What Would Wolves Do
THE loneliest time in the world was 2:45 a.m.
It was long enough after the bars closed that everyone who had a place to go (or thought they did) and was physically able to leave was gone, so all that was left were the chronically homeless or the blind drunk, who had a tendency to drift into shadows or cars or parks, effectively disappearing. You could wander entire blocks and feel like the last man on earth.
Then you entered a convenience store, the last glowing beacon of humanity, and the feeling fled under florescent lights highlighting aisles and aisles of unnaturally colored snack food. It made you want to be the last man on earth.
Maybe it was that, or it was his latest case, which was just one fucking depressing surprise after another. He nodded at the Pakistani clerk, a sad-eyed man slumped at the counter, idly watching a portable TV that sounded like it was tuned to a Law and Order repeat (sure, why not? They could play that fucking show twenty-four hours a day for a month and never run out of different episodes), and then went to the back, where the cooler cases were. Roan had already decided this case was over, prematurely ended due to unexpected weirdness.
He had been hired by his client, one Holly Faraday, to tail her husband, Dallas Faraday. Over the past couple of months, Dallas had been working later and later, and she’d discovered, by finding a bill he’d thrown away, that he had maxed out his personal credit card—the one with the hundred-thousand-dollar limit. She confronted him about it, and he made up some phony story about outstanding student loans and a bad bet, but it made no sense to her. Then he drained their bank account, seemed to always have an excuse not to sleep with her, and one of her favorite coats—some ludicrously expensive Prada thing—disappeared. She figured he was having an affair (in spite of his denials), and that maybe he was being blackmailed, which would explain why his money was being spent so freely and mysteriously.
Roan doubted it was blackmail, as shows and mystery fiction had overstated its use. Dallas was in the higher echelon of the middle class—he was an upper management drone at Columbia Mutual—but he was hardly someone worthy of blackmail, unless it was a family member extorting him for money (when blackmail was involved, it was never complete strangers who had lucked into dirty secrets). So he’d started following him. Of course he wasn’t working late like he’d told her. Roan discovered he’d actually been fired from his job at the beginning of the week—and uncovered Dallas’s secret life.
First of all, he had herpes. Roan caught him buying Valtrex, and he also caught him taking some in the front seat of his Lexus, washing it down with his latte. He didn’t take pictures of that, although it did explain his lack of sexual interest in his wife. Why wouldn’t he tell his wife about it, though? He might have exposed her to it already; she might already have it. It wasn’t fair to keep that information from her.
Dallas drove around for a bit, withdrawing money from two different ATMs, which was suspicious. Roan began to wonder if he was a sex addict, “addicted” to prostitutes (which would explain the venereal disease). He then drove down toward a formerly seedy but now gentrifying part of the city and visited a woman who lived in a ground-floor apartment. He got telephoto pictures of a not-so-subtle cocaine deal—he was buying himself some nose candy from a frizzy-haired blonde woman who looked like the perfect stereotype of a soccer mom, save for that tattoo (he wasn’t sure what it was but guessed it was probably a cactus). His new camera had such high resolution that he was able to see it was purely powdered stuff, not crack or crystal. Very old school. The woman didn’t look like Tony Montana. Her place wasn’t that posh, either. A very small-time dealer.
Dallas ended the night at a kegger taking place at an off-campus house outside the local college, where there was no way in hell he was invited (he was about fifteen years older than everyone else) but they were all too drunk to give a crap about the skeevy cokehead cruising the coeds. He abandoned his stakeout there, as there was no way to watch for long without being noticed.
But that explained the money and possibly the herpes. Dallas had a major drug habit. How he’d suddenly found nose candy about ten years after it became antiquated Roan had no idea, but it was still an addictive motherfucker. But none of this was part of the moral quandary that had haunted him the rest of the night. Should he turn the photos over to the cops?
