Detroit is a city where the sun never shines. Hank thinks it has something to do with the industry of the city. Factories and automobiles belching smog up into the atmosphere. At the end of the workday, men emerge from the still heat of the forges and manufacturing plants and out into the dirty air that covers the city like a noxious blanket. It’s no wonder the sun isn’t able to break through such a thick barrier of despair.
Hank lights a cigarette as he peers out from his office window. What’s a little more smoke in the air to him, anyway?
The light of day is beginning to dim through the grey cover that hangs over the city. Clearly the sun must be out there somewhere even if Hank can’t remember the last time he saw it. He fiddles with the blinds and sinks into the swivel chair behind his desk, staring up at the slowly-rotating ceiling fan above him. It isn’t even powerful enough to circulate the smoke rising up from his cigarette, let alone move the air enough to cool him.
It’s just as well, really. Nothing is moving in Hank’s life. He hasn’t had a case in weeks. It’s almost as though the people on the street can smell the failure emanating from his office.
Hank frowns as he thinks about possible next steps for him. He’s withdrawn his ads from the newspapers and started living on a diet of cigarettes and whiskey to make ends meet. He’s broken the lease on his apartment to spare himself the shame of eviction and started sleeping on a cot in his office closet. And the little alcove where a secretary is meant to greet prospective clients has been empty for the past eight months. Hank can scarcely think of what else he can do to keep himself afloat. Hell, looking around the office, all he can see are more cost-sinks. The lettering on the window of his office door—Private Investigator Henry Anderson—is chipped and will need redone. There’s a crack running from the fan along the ceiling that Hank knows the landlord won’t fix. And his desk wobbles as he rests his elbows on it. Not very gentlemanly of him, but who’s around to see?
The familiar exhaustion creeps up his core, sapping his will. It’s beginning to get to the point where Hank is finding it difficult to care. His job is beginning to feel like a lost endeavor, and Hank wonders if a client were to walk through his door this moment whether he would even take their case or whether he would just send them on their way and resign himself to his fate.
He couldn’t make a difference as an officer of the law. He can’t hack it as an independent investigator. What else is there for him?
Hank leans back and puts his feet up on the desk without caring whether he scuffs the varnish. He manages to snuff out his cigarette in the ashtray and not on the corner of his desk as his apathy directs him to do, and he closes his eyes for a brief moment—
—and then wakes up with a start as someone knocks on his office door.
Who the hell knocks at a place of business? Hank wonders, and he nearly calls out It’s open before he realizes that if someone is knocking, the proper thing to do is to show them in.
Hank opens the door and the man standing there blinks up at him.
“Oh.” His brown eyes go slightly wide. “Are you—Mr. Anderson? Are you still open?”
Hank eyes the kid—no, the man standing there. Charcoal gray three-piece suit of a fine quality tailored to fit him perfectly. And a boyish face that has him looking younger than he is; it takes a moment for Hank to spot the subtle lines above his brow that deepen just a touch more than they would on a man in his twenties.
“Yeah,” Hank says, resisting the urge to rub his face and wake himself further. “Yeah, I’m Anderson. Er, open. Come on in.”
The kid—God, he’s just too pretty—the man enters with an obliging smile when Hank opens the door further. “I’m sorry about the late hour, Mr. Anderson. But you see, I’m in desperate need of an investigator and the man at the newspaper stand told me it was likely you’d still be in your office.”
“Yeah, I like to keep late hours,” Hank lies smoothly. “Can I offer you a cup of coffee, Mr…?”
“Call me Connor. And please don’t trouble yourself about the coffee. It’s my own fault for stopping by after your secretary has already gone home for the night, and I’m not sure my nerves could stand a coffee at the moment.”
“Well, have a seat at my desk.” Hank moves to sink into his chair. “Why don’t you tell me what brought you to my door at such an odd hour?”
Hank watches the way Connor sits, keeping his knees carefully together. Light from the streetlamps filters in from between the slats in the blinds, illuminating him in irregular bars. Pale skin and dark eyes, a curl falling over his forehead. He looks at Hank as though Hank is the last hope he has in the world.
“It’s my younger brother,” Connor begins. “I think he’s in trouble and I don’t know where he is.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I don’t know exactly. He’s always had… an appetite for certain things our mother would disapprove of. Gambling, cigarettes.” Connor looks into his lap. “He isn’t a bad man or a criminal. He’s just… overconfident. He sometimes gets in over his head.”
“Gets in over his head?”
“I once had to drag him out of a seedy poker tournament he had just won; the organizers thought he’d cheated and were gearing up to either beat him or kill him. My foolhardy brother wrapped a chain around his fist and started swinging it around. Thought he could take them. I saw someone open a violin case and I grabbed him and ran like a bat out of hell.” A small smile flickers across Connor’s face. “He won with a four-of-a-kind, nines. He’s liked to be called that ever since: Nines.”
Hank narrows his eyes. “Were they right?”
“About your brother cheating. Were they right?”
Connor’s brow furrows as he looks away, his mouth hanging slightly open. His lips are soft and pink against his pale skin.
“I get the picture,” Hank says. “So your brother has a tendency to involve himself in dangerous business. You think that’s happened again now?”
Connor meets Hank’s eyes again. “I hadn’t heard from him in over a week. That isn’t unusual for him, he can be a private person. But he called me about an hour ago and he sounded strange.”
“Strange in what way?”
“I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. He seemed… anxious, almost agitated. He talked a little about our family, but he wasn’t making much sense. Mentioning relatives who have been dead for years.”
Hank hums, considering. “What else did he say?”
“He told me he’d spent the last week running around with a man by the name of Gavin Reed and that they were meant to be meeting with an associate of his shortly. I asked who it was, but he said it would be safer for me not to know.” Connor frowns softly. “…He said he called because he wanted me to know he was ‘trying his best for our sake.’ That’s how he phrased it.”
“Sounds to me like your brother got himself mixed up in a deal of some sort.”
“I had the same thought. I went by his apartment to see if I could find him, but he wasn’t there.” A pained look crosses Connor’s face. “I don’t know where else to look, so I came straight to the only investigator open at this late hour. It isn’t like Nines to be afraid of anything. My gut is telling me that this is something serious.”
Hank looks at Connor. It’s been so long since he’s had a case that he’d almost forgotten what it was like to have someone in front of you whose whole life is falling apart before their eyes. Connor doesn’t have to say anything about how worried he is; his whole being speaks to it. His brow is drawn together and his hands stay clasped in his lap, almost as though he might fall to his knees in prayer at any moment. But he stares at Hank with those dark, oddly intense eyes of his. Silently begging Hank to bring his brother home.
“Alright.” Hank stands up. “You lucked out in more than one way tonight, buddy. Not only am I probably the last private dick still open at this late hour, I happen to personally know Gavin Reed.”
Connor’s eyes widen. “You do?”
“Yep. If you’re brother’s still with him, I don’t expect it’ll take very long for me to track him down.” Hank shuffles through a desk drawer looking for any of photos from his days with the DPD. “Now, I understand you’re anxious, so if you leave me your telephone number or your address, I’ll let you know as soon as I can what Reed has to say and whether your brother—”
“Then I’m coming with you,” Connor interrupts as he stands.
Hank squints at him. “No you’re not.”
“Why shouldn’t I? If my brother is with this Gavin Reed and you know where he is, then this could be resolved this very evening and I could be—”
“You’re not coming. To start with, neither of us know the first thing about what sort of bullshit Reed and your brother have gotten themselves caught up in. It could be dangerous.”
“I’m not afraid.”
Hank scoffs, tossing his head lightly. The kid looks like he’s never stepped in a puddle in his entire life, let alone stepped into the wrong side of town.
The pull of Connor’s brow deepens into a beseeching look. “Mr. Anderson, I realize what an imposition this is. But he’s my brother. The most important person in the world to me. I just want to see that he’s safe and well. You have to understand that I can’t just sit around and do nothing when there could very well be something wrong.”
There’s a dignified note in Connor’s tone that gives Hank pause. I can’t just sit around and do nothing. That’s a feeling Hank understands too well.
Hank lets out a breath through gritted teeth. One day his sentimentality is going to get him into trouble.
“You’re gonna sign a contract,” Hank says as he shrugs his overcoat on, “so if you get yourself killed, I can come after your estate for what you owe me for this.”
The threat doesn’t seem to faze Connor at all. He just smiles. “Of course, Mr. Anderson.”
It’s been a few years since Hank and Gavin Reed worked together. But even so, Hank knows Reed isn’t going to be a difficult man to find. A loud man with a louder personality and many nasty habits. He makes noise wherever he goes, and people notice. It’s enough to make Hank wonder if Reed quit the force of his own volition to live and work with the scum where he truly belongs or whether even the Detroit Police Department, bastion of corruption that it is, has limits in what it can tolerate.
Even before Hank left the DPD, he has always kept an unusually close relationship with the people of Detroit, and now that he doesn’t have police resources to back him up, he relies on his friends on the street to help him earn his bread and butter. There isn’t a tip line for the public to call; Hank has to go out and collect those tips himself.
But with a rat like Gavin Reed, he has a good hunch about where to start.
Sure enough, they reach the side of town where broken glass litters the street and steam rises up from the potholes and it isn’t long before someone is willing to look at the photo of Reed and is able to point them in the right direction. All in all, Hank and Connor only spend about an hour and a half looking before picking up a trail hot enough to hiss.
They head further into the bad side of town, past the boarded-up windows and the people huddled in alleys. Hank knows which people to look past and which people to stop and ask if they’ve heard anything about Reed. Give a cigarette to one, a dollar to another. Connor, to his credit, doesn’t look uncomfortable with the circumstances at all.
But as Hank and Connor start to draw closer to the Detroit River people on the street become scarcer and scarcer. Hank’s can feel his shoulders rise up around his ears; something is going on.
They reach a cluster of warehouses and Hank can spot some sort of commotion going on by the warehouse closest to the water’s edge. Connor nearly breaks into a sprint but Hank puts his arm out and forces him to approach slowly.
Hank’s heart sinks as he realizes what he’s looking at. Black police cars parked haphazardly and uniformed patrolmen putting up wooden barriers. They’re establishing a perimeter.
“Connor—” Hank grabs Connor’s shoulder, but Connor makes a strangled noise and breaks into a run.
One of the patrolmen steps into his path, putting up his hands. “Whoa, kid. No rubberneckers.”
“What happened!?” Connor tries to push past and the patrolman shoves him away roughly.
“I said stay out! A man is dead, have a little respect.”
“Nines!” Connor surges against the patrolman, screaming over his shoulder. “Nines, where are you!?”
And then from some distance away on the other side of the barricade—“Connor!?”
Connor breaks away from the patrolman—and Hank grabs him, holding him back as he struggles. “Cool your heels! You’re gonna get yourself arrested so turn it off!”
Beyond the barrier, Hank spots an officer escorting a tall, dark-haired man who’s a dead ringer for Connor out of the warehouse. He’s in handcuffs.
“Connor!” When the man spots Hank and Connor, he wrenches himself fruitlessly in their direction. “Connor I didn’t do it! You have to believe me!”
“Nines!” Connor tries to pull away one more time, and Hank has to shake him to get him to stop struggling.
“My brother…!” He finally goes limp in Hank’s grasp, stunned into silence.
Hank keeps a firm hand on Connor’s shoulder as he turns to the patrolman. “What the fuck happened here!?”
“I don’t see how that’s any business of…” The patrolman begins, trailing off as he furrows his brow at Hank. A moment later, his eyes wide. “Lieutenant Anderson? Is that you?”
“I—” Hank cringes, then stands up straighter. “…Yeah.”
“Oh. Oh, Lieutenant, I just…” The patrolman points over his shoulder. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but uh, your friend’s brother, he’s just been arrested on suspicion of murder.”
Connor moans softly, turning his face to the pavement.
Hank sighs. “…Who’s the vic?”
