WHEN THEY released me from the hospital, I still had huge gaps in my memory.
By the time they let me out, things had slowly begun to come back. But even now there are great chunks of my life that I simply can’t remember. There’s been no logical progression to the returning memories either, which is annoying as hell. No nice, orderly “Here you go, March 1996 through March 2001,” thank you very much. The memories just flash into my mind at random, usually when I’m thinking about something else. I’m grateful to get them back, believe me, but it’s like watching a movie out of sequence. Some days I wonder if I’ll ever get to watch the whole damn film from beginning to end.
Older memories, like learning to cook in my grandmother’s kitchen, or being thrown out of the house on my seventeenth birthday, simply appear in my head like e-mail in my in-box. These facts, once they reappear, become part of my history again. Not just about my life or work, but other random stuff as well.
On the day I was released from the hospital, however, my only clear memories were about the events that had taken place since I woke from the coma. I was trying to hide it, but I have to admit I was pretty freaked out about the whole amnesia thing. Most people would be upset about missing parts of their past, but for an FBI agent, it wasn’t just a disability. It was a career-killer. Kind of hard to make your case or testify in court about something you did, when you don’t remember doing it. It’s ten times worse when your one claim to fame is your perfect memory.
Prior to meeting the business end of a baseball bat, I had a nearly eidetic memory. For those of you who can’t be bothered to look that up, it means I had what is commonly referred to as “total recall” or a photographic memory. If I read something, I could quote it back to you days, weeks, even months later. Better yet, I could tell you what side of the page it was on, what page number, and which text edition it was in. I could tell you if it was raining or sunny when I read it, and if my coffee at the time was hot or cold. Ask me what Nancy Kerrigan’s final score was in the 1994 Winter Games at Lillehammer, and I can tell you that, God help me. Ask me what I had for breakfast on Tuesday morning two years ago, and I could tell you that too. It was weird finding out I had that kind of memory while at the same time realizing it was as full of holes as a chunk of Swiss cheese. Okay, more than weird. More than just annoying. Infuriating. More like totally, completely, insufferably infuriating. Like finding out you were an Olympic diver who’d developed a fear of heights, or a neurosurgeon who could no longer bear the sight of blood.
My doctors are hopeful I’ll get most of my memories back. Me too. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and though memory is a tricky thing, there are encouraging signs. My memory for everything that’s happened after the attack is practically perfect, which is good. I know that I might not ever remember exactly what happened the night I was hit in the head with a baseball bat, though. That’s pretty normal, all things considered. I’m okay too, if I lose such bits of information as Secretariat’s record-breaking time in the Kentucky Derby—one minute, fifty-nine seconds, still unbeaten to this day—or if I don’t quite get all the Doctor Who references. Give me a break. The show has a fifty-year legacy to catch up on, and, in case you haven’t noticed, the plots, like time, are a bit wibbly-wobbly. I’ll get there. I can put that kind of information back.
It’s not knowing what happened in my own life before the attack that’s killing me.
The universe is a cruel, sadistic bastard. There had to be hundreds of things in my past I’d wished I could forget before the attack. Images of brutal crime scenes that I couldn’t unsee, or the time I walked into my ex-boyfriend Derek’s office with a surprise dinner to find him boffing some local artist. Yeah, there were things I would have gladly chosen not to recall in perfect technicolor detail every time I closed my eyes. Emphasis on “chosen.” See, that had always been my problem with Sherlock Holmes’s assertion that he didn’t need to know how many planets were in the solar system, so he would choose to forget that fact the moment Watson told him. How can you know what pieces of information will be vital and which are useless? Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, that wasn’t an issue for me. Once it went in the “brain attic,” it stayed there. Forever.
Until the day I woke up in the hospital, back in early May. For the first time in my life, there were important things I couldn’t remember.
