knew more shady people than even the dirtiest cop in the country – she also had a feeling she didn't want, like, at all, to know what the man was capable of – but John Riley wasn't a bad guy. She was sure of that, even if that was the only thing she could say about him for sure.
So, when Riley expertly delegated the visit to the 21st precinct to his partner, who only grumbled – probably used to being his errand boy, even if Moreno couldn't say how exactly this was possible considering they had started working together only a month prior – the captain only thought it was Riley being Riley.
Nothing weird about that, since Riley's speciality was to be weirdly efficient in a roundabout way.
Then a detective, Juliet Tanner, came over from the 21st precinct, two days later, to ask about the same case – turned out it really was connected – and Riley's first instinct at the news was basically to hide under his desk – or, since John Riley was oddly efficient at being invisible, to turn around discreetly so that his back would be to the visiting detective. Difficult to say whether or not the man was tense, because Riley was also strangely good at mastering his feelings, but now it had gotten the captain's attention. Something fishy was going on here.
Moreno observed as the detective waited a moment, or, more accurately, waited for the 21st precinct detective to greet Fusco, before turning over and doing as much. As if he had been waiting to hear the woman's voice, to make sure it wasn't a voice he knew, before allowing Tanner to see him.
The captain might have let it at that, had it stopped there. Riley could be weird, secretive, and downright suspicious, but it didn't usually lead to anything bad – only, to the kind of things she'd rather not hear the details about, because that'd be a headache, she could tell.
But when, three weeks later, two beat cops from the 21st came around, looking for one of their usual clients who had suddenly moved out of his condo, to come over into the 8th precinct's streets, Riley made sure to walk out of the room quick enough not to be – what, recognized, perhaps? – there was no place left for doubt. The detective John Riley was actively avoiding the 21st precinct and its representants, and Moreno wanted to know why.
Granted, she didn't actually want to know, because she could tell there was probably a dark and sad reason behind it all, one that she'd regret knowing. But, it was bugging her.
And perhaps she didn't like being left in the dark about something that might or might not become a problem later.
Of course, she couldn't just go and ask John Riley to tell her everything – the guy was probably a better liar than most of the criminals who walked in and out of the 8th precinct. No, she'd have to investigate...
But first of all, she needed a confirmation. Perhaps she was making a big deal out of – too many for it not to be suspicious – coincidences. She doubted it was the case, but perhaps...
So the captain called her detective in her office.
Riley walked in carefully, with an attitude that somehow said “I assure you I didn't do anything, Captain, and even if I did you wouldn't know about it”, controlled but not too wary, and closed the door behind him.
“You wanted to see me, captain?”
“Oh, it's not that important, but I thought you might want to contact the 21st precinct about that criminal they were looking for, and I have some files I need to hand over to their captain... I wondered if you could go there for me, save me the time?”
The way Riley's face didn't move at all didn't help in reading his reaction, but Moreno hadn't expected anything less from her precinct's secret James Bond.
His answer, on the other hand, while it wasn't particularly definitive in asserting his avoidance of the other precinct, did add up with what she had observed so far.
“Oh. Well, sorry, but I've already called them; I talked to a... Detective Jason Fletcher, I think. Is there anything else I can do you for instead?”
Moreno crafted an expert and polite smile, and waved him out, pretending to look back at her personal mountain of doom – or, as they called it officially, at paperwork – when in truth she was keeping an eye – discreet, she hoped – on his reaction.
“No such luck, eh? Well, thank you anyway. Just... go and work your cases. I like it when you're offering to actually do your job. As for me, I'll find a moment to head to the 21st myself... one day or another.”
Her last glance in Riley's direction, as he was quietly closing the door to her office – quiet seemed to define him, unless he was shooting at someone, evidently – caught onto something that looked a bit like a frown on the man's face. Something made of frustration, perhaps, and a little anxiety. Maybe. It was hard to tell with John Riley.
This, though, she was certain of it now – this needed her to investigate. Carefully, too. She didn't want Riley to hear about it, if it was something personal, or someone to guess what she was doing, not before she got a clearer idea of the situation.
She waited for the next day to come, and went, early in the morning, to the 21st precinct. She did have a file she wanted the other captain to take a look at, after all; it just wasn't particularly urgent.
When she entered the place, only three detectives were at their desks, the others probably out chasing leads; a few beat cops were in, too, amongst whom one of the two from the time Riley had bailed out on his partner without so much as an explanation. A woman in her twenties, Raimy Sullivan, Moreno believed.