“It’s uh, it’s Detective Reed, sir.”
“That’s impossible,” Connor says, lifting his head. “My brother, he wouldn’t do something like that.”
The patrolman looks over his shoulder. Across the barrier, Nines is getting shoved into the back of a police van.
“Yeah, well,” the patrolman says, “believe what you want to believe.”
“My brother told me they were meeting with someone. An associate of Reed’s.”
The patrolman shakes his head. “No one else at the scene.”
Hank squints. “…If no one else was at the scene, who the hell called it in? Doubt the brother called the cops down on himself.”
“Dunno. Dispatch said one of the bums hanging around called in to report shots fired. No one else was here but the brother by the time officers arrived.”
“So you’re just railroading my brother!?” Frustration paints itself across Connor’s features. “If you know there are other people in the area—”
“Hey, hey, hey, cool it, cool it.” Hank tightens his grip on Connor’s shoulder, pulling him away. “You can’t argue with the cops. They’re just gonna do what they do and they’ll bring down obstruction charges on anyone who gets in their way.”
Connor gives Hank a pleading look. “I can’t just let this be. Look at what’s happening, you can see for yourself that there’s something wrong here.”
“They’re not interested in finding the truth. My brother was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and now he’s taking the fall for a crime he didn’t commit.”
“Connor.” Hank shakes Connor’s shoulders lightly. “You told me yourself that your brother tried to take on a gang wielding nothing but a chain. You don’t know what happened. You weren’t here to see it.”
There’s a resolute glimmer in Connor’s eyes. “I know my brother. I know he did nothing wrong.”
Hank likes to think he has decent intuition. Maybe he was a shit cop in other ways, but at the very least he had a good nose and a good gut. People have a hard time looking him in the face and lying to him.
Connor is staring straight into his eyes, his chest rapidly rising and falling with barely-contained emotion. Gazing straight into the depths of Hank’s soul, begging for Hank to throw him a lifeline. To do anything at all to help.
Hank huffs softly, rolling his head. “You recognize that I found your brother for you per our agreement.”
A muscle in Connor’s jaw twitches.
“You realize this is gonna cost extra.”
Hank turns back to the patrolman, digging in his coat for his wallet. He doesn’t have much cash, but he thinks he has enough for this. He just prays to God that Connor is as honest as his gut is leading him to believe.
“I need you to go have a talk with the boys in homicide for a while,” Hank says in a low voice, slipping the money into the patrolman’s palm. “Maybe go convince them to take a break. Awful late to be out and such, maybe take ‘em to go get coffee for twenty minutes or so.”
The patrolman looks down at his hand, then slowly looks back up at Hank. “…I see. Well, suppose it couldn’t hurt if it’s you, Lieutenant.”
Hank claps the kid on the shoulder. “Good man.”
“Oh, and if you find a gun, leave it alone.” The patrolman begins walking away. “They still haven’t found the piece used to kill Reed.”
Hank and Connor wait by the barrier until they see the patrolman gather up the detective on scene, and once the coast is clear, Hank climbs over the wooden board.
Connor vaults over the board nimbly, following Hank towards the warehouse. “…You seemed awfully sure that bribe would work, Lieutenant.”
“Ex-Lieutenant,” Hank growls. “Just like Reed’s an ex-Detective, no matter what some beat cop says. And yeah, that’s exactly why I knew that bribe would work. The whole fucking department’s rotten to the core.”
“Is that why you’re an ex-Lieutenant?”
Hank scrunches his face. “…When you get down to the root of it.”
Connor quickens his pace to walk next to Hank rather than behind him. “…Is it a source of shame for you? I was under the impression that private detectives like to flash whatever qualifications they have to prospective clients, but you don’t seem… very happy now that it’s out in the open.”
Hank looks away. “…It’s a sore subject. But it doesn’t matter. Not even the reasons I left seem to matter much anymore.”
The warehouse has seen better days. Dark and dank with only the wooden skeletons of shelving left over to show the building was ever once of use at all. Nearly all of the lights are off, and the only light the police bothered to get working again is the flickering overhead lamp which illuminates the chalk outline laying on the floor behind one of those bare shelves.
Hank stares at the outline. There’s a tiny bloodstain about where the heart should be. All the evidence found by the police seems to have been marked with little placards. Hank can see two empty bottles of wine and a spent shell from a .380 handgun all marked as evidence not too far away from the body.
“What was Gavin Reed like?” Connor asks, folding his hands. “Was he a good man?”
Hank shakes his head.
Connor’s shoulders slump. “…That doesn’t surprise me. My brother has never had very good taste in… friends.”
Hank clasps Connor’s shoulder. “Let’s get to work. We don’t have long to look around.”
They split up, combing the warehouse over. Hank searches through scraps of fabric and piles of splintered wood and debris, looking for anything at all noteworthy. At one point, Hank spots Connor scaling one of the shelving units which creaks precariously underneath him, but he descends less than a minute later apparently having found nothing of interest.
“Don’t surprise me they weren’t able to find the murder weapon,” Hank mutters at one point while Connor takes another look at where the body was found. “Whole place is a wreck. Dunno how they’re supposed to find any clues at all.”
“Do you suppose Reed was killed with his own service weapon?”
Hank looks up, surprised. “What makes you say that?”
“The spent shells. They’re of a caliber commonly used by policemen. Reed wasn’t with the DPD, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think he would figure a way to keep his service weapon.”
Hank squints. “…You a gun aficionado?”
“More of a trivia aficionado. But it seems plausible, don’t you think?”
“I suppose,” Hank says with a frown. “But if that’s the case, that’s not exactly good news for us. We’d want to find a gun we could link with this mysterious associate Reed was supposed to be meeting, not a gun your brother could have easily wrestled away from the vic.”
Connor furrows his brow, finally looking up from the outline. “I don’t think it’s very likely we’ll find the gun at all. The river’s right outside the door. Any shooter leaving the scene would have had ample opportunity to dispose of the weapon.”
Hank grunts his agreement and turns back towards the trash he’s sifting through… and pauses when he notices something catching the light.
Connor must notice the way Hank stills and bends his head further, for he looks over, interested. “Did you find something?”
“It looks like… a pair of eyeglasses.” Hank holds them up to the light. “Not cracked or bent or broken in any way from what I can see. And the glass is clean… not dusty or caked with dirt. These were dropped here recently.”
Connor approaches, putting a hand on Hank’s arm and leaning in to examine the glasses. “They’re of a good quality, too. See the engraving along the temple?” Connor points, brushing Hank’s hand lightly. “Cartier. French jewelers.”
“Eyeglasses like these wouldn’t wind up here by happenstance.” Hank raises a brow at Connor. “Your brother doesn’t happen to wear eyeglasses, does he?”
Connor snorts lightly. “No. And from the way you described Detective Reed, I doubt these belonged to him.”
“Which leaves our mysterious third party.” Hank folds the eyeglasses and tucks them into his overcoat—
—And freezes as he spots movement in his peripheral vision. A face is peeking out from behind the open doorway of the warehouse, watching them.
The figure quickly draws back just as soon as Hank looks in their direction.
“Freeze!” Hank breaks into a run, bellowing, “I said freeze, asshole!”
He bursts through the doorway and sees a figure scrambling away from the warehouses, disappearing behind a corner.
Hank gives chase. Away from the river and around the corner, following the sound of panicked footsteps until he reaches the street and sees the figure barreling down the road, coat flying madly behind him.
Hank forces himself onward, his lungs burning and his head pounding. It’s suddenly so clear what a terrible idea it’s been for him to forgo eating well simply to save a little money—he’s feeling dizzy already just from these scant few minutes of exertion. He can’t seem to push himself hard enough and the person in the distance is slowly but surely pulling away—
—And then suddenly Connor overtakes him. He pulls ahead of Hank, arms swinging like an Olympic runner. Hank’s steps falter in shock; it takes him a moment to realize that it isn’t just his own lack of energy making Connor seem like he’s moving at a near breakneck speed. No, the kid is running like he was born to chase down criminals. It’s almost an absurd sight, Connor in his fine suit with his carefully coiffed hair running down a dirty street as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to him.
When Connor catches up with the running figure, he doesn’t tackle him the way a civilian would. Instead he grabs the man around the waist and nearly hoists him off his feet as he slams him against the nearest wall. The man gives a frightened cry, and although he trembles like a leaf in the wind, he doesn’t struggle or try to break free. Connor holds him against the wall effortlessly until Hank catches up, panting and clutching his gut.
Dirty blond hair, dirty flushed face heavily scarred along the left side. The man’s tattered coat shakes on his frame, at least two sizes too big for him and about a thin as wet newspaper. A transient, Hank realizes. He couldn’t possibly have dropped those luxurious glasses Hank and Connor found at the scene just minutes ago.
His wide, watery blue eyes gaze into Hank’s with unabashed terror. As though he has no idea what he’s done to be chased down the street and hauled against a wall like a criminal.
“Listen,” Hank begins, holding up his palms in a beseeching gesture as soon as he has caught his breath. He adjusts his please-cooperate-sir voice to be just a bit gentler than it usually is. “You’re not in any trouble. We need your help. Now if he lets you go, will you promise not to run again?”
The man’s gaze flickers back and forth between Connor and Hank. He blinks wildly and swallows, then nods.
Connor glances at Hank, then pulls his arm away. The man skittishly steps back, his eyes darting up and down the street as his chest heaves, and for a brief moment Hank thinks he will run, but the man eventually stills. It’s for the best, really; Hank has no doubt Connor could easily catch him again and Hank doesn’t know whether he would be so gentle in subduing him again if he’d broken his promise not to run.
“What do you want with me?” The man’s voice is barely more than a wisp.
“What were you doing there by the warehouses?” Hank resists the urge to raise an eyebrow, leaving his face carefully neutral. “Cop cars, police barrier, you had to know something was going on. And it doesn’t seem very much like… a gentleman of your status to go putting himself near the cops if he can help it.”
“I don’t know what happened.” The man wrings his fingers. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t hurt anyone, I was just minding my own business.”
“Then why were you there?”
“I was… resting. I like to listen to the sounds of the river.” A mournful look crosses his face. “The air is fresher here than it is in the city.”
Hank would disagree with that sentiment, but far be it from him to criticize another man’s right to enjoy the smell of a polluted river.
“If you don’t know why the police were here,” Connor says, his gaze demanding, “then you didn’t see anything of what happened here before the police arrived.”
“No. I know what happened. A gunshot inside the warehouse.”
Connor’s eyes widen. “You were there?!”
“Outside. Hiding in the darkness some buildings away. Sleeping. I heard a sharp crack, but I thought it might have been a car misfiring.” The man shuffles his hands, glancing between Connor and Hank. “I stayed where I was. Maybe five minutes later I saw… a man. Running. Away from the warehouse they have cordoned off now.”
“Was anyone running with him?” Hank asks. “Or chasing him?”
“I don’t know. He was… acting wild. Looking all around. But I didn’t see anyone with him.”
“Maybe he thought he was being chased,” Connor whispers to Hank.
“By who? Nines? He was still at the warehouse by the time the police arrived.” Hank looks back towards the transient. “What happened after that?”
“I called the police.”
“You were the one who called the police?” Connor’s brows rise in surprise. “How?”
“Pay phone. I took a little time to scrounge up change. Maybe fifteen minutes after the man ran by before I was able to call the police. But by then I thought it had to be a gunshot. Yes, I was pretty sure it had to be a gunshot. That’s what I told the police; that I was a bystander who heard a gun firing.”
“Plenty of time for our perpetrator to get away,” Hank groans.
Connor gives the man another intense look. “The man who you saw run away from the scene, can you describe him?”
The man furrows his brow. The scar on the side of his face stretches his skin as he frowns. “…Dark hair. Stubble on his chin. Wild. Agitated. And a…”He pauses as a strange shudder wracks his body for a moment. “…a nasty sneer.”