Like the fact I was an FBI agent. Or that my partner, the incredibly good-looking Special Agent John Flynn, had also been my lover for the last six months. Or that someone had tried to kill me. Which is why, when I was ushered out of the hospital into John’s care, I was more than a little apprehensive about getting into the car with a perfect—at least to me—stranger. However, since serial killers rarely stop to pick up your cats from the airport before taking you out to the woods somewhere to murder you, I got in the car anyway.
“So we’re together,” I said as I buckled the seat belt. The cats had been yowling piteously just a moment before, but I swear, John just looked over his shoulder at them and they shut up. Like he was some cat whisperer or something. I spoke quickly to hide my nerves. “I mean, not just partners at work, but in private as well.”
We’d had this conversation before, but I needed a little reassurance, okay? So sue me.
John didn’t take his eyes off the road. His hands tightened on the wheel as though he’d like to wring something’s neck, and then they relaxed. I had no idea what he was thinking about or why it pissed him off, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it had to do with me.
“Well, that strikes me as extremely unfair,” I groused. “I mean, how one-sided is that? You know everything there is to know about our relationship, and I know nothing.”
“Yeah. I see what you mean.” His voice had a curiously speculative tone to it.
Something about his statement made me uneasy, as though I were missing some vital piece of information. But what could I do? I mean, I was in his car and driving to an unknown destination. It’s not like I could demand he pull over and let me out. Well, I could, but then where would I be? I pictured myself standing on the side of the road, one arm in a cast, with a duffel bag and two cat carriers at my feet.
“No, no. You have an excellent point.” He spoke as though we’d been having a conversation, when in fact, I’d said nothing. “It is unfair; me having all the knowledge in our relationship here, and you having none. The only sensible thing to do is start over.”
“Start over?” That didn’t sound good. That sounded like he was looking for a way out. It also sounded like I wasn’t going to get any sex anytime soon.
John made a choking noise, like he’d thought of something funny, but he didn’t want to share. I couldn’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses, but there was a sly tilt to his smile. It melted into something more sympathetic as he held my gaze. “Look. We’re cool, you and me. Never doubt that. But it’s not right for me to just take up with you when you don’t remember us being together. We can take it slow. There’s no hurry.” He shifted his gaze back to the road.
I had the oddest feeling that this was a big deal. This moment between us, here in the car. I can’t tell you how incredibly frustrating it was to feel like something momentous was taking place, but not to know for sure. Despite the sincerity of his almost-declaration, which warmed me in ways I didn’t want to think about, I was disturbed by the sense of relief emanating from him. As though he’d been let off some kind of punishment. As though he’d been reprieved. I didn’t like it. But again, what could I say? “You want to start over? Like we’ve never met before?”
He relaxed even more and rested one arm on the driver’s-side door while he steered negligently with just his fingers. The sunglasses were effective as shields in hiding his expression from me, but the slight smile lingered. We could have been out for a Sunday drive. If he was trying to distract me from whatever it was he was keeping from me, it was working.
“Yes.” He pursed his lips in a manner that shouldn’t have been as sexy as it was and nodded as though the matter had been decided. “It only makes sense.”
I thought about it for a minute and then gave it my best shot. “Hi. My name is Lee Parker. They tell me I’m an FBI agent and that I’m recovering from a brutal attack. Also, I have a really hot boyfriend.” From the backseat there came a plaintive meow. “And cats. Apparently I have cats.”
Without looking in my direction, John said lightly, “Hi, Lee. The big cat is Oliver, and the little one is Phoenix. My name’s John Flynn. I’m also an FBI agent, and I’m your partner. And until a few months ago, when I first met you, I couldn’t admit, even to myself, that I was gay.”
“Wow,” I said into the silence that followed. It lasted just a hair too long for comfort.
“I guess I’m going to have to get used to calling you Lee.” John cleared his throat. “That’s your middle name, by the way.”
“I know that.” I couldn’t help being a bit testy about it. Hello, eidetic memory here. I remembered everything since I’d woken up in the hospital. It was irritating to be reminded of things I hadn’t forgotten. “Jerry Lee Parker. Seriously? I don’t know what my mother was thinking.”