If she had been a small-time pot dealer, it wouldn’t have even occurred to him. Hypocritical, but there it was. Most potheads were harmless, simply because doing harm would have meant getting off the couch. And dealers who did their business in dime bags were generally rank amateurs, usually high school or college kids, no one very hardcore. But once you vaulted into the harder stuff—be it the crack dealers or the pot-growing operations that took up an acre or two—things got exponentially more dangerous, mainly because the amount of money involved also increased. Money was the key. Not too many people got worked up over twenty dollars worth of pot. But make that twenty-five-thousand dollars worth of pot (or whatever), and yeah, people cared very much. That’s when guns and violence entered the equation.
Potheads generally didn’t do anything but act stupid and eat Twinkies. Cokeheads could go fucking nuts. Staying up twenty hours in a row and eating nothing but coke could do that to anyone. Amphetamines made you feel invincible and stupid enough to believe it. A small-time coke dealer still might be trouble.
At what point in his life had he decided he didn’t want to seem like a narc? It was too late—he’d already been a cop once. That stained you as a “narc” for life. He eyed all the sodas through the glass doors of the cold case and decided he wanted something else. He just didn’t know what. He was tired and thirsty and hungry, and it was a long drive home. He’d told Dylan he was on stakeout duty, but he may have showed up after work anyways, as he had his own key to Roan’s place. Sometimes Dylan made him dinner, and even though they were vegetarian things, they were usually pretty good. Dylan’s job made him a night owl by default, so at least they had that in common.
He’d know if Dylan was addicted to coke. Roan himself had to be really careful about when and how many pain pills he took, as Dylan was suspicious enough about his relationship with pills anyways. And they didn’t even live together. So how did Dallas get away with being a cokehead and Holly never suspecting a thing? That didn’t make sense. He’d be nervous and shaky, probably more high-strung than he was before, possibly losing weight or at least his appetite. And that’s not to mention the other side effects that could result, such as spontaneous nosebleeds. She’d noticed the changes in money and some behavior, but not all? Why not? Oh sure, some people seemed to miss a lot, but Holly had struck him as sharper than that. Perhaps he was wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.
He’d just decided on a bottled green tea when he heard the chime of the door’s bells, followed shortly after by a rough male voice shouting, “Empty the fucking cash register, now!”
Roan turned, and had to take a couple of steps back to the end of the candy aisle to see what was going on. A guy with a nine millimeter, black hoodie-wearer with the hood pulled tight around his face, so agitated that he seemed to be rocking back and forth even as he stood still. Speak of the devil—it was probably a methhead. They could become a serious case of twitches, tics, and shivers. Coke was bad enough, but meth was hell, a quick trip to the grave. He heard the high was spectacular, and it must have been for people to deteriorate so fast.
Roan had actually decided to let the robbery go, as it was too dangerous to the clerk to go after him here and now. He could follow him outside and confront him there. He knew the streets were fairly deserted, and the chance of collateral damage was almost zero. But the guy thought the clerk wasn’t moving fast enough and smashed him in the head with the gun. “Don’t fuckin’ try anythin’ with me, towelhead!” the guy snapped, reaching over the counter.
“Stupid shit,” Roan muttered under his breath. This could have gone smoothly. No one could have been hurt. But he decided to be even more of a fuckhead than he already was. Roan knew if he started running, the guy would hear him and turn, so he had to buy some time. He stepped into the candy aisle and tossed the bottle of tea.
It was a dead shot. It hit him square on the back of the skull, and even though the glass bottle didn’t break, Roan heard the terrible thunk of impact, and the guy pitched forward across the counter, although he didn’t drop the gun. “Fuck!” he roared. The bottle shattered when it hit the floor.
Roan had started running, but he could tell from the smell the robber was giving off that he was amped up and probably relatively impervious to pain. He started turning, gun out, and Roan realized he’d started running too late. The guy would have time to shoot him before he reached him.
So he lunged for him. He didn’t ram into him—somehow he landed with his feet on the edge of the counter, bracketing the man’s chest, putting him in a good position to grab the man’s gun hand and punch him in the face with his other hand. He felt a tooth give under his knuckle.