“A sneer…?” Hank fixes him with a look, the gears in his head turning. He digs out the photo of Gavin Reed he’s been carrying since leaving his office and shows it to the man. “Is this who you saw leaving the scene?”
The man squints at the photo for a moment. “…Yes. That was him.”
“What?” Connor leans over to look at the photo. “The victim ran away from the scene of his own murder? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Unless,” Hank says slowly. “Unless the warehouse isn’t really where Reed was killed. Whoever really killed him might have brought his body back to the warehouse after he was killed.”
Connor makes a skeptical noise and turns around.
“Thanks for your time.” Hank tucks the photo back into his wallet. His fingers brush the single dollar that remains, and he hesitates. All the cash he has to his name.
He pulls out the dollar and gives it to the transient. “Here. You’ve been more help than you know.”
The man’s eyes widen as he takes the dollar, frowning softly as though he expects Hank to yank it back at any moment. “…Oh. I see.” Another beat before the dollar disappears into that too-large coat and the man mutters, “Thank you.”
Then he hurries away. Hank watches him glance over his shoulder anxiously before he disappears around a corner.
Connor looks at Hank. “Was that your last dollar?”
Hank shrugs. “Guy looked like he needed it more than I do. Sorry sight, that’s all.”
“You probably shouldn’t have given that to him. What he said doesn’t make any sense. He could have been lying.”
Hank shakes his head. “The police got wind of Reed’s death somehow. He wasn’t lying about calling the cops, why would he lie about anything else?”
Connor opens his mouth, then closes it. His brow is sharply furrowed; he looks confused by what Hank has done.
Hank raises an eyebrow. “Is there a problem?”
There’s a brief pause before the confusion on Connor’s face condenses into frustration. “It just… it doesn’t make sense! I’m supposed to believe my brother just stood around and watched Reed leave the warehouse and then watched someone drag his dead body back there? And then waited around for the police to come arrest him for a murder he didn’t commit?”
“Maybe he was incapacitated. The empty bottles of wine found at the crime scene—”
“My brother isn’t—” Connor snaps, then cuts himself off, scrunching his face. He turns around and begins walking away.
“Where you going?”
“Back to the crime scene. I want to have another look around.”
“Those cops are probably back from their coffee break by now. They’re not gonna let us waltz in and out at our leisure just because we slipped them a little cash.”
“Then I’m going to see my brother.” Connor’s voice is curt, barely glancing over his shoulder at Hank. “I need to talk to him… need him to tell me exactly what happened; what he saw…”
His pace quickens and he’s gone before Hank can think of anything else to say.
“…Okay,” Hank tells the empty air, “guess I’ll be in touch.”
Hank is awoken by someone knocking on his door. He startles, sitting up in his cot with a snort, disoriented. It takes him a moment to realize he’s in his office. That doesn’t feel right for some reason, he feels like he ought to be somewhere else…
Then it slowly comes back to him. The late night he’d had; staying out at the scene of a murder he’d been hired to solve. He doesn’t even remember crawling back to the office to fall asleep, he must have been well and truly exhausted. He’s even still wearing his suit and overcoat and after sleeping in it; it’s all in desperate need of an ironing.
Whoever is at the door knocks again. Polite but insistent.
“Coming,” Hank calls blearily as he stumbles across the room. When he opens the door to his office, Connor blinks up at him.
“Mr. Anderson…” Connor scans Hank up and down. “…You’re wearing the same clothes you were wearing last night.”
“Yeah.” Hank slaps his hand on the doorframe in embarrassment. “Well, maybe if you weren’t showing up at my office first thing in the morning—”
Hank resists the urge to wince
Incredibly, Connor’s face softens into something that almost looks like sympathy. “…I had you out all night. I’m sorry, I just…”
“No, I understand. You’re worried about your brother.”
“I didn’t mean to be short with you last night. I regret the way I spoke to you.”
“It was late, we were both stressed out.” Hank waves a hand vaguely. “Water under the bridge. Don’t even worry about it. Did you manage to talk your way into the big house to see your brother?”
Connor looks away. “…They wouldn’t let me in.”
“I’m sorry. We could swing by later today. Maybe it was the late hour…”
“No.” Connor shakes his head, resigned. “They said he didn’t want to talk to me. But that can’t be true, you heard how he shouted as they were carting him off last night.”
Hank gives a sympathetic shrug. “Like I said. Whole department’s rotten to the core.” He opens the door a bit wider. “Why don’t you come in? Sit down for a bit while we think about our next move.”
A look of vague surprise crosses Connor’s face. “Oh.”
“Something the matter?”
“No. I was actually expecting you to insist on working alone from now on.”
Hank frowns. That option hadn’t even occurred to him and he isn’t sure why.
“After the way I treated you last night, running off so rudely,” Connor continues. “I was sure you would just… take my money and forbid me from following you.”
“If I could’ve done that, I would have last night.” Hank leans on the doorframe. “You seem like the sort of guy who doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
And that actually earns a chuckle from Connor. It’s a weak, exhausted laugh that accentuates the dark circles under his eyes, but Hank finds it charming. He’s certain he has to look a sigh worse than Connor does at this moment, anyway.
“Anyway,” Hank says, “we can discuss our next steps in my office.”
“Actually… I was hoping you would let me take you out to lunch.”
Hank can only imagine the look of surprise that must cross his face, for subtle amusement deepens the faint laugh lines that bracket Connor’s mouth.
“That’s… very generous of you,” Hank manages.
“It’s the least I can do.” Connor lowers his head modestly. “You’re doing me a tremendous favor, taking on this case. And already, I find myself without the words to express how much what you’ve already done so far means to me.” He looks up to meet Hank’s eyes. “…The money you gave to that man last night… that was the last of your cash, wasn’t it?”
Hank resists the urge to shuffle himself. It’s uncomfortable having any client of his to know how hard up he is, let alone one who stares at him with such soft brown eyes.
“If the simple process of making headway in the case is going to eat up the retainer I’m paying you, then at least let me keep you fed until this whole debacle is over.”
Hank finds he can’t turn down Connor’s offer. Barely an hour later, the two of them are seated at Joe Muer’s and talking over plates of blue crab and seared scallops.
“Fancy place,” Hank remarks, waving off a waiter who tries to clear away a few empty plates and Hank’s newspaper; Elijah Kamski, Detroit’s most famous businessman and philanthropist, is on the front page again and Hank hasn’t gotten a chance to read about what that smarmy bastard has done today.
Connor ducks his head somewhat. “I hope this appropriately conveys the depth of my gratitude.”
“Well, it’s a start. You really wanna thank me, you can pay a few months rent on my office for me.”
Connor chuckles softly. “If you can exonerate my brother, Mr. Anderson, I’ll pay the next five years of your rent for you.”
It might be a joke. Or Connor might be completely serious. He has a certain ineffable charm to him that Hank finds hard to decipher. He always manages to sound completely sincere at all times, but… that can’t possibly be true. No person is that honest.
“So what brings you and your brother to Detroit?” Hank asks as he sips his brandy. “You’re not natives.”
“You can tell?”
“I get the feeling if you knew the city any better, you probably would have tried to find your brother on your own.”
A humorless smile stretches Connor’s face. “That’s very perceptive of you. If you want to know, I followed my brother here. Don’t ask me why he wanted to come to Detroit; I have no idea myself.”
Hank raises a brow. “You seem to look after your brother a fair bit.”
Connor looks away. “We’re close.”
He says nothing more. Hank searches his face, thinking back to what he knows about Connor and his brother. From the little he saw of Nines, he seemed to be almost identical to Connor. Same chocolate-brown hair, same dimpled chin, same pale, mole-dotted skin.
“Are you and your brother twins,” Hank asks.
Connor startles, the knife in his hand slipping against the plate as his eyes fly up to meet Hank’s gaze. There’s an awkward pause before Connor says, a little coldly, “I don’t see how that’s any business of yours. Does this help your investigation?”
It’s a curious reaction. Obviously a sensitive subject for Connor. But why?
Hank shrugs. “Just making conversation. Seems like the polite thing to do when you’re being treated to such a nice lunch.”
Connor regards Hank carefully. “…I see. But in that case, I’d much rather talk about you.” He looks at his plate as he cuts the large scallops on his plate into smaller pieces. “Why didn’t you tell me you were ex-DPD?”
Hank looks away. “…Honestly? Didn’t seem to matter. Thought this was gonna be an open-and-shut case. A few hours tops to find your brother. Just didn’t seem worth mentioning.”
“Even though the reason Gavin Reed was known to you was because of your history of working together?”
“My history,” Hank says pointedly, “doesn’t make a lick of difference. You’re not my partner.”
Connor keeps staring at his plate. “I suppose you’re right. I’m not your partner.”
And even though Connor’s tone is perfetly neutral, there’s something about the way he’s looking down at his plate that gives Hank the feeling that Connor is closing himself off from Hank. And Hank finds he doesn’t want that.
Hank huffs out a breath. “…I would’ve told you if you hadn’t immediately found out as soon as we stepped on the crime scene.”
There’s a pause before Connor looks up, meeting Hank’s eyes again.
“As soon as it became clear that things were bigger than I initially thought,” Hank continues. “As soon as I knew you weren’t just gonna… go back to your penthouse and wait for me to save the day.”
“I don’t have a penthouse.” Connor’s expression doesn’t change, but there’s something softer about his voice.
“Okay, yeah. Or your house on the lake, or wherever else you’re staying.”
He means to keep teasing Connor, but Connor’s brows furrow in a sudden, intense look demands Hank fall silent. “Why did you leave the DPD?”
The question knocks all the wind out of Hank. He sucks in a breath but he can still feel his lungs burning. Just as painful as the day he walked out, even now. Even years later.
He casts his gaze around the room in pure agitation, desperate to escape the ugly memories of his past. But he sees nothing that might be able to help him. All he sees is the Maitre D’ showing the last of the other diners out of the restaurant.
Connor doesn’t appear to see his distress. He just keeps looking at Hank with that serious, inquisitive look on his face. As though the answer might unlock all the secrets of the world for him.
“I left—” Hank begins, then stops. When he speaks again, his voice is heavy with the pain of an old, badly-healed wound. “…I left because my partner was murdered.”
Connor’s eyes never leave Hank’s face. “How did it happen?”
“That’s the thing. He was found shot to death and no one knows how. Case has been cold practically since it was opened.”
Connor blinks. “…For the murder of a police officer?”
“My partner,” Hank spits, “was a good man. And you know what the DPD does with good men? It chews them up until they’re cold-hearted bastards who’d rather line their pockets than uphold the oath they swore when they took their badges.” He sags slightly, running a hand through his hair. “Or it just kills them outright.”
“What happened?” Connor asks.
Hank scowls at nothing. “Luther started noticing things around the department. Unlawful arrests. Fabricated evidence. Patrol routes changing or being entirely ignored for no conceivable reason.”
“So all that talk about corruption in the department—”
“Not just talk. Luther cottoned on to it. Started looking into it. Poking his nose in places he shouldn’t have.” Hank’s mouth is a grim line. “He got far enough into his investigation to tell me he thought it was one key player with the whole department in his pocket. He was in talks with a journalist or someone of the sort, they were comparing notes. And not a week after he told me about this he was found with six bullets in him in a Corktown back alley.”
Connor frowns, looking at Hank with a queer expression. “He was meeting with a journalist…?”
“That mean something to you?”
The frown on Connor’s face intensifies for a brief moment before it clears and he shakes his head. “No, I suppose it doesn’t. Please continue.”
Hank gives Connor a hard look before getting on with what he was saying. “I wanted to lead the investigation into his murder. But the Captain took me off the case making some excuse that I was too close for it to be wise. Sure enough, they never made any fucking headway.” He looks away. “That was when I staked out on my own.”
“You wanted to find the man behind your partner’s murder. That’s why you opened your own private agency.”
