In the weeks before Charlie Crews returned to the force, he was practically all anyone at the precinct would talk about. In the break room, on the range, at roll call, in meetings: cops would nudge each other and raise their eyebrows meaningfully and say, Have you heard? Crews wants back on the force! They’re gonna make him a detective! And then the conversation would turn to Crews’ settlement, and how much it was for, $5 million or $15 million or $50 million. No one knew, but everyone liked to make out like they did know.
As for why the hell Crews was even returning to the force at all, no one knew why he was doing that either. If I was a millionaire, no way in hell would I stay on the job, they’d say, and yeah, Dani got that. She wouldn’t either. Or, she’d quit and fuck off to a beach somewhere for a few months or even a year, and then she’d be very tan and very relaxed, if bored out of her skull, and for want of something to do that was not drugs or booze or anonymous men, she’d come back to the job. Crews, however, had not fucked off to a beach for a few months, he just got straight back to work. Prison maybe gave a man some demons he wanted to outrun, or outwork as the case may be. Dani was curious about the exact reason why Crews was coming back to work, just like the entire rest of the LAPD was, but she figured it didn’t have anything to do with her anyway, so she didn’t spend much time wondering about it.
If pressed, she’d shrug and suggest, “Maybe it’s a PR thing,” and extricate herself from the conversation. She was extricating herself from a lot of conversations. Dani was pretty sick of it.
She was slightly less sick of the Okay, but is Crews really innocent? question, because that at least involved a case newly turned cold now that they knew Crews wasn’t the murderer. Like probably every other detective in the precinct, she’d pulled up the file to take a crack at it, but it was a mess of cold leads, badly preserved evidence, and shaky testimony. It would probably stay an unsolved case now, the stuff of crime reenactment shows or an episode of 20/20, the bones of the case bleached and picked clean by the assorted vultures flying around it.
So Dani did not care why Crews wanted back on the force, and she did not care how much settlement money he got, and she didn’t really care what people thought of his exoneration. The whole point of the goddamn justice system was that the opinions of everyone outside the courtroom didn’t matter. Dani had a job to do, and she really just wanted people to let her do it.
She started caring, a little, when she heard Crews was headed to her precinct. That definitely meant that no one would goddamn shut up about this whole situation. She started caring a little more when she did a mental tally of which detectives were up for new partners and gauged her own position on the list.
It wasn’t an encouraging ranking. She wasn’t all that surprised when she found out she was the lucky detective who’d be welcoming Crews back to the diffident bosom of the LAPD. Stick the crazies and fuck ups together, why not. The brass always did have the best ideas.
Dani was prepared to plow through her first case with Crews on pure professionalism. And yeah, he was a weirdo and his head wasn’t entirely out of the prison cell he’d spent twelve years in yet, but he hadn’t said shit about Dani’s looks or her size or her gender or her dad, which honestly put him ahead of probably the majority of her fellow cops and detectives. If he’d heard the scuttlebutt about Dani’s trip to and extended stay at rock bottom, he didn’t let on.
Of course, he was also pretty goddamn obnoxious and that interview with John Gibney’s family had been a clusterfuck. And then they’d had to go interview Rawls in prison, which had not done Crews any mental health favors. Dani wasn’t unsympathetic, but that didn’t change the fact that Crews maybe wasn’t ready to be back on the job yet., He was still operating on prison rules, unused to people who weren’t cons or guards, out of step with the world.
He was a decent detective though, so Dani figured it could have been worse. If the specter of department politics hadn’t reared its ugly head, Dani would have kept her mouth shut about Crews and focused on keeping her solve rate high. Crews would either get his shit together, or he wouldn’t, but it wouldn’t have anything to do with Dani either way. She hoped.
Any hopes Dani’d had about being able to keep her head down and just do the job, even with Crews as her partner, vanished when Davis called her into her office and all but told her that there was a way to make Crews not her problem any more.
“Has he done anything that would cause him to be removed from duty?” asked Davis.
The familiar flood of shame and anger rose in her again. Crews may have only been her partner for a couple days, but he was still her partner. And Crews’ last partner had fucked him over too, she recalled with a guilty lurch in her stomach. But if the brass wanted to find a way to get rid of Crews, they’d find it. Crews really wasn’t quite ready to be back on the job yet, she reasoned with herself. Maybe this was the best thing for everyone.
She couldn’t quite convince herself of that.
“He alerted a suspect that a police search was about to happen. And Detective Crews— apparently—allowed the suspect to dispose of a quantity of marijuana….”
Lieutenant Davis looked satisfied. Dani felt sick. She walked straight out of the LT’s office and out of the precinct, and into a bar.
If pressed to explain why she’d changed her mind about ratting Crews out, Dani would stare down a whole board of IA guys and say that Crews had had her back in a shootout and had made invaluable contributions to the Gibney investigation. It was the truth and the bare minimum foundation of any partnership. That wasn’t the real reason, or not entirely why.
She’d changed her mind because after the whole thing with the drugs and the shower, in the face of her silence, he’d said, “We don’t have to talk about it. We never have to talk about it.”
The relief of it was something close to a high. So yeah. Dani wanted to keep him. She could deal with the fruit and the zen proverbs.
“We should’ve taken the stairs. It was only six floors. Why didn’t we take the stairs?” asked Crews.
Dani stared at the floor indicator, willing it to move up to five. “Because they smelled like piss. The stairwells in these places always smell like piss.”
