Miguel balanced his coffee on top of a pile of papers while he cleared off the notes and messages that had been left over night. He hated mornings, which was why, ironically, he always got to work early. He needed more time to sort the papers that wandered their way to him: reports that needed filing, forensics memos, messages from dispatch, and just all the random crap that needed daily attention. Mornings were his time to wake up slowly with a strong cup of coffee before the rest of the shift showed up.
Well, he usually got in before the rest of the shift, but today, Gina was already in. From the sound of her phone conversation, her car theft case had started heating up. Miguel tuned that out as he sorted papers and drank his coffee. A pink “Missed Call” slip caught his attention. Fuck and more fuck. Charlie. He’d been good—great, even. They’d actually made it to a second night. But Miguel wasn’t looking for a relationship, and Charlie clearly wasn’t getting that message. Dispatch hadn’t written anything, but the “request return call” box was checked. Miguel crumpled the small paper and tossed it in the trash.
Closing his eyes, Miguel imagined the horror if the press caught wind of Charlie. The press hated him now, but if they found out that he was gay… and not the steady, stable, ‘in a committed relationship that heterosexuals would envy’ kind of gay, either, but the sort of gay man who rarely had sex with the same man twice and picked up his dates in a bar… well, that would not go well. They wouldn’t care that Charlie had been his first in almost six months, they would just jump on one more piece of evidence that he was some piece of crap the department needed to scrape off the bottom of its shoe.
Pulling open his top drawer, Miguel grabbed for the aspirin before he filed his first report of the morning.
He hadn’t even worked his way through half of the pile before the first call came in: a child missing from a tenement on Tremont. As the newest detective, Miguel knew he should take a partner with him if he responded to the call. Peter and Rob weren’t in yet, Gina was clearly busy, and Justin Milovich… Miguel considered the man for half a second. He was weeks from retirement, and the whole department wished those weeks were over now, because he had mentally retired already. With the press calling for Miguel’s blood, he needed someone with clean hands to file the reports. Milovich was lazy, worn out, and obsessed with brochures from sunny vacation spots, but technically, Miguel should ask him along on the case. Hopefully, the missing child would turn up in the basement laundry room, because Miguel would rather get a tongue-lashing from the captain than deal with Milovich.
Grabbing his keys, he threaded his way through the crowded desks. Gina held her hand over the mouthpiece to the phone as he passed her. “Hey, watch your back. They’ve got some judge in booking and the place is crawling with cockroaches from the press.”
“Thanks.” Miguel gave her a smile before heading for the stairs. She nodded, already going back to her conversation on the phone. It sounded like one of her suspects had pissed off his girlfriend last night, and Gina was using her united-girl-power speech to get her to give up the chop shop’s location. Any second now, she would probably break into the ‘all men are slime’ version of the speech. He’d heard variations on that theme twice, and both times, she’d slipped him a wink in the middle, appreciating the humor of going all girl power in the middle of the male-dominated bullpen.
It was odd. Before he’d joined the Army, he’d had some illusion about soldiers being moral, ethical warriors on the side of truth, justice, and the American way. Before he’d become a cop, he thought cases were solved by tough interrogations and hard-nosed investigators threatening the suspect with life in prison. Both times, he’d been spectacularly wrong. He was actually pretty talented at being wrong.
Noise from the first floor rose to greet him before he hit the second floor landing. A couple of uniformed officers leaned against the banister, watching the shifting crowd in the public area below.
“I hear they brought some judge in,” Miguel said, studying the crowd.
“They’re about to.” The younger one had a bounce to him suggesting he was new enough on the job that this was all still very exciting to him. “Judge Ellison blew a .16 blood alcohol level, and he took out a parked delivery truck. The press is going to eat him alive.”
Miguel didn’t answer, but a little part of him thought that the judge probably deserved to get eaten. He certainly deserved it more than Miguel did, and if the reporters had a good enough distraction, maybe they would forget about him. A rail separated the lobby area where members of the press mixed in among family members waiting to post bail, and the hall to the parking lot was on this side of the rail. It meant he should have a clear escape; however, Miguel knew they would be on him the second he showed his face.