Hank sighs. “That’s what I intended to do, at least. But failure doesn’t keep the lights on and I just don’t have the resources I used to. Sure, I have the streets and the people I knew there, but…”
“I understand,” Connor says, oblivious to the men in black suits that are filing into the restaurant behind him. “It must have been terrible being blindsided by such an awful—“
“Get down!” Hank yanks Connor around the table and kicks it over, dragging the both of the to the ground behind it just as gunfire explodes overhead.
“Shit—“ Hank pulls his gun out of his holster; the table is way too small to provide adequate cover and Hank knows their assailants are about to converge on the at any moment. Before he even has a decent grip, a man flanks him with his gun raised and—
Bang! An explosion next to his ear so loud that Hank can hear nothing but a high-pitched ringing. The man in the black suit crumples to the ground with a bullet hole right between his eyes.
Hank gets an acrid whiff of propellant, and he chances a glance over his shoulder to see Connor aiming a gun right where the man was standing moments ago. Connor doesn’t pause to take in the shocked look on Hank’s face, he just leans in the other direction and shoots the man coming around the other side of the table.
Has Connor been carrying a gun this whole time? But Hank has no time to boggle at the sight of Connor handling a pistol like an old pro; no matter how good Connor is, he can’t hold his own against a gang.
Hank grips his own gun and peeks around the table. There are another four men visible who are ducking behind various kinds of cover. One behind a pillar, another one behind a table they’ve overturned, and then another two on either side of a half-wall that bisects the dining room. A shitty situation; the four gunmen are spread around the restaurant and with the two of them huddled behind a tiny table, they’re as good as dead.
Moving out from behind cover isn’t safe, but splitting up is the best way to maximize the probability of survival.
“Cover me!” Hank shouts as he rushes out from behind the table towards a stone sculpture of a mermaid large enough to shelter him. A bullet whizzes past his ear—and he can hear someone on the other side of the room cry out in pain as Connor fires.
With the attention of the gunmen drawn in two directions, it’s easier for Hank to determine their positions. One man steps out too far to fire at Connor’s position, seemingly unaware that he’s visible to Hank. Hank fires a full clip into his chest to take him down and reloads.
A man leans out, firing on Hank’s position, but before Hank can begin to return fire, a gunshot rings out from Connor’s position and the man goes down, twisting slightly in the air as he falls. Hank takes the opportunity to lay down some cover fire to give the both of them a chance to survey their surroundings.
Suddenly, the sculpture Hank is using as cover shatters in a cloud of dust. Hank realizes too late that the statue must be plaster and not stone, and he fires blindly through the dust as he falls backwards, totally unprotected and exposed. Anticipating the bullet that will end his life to strike him at any moment.
A set of hands grab him under his arms and haul him to his feet. Gunshots ring out around them as Connor shoves him along and behind a half-wall.
“The fuck are you doing?” Hank can’t help but shout; his adrenaline is still pumping. “Running out there like—”
“Yell at me later,” Connor snaps. “We have to get out of here!”
Hank shakes his head. “No good, they’ll follow us. We have to finish this now! How many are left!?”
“Two, maybe injured.”
Hank reloads his gun, and when he peels out from behind the wall, one of their assailants steps out further than is wise; not realizing he’s more visible from Hank and Connor’s new position. Hank fires four shots into his chest to take him down.
“Where’s the last one?” Hank mutters, trying to ignore the ringing in his ears that only gets worse and worse. He can’t figure where the last one could possibly be with his ears ringing, can’t hear the shuffle of clothes from across the room or the noise of a gun shifting in someone’s hand.
Connor frowns, then rushes past Hank and out from behind cover.
A man leans out from behind a pillar just enough to fire at Connor. Connor throws himself to the side and returns fire, his bullets chipping the pillar as the man ducks back, then emerges further to draw his gun on Connor.
Hank curses and fires the rest of his clip into the man, who falls against the pillar and slumps to the ground.
“Connor!” Hank limps out from behind the wall. He isn’t injured, but something in his groin and his back aches. He probably pulled a muscle somewhere in all the chaos. He approaches Connor and grabs his hand to yank him to his feet. “Connor, what in the goddamn fuck was that about!?”
Connor dusts off his suit, looking more annoyed by the slight disorder of his clothing more than by Hank. “Someone needed to draw him out. I’m a smaller target than you, and I know from last night that I’m more agile than you—”
“Not that.” But then Hank blinks and pauses, running a hand down his face. “Shit, I mean, that too, just—where the everloving fuck did all that—that—that come from!? The gun, the marksmanship… Jesus fucking Christ, you let me think you were just some pampered trust fund kid.”
“If I’d known we were going to be attacked in broad daylight, I would have mentioned it.” He gives Hank a stern look. “I don’t see what business it is of yours, anyway. I’m just your client.”
“It matters because you keep insisting on tagging along,” Hank snaps. “If I can’t trust you, I can’t work with you. End of story.” His expression darkens. “And frankly? After the shit I just told you about my partner’s murder?” He cuts himself off with an agitated scoff, unable to voice the rest of that sentiment.
He wouldn’t have shared that information about Luther with someone who was ‘just a client.’ He shouldn’t have shared it at all, he’s realizing. In a city like Detroit, showing anything that could possibly be taken as a weakness is liable to earn him nothing but regret.
Connor’s eyes widen slightly into an odd look. He looks away, pursing his lips in a way that leaves him looking strangely… disarmed. As though he can read Hank’s mind and feels sorry for the things he said. It boggles Hank’s mind how this kid—no, this man can handle himself like a veritable gunslinger at one moment, then turn into a person who practically oozes vulnerability.
“Look,” Hank says with a sigh. “If we’re going to keep working together like this, I need to know what the hell is going on with you. You’re clearly not just some rich kid who’s worried about his brother.”
Connor meets Hank’s eyes, and Hank can almost swear he sees a flash of anxiety on his face. “It’s… not anything as nefarious as you might be thinking. I was champion of my collegiate shooting team. Twenty-five meter free pistol.”
Hank crosses his arms. This answer doesn’t satisfy him; there’s a world of difference between shooting an inanimate target and looking a man in the eyes as you pull the trigger. Even in the interest of self-preservation, there’s still a difference.
“You have to tell me,” Hank says. “If you want me to stay on after the shit that just went down here, you have to tell me whether or not I can trust you.”
Connor glances down for just a moment before looking at Hank again, contrition evident in his soft, sad eyes and the pull of his feathered brows. Hank wonders how such a sincere-looking man could be capable of the things he just witnessed.
“You can trust me.” Connor gaze is unwavering, his voice carrying an unusual force despite how quietly he speaks. “I promise you, you can. My brother has done nothing wrong, I’m absolutely certain of that. I just want to keep him from going to prison.”
He doesn’t look away from Hank’s face, and strangely enough, Hank himself feels almost compelled to look away first. Connor just looks… so damn hopeful. Like the way he did when he first walked into Hank’s office the night before. As though Hank is the only person in the whole world who could help him.
Hank sighs, running a hand through his hair. Connor is still clearly hiding things from him, that much is sure. But he seems to honestly believe in his brother’s innocence. Maybe Hank is just losing every instinct as an investigator he ever had (and losing his mind along with it), but something about Connor’s demeanor at the moment still rates to him as honest.
And they were just attacked in broad daylight by assailants who pretty clearly meant to kill them. In a very real sense, this is personal to Hank now.
(And in the very back of his mind, he tries to shove away the reality that he wouldn’t feel right about leaving Connor on his own. Not with such present danger. The fact that Connor’s capable of defending himself to some degree does little to assuage Hank’s worry. He just doesn’t want to leave Connor all alone.)
“C’mon,” Hank grunts, shuffling toward the body of the closest man in a black suit. “Let’s get back to work. Search the bodies for clues, we probably don’t have long before the police show up.”
They search the bodies together. All men in silk-lined black suits of a fine quality. No identification. No items on their persons other than their guns and ammunition.
“These men were sent here to do this,” Hank says, straightening up.
“That’s clear enough,” Connor replies. “But we don’t know by whom. There aren’t any clues on them.”
“No. One clue.” Hank narrows his eyes at the corpse at his feet. “This wasn’t just some random gang. These people were professionals. Or whoever hired them wanted them to look like professionals, at least. Means whoever sent them had plenty of resources at hand.”
“Or a conspiracy. More than one player. But either way, you’re right.” He pauses to give Connor a meaningful look. “Your brother’s being set up. And whoever’s actually responsible for Gavin Reed’s death is trying to stop us from uncovering the truth… by whatever means possible.”
The grim look on Connor’s pretty face is echoed by the ominous silence… a silent which is soon broken by the distant sound of approaching police sirens.
“Time to run.” Hank grabs Connor by the arm and pulls him towards the back of the restaurant.
Connor follows easily, but he looks over his shoulder. “The waitstaff knows our faces.”
“Yeah, and they’ve all probably gone to ground until the dust clears.” He’s sure he doesn’t have to point out to Connor how the restaurant slowly cleared out before the shooting started. “We don’t wanna be here when the police manage to round them all up again.”
They exit through a backdoor and down the narrow, grimes alley. Hank tries to ignore the smell of rotting seafood emanating from the dumpsters.
“Whoever has the resources to send armed gunmen after us had the resources to pay off the police,” Connor mutters.
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Then my brother…”
Hank glances at Connor’s pale face. What is he supposed to say to ease Connor’s anxiety? What can he say? That everything will be alright as soon as they’ve gotten to the bottom of the matter? That a police force that’s rotting from the inside out with corruption will care one whit about facts, evidence, or an innocent man’s life?
There’s nothing he can say. All he can do is try to believe that there’s some sort of value in doing the right things. Even if it might get him killed. Even if it might get Connor killed.
They reach the mouth of the alley, and Hank peeks around to the police cars that are pulling up to the front of the restaurant. It takes him a moment to recognize the face of the bald man who steps out of one of the cars.
“Shit,” Hank hisses, pushing Connor back so they won’t be seen. “What the fuck is he doing here?”
“What?” Connor moves back with perfect obedience, even as he cocks his head. “Who is that?”
“Fowler. Captain Fowler. Christ...”
“A police captain? Responding to a fresh crime scene?”
“Exactly. If that rat bastard’s here, it’s bad news for us.” Hank squints and swears under his breath. “Goddamnit. We’ll have to make a run for it. Take our chances they won’t see us and gun us down. In broad fucking daylight...”
“Or we could go this way.“ The sound of gently clanging metal accompanies Connor’s suggestion, and when he looks over, he spots Connor climbing a roof access ladder that’s fixed to the wall at the end of the alley.
“...Or we could go that way.”
Hank makes his best effort to ascend the ladder as swiftly and as gracefully as Connor does. Connor crests over the roof, and Hank tries not to stare at the trim curve of his ass as he disappears over the edge.
Connor dances across the rooftops, skipping over skylights and leaping gaps as though it’s second nature for him. The buttons of his suit jacket have come undone and it billows from his sides like a pair of wings. Hank barrels along after Connor as best he can, fighting to keep a map of Detroit in his head as he barks directions over the noise of shuddering chimney pipes and the sounds of the streets below.
Once they’ve put a few blocks between themselves and the crime scene, Hank stops running and looks over his shoulder to make sure they’re not being followed, Connor slowing without needing to be signaled to do so. They make their way down a rusty fire escape from there, and once they’re on the street, no one passing by seems to have noticed at all that they haven’t been on the ground the entire time.
“Gotta get some distance.” Hank hopes he sounds weary in a more deep-seated way than simply out of breath from fifteen minutes of running. “We got a clock running now. However long it takes the cops to put us at that restaurant. That’s how long we got to crack this thing.”
If Connor is at all frightened, he doesn’t show it. He just says as calmly as you please, “Then what’s our next step?”
Hank gives him an appraising look. “…Never got the chance to pay our bill. If I’ve got an idea about where we should go next, you’ve got enough cash to hail a cab, right?”