Said place was a shitty, probably not up to code, apartment building run by a slumlord. They were supposed to be interviewing potential witnesses to a fatal hit and run that had happened just outside a couple nights ago. The residents on the fifth and sixth floors would have had unimpeded views. If they’d looked out their windows, that is. Instead of getting the likely fruitless interviews over with though, they were currently stuck between the fourth and fifth floors, where the elevator had come to an inexplicable, groaning halt, as if it were a horse collapsing just shy of the finish line.
Dani stabbed at the buttons on the elevator panel. They all glowed dimly, but nothing happened. She pressed the emergency call button. It let out an ominous sort of croaking buzz, but that was all. She kneeled down to pry open the rusty panel where the emergency phone was supposed to be, only to find that the cord was frayed. Right. Of course. Because that was what her day needed.
When she looked up, Crews was regarding her and the panel with dismay. She got back to her feet, and Crews pointed at the elevator inspection certificate in the upper right corner of the elevator. From her position, she couldn’t make anything out behind the clouded and cracked display glass.
“Last inspected on March 12, 2002,” read Crews.
“Great.” She pulled out her cellphone. She only had one bar. Well, that was enough to make a call, probably.
Three dropped calls and one mostly shouted conversation with dispatch later, they were told to hang tight and wait for the fire department and an elevator repair guy. Dani leaned against one of the elevator walls, felt something sticky, and shifted back upright again.
Crews slid down the wall to sit in what passed for a lotus position in the cramped space. It mostly just made him look like an awkwardly folded up crane.
“Really don’t think it’s a good idea to sit down on this floor,” Dani told him.
“Isn’t it better to be closer to the ground, if the cable snaps and plummets us to our…mild to moderate injury?”
Well, that was the bright side. If the elevator dropped them down to the ground floor, it wasn’t a long drop. Nothing fatal.
“I thought you were supposed to jump up at the last second if the elevator cable broke.”
“I think that’s an urban legend.”
They lapsed into silence. Dani checked her phone, mentally calculated how long it would take the fire department to get to them. There was a hatch on the ceiling; she could reach it if Crews gave her a boost. But it wasn’t like she could pry open the doors on the fifth floor with her bare hands. Best to wait for the fire department.
She looked down at Crews, something of a novelty. She frowned when she saw that he’d gone a little pale, enough to make his small scattering of freckles stand out. His hands were clenched into fists. Was he claustrophobic? She maybe should have asked if he was claustrophobic.
“You okay, Crews?”
“I’m fine. I’m here, in this moment. Staying present in this moment. This trapped in an elevator moment.”
“Here. In this moment,” repeated Crews, breathing with very careful evenness. He’d closed his eyes, but there was no serenity in the tightness of the lines around his mouth.
“We. We’re here in this moment. Together.” She put some annoyance in her voice, but she also sat down next to him, close enough that they could feel each other’s heat, close enough that their knees only just touched.
Dani went over the available facts instead of checking her phone for the hundredth time: Crews didn’t like small enclosed spaces. He was fine getting into cars and elevators and other cramped spaces in the normal course of things. So he didn’t like being trapped in small spaces. Or, not trapped—imprisoned. By all accounts, Crews had spent a lot of time in the hole—in solitary—when he was in prison. Dani mostly only thought of it when Crews’ social graces were especially lacking. People got a little weird, when they spent too much time alone. And he was rattling around in that giant house up in the hills mostly alone—huge house, another sign he wasn’t fond of small spaces—which surely didn’t help.
Then again, maybe her social graces were lacking too. She should probably try to get his mind off this trapped in an elevator moment. Or would he want to talk about…whatever this was? Would that help?
“Do you need to…talk about this?” She hoped he didn’t need to talk about this.
Crews startled, as if he had forgotten she was there. He tipped his head to the side, breathed sharply in. She could feel his exhaled breath stir her hair.
“Talk about what?” His voice was flat, tight with some emotion between fear and anger, and she could feel his tension radiating out. He shifted infinitesimally closer to her.
“Think any of the red light cameras might have caught the suspect while they were fleeing the scene?”
Crews relaxed again.
“Maybe. You hit someone with your car, you’re bound to be a little panicked. Might be too distracted to obey all the lights. But what if it’s not an accidental hit and run. What if it’s premeditated. Then you drive off, find one of those self-service carwash places, and get rid of the evidence.”
And a lot of those self-service carwash places had cameras. Dani nodded, pleased.
“We’ll check with all the carwash places within a couple miles. You think this is murder?”
Her gut said yes, but she couldn’t yet point at a single piece of evidence that suggested murder over manslaughter. Six cases into their partnership, Dani respected Crews’ investigative instincts. If he thought it was murder too, it was a theory worth pursuing.
Crews shrugged. “Maybe.”
Just then, Dani heard some banging and creaking from up above them.
“Detective Reese? Detective Crews?” called out a voice. “You two alright in there?”
“We’re fine!” she answered. “Just want out!”
“Hang tight, we’ll have you out soon!”
A few minutes later, the elevator gave a jarring, heaving sort of lurch, and finished its trip to the fifth floor. The doors creaked open to a grimy hallway and a slightly amused firefighter.
“Thank you,” Dani told him, and levered herself up before he could offer her a hand. She turned to Crews who was still on the floor, head tipped back. He was looking at the open door, and at her, with an unreadable sort of look. She held her hand out toward him. “We don’t have to talk about it,” she said with a wry smile.
He snorted, gave her one of his tiny, genuine smiles. He took her hand.