The captain almost went to ask the cop a few questions, as there was one possibility out of two she had been the one Riley had avoided, but the 21st precinct captain noticed his colleague and waved her in. Moreno glanced at the young woman, but the beat cop seemed busy filling a report; she'd certainly still be here by the time she'd get out.
The 8th precinct captain headed over to her counterpart, but bumped awkwardly in the desk of an absent detective, in a way that totally had her blush when everyone's eyes landed on her. A photo frame fell to the ground with the shock.
Moreno winced, and bent down to get it and put it back, hoping the glass hadn't broken.
Everything was good, she sighed – but her eyes landed on the picture in the frame, and her heart missed a beat.
A hand took the photo frame from her, and put it back on the desk. Mildly disturbed, Moreno managed an awkward smile at Raimy Sullivan, who had gotten up and come all the way to rearrange the desk, surprisingly. She didn't look upset, though a bit dismayed at the stranger's reaction to the frame – Moreno guessed she did behave weirdly, even more so for a visiting captain.
Moreno's eyes searched for the name on the desk, and sure enough, all this wasn't a coincidence – it all made sense, she was sure, she just didn't know how yet. Frank Sullivan, the name plate said. Family, probably, which would explain why Raimy Sullivan had bothered taking care of the photo frame in the first place.
Which didn't explain why the second man in the picture – Frank Sullivan, she surmised, being the first – looked a lot like a young John Riley, wearing the uniform, with the 21st precinct pins distincly visible. Only, John Riley hadn't ever worked for the 21st precinct – his file said so.
Good thing the captain here was an old one, who had worked in the precinct since long before becoming a captain. Maybe he had been around when the John Riley lookalike had been a beat cop with Frank Sullivan. Moreno just needed to ask – pleasantly, without raising doubts as to her real objective here, if possible.
She spoke for a few minutes about the file she had brought to her counterpart, but once that was done – good to know they agreed, by the way – Moreno asked, conversationally, what she in fact was burning to know.
“Any idea who's the kid next to Frank Sullivan, on that photo?”
The 21st precinct gave her an odd, considering look, before sighing and going to a shelf behind his desk. He took a book from there, opened it – there was a piece of paper in it, probably a picture, but Moreno couldn't be sure from where she was sitting.
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just, I think I actually met him here, in New York, lately. You know his name? Where he's assigned now, perhaps?”
The other captain shook his head slowly, and handed her a photo of the same man – definitely Riley, or his doppelganger.
“I doubt that, Moreno. John isn't in New York anymore, and I doubt he's even been allowed to continue working for the police, wherever they sent him. WITSEC doesn't work like that. He hasn't even contacted his family once in twenty years or so. Last we knew, the Marshals were complaining he had enlisted without telling them, and had basically dropped off the grid a few years later. Frank's almost convinced he's been dead in a ditch for some time already, somewhere out of the USA, even if he doesn't ever say it.”
The older man sighed again, and it was clear he knew the story well enough; like someone who had been present when it had all happened. Someone who had seen the damage.
“That young man, here...”
He pointed to the doppelganger – twenty five years old, perhaps, hair still dark, a smile Moreno hadn't ever seen on Riley's face, and something in his eyes, something she did recognize from Riley. Something almost feral, begging to get out – mostly under control.
“It's John Sullivan. Frank's non identical twin brother. John looks a lot like his father, Conor, I think, and the man died saving people in a fire when they were eight. Frank looks like his mother... She... She was killed by the Nightingale killer; that's what motivated them, at first.”
Moreno knew about the Nightingale killer, obviously; her uncle, Stan – a man of many flaws, but at least not dirty enough to let a serial killer go freely – had been working on the case for years, until a young detective, the son of one of the victims, had figured out the killer's identit... Oh.
“Which one of the brothers took the Nightingale killer out?”
Given the circumstances of the death – a detective attacked in their own home, their gun taken, and a slit throat for the serial killer – the name hadn't been disclosed to the medias.
Her counterpart winced, his eyes falling back on the picture on his desk – Frank Sullivan, his wife, their kid daughter, and his brother – smiling for real.
“Both John and Frank became cops because of what happened to their mother Margaret, but Frank wasn't completely obsessed with it. He did a good job as a beat cop, then Narcotics asked for him... John, on the other end, quickly became a homicide detective, at twenty-four years old. He started obsessing about the Nightingale killer, so much that even the ones who actually were on the case thought it was too much. Frank helped, but I could see him growing concerned with his brother's obsession.”