“I certainly do,” Connor says, sounding pleased as he turns toward the street with his hand raised.
The Wayne County Coroner's Court and Mortuary is a mausoleum. Soft brown stone and sloping windows in the shape of the Abu Simel temples. There are even a pair of sphinxes parked outside the door, guarding the dead.
It’s dark by the time Connor and Hank pass the main entrance on their way to the back door, and with no one around to see them, Connor pauses long enough to place a quarter on the head of one of the sphinxes.
Hank raises a brow at him. “Superstitious?”
Connor shrugs, something like a playful smirk on his face. “Not particularly. But we’re trespassing in the land of the dead. We might as well try to make it a smooth journey.”
Hank rolls his eyes.
Through the back door, the halls are as empty as a tomb. Connor casts his gaze about, creeping slowly after Hank. “Where’s the night staff?”
“No night staff.” Hank speaks quietly, but he moves much more quickly than Connor does. “There might be a security guard about, but the mortuary will be empty by now.”
Connor’s brows rise. “No night staff? Does no one die in Detroit at night?”
“They do. That’s why the back door is unlocked. Ambulances and police vehicles can just pull up and offload their, uh, their loads for the coroners to deal with in the morning.”
“Offload their loads,” Connor repeats.
“The entire basement is designed to stay cool, even out in the hallways.”
“And no one cares about the potential pitfalls of such an arrangement?”
“You’re preaching to the choir, Connor.” Hank has to suppress a weary chuckle. “Part of the reason I wanted to stop in as soon as we could. There’s no guarantee any body here will remain in pristine condition.”
“Convenient for us,” Connor says dryly, and Hank grunts his agreement. Does it make him a hypocrite if he’s willing to take advantage of the holes in the fabric of the city? If he’s willing to bribe cops and break into mortuaries? It’s a question that bothered him once upon a time. But now, he finds himself more willing to shove that thought under the upholstery of his mind.
Maybe he ought to worry about what that means for the decent man he knows he used to be. But that’s a worry for another day. Today, he has to save an innocent man. The life of Connor’s brother is more important than his own shoddy principles.
Hank leads them through the dark, empty mortuary, accompanied only by their sound of their own quiet footsteps. They climb down the stone stairs and into the basement as the temperature drops around them. Hank sees Connor rubs his arms lightly out of the corner of his eye.
“Do you really think Gavin Reed might not have died from a gunshot?” Even though no one is around, Connor’s voice is barely more than a whisper. From the slight tension of his frame as he resists a shiver, it lends the impression that Connor is nervous or ill at ease as they draw closer to the sleeping dead. But the bright gleam in his eyes tells Hank that the truth of the matter is much different.
“That’s what we’re here to find out.” Hank takes a moment to reflect on his hypothesis from the previous night. That the gunshot that alerted the transient to call the police might not have been what killed Gavin Reed. That Gavin might have run away from the warehouse where his body would eventually be found. He couldn’t have gone too far, so if this theory is true, then whatever killed him had to have been much quieter than a gunshot. Examining Reed’s corpse will hopefully shed some light on what really killed him.
“So that man at the restaurant. Fowler, you called him.”
“You seemed to have strong opinions about him.”
Hank sighs, narrowing his eyes. “…Fowler’s relatively new to the DPD. He was appointed to his position maybe a week or so before Luther was killed. And when it happened, I thought maybe Fowler would be the one to ensure things got done the right way. Some new blood to clean up the department a little.” He sighs again. “…A fucking cop got murdered, I thought maybe that would rate a return to the barest modicum of decency. Instead he took me off the case.”
“Oh.” Connor’s voice is soft.
“That was when I knew there was no such thing as justice in this city. I left the DPD.”
“He took you off the case to stymie the investigation? Not because you were too close to it?”
Hank’s mouth curls in a sharp scowl. “He made excuses. But I was the only one in the whole fucking precinct who even pretended to care a little. No progress was ever made in the investigation. I begged him to put me on, and he refused. What other reason would he have except to blockade me?”
Connor is silent, but Hank can still detect sympathy in the subtle bowing of his head.
“The point is… Fowler’s dirty, there’s no question about that.” Hank keeps his eyes firmly trained ahead. “He doesn’t care one whit about the truth. If he’s on our tail, it ain’t good news. He’ll do whatever he pleases to bury us if he gets the chance.”
“Then I hope we start finding some answers.”
They work their way deeper into the bowels of the mortuary until they reach a set of heavy double doors. Hank pulls them open revealing a large room lined floor-to-ceiling with square doors. Metal tables affixed to the floor sit at equidistant lengths from one another, and a spare gurney sits at a haphazard angle in one corner.
There’s a manhole-sized drain in the center of the room that Hank doesn’t want to look too closely at. The whole room stinks of ammonia and meat in a way that makes his skin crawl despite his years of experience with the recently-deceased.
“Let’s move quickly. You take that wall,” Hank says, pointing Connor toward one end of the room even as he moves toward the other end. “And mind yourself. Don’t wanna catch yourself on that drain or on some forgotten blade somewhere.”
Each square door has a mounted card with a name printed in neat, looping handwriting. Hank wonders whether it would be more respectful to try and remember the names of the dead whose space he is trespassing upon or to let them pass through his mind like water through a sieve.
“Hank.” Connor’s voice is a sober staccato. “I found him.”
Hank approaches. He reads the card on the door and he feels… strange. He never liked Gavin Reed. The man was boorish enough when Hank had the displeasure of working with him, and if the stories he’s heard since Reed left the force are to be believed, the man has only gotten worse since then.
But still. From a two-bit snitch to a bastard cop, it always humbles Hank to see anyone he knew in life laid out for the last time. A reminder from the universe that he doesn’t know when his own time is coming. Thirty years from now or three hours, whether he’s asleep in bed or staring down the barrel of a gun. It’s as inevitable as the setting of the sun at the end of each day. All he can do is hope that when it happens, he goes out with as much dignity as he can.
- Reed. Nothing else is written on the card. What will the epitaph left for Hank say about him?
“Let’s get this over with,” Hank grunts as he opens the door and pulls out the slab within. The body is under a sheet, and Connor pulls it back delicately.
Reed looks different in death than he did in life. His skin has gone pale and gray, and there’s something sunken about his features. Hank has sometimes heard corpses described as looking as though they might just be sleeping, but Reed doesn’t look that way. Even ignoring the small hole in his chest that’s still tinged with dried blood, Reed almost doesn’t look like himself.
Hank leans in to examine the hole, squinting at it. He hums softly as he carefully assesses the wound.
Connor stares at the body with a sober look on his face. “…Is it strange if I’m sorry to see him like this? I never knew him in life, but… he was undoubtedly important to my brother.”
“I wouldn’t waste my time feeling sorry for Gavin,” Hank grunts as he parts Reed’s short hair to examine his head and scalp.
Connor glances at Hank. “I feel sorry for my brother.”
Hank clamps his mouth shut as he moves down the body, Reed’s hard, cold flesh under his fingers.
“I’ve been wondering,” Connor continues in that same subdued tone, “Why my brother stayed at the scene of the crime. Even if Reed was killed elsewhere and brought back to the warehouse after the fact, I think Nines had to have known he was dead before the police arrived. I can’t conceive of a situation in which he wouldn’t find the body. So why did he stay?”
Hank thinks about the day he learned Luther had been killed. His partner, the man he trusted with his life. How his knees gave out under him and he practically fell into his seat, how the shock swallowed his perception of time. Minutes that felt like hours, hours that felt like seconds. Unable to comprehend a world that had turned on its head.
“You know why he stayed,” Hank says gently.
“I think I do.” Connor curls his hand against his chest, his eyes soft and distant.
Hank straightens up. “In any case… I’m not sure if our theory actually holds any water. Reed was killed by a single gunshot to the chest.” He taps Reed’s sternum, close to the hole. “And his body doesn’t show signs of any other kind of trauma.”
“What?” Connor eyes widen and he leans over to look at the hole. “Wait, but the man who saw him running away from the scene… couldn’t he have been shot after leaving the warehouse?”
“That man only heard one gunshot before he says he spotted Reed. There just wasn’t time for Reed to get far enough away that the man wouldn’t have been able to hear a second gunshot.”
“Could he have run away after having being shot?” But before Hank can answer, Connor squints and shakes his head. “No… not after a penetrating impact like that. It would have knocked the very breath out of him even if it didn’t hit his heart or his lung.”
“Hit him right in the heart,” Hank says quietly. “Whoever shot him had good aim. He woulda bled to death in minutes. There’s no way he left that warehouse on the power of his own two feet.”
“Then… he was shot in the warehouse.”
Hank sighs. “I was really hoping to find something indicating Reed didn’t die of a gunshot. A stab wound, or some sort of blunt-force trauma. Something that might have silently killed him.”
“But the man,” Connor insists. “The man that was seen running away from where Reed’s body was found—“
“Our friend might have misidentified him. Or he lied altogether just to make us leave him alone.”
Connor’s face hardens. “If he lied about seeing someone leave the warehouse, then he might have lied about the time he heard the gunshot… or anything else he told us!” He begins pacing in agitation. “I refuse to believe that we’re back at square one with absolutely nothing to show for our investigation thus far.”
“Don’t have nothing, exactly,” Hank says, only half sardonically. “Still got those eyeglasses we picked up yesterday.”
The frown on Connor’s face deepens and he glances about as he paces, muttering almost inaudible. “…but the eyeglasses…”
All at once he freezes, his head whipping up. “You still have the eyeglasses.”
“Uh, yeah. The hell does it matter right now?”
“Give them to me.” Connor holds out his hand with such urgency that Hank finds himself unable to question Connor further until after he’s dug through his suit jacket and passed the fine eyeglasses over to Connor.
“Okay, so what are you—”
The question dies on his lips as Connor puts the glasses on Reed’s face.
Hank squints. Something about Reed’s face changes in a way that tugs at something in the back of his mind, something he’s seen very recently.
Connor frowns and pushes Reed’s hair as though he was trying to slick it back.
A sudden connection snaps into place in Hank’s brain as he remembers the newspaper he tried to read with his lunch. “Holy shit,” he breathes.
Reed—while he’s wearing glasses—is a dead ringer for Elijah Kamski.
“I should have known,” Connor mutters darkly. “I should have known Kamski had something to do with this.”
Hank shoots Connor a perplexed look. “Just what do you mean by that?”
“Elijah Kamski,” Connor says with such severity that Hank has no choice but to believe he believes what he’s saying, “killed my brother.”
Hank feels incapable of drawing a breath. As though if he were to try, he would only wheeze.
A beat passes before Connor continues in a softer voice, “Or rather, he’s responsible for my brother’s death. It’s highly unlikely Elijah Kamski actually killed him himself. He probably paid someone to do it for him…”
“What do you mean, ‘you should have known’?” Hank tries to mask his lingering surprise. “Just what the hell happened?”
Connor looks off to the side. “Another brother. My twin brother. He was a journalist. When he died, he was in the middle of writing an exposé all about Elijah Kamski.”
“An exposé? What exactly was he intending to reveal?”
“I don’t know. Neither Nines or I knew much about his work beyond what little he shared with us. One of the few things he told us was that he was collaborating with someone in the DPD who had also been looking into Kamski.”
Something clicks in Hank’s mind. “Wait. Wait just a moment.” He blinks, raising a hand to wipe hair away from his forehead. “A journalist collaborating with a policeman, and he winds up dead… was it Luther he was meeting?”
Connor’s mouth is a severe line. “I had the same thought when you were telling me the story of your partner’s murder. I didn’t say anything at the time because I didn’t think the connection was relevant. I wanted us to focus our attention on saving the brother of mine who’s still alive, but now…”
“Jesus fucking Christ.” Hank keeps his hand against his forehead. “Elijah goddamn Kamski. He’s the guy who has the whole city in his pocket. Bribing the police, paying off the city officials. And when Luther and your brother cottoned on to him, he had them silenced.”