John made a noise that could only be described as a snort. We’d left the busy, congested area surrounding the hospital and merged onto the busy, congested interstate. My right hand crept up to take hold of the passenger-side handle above my head. A memory of John driving like a madman through dark, rain-slicked streets flashed into my mind. Clearly he wasn’t the safest of drivers.
John flicked me a sour look but slowed down to match the rest of the traffic. Clutching the overhead handle was obviously a dead giveaway of what I thought about his driving skills.
“Why on earth did she name me Jerome? And what grown man goes by the name of a cartoon mouse anyway?”
John’s mouth dropped open slightly before he clamped his lips shut. It was as if he wanted to say something else but changed his mind at the last second. He took the wheel with both hands again, barely retaining any semblance of nonchalance. “You told me once. Something about a saint and the Bible.”
God, that was even worse. I could suddenly see my mother—a large woman wearing a flowery print dress and carrying an oversized leather-backed Bible in one hand and her handbag in the other. I felt a little sick. I had no idea why. “Jerome. He translated the Bible into Latin in the fifth century. It means sacred name.”
A moment later my Swiss-cheese memory suddenly filled in the rest of that story, and I vividly recalled the day my mother found out I was gay. That was the day she threw me out of the house. I haven’t spoken to her since.
John took hold of the fingers sticking out of the cast on my left arm, gave them a little squeeze and then returned his grip to the wheel. “Wow. This really is like meeting you for the first time. We had this conversation about names then too.”
“And yet you still called me Jerry.” I sniffed my disdain.
“Nah. I call you Parker and you call me Flynn.”
It sounded right. Parker and Flynn. Close on the heels of that sense of belonging came an overwhelming hollowness, as though I’d forgotten to eat for three or four days. My therapist had warned me about that. One of the many consequences of head trauma was depression. Would I ever be normal again?
More tired than I’d realized, I closed my eyes and tipped my head back on the headrest. That was the worst part about recovering from head trauma, or so I’d learned. It didn’t take much to make me zonk out. When I was actually awake in the hospital, I’d spent hours catching up on my case reports. Once I’d realized that I remembered everything I read, I had requested access to my files and mainlined them like a Star Wars marathon. I had also watched a lot of television, trying to bring my cultural background up to speed, given the limits of time and the available cable television channels at the hospital. I limited myself to only a couple of episodes of such omnipresent shows as CSI or Friends before moving on to the next pop culture program. It’s not my fault that NCIS is on almost any channel nearly twenty-four hours a day. More than once I’d wake up from an unexpected doze to find another episode on again. But hey, now when someone asks me what I think about the actress who played Ziva leaving the show, I can answer without saying, “Who?”
One of the first things I’d done was look up John’s record with the FBI. I’ve already mentioned that he is ridiculously good-looking. Let’s talk about that a moment, shall we? Because seriously. So not fair. I’m a decent-looking guy, if I say so myself. At thirty-five, I still have a full head of sandy blond hair. The kindest description anyone has ever had for my nose is “ski slope,” but my eyes are a nice oceany blue, which keeps me from looking ordinary. I’m in fairly good shape—a necessity for the job—though apparently I’m a bit too fond of my own cooking. I suspect I have to work to keep it off my waist. But not bad. Not bad. I’d go out with me. I’m sure once the bruises finally fade, I’ll stop scaring small children as well.
John Flynn, on the other hand, takes “good-looking” to a whole other level. No. Good-looking doesn’t even begin to cover it. That’s like saying Indiana Jones is merely an archeologist, or that Dean Winchester is your average, clean-cut American boy. John is astoundingly handsome, with the kind of looks that only get better with age. I’d seen pictures of him when he was a boy—somewhere, damn it, I just don’t remember where—and he had heartbreaker stamped all over him then. But damn, if he hasn’t surpassed that early promise. He’s what some people call “Black Irish” in coloring—dark hair in careless disarray, hazel eyes that are sometimes green, sometimes gold, and fair skin that turns bronze in the sun. Without the benefit of SPF 2000, mine will develop second-degree burns and blisters. The only way I can tan is if my freckles merge together.