Moreno could understand how frustrating it could be to be personally involved in an investigation, and not allowed to participate for that very reason. Herself, she kept well away from anything that steamied from her uncle's dubious arrangements – but she could understand. She guessed she was more like Frank Sullivan about it, than like his brother John – but she could understand.
And she wasn't particularly surprised to hear that Riley hadn't been able to let go.
“But John's obsession paid off, even if not in the best way possible. He found a lead, a little under a year after his becoming a detective, and followed it so well, he basically found the killer by staring him in the eyes, and reading his soul. He was about to get hard evidence and show it to the detectives on the case. But the Nightingale killer had read in his eyes too, I guess, because the man showed up at his place and tried to kill him. Fighting ensued, the neighbors called the police, and by the time we got there, John had slitted the killer's throat with a kitchen knife.”
Moreno'd have made a comment about how she wasn't surprised it had ended bloodily, but it really wasn't the moment – more so as it had probably been the first time Riley – Sullivan – had ever killed someone.
She did, though, point out what was bothering her with that story.
“That... doesn't explain why John Sullivan had to go into WITSEC.”
“Oh yes, it does. The Nightingale Killer was the nephew of a mob boss; bad education, I'd say. At the time, it was thought better for John to disappear... but now the mob boss is dead, has been for a few years, and his vendetta died with him. But John never came back.”
He did, but apparently didn't have the slightest intention to let his remaining family know about that. Moreno wondered why, as she left the 21st precinct, lost in her thoughts. Had he made enemies he didn't want Frank and Raimy to have to deal with? Didn't he want to see his brother, his niece? Shouldn't he have taken his old name back? Did the Marshals even know he was here, working at the 8th precinct, actually? And why had he gone to work for Narcotics, of all places?
Frank Sullivan... The captain knew the name well, and not only because the man had worked with her uncle. The detective had done a very good job undercover as a narcotic cop, even if – because of her beloved uncle, once again – it had all gone south before the police could do anything with his work. Detective John Sullivan was decorated several times after that. Apparently, he also was next in line for when the current captain of the 21st precinct would retire.
For someone who didn't want to go and tell his family he was alive, Riley hadn't chosen the best position for his return to the NYPD. Moreno was almost certain someone like him had been given a choice as to his new assignment... Though, were the higher-ups even aware they had hired back, not John Riley, but John Sullivan? Perhaps not. Maybe Riley's file had been lost in the labyrinth of WITSEC – she wouldn't put it past him to have somehow made it disappear, as it was, for whatever obscure reason he didn't want to be John Sullivan again.
Moreno tried to reconcile the photo of John Sullivan and what she knew of John Riley – it didn't work. It fit, in a way, just so much that she could tell without a doubt, and not only because of the physical likeness, that they were the same person. But there were cracks at the seams – she still missed too many points in Riley's life to make it work.
What had he done in the army? And where had he disappeared to after that?
Who was John Riley, compared to John Sullivan? More controlled, certainly, not obsessed anymore, efficient, dangerous even – how much, she didn't know, and didn't want to find out – a good man, but not by everyone's rules, she'd guess. Strangely uncarring of cops rules for someone who had been a beat cop for six years and a detective for one year before going into WITSEC. His eyes still as dark – as cold would be more fitting, perhaps – but differently so.
Perhaps that was the reason.
Perhaps John Riley had gotten that job at the NYPD because he wanted to be close to his brother, to his niece again, now that he could – but he felt he had changed so much, so terribly, he didn't dare to go and see them. Perhaps he was afraid that John Sullivan wasn't anymore. That he didn't belong.
Moreno paused as she passed by Riley's desk on her way to her office. The detective wasn't here – what a surprise – but maybe it was for the best. She didn't know yet what to say to him about the 21st precinct, about Frank, Raimy and John Sullivan. She didn't even know if she should say anything. Did she even have a right to?
People always had reasons to do things – whether or not these reasons were valid, was yet another story. If Riley didn't want to see his family, if he didn't want to tell them he was here, safe and sound... Who was she to decide that he had to? She didn't know his circumstances, beyond the obvious. She didn't know why he was doing this. It was his decision, his life.
For all she knew, talking may only worsen the situation.
Besides, if she said something, she'd have to report it. Plausible deniability only worked so long as you didn't prove that you knew.
Riley's reasons to stay hidden could be sound, just as they could not be it.
Captain Moreno stared at her paperwork for the rest of the day, barely finishing a quarter. She didn't know what to do – not to do. She didn't know what to say – not to say.
She saw it, though, in Riley's eyes, when the detective came back. That he knew she knew.