Connor quietly adds, “And it was Elijah Kamski that man saw running away from the scene of the murder, not Gavin Reed. He was the person Gavin and Nines were meeting that night.”
“Elijah bird-shitting Kamski himself!” Hank spits.
“They must have put the clues together by themselves.” Connor has a sad, faraway look in his eyes. “And called Kamski there to confront him.”
“Probably the worst idea they could have had. The hell were they gonna do, get a confession and frog march him down to the police station?”
“Maybe they had a plan. Something we’re not seeing.”
“With the police being paid off directly by Kamski himself? What could they have done?” Hank gestures at himself. “What the hell can we do?”
“There has to be something.”
“Like what? Go to the police and get ourselves arrested? Try the same thing your brother did? Or maybe we should just wait here for Kamski to send another group of thugs after us to finish us—“
A sudden loud clang from somewhere above them in the building interrupts Hank. Connor and Hank both startle and look up.
“…Oh, shit,” Connor whispers, and Hank doesn’t have the mental resources to process how casually Connor drops that curse.
“Sounded like a door hitting a wall,” Hank murmurs. “We’re not alone.”
Connor swears under his breath again and begins toward the only door out of the room.
Hank grabs his arm to halt him and hisses, “Fucking no you don’t. If this is more goons after us and we just walk blindly into them, we will get ourselves killed.”
“They know where we are,” Connor hisses back. “Why else would we come to a mortuary?! If we don’t leave now—“
“We will.” Hank turns around. “Just not through the door.”
“There aren’t any windows below ground, Hank.”
Hank moves to the manhole-sized drain in the center of the floor. “Not through a window either.”
Hank lifts the drain cover. For something full of holes, it’s heavier than it looks. Hank stoops under the weight, and Connor hurries to his side to help support it and set it gently on the ground.
“No time to be delicate about this,” Hank mutters. “You want me to go first to see if the fumes kill me?”
“Even if that happens, it’s not like waiting around here will save my life.” And without another word, Connor lowers himself to the ground and slips through the drain.
From below, Hank hears not a splash, but a plop.
There’s no time for seconds thoughts, no time for Hank to even call down a question about what it’s like down there. All he can do is hope Connor’s smart enough to have moved out of the way by the time he gracelessly heaves himself through the drain.
He lands ass-first in muck that nearly floods into his lap. As he’s processing this terrible sensation and the horrifying question of what exactly he might have landed in, he’s simultaneously assaulted by two other aspects of the sewer into which he’s fallen: the humid warmth rising from the filth and the ungodly stench. Hank has never smelled anything as horrible in his life, which is remarkable when he considers certain crime scenes he was unfortunate enough to process back in his days with the DPD.
It’s all so much worse when the mess is seeping through his clothes.
Hank pushes himself to his feet, suppressing a gag as best as he can.
Connor is squinting through the rancid dark, his eyes watering as he holds a handkerchief to his nose and mouth. It’s a good idea, and Hank wipes his own hands on his overcoat in order to dig his own handkerchief out of his suit coat. As he presses the fabric to his face, he meets Connor’s eyes, cocks his head toward the cramped tunnel that stretches out ahead of them, and begins trudging through the muck.
Connor follows. It’s slow going, slogging through the mire. They can hear the door to the mortuary opening above them; they can hear muffled footsteps and muffled voices filtering through the hole they dropped through.
Whoever is up there has probably noticed the drain is without its cover, but no one follows them down. Eventually, Hank and Connor move far enough away that the only sounds are the liquid squelches as they move through the sewer.
Hank wishes he had a map. He has to rely on his own vague sense of orientation, which grows less and less sure as they navigate through the dark maze.
“Oh—!” Connor’s startled cry makes Hank jump, and he turns just in time to see Connor’s feet skid in opposite directions as he falls. With his slender knees poking up, he reminds Hank of a newborn foal.
Hank squats down to offer Connor a hand up. “Slip on something?”
Connor grimaces, but doesn’t take Hank’s hand. Instead he wipes his hands on his suit jacket. “Yes. And I dropped my handkerchief. It’ll be saturated by now.” Without the handkerchief covering his face, Connor looks genuinely upset.
Hank lowers his own handkerchief from his face, holding it out. “…Here. Probably won’t ever use it again. I was just planning on burning this whole outfit when I have the chance.”
Connor’s eyes widen as he looks up at Hank. His hand hovers in the air for a moment before he takes the handkerchief. “…Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Hank grabs Connor under the shoulder to help him up. He wraps an arm around Connor’s back to help keep him steady. “Watch your step, now.”
Connor isn’t looking at Hank. He’s pressing the handkerchief to his face, his feathered eyebrows furrowed softly in a thoughtful expression.
“What’s wrong? It doesn’t already smell like sewage, does it?”
“Nothing’s wrong. It just… it smells like you.”
Hank clamps his mouth shut, unsure why he suddenly feels compelled to lower his gaze and pull Connor closer.
They walk like that a few minutes longer until Hank begins to notice a low, rumbling echo emanating from ahead of them.
Connor slows in Hank’s arms, his body going tense.
“No, that’s a good sign,” Hank says. “Means we’re approaching a part of the sewer large enough to amplify lots of sound. We’re almost there.”
“Here,” Hank says as the dark mouth of the tunnel comes into view. When they step out, they enter a much larger, wider sewer running perpendicular to the tunnel they just left. “We’re right below Jefferson Avenue.”
Connor looks up at the curved ceiling above them, casting his gaze around the sewer. “So close to the Detroit river?”
“Exactly. Now we just have to keep walking until we find one of the drainage pipes that lets out into the river—“
“Or,” Connor interrupts, staring at a small alcove in the wall of the sewer, “I have a better idea.”
Connor disappears into the alcove—and Hank hears the creak of a metal door badly in need of some oil opening. “Let’s just leave through the service entrance.”
Hank cringes, tucking his head in embarrassment over how his big idea was to force Connor to crawl out into the river and get even filthier.
On their way through the small, concrete service tunnel, Hank breaks open a locker to steal himself and Connor a pair of jumpsuits that no doubt belong to some municipal workers. Both of the jumpsuits are too tight on both of them, but Connor won’t let Hank give him the bigger jumpsuit.
“It wouldn’t be fair.”
“Connor, don’t be a dope. This one might actually fit you.”
“I said no. I’d rather be a little uncomfortable than force you into something that barely fits you.” A pause, then Connor swallows thickly and averts his eyes. “And besides… if it rips and you have to put on your suit again, we won’t ever manage to hire a taxi.”
That puts an end to the argument, and they leave behind their sodden suits and make their way up the stairs and toward the surface.
Just as they reach the exit, Hank pauses and turns to Connor. “Look. I feel like I should be frank. I don’t know what the hell we’re supposed to do now. Elijah Kamski has the whole city in the palm of his hand; I just don’t see a way to take him down.”
Connor furrows his brows. “There has to be a way. Despite all his resources, he’s still just a man.”
“We can’t pretend his resources aren’t an obstacle.”
Connor shifts his eyes away, his gaze flickering across the floor as though he’s thinking. “Well… we probably shouldn’t make any rash decisions now, at any rate. We’ve had quite a day. Why don’t we just head back to your apartment, clean ourselves up, and see if we can think of anything to do while we try and get some rest?”
“…My apartment.” Hank grimaces, turning away. “We can’t go to my apartment.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because I don’t have an apartment,” Hank mutters. “I’ve been sleeping on a cot in my office closet.”
Connor’s eyes widen and flicker to Hank’s. His mouth opens for a brief instant, and Hank can only imagine what Connor must be feeling. His life and his brother’s life in the hands of an utter failure of a detective who can’t even afford to make rent. Hank braces himself for the outrage, the indignation, the sight of the betrayal rising in Connor’s eyes.
But Connor’s expression is still. His eyes remain as gentle as ever, and only a soft, “Oh,” escapes him before he closes his mouth.
An awkward silence follows. Hank tries to wrack his brain for ideas, but his office is the only place he has. And it doesn’t even belong to him; he might only be a matter of days from finding an eviction notice on his door. If he even survives this crisis they’re currently embroiled in.
But before Hank can admit how truly desperate their situation is, Connor says in a small voice, “Then I suppose we’ll have to spend the night at my apartment.”
“Your apartment?” Hank is surprised by the incredulous tone in his voice. He realizes he hadn’t thought to consider where Connor might be staying.
Connor nods, tucking his head in an odd way as though he has something to be embarrassed of. “It should be reasonably safe. My mother is… very security conscious, so I rent under an assumed name. I don’t think the people hunting us will be likely to find us.”
Hank furrows his brows, then frowns as the implications of what Connor has said catch up with him. “Hold on. You knew your apartment would be safer and your first thought was to go to mine?”
Connor doesn’t answer. He avoids Hank’s eyes as he pushes open the door to the outside world. The sudden swell of cool, fresh air stuns Hank for a moment, and by the time he’s sucked in a breath and remembered himself, Connor has slipped through the door and into the night.
The ride to Connor’s apartment is utterly silent. No one says a single word; Not Hank, not Connor, not the driver of the unlicensed taxi who, when Connor muttered his address, squinted at Hank and Connor both and named a fare that’s probably three times what they would have paid with a legal taxi cab. Hank can’t bring himself to do more than direct a sour squint at the back of the man’s head every once in a while. Changing their clothes didn’t exactly make the two of them start smelling like spring daisies again, after all.
Connor won’t even look at Hank. He is absolutely still in his seat, his gaze fixed as he stares out the window at the passing buildings. He’s anxious, it’s coming off of him more strongly than the smell of the sewer, but Hank doesn’t know what to say. How is he supposed to say anything to comfort Connor when he doesn’t even know why Connor is so anxious about going to his own apartment?
Their taxi winds through downtown Detroit, down wide streets that still bustle with cars even at this late hour. Past bright streetlights and elegant stonework and the painted billboards that hang on gleaming facades. They’re in the heart of the city’s business and entertainment districts. Hank casts his eyes over the rising buildings and tries to guess which one houses Connor’s apartment.
But the car keeps driving, and eventually the elegant, imposing buildings start to become few and far between. Traveling from downtown Detroit to the more modest streets of midtown. Eventually the taxi slows to a stop outside a small, understated apartment building on a corner. Not an ugly building, but certainly not what Hank had been expecting considering Connor’s fine clothes and the expensive lunch he treated Hank to earlier in the day.
Hank doesn’t say anything as he follows Connor into the building. Connor still doesn’t look at him as he leads Hank up two flights of stairs to the third floor and down a quiet, clean hallway. Connor’s shoulders tense as he pulls out his key and unlocks the door.
Even before Connor moves to turn on the lamp, Hank can see why Connor didn’t want him here. The apartment is empty. Or, no, empty is the wrong word. The cream-colored wallpaper and carpet were clearly chosen by an eye looking for a pleasing match. In the living room, there is a sofa and a lamp.
But that is all Hank sees. There are no decorations, no end tables, no cabinets, no ashtrays, no magazines left open on the cushions of the sofa. Just a sofa that looks like it may never have been sat on before and a lamp that casts the room in a cold glow. It’s so perfunctory as to be almost mechanical. Inhuman.
“Connor,” Hank breathes.
Connor turns. In the cold light of the lamp, he is pale and unsure of himself. “Please make yourself at home, Mr. Anderson. I may not have much, but what I have is—”
“May not have much?” Hank’s voice rises despite himself. Connor looks so, so alone, but Hank can’t help himself. “Connor, you don’t actually live here, do you?”
Connor winces. “…I do.”
“Look, if there’s some reason you’re lying to me, I don’t give a shit about it. If you haven’t noticed, we’re in trouble right now. I’m not gonna turn down a roof over my head provided it’s safe, but I need to know.”
“I’ve lived here for a little less than two months,” Connor whispers.