“Motherf—” The guy began struggling, and Roan snapped his wrist like it was made of plywood. He let out a horrified yelp, and Roan slammed his forehead down on the man’s face. It hurt like a motherfucker, and he saw stars, but the robber got it worse. Roan let his arm go so he could slide to the floor, and Roan instantly grabbed the edge of the counter, where he had planted his feet. Was this defying gravity? He supposed not, but it was pretty close. He was balancing—easily—on the very edge of the counter. He could see the clerk behind the counter, crouched down with a thin trickle of blood dripping from his scalp. His eyes were wide and definitely startled, like he wasn’t sure if he should be more afraid of Roan or the guy with the gun.
“You call the cops?” Roan asked, finally feeling the strain on the backs of his legs.
For a second he just stared at Roan like he couldn’t believe he was for real, then gestured to something under the counter. “Got a button back here.”
“Good.” Roan dropped back down to the floor, careful to avoid the robber, who was already coming around. Roan kicked him over onto his face and put a foot on the back of his head to keep him down, leaning back against the counter to wait. “Don’t struggle. I have your gun now.” Actually, it was still on the counter where it had fallen, and Roan had no interest in it. He didn’t need it.
The clerk stood up at some point, turning the set’s volume down to almost nothing, and eventually asked, “How did you do that?”
Oh no. “Do what?”
“That—that jump. I’ve never seen anyone do something like that outside of movies. Are you a gymnast or something?”
The jump? The jump. Staring down the aisle, he realized his lunge was done about, what, twenty feet from the robber? More or less? He should go for the long-jump competition. Roan wanted to say, “No, I’m a cat,” but managed to fight the urge. It was for the best. “Not exactly.” He didn’t know he could do that. But if he could jump from a third floor and manage to land on his feet (and not break every bone in his legs), why couldn’t he do this? It was a minor variation on a theme.
He wasn’t sure if he wanted the cops that showed up to know him or not, but as it turned out, the difference was split. It was Thompson and Bragg, two cops he had seen involved with crowd control at one of the Church of Divine Transformation protests he was called in to help patrol—they all knew of each other, but didn’t really know each other at all. Thompson was a rock-solid, six-foot-three, two-hundred-pound guy who bore a very minor resemblance to a young Jim Brown, a reference that Thompson totally didn’t get when he mentioned it. It made Roan feel so very old. Bragg was an attractive, slightly heavyset woman, ten inches shorter than her partner, who seemed to show no emotion whatsoever, no matter the situation. Thompson was a bit more jovial, but in a way that suggested that he and Bragg had worked out their whole “good cop/bad cop” routine in advance.
Bragg took his statement while the EMTs bundled the suspect off to the emergency room (broken wrist, possible concussion), and Thompson interviewed the clerk, who was actually the owner of the shop—it seemed he had a hard time getting people to cover the night shift. (No, really?) He gave Thompson an earful on shitty police coverage and response time, but Thompson took it all with the same good humor he took everything.
Roan got his tea. As soon as the cops arrived and took over, he got another bottle from the cold case. He offered money, but the clerk/owner waved it away. Maybe a free drink was the least he could expect. Maybe he should have tried to get a frozen burrito thrown in as well.
Bragg asked him if he carried a gun, and he opened his jacket and showed her the Sig Sauer in his belt holster. That made her raise a painted eyebrow at him. “You didn’t pull it?”
“Why? Get in a gun fight with a civilian right there?”
“When you hit him with the bottle, you could have just as well have shot him. There’d have been no fight at all.”
Roan scoffed. “Kill a guy for trying to rob a store? I don’t think so.”
She kept giving him that stare, like she couldn’t believe he was for real. It was then, inside the store, that Thompson let out a startled laugh and said, “Lisha, you gotta see this! This is fucking awesome.” Thompson was watching security camera footage of the incident. He looked up and met Roan’s eyes. “How’d you fuckin’ do that, man?”
“Pilates,” Roan replied, deadpan.
Thompson thought about it for a moment, thinking he was serious, but then he realized he was being sarcastic and laughed, shaking his head. “You’re crazy.”