Not just another pretty face either. According to his old case files, he’d had an outstanding case-closure record back east, and it had become even better when we’d become partners. Apparently he was also made of adamantium. You know, the stuff that makes Wolverine nearly invincible. Yes, the X-Men movies came on while I was in the hospital. Anyway, before we ever met, John was the kind of man who could take a bullet and still bring down the bad guy. He was an adrenaline junkie, both on and off the job, listing mountain climbing and downhill skiing among his activities. If you’d cast him for the part of a hero on television, he could play a WWII fighter ace, an adventurer in the Amazon, a down-on-his-luck private eye, or the mysterious angel in a trench coat. No matter if he were holding a hand in a high-stakes poker game or jumping onto the runner of a helicopter from a moving car, you can bet Cinema Hero John Flynn would be coolly confident of getting his man.
Especially if that man happened to be me. Not that I’d be that hard to catch.
Because that was the most bizarre part about this amnesia crap—finding out that Special Agent Hot Stuff was my boyfriend. I know, I know. It still takes me by surprise, every now and then. For the first three days in the hospital, I’d repeatedly told him to shut up and get the fuck out of town every time the subject came up. It was embarrassing. It was like one of those videos you see online where some schmuck is groggy from anesthesia, and he can’t believe the beautiful woman holding his hand is his wife. Yeah. Like that.
The angle of the headrest was pissing off my spine, which was still unhappy from the beating I’d taken. I sat up with a little grunt and rubbed the back of my neck. “So you’re really taking me to your mom’s house?”
He nodded slowly, like he wasn’t keen on the idea but had no other choice.
“We’re going to be in town for a while. It made more sense than going to a hotel. Your neurologist doesn’t think you should fly just yet, and he wants to keep an eye on you. You’re making good progress with your therapist too. Besides, like I said before, Zimmerman wants me here on the East Coast for a while. That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to have the cats flown to us. The rent is being paid with an automatic draft, the mail is being forwarded, and Amy will check on the apartment, from time to time.”
He’d done it again. Answered the questions I hadn’t asked. I guess when you live and work together as closely as we had, you can predict what the other person is going to say. My boyfriend was driving me to recuperate at his mother’s house. You’d think that would reassure me we were really an item, right? From what I could remember of my past, relationships had a way of going sour on me, so I guess you can’t blame me for being a little gun-shy.
“Zimmerman’s my old boss. Amy’s our neighbor and petsitter.”
“You told me who Zimmerman was, back in the hospital room.”
His statement was completely unnecessary, and it annoyed the snot out of me. Okay, maybe I hadn’t remembered who Zimmerman was when John had first mentioned him, but of course I remembered my neighbor, Amy. Blonde, blowsy, a bit too fond of pink, and with a little Chihuahua that she liked to dress up. No, wait. John had something to do with making her treat Spike like a dog and not a doll. The information hovered just out of reach, as though my fingertips could brush it but not take hold.
It also felt as though John was manipulating me ever so slightly, and I resented that too. As though I were a suspect in a case and was being set up to react in a manner of John’s choosing. Hey, I might have forgotten a few things, but I knew how to keep a suspect off balance.
John gave a gusty little sigh without looking at me. What was that all about?
“My neurologist wants to write a paper on me, so not exactly an impartial opinion there. He’s never had anyone with an eidetic memory before. Every time he runs tests on me, he practically wets his pants.”
John snorted. “That doesn’t make him a bad doctor. In fact, it means he has a vested interest in your case. Win-win for everyone.”
“Forgive me if I don’t feel like I’ve won the lottery here,” I snapped.