“And the rest of your stuff is—what, in storage?”
With a suddenness that surprises Hank, Connor’s brows furrow and his teeth clench in a wild, defensive expression. “I didn’t want to have to bring you here!” His voice echoes around the empty apartment. “I didn’t want you to have to see this! I didn’t want anyone to have to see this, not even my brother! I realize exactly how much danger we’re in, and that’s the only reason I brought you here at all!”
The pride and the pain in Connor’s voice hit Hank like a punch to the gut.
Connor looks away. “…I brought you here to save your life. Or… both our lives, I suppose.”
“Jesus…” Hank takes a step closer to Connor, but Connor backs away sharply.
“We need to clean ourselves up. I don’t think I can stand the smell of that sewer any longer. Go bathe yourself.”
Hank blinks… and slowly begins further into the apartment.
The bathroom seems a fair bit more natural than the bare living room. A toilet and claw-foot bathtub, and various toiletries and hygiene products scattered about. A sliver of soap and a tin of hair pomade are out in plain sight, but when Hank investigates more thoroughly, he finds fine-tooth combs, wash clothes and towels, antiperspirant, and even a jar of scented oil for bath water. The oil smells like Connor, and it takes Hank a moment to reorient his thoughts. No, Connor smells like the oil.
Hank washes himself and pours fragrant, soapy water over himself again and again, letting the perfumed air fill the bathroom. His thoughts jangle about in his head, senseless noise and confusion and the pervasive, undeniable feeling that he’s being lied to somehow.
When he’s finished, he wraps a towel around his waist and opens the bathroom door, he finds a bathrobe hanging on the doorknob that he’s positive hadn’t been there before. It must have been left by Connor for him to use. Hank pulls it on, vaguely unsettled by the plush feel of the fabric. He’s unused to drying himself with anything that doesn’t lightly chafe his skin.
He wanders further into the apartment—and while he has his back turned, he hears the bathroom door click closed behind him. Connor taking his turn no doubt, sneaking by so as to avoid Hank. The thought makes Hank wince with pity.
He explores the rest of the apartment while Connor occupies the bathroom. A spacious floor-plan for a bachelor, and high ceilings. In some ways, it appears to be a perfect apartment for a wealthy bachelor. But the lack of furniture is consistent not just in the living room but all throughout the apartment. A bed and a single end table in the bedroom despite the closets being full of clothes. A too-small table in the dining room and no chairs to go with it. The kitchen has a refrigerator, but it’s empty and isn’t even plugged in. He doesn’t even bother examining the stove; it’s abundantly clear that Connor might live here, but he inhabits the space much in the way that a ghost would.
Hank is sitting on the sofa in the living room when Connor emerges again. Hank looks over his shoulder at him, surprised to see Connor hovering in the doorway. Connor’s pajamas aren’t silk like Hank imagined they might be. They’re just simple cotton flannel. Dark blue. Practical.
“You don’t have to stay on the couch. You can sleep in the bed if you like.” Connor is looking at him but still can’t quite meet Hank’s eyes, and Connor’s quiet dignity in the face of his clear misery compels Hank to stand and approach him.
“It’s okay,” Hank says gently. “A couch is better than what I usually get. And you’re the one opening your home to me. I can tell this isn’t easy for you.”
Connor’s brow furrows and he looks away.
Hank turns back toward the sofa. He’s about to take a seat when—
“I don’t feel like a person.”
Connor’s words make him raise his head again. When he looks, Connor is standing there with his mouth open slightly and his eyes scanning the floor as though he’s struggling to find the right words. “That’s why this apartment—my apartment is like this. I’ve lived here for two months, and I just…”
He meets Hank’s gaze. “It’s always been like this for me. I’ve spent my whole life feeling like a puppet. Or some sort of tool. Doing what I’m supposed to do. Going where I’m supposed to go, wearing what I’m supposed to wear. And now I’m here, and I…” He pauses to looks around the room, the corners of his eyes crinkling as though he’s only seeing the walls around him for the first time and dislikes what he sees. “…and now I don’t even know how to be a person when I’m on my own. I don’t know how to choose anything. I don’t even know how to like anything.”
Connor’s mouth curls in discontent. “I pick up a catalogue or I go downtown to a furniture store, and I just… the choices paralyze me. Not because I’m afraid of choosing something that’s wrong. But because I have no idea who I am. What sort of place I’m meant to live in. I try to imagine what I would do if I had the freedom, and I… can’t. I just can’t.”
“If you had the freedom?” Hank echoes, frowning softly.
Connor pauses, his soft brown eyes meeting Hank’s. The expression behind them seems meaningful somehow, but Hank doesn’t know what Connor is trying to say. “It must sound ridiculous. I’m a grown man. I’m aware I’m luckier than most. But in so many ways I feel… trapped.”
“It’s not ridiculous,” Hank says, taking a step closer to Connor.
Connor’s eyebrows draw together. “I feel so alone.”
Hank moves closer. He reaches for Connor.
“I feel… empty.”
Hank touches Connor’s bicep. Connor stares into Hank’s eyes.
Hank opens his mouth. He wants to say something to heal the hurt he can see in Connor’s eyes, but he doesn’t know what to say. He closes his mouth. Opens it again.
Connor presses his mouth to Hank’s before Hank can close it again.
The noise Hank makes is muffled by Connor’s hot mouth, and Hank becomes aware of the heat of Connor’s body against his. Connor’s strong and lean body and his beautiful face, the features aching with gentle agony. Asking Hank to save him. Asking Hank to take him away from all of this.
Hank wants to. He wants to keep kissing Connor, to hold him and never let go. He closes his eyes, moaning softly into Connor’s mouth. Connor grabs Hank by the arms of his robe, clutching the soft fabric.
Connor’s fist bunching the fabric causes something to crack inside of Hank like a shard of glass shattering. He pulls his mouth away from Connor’s and when Connor chases him, he squeezes Connor’s arms. “Wait. Just… just wait a minute, Connor.”
Connor blinks at him groggily, a look of discontent on his face.
“You don’t really want this.”
Connor blinks again, his forehead wrinkling slightly.
Hank continues as gently as he can, “You’re worried about your brother. We nearly died about twice today. You’re just—“
“I’m not just anything,” Connor insists. “I’m, what, emotional? High on the adrenaline?”
“Exhausted. And you feel like you have to make a choice—“
“You’re the only person who has ever looked out for me,” Connor hisses, and the anger in his words squeezes Hank’s heart. “You’re the only person who’s ever been on my side—my side alone! Put his life in danger for me!”
I put my life in danger because you paid me to, Hank thinks, and the lie curdles his stomach even as he doesn’t give voice to it. Maybe it started out that way, but Hank knows that even before he found out about the connection to Luther’s death, he couldn’t have walked away from Connor even if he had wanted to.
“Let me do this,” Connor half-demands, half-pleads. The anger in his eyes fades to a fragile vulnerability that cuts Hank to the quick. “There’s something here, I know it. You feel this too. Please just let me apologize—“
He cuts himself off, drawing back slightly, and Hank asks, “Apologize for what?”
Connor looks off to the side. “…For bringing you into this.”
Hank’s eyes soften. He brushes his hand over Connor’s arm in a gesture he hopes is comforting. “Don’t apologize. I’m not sorry about being here.”
Connor meets Hank’s eyes. The misery Hank sees there makes him want to pull Connor close and shield him from everything that wants to hurt him.
Instead, Hank just squeezes Connor’s arms. “We’re both tired. Go get some sleep and we’ll figure out our next move in the morning.”
Connor’s face falls—not in a dramatic way, with his features crumpling or tears welling. Instead, something just dies behind Connor’s eyes and before Hank can say anything to try and soften the blow, he steps away and hurries out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him.
Part of Hank wants to chase after Connor. It isn’t safe on the streets, he hates knowing that he’s the reason Connor is distraught—but he knows nothing he could say or do would make Connor feel better now. The best thing he can do is give the both of them space before Hank does something stupid.
He settles in on the couch (for there’s no way he’s going to take Connor’s bed after what just happened, no matter what Connor says) and closes his eyes, feeling the familiar ache of exhaustion that has spread all throughout his body. Even with how bone-deep tired he is, he can’t imagine how he’s supposed to fall asleep while he’s consumed with thoughts of Connor. Connor in pain, Connor hurt, Connor looking at him with those sorrowful, remorseful eyes and begging for the sort of connection he’s never known before…
He’s awakened with a start when the door swings open and hits the wall with a bang. He goes for his gun and it isn’t until he has the grip in his hand that it’s just Connor barging through the door.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Hank moans, tilting his head back in jittery exasperation. “I nearly fucking shot you!”
“Mr. Anderson!” Connor sounds entirely too energetic. “I know how we can get to Kamski!”
He throws a bundle down into Hank’s lap—a newspaper already opened to the Society section. Hank picks it up and finds himself staring at a photo of Elijah Kamski.
Even before he can begin to read, Connor is already hurriedly explaining. “He’s throwing a party at his villa. Tonight. A private ball for the toast of Detroit society.”
“You think we should get into this party.”
“It’s the perfect opportunity for us to find evidence linking him to his dirty work. Even if he doesn’t have anything related to my brother’s death or your partner’s murder, he’s still paying off the police and the local politicians. He’ll have receipts, records of any off-the-books financial transactions for the benefit of doctoring his taxes.”
Hank can’t help but snort. “Well, shit. If the FBI isn’t interested in bagging the man corrupting the entire city of Detroit, I bet the IRS would be.” But a moment later, Hank frowns as a thought occurs to him. “Connor, we can’t go walking into a party. He’d recognize us as soon as he saw us.”
Connor lifts his chin. “He would recognize me as soon as he saw me. He more likely than not saw Nines at the warehouse two nights ago when he shot Gavin Reed and would be able to recognize me, but you? Even if he knows your name and that we’re on his trail, I doubt Elijah Kamski would take the trouble to familiarlize himself with you face.”
Hank glowers. “He killed my partner.”
“And he killed my brother. Given the pattern, I’d bet Kamski is responsible for more deaths than we care to imagine.” He gives Hank a strangely sympathetic look. “I don’t think he remembers the family and friends of all his victims.”
Hank’s lip curls at the thought of the depths of Kamski’s callousness.
“So long as you dress appropriately for such a formal occasion, I don’t believe you’ll be in danger,” Connor says. “But I’ll have to disguise myself.”
For the first time, Hank notices the garment bag Connor is carrying over his shoulder. He squints, peering at it. “Is that what that’s for, then?”
“Oh.” Connor glances over his shoulder. “Actually, this is for you.”
Hank sits up further. “For me?”
“You need a tuxedo for the ball. And I don’t own anything in your size.” Connor passes the garment bag to Hank. “I’m fairly confident it should fit you.”
Hank unzips the bag to take a peek at the suit. Black material that’s probably finer than anything he’s ever owned in his life. “Jesus, Connor…”
“I know it’s a lot. But we need to blend in.”
“How the hell can you be sure it’s going to fit me?”
Connor looks away for some reason. “…I have a pretty good eye. Just give it a try, would you?”
Hank takes the garment into the bathroom. He holds the tuxedo out in front of him and quietly marvels at what Connor has chosen for him; the slick, black tuxedo jacket is double-breasted with old-fashioned shawl lapels that makes Hank think of the sorts of people who have lived with unimaginable wealth for generations. The sorts of people who inhabit a world he can’t imagine. The sorts of people who Connor really belongs with.
Is that Connor’s problem? That he’s out of sync with a world to which he was never meant to belong?
“Old money for an old man,” Hank mutters, and he is suddenly overcome with a listlessness that surprises him. For even if he and Connor succeed with their plan and escape with their lives, that will be the end of them. Hank will spend the money that Connor pays him on a few more months of rent, but it will be gone before he knows it and everything he has ever worked for will be over. And Connor will go back to his empty apartment and his empty life and spend the rest of his life paralyzed by the void inside of him.