Maybe others could blend in. Hell, Sean Carroll—one of the cops who’d shot Amadou Diallo forty-one times—he could vanish into a crowd of accountants and never be seen again. However, Miguel knew he wouldn’t be that lucky. He’d inherited two things from almost four years in the service: a hatred for the Army and a face scarred badly enough to stand out in any crowd. Reporters didn’t even need to have a picture; their papers told them to look for a Hispanic man with a burn scar going down his left temple and cheek, so close to his eye that the wrinkles at the corner vanished into the puckered skin, and that was all they needed.
“You going down?” the other uniform asked, looking at Miguel curiously. Maybe he was offering moral support, or maybe he was just curious to see what a media feeding frenzy looked like; Miguel didn’t take time to try and figure it out.
“Yep.” He trotted down the stairs fast enough to make it clear he had somewhere to go, but not so fast that he looked like he was running. No way in hell was he going to run. He made it to the bottom and two steps down the hallway before the first call came.
“Detective Rassin! Detective Rassin, do you have any comments about the DA’s decision not to press charges?” Miguel ignored the question and kept his gait steady as he walked toward the parking lot. Yeah, he had a comment. The chicken-shit lawyers should have made that call weeks ago before his life had turned into a circus. But they’d hung him out to dry while his mandatory leave expired, and he’d been left dangling in front of the press like meat for the hyenas. He didn’t say any of that, though; most days he liked his job, and a statement like that, while honest, would pretty much end it.
“Any words for Williamson’s widow?” Miguel recognized the voice of the Post reporter—the most aggressive of the piranhas. “Have you apologized to her for murdering her husband?” Miguel struggled to keep his shoulders straight. He wanted to turn around and shove the man’s face into a wall. He wanted to take the toy gun Carl Williamson had been waving in that alley, and he wanted to shove it right down the guy’s throat until he choked to death on it. Or, hey, to avoid contaminating evidence, he could just strangle the reporter with all the lies he’d printed in his crap paper. Miguel could imagine himself shoving newsprint in the man’s face until he turned blue. Actually, he was pretty proud of himself for resisting that temptation.
“Detective Rassin! Any comments?” Flashes went off behind him, and Miguel breathed a sigh as he finally reached the corner and turned to head down the back hall. Voices followed him. “Detective! A former member of your army unit called you a nutjob, any comment?”
Miguel clenched his jaw and kept walking. Oh, he had plenty to say to that. A lot of the men he’d served with were dead, but if any of the survivors wanted to call him a nutjob, he’d…. Miguel could feel his anger fade into a more familiar weariness. He’d let them call him names. He’d earned worse names than that, but maybe he wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to go dragging the past back into the light of day.
He met Rob Jackson in the hall, Rob’s sprawling stroll taking up at least three-quarters of the room in the hallway.
“Rassin,” he greeted Miguel without even pausing long enough to look at him.
“Jackson,” Miguel returned, moving to the far side to let him pass. Rob stopped a couple of feet past him.
“Why are you going out?”
Miguel turned around. “Missing kid on Tremont.”
“Missing kid?” Rob waited for details, but Miguel didn’t have any.
He shrugged his ignorance. “Parents can’t find their kid.”
That seemed to make Rob lose interest fast. “I wish parents would fucking keep track of their own kids. We’re not a babysitting service. Social services should put the fear of God into a few of them, except they have kids as fast as social services can take them away.”
Miguel opened his mouth to offer some sort of defense for these people, even if a little part of him agreed that Rob was right at least some of the time. However, before Miguel could point out that those parents were in the minority, Rob had turned and headed back into the precinct. The crowd noise swelled, shouts echoing down the narrow hall, and Miguel figured the good judge had just learned what it felt like to have the press eat him alive.
“Better him than me,” he muttered before he turned and headed for the parking lot.