He felt like it, but he knew Thompson meant it in a humorously complimentary way. Roan hoped that footage didn’t end up on YouTube too.
Roan drove home, listening to the Deftones and trying to stay awake. You’d think that his adrenaline would be high, but it wore off very quickly. He was tired and kind of drained. It was a shitty tail, and it had been a shitty couple of weeks. It was one of those times when he wondered if he should quit this job entirely, and then he’d wonder what he could do instead and reconsidered it. He was only qualified to be a smartass, and amazingly, no one paid for that. Well, very few at any rate.
The house was dark when he got home, but Dylan’s beater car was in the driveway, and he’d left the porch light on for Roan. He unlocked the door to a quiet house that still had the smells of recent cooking lingering in it. From the scent alone, he guessed it was something Moroccan, as he could smell peppers and cumin and couscous. Other things too—was that raisins?—but those were the dominant smells. There was a note from Dylan on the breakfast bar that he read while listening to the messages on his answering machine. It was short, saying Dylan had tried to stay up and wait for him, but he was tired, so he ate dinner and went to bed, but he’d left him dinner in the fridge. Fair enough. The messages were nothing remarkable. Unless Dylan had erased it, this was day number two without a death threat from an anonymous guy he'd started to think of as Mr. Asshat. He should mark it on the calendar.
But while it seemed good on the surface, it could be terrible. Maybe Mr. Asshat had gotten bored. Or maybe he’d decided that the time for talking was done, and the time for action was nigh. Fuck it—he’d find out soon enough.
There was a brief tug of war between hungry and tired, but tired won, so he simply went upstairs, letting the dim moonlight illuminate his path. He didn’t really need to see anyways; he knew this house, how everything was laid out. He didn’t need to see to know what was where.
Once he made it to the bedroom, he quietly stripped, piling his clothes on the chair before slipping into bed beside Dylan. Roan had bought new sheets and blankets, an attempt to move on even in a merely cosmetic sense, and he still wasn’t used to the feel of them against his skin. It was weird what you got used to without realizing it.
He didn’t want to wake Dylan up, but the shifting mattress seemed to do it, and he turned toward Roan and opened his sleepy eyes. “Hey there.” He must have glanced at the clock on the nightstand behind him, as he quickly added, “Wow, that was one long tail.”
Dylan cupped his face in his hand as he brushed one of his legs against his. This was still nice; he still missed the warmth of another Human being when it wasn’t there. “Anything happen?”
He wanted to say, “I’m a hostage situation away from superherodom. Do you think I have an ass for spandex?” But instead he said, “Nope, not really. How’d your night go?”
“Oh, dull. It was a really slow night for some reason.”
“Cock ring show in town?”
He smirked, too tired to laugh. “I think I’d have been informed if there was. I’m glad I grabbed one of your books before I left, ’cause I ended up reading most of it. Not that the boss was happy about me reading on the job, but there was no one to serve drinks to for long stretches.”
“Tell him reading makes you look smart, and smart guys are hot.”
“Only to some.”
“I don’t like himbos.”
He kissed him softly on the bottom lip, letting his hand trail down his chest. “I know. It’s very sweet of you.”
“I’m a weirdo.”
“Stop that,” Dylan said mildly. He snuggled closer, and Roan put his arms around him as Dylan nestled his head into his neck. He must have washed his hair before he went to bed, because Dylan’s hair smelled faintly of green-tea conditioner.
Roan could hear birds start chirping outside, as it was just about four in the morning, and out here some of the songbirds beat the sun by a good hour. Not many, though, so it wasn’t too distracting. He concentrated on Dylan’s breathing as it slowed and deepened as he fell back to sleep, and tried to copy him. He was tired, and yet not quite tired enough to fall asleep.
Maybe because somewhere, in the back of his mind, he had this awful feeling that something bad was going to happen, that he had dodged so many bullets that his luck was bound to turn. You could fight a lot of things, but odds and entropy always got you in the end.
Roan just wondered who Mr. Asshat was, and what they would do when they finally decided to pull the trigger.