We were heading out of the city and into the suburbs, on wide, four-lane highways traveling through what used to be farmland and horse country. The region was flat, and the early spring heat waved off the asphalt ahead of the car. Already it was warmer than expected. The Tidewater area was several weeks ahead of the rest of the region when it came to summer. A dirty thumbprint of smog marred the horizon, and the air was thick and heavy as a wet blanket. I found myself missing the blue smudge of mountains on the skyline. This time of year, they should be carpeted with newly leafed-out trees, speckled with late-blooming dogwood and redbud, as though someone had dropped a colorful, hand-woven quilt over the landscape. Supposedly, I had an apartment in San Francisco. So why was I missing the Appalachians? Amnesia sucked.
“How much do you remember?” John asked suddenly.
I had to think about that one. “It’s hard to say. I’ve spent a lot of time refamiliarizing myself with our cases. When I think about them now, sometimes I can’t tell if I really remember them, or just remember reading about them. The problem is, if I’ve forgotten something, I’m usually unaware of it until I remember it again, which is of negative value in terms of quantifying my current memory status. I’m remembering more and more, though. Mostly random facts and childhood memories.”
Half the time it didn’t feel real. Like I was reading about something that happened to someone else.
I clearly remembered the day I’d been ordered to pick up Flynn from the airport. He’d returned to town to question a new witness in the “Grimm Fairy Tale Killer” case, and I’d been assigned to assist him. Just thinking about the case made images of the bizarre murders flood my mind. In each of the GFT killings, the body of a young woman had been found lying in a funeral position with an item associated with one of the famous fairy tales. The method of murder had been different from victim to victim, but the hallmarks of the attack and subsequent posing had strongly suggested that the UNSUB (or “unknown subject”) was the same in every case.
When I’d been assigned to work with Flynn, I sat down to acquaint myself with the details of the case. I must have steered clear of certain cases when I wasn’t actively working on them. Given what I know of my memory now, I can see why. If I close my eyes, I can picture every last horrific detail of any crime scene I’ve studied, so it only makes sense that I don’t add to my nightmares when I don’t have to. Flynn—that is, John—had flown into town to question a nervous witness who would only speak to him. I guess because he’d worked on the GFT case originally. But after that, I don’t remember much of anything that happened to me until the day I woke up in the hospital.
My therapist told me that, according to my history, I’d had another incident of head trauma during the initial two weeks when I’d met John and we’d begun working on the case. Turns out that our lead had been false, but then the witness was murdered and staged to look like she was a victim of the GFT. That’s the difference between posing and staging, by the way. The former has personal meaning to the killer, but the latter is an attempt to divert attention. Posing a body is not as common as staging. Posing is an expression of something the killer feels compelled to do. Every time a murderer poses a body, he tells us a bit about himself.
During the investigation at the museum, the copycat GFT killer whanged me over the head, stuffed me in the trunk of my car, and left me for dead. I’m kind of glad I don’t remember that. But that previous concussion, followed by the more recent head bashing by one of John’s old high school classmates, was the reason I had this persistent gap in my memory. My therapist would have me believe I was refusing to remember that entire period of time because I was afraid.
I didn’t buy it, myself. But hey, that’s what the therapist told me. She also told me to keep a journal of my thoughts and the fragments of memories as they returned to me. I’d argued with her that, once my memories returned, I wouldn’t be able to ditch them, even if I wanted to. It wasn’t necessary to log them.
“Humor me.” She’d been as dry as California in a drought season. Since I needed her to sign off on my eventual return to work, I’d started keeping a journal.
I have to admit, it’s been handy, in a negative sense. Like the way the absence of blood spatter tells you an object in the crime scene is missing. In the course of mapping out my life, I found that I had a Flynn-shaped gap in my memory.
Yeah, because the biggest memory gap was the same period in which I’d known, and apparently had been sleeping with, John Flynn. You can see why not remembering sex of that degree of hotness would be frustrating. That makes me sound incredibly shallow, but come on. The man is sex on two legs. I had been sleeping with him. And I couldn’t remember it at all.
John drove in silence, one index finger tapping lightly on the steering wheel. I wondered if he was even listening to me.