Hank closes his eyes. There are worries for another time. First they have to survive. Maybe if they can change the course of Kamski’s plans for them, it’s possible for them to change the trajectory of their own fates. Before Hank can look to the future, he has to put on the tuxedo.
And before he can do that, he has to trim his beard.
By the time Hank is finally finished grooming himself, slicking back his hair, and dressing himself, he doesn’t have the heart to look at himself in the mirror. He’s too afraid to see someone he wouldn’t recognize looking back at him. A man dressed up in nothing but false promises.
But the tuxedo does fit him.
“I don’t know how the hell you did it, Connor,” Hank calls as he steps out of the bathroom, “but this goddamn suit fits me better than the clothes I pick up from my own tailor.”
Connor doesn’t reply. A floorboard creaks softly from the direction of the bedroom, so Hank follows the noise and raps on the door.
“Connor? You decent?”
There’s a long pause before Connor responds. “…You can come in.”
Hank opens the door.
Connor has his back to Hank, standing at the window with the profile of his face just barely visible over his shoulder. His back is the first thing Hank notices, for it is bare down to just below his shoulder blades, and the pale moon of Connor’s mole-dotted back halts Hank’s thoughts long enough that it takes him a moment to process the rest of Connor’s appearance as Connor turns to look at him.
He is wearing a dress. A dark blue evening gown that flows elegantly to the floor. Hank had already thought that Connor cut a handsome figure when dressed as a man, but in a dress, he’s almost ethereal. Tall and impossibly lovely. His strong collar is accentuated by the low, dropped-shoulder décolletage and a wide, twisting band of fabric that creates the illusion of a bust and hangs off his upper arms. A draped bodice that flares out into a full skirt draws the eye to Connor’s trim waist.
Hank meets Connor’s gaze. The contours and shadows of his face are softened and deepened in turns by makeup and his already-beautiful face only seems all the more resplendent. His soft, gentle eyes pierce through Hank in a way that knocks the breath out of Hank’s lungs.
They stare at each other for a moment. Connor’s soft red lips hang open.
Eventually Connor lowers his eyes and says, “You look… very nice, Mr. Anderson.”
“So this is…” Hank pauses to clear his throat. “This is your disguise, huh?”
Connor nods. He turns back toward the window, reaching for something sitting on the windowsill. A pair of diamond earrings, and Hank watches him clip them to his ears. “I don’t think anyone at the ball will be suspicious of an attractive older man and the younger woman he’s escorting. Kamski knows us both as men.” A pause before Connor asks, “Do you approve?”
Hank knows Connor has to be asking if he thinks the plan is likely to work, but a jolt goes through Hank’s heart as his first instinct is to interpret the question to mean Am I beautiful?
“Yes,” he blurts out. “Yes, this is so… Jesus Christ, Connor, you’re…” He trails off, unable to decide on what he means to say. You’re a vision. You’re an artist. You’re the most perfect creature I’ve seen in all my years.
“You look good,” is what Hank settles on.
Hank sees a faint smile cross the profile of Connor’s face. “Good,” he echoes.
A silence follows. Hank is sure that Connor must be thinking of the previous night. How he pushed himself into Hank’s arms and kissed him and begged him for more. Is he wishing that Hank hadn’t pushed him away?
Hank doesn’t know. He doesn’t even know if he might be wishing he hadn’t pushed Connor away, either.
Hank says, “Connor—”
“No, Mr. Anderson,” Connor interrupts. “You don’t have to say anything. I don’t suppose there’s anything left to say.”
Hank’s cheeks burn, although whether the emotion he’s feeling is shame or embarrassment, he couldn’t say.
Connor pulls on a pair of white opera gloves. Hank watches the fabric slowly rise past Connor’s elbows. “In any case, if you feel so compelled, you might make me a promise.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
Connor smirks over his shoulder at Hank. “That you won’t leave me alone to go dancing with some other lady.”
The spark of humor in Connor’s eyes is like a lifeline, and Hank finds himself barking a laugh as the tension in the air melts away. “Oh, honey, believe me. A pretty dame like you? I won’t leave your side for a single moment.”
“No matter what?”
Hank smiles as he looks into Connor’s warm eyes. “No matter what.”
The taxi lets Hank and Connor out amidst a flood of other taxis, and Hank takes a moment to drink in the sight before him. A dozen of Detroit’s finest stand about in the evening air, all fine tuxedos and fancy evening gowns. Having a smoke or adjusting their furs or chatting with the rest of the high and mighty as they enjoy the last of the purple twilight. Behind the congregate, Kamski’s villa looms over the blank expanse of the lake. A long, squat art deco building that looks like it was carved from the world’s largest block of black marble and lined with silver arches.
Connor touches his arm. Hank blinks, then remembers that it’s only proper to offer him his arm.
Connor takes it with a graceful smile. He raises a gloved hand to touch at his hair—still as short as ever, but now carefully coiffed into a fashionable, feminine style that sits close to his head in gentle waves. He looks like he just stepped off the silver screen and into Hank’s arms and it’s everything Hank can do not to give away how awestruck he still is by Connor’s beauty.
Connor cocks his head as he meets Hank’s eyes. “Shall we, sir?” He’s even adopted a feminine lilt to his speech, and Hank finds his mouth has gone dry before he can respond.
“Uh, yeah. Let’s.”
As they walk up to the doors together, Hank keeps expecting to be stopped by… someone. Anyone. He doesn’t know who. Connor is a vision of elegance and beauty, but Hank feels like his suit and the pomade in his hair are only a flimsy cover for the threadbare countenance of his very being. Surely someone will recognize him for the hack that he is and have him ejected. Or worse, dragged straight to Elijah Kamski.
But no one spares him a second glance. Hank and Connor walk right past the doorman and the guard and then they are inside.
The ball is already in full swing, the air thick with the smell of champagne and perfume. Satin dresses shimmer in the crowd as bodies sway together, and Hank can hear the band across the hall playing slow jazz.
Hank slows for a moment as he watches the hypnotizing mass of bodies. He imagines himself and Connor taking the time for just one dance. A moment to forget about murder, to forget about dirty deals. A moment just for the two of them. Alone in a sea of people, sharing the sort of intimacy that’s so lost to Hank that he can’t remember what it feels like anymore.
Connor watches with him, and from the soft look on his eyes, Hank knows he must be thinking the very same thing.
But then Connor pats his hand gently. “We shouldn’t dawdle. I need to powder my nose.”
Hank gives him a sad smile. Such pleasant things aren’t for the likes of them. “Right you are, my dear. To the powder room we go.”
They keep close to the perimeter of the room as they move, careful to avoid the crowd. They pass a waiter carrying a tray of crystal flutes. They pass a cluster of tables for guests to refresh themselves at.
They pass a small group of people gathered loosely together by a wall, chatting and observing the dancers. And as Hank’s gaze crosses over the bald man at the periphery of the group, their eyes meet—
Hank swallows the curse on his tongue. As soon as he’s able, he leans in close to Connor and murmurs, “We have a problem. Fowler is here.”
“Fowler. The dirty police captain? The one we saw at the restaurant yesterday?”
“None other. He might have recognized me.”
Connor’s brow softly furrows. “…That’s not necessarily cause to be alarmed. The police may not know we were involved in that yet.”
“If they do, we got scant minutes before the jig is up.”
As casually and as naturally as you please, Connor bursts into bright laughter, tossing his head toward his shoulder and squinting out of the corner of his eye. Once his laughter has quieted, he says softly, “He hasn’t moved. He seems to have gone back to chatting.”
Hank knows better than to look over his shoulder to see.
Connor lightly squeezes Hank's arm. “We’ve come so far. We can’t give up yet.”
Hank steels himself and gives Connor the most reassuring smile he can muster.
When they reach the powder room, through the small crowd of women lingering around the doorway, they see a guard in a suit stands nearby. The hallway behind him is empty, and Hank knows he must be tasked with preventing the crowd from wandering further into Kamski’s home.
“May I borrow a cigarette?” Connor whispers.
Hank discreetly passes him one and Connor disappears into the powder room.
A few minutes later, Connor emerges and says something to the guard in a hushed voice that Hank can’t hear. The guard frowns and hurries into the powder room. Hank can hear the sharp, high squeal of a woman’s voice from within.
“Hurry. Before we’re noticed.” Connor grabs Hank’s hand and pulls him down the hallway.
“What did you do?”
“Someone carelessly dropped a lit cigarette in a wastebin and started a fire.”
Hank swallows a chuckle as they turn a corner and disappear into a darkened corridor. The music recedes behind them, and Hank takes care to mind the noise his footsteps are making in the sudden stillness that creeps around them.
Although they walk side by side, Connor is clearly taking the lead as they make their way down the hall. They pass a number of doors and eventually he leads them to a set of stairs and up to the second floor. Hank wonders if Connor has some knowledge of the layout of Kamski’s villa or if this is some wealthy person’s instinct telling him where Kamski is more likely to keep the information they need.
The second floor seems much more claustrophobic than the first somehow, though Hank isn’t sure whether the hallways are really smaller or whether it’s his imagination bearing down on him oppressively. Connor begins pausing at doors, pushing them open and peeking inside each room. Hank can’t see past him into the darkness beyond each doorway, and Connor never lingers, shutting a number of doors and moving on before finally choosing one to enter.
There’s a floor lamp right by the door, but Connor ignores it as he advances into the room, and so Hank does too. The room appears to be some sort of study, with a large, heavy desk sitting before a wide window which is the only source of scant moonlight. Hank moves along with Connor to the desk, feeling the plush carpet beneath his feet and wondering how such a creature as Kamski could care about warmth and comfort.
“This looks like a place for important documents,” Connor whispers. “Help me check the drawers.”
Hank takes the left side, and he opens the cabinet on the bottom just as Connor opens the topmost drawer on his side—and Hank finds himself faced with the heavy black door of a safe.
Connor grunts in surprise, then smiles. “Bingo. There we go.”
“There we go—except it’s an ever-lovin’ safe. Unless you got a few more skills you’re not telling me about, the track ends here.”
But even as Hank whispers this, Connor is pushing him aside and turning the dial on the face of the safe. Hank resists the urge to knead the bridge of his nose—of course Connor is a safecracker along with an expert marksman.
But Connor appears to be the least delicate safecracker Hank has ever seen in his life. Not that he’s actually seen any do their work right before his eyes, but Connor seems to spin the dial with a cavalier randomness, tugging the handle every third turn as though he expects it to be convinced to open by a persuasive argument. Just when Hank is about to pull Connor away and tell him he clearly has no idea what he’s doing—
Connor pulls the handle again and the safe swings open.
“What?” Hank is so surprised, he nearly forgets to whisper. “How the hell did you do that? That wasn’t any safecracking.”
“It wasn’t. I guessed the numbers.”
Connor’s slight grin widens by just a few teeth. “Out of a number of probable answers… including common factory default combinations. Twenty-five, fifty, seventy-five.”
Hank blinks, trying to resist the urge to smack himself in the face.
Inside the safe is a stack of paper. Books, ledgers, files… the pages closest to the bottom have gone slightly frayed with age, and Connor reaches carefully into the safe to pull out the ledger on top. He passes it to Hank then removes another book, then another.
Hank cracks open the ledger, squinting down at the crisp, cursive handwriting. “…Oh, Jesus Christ.”
“This seems to be exactly what we were looking for,” Connor says as he peers into his own book. “It isn’t just the police force. Judges, municipal officials, city planners, the mayor…
“He’s even fixing the goddamn horse races.” Hank slams his book shut. “I fucking knew it!”
“Hank,” Connor whispers, “This is everything we need to finally take Kamski down. Records of all his financial misdeeds. If we can just get this information somewhere beyond the reach of his money—”
The lights flick on. Hank startles against the sudden light, and a sick dread fills him as a cold, airy voice on the other side of the room remarks, “That would be impossible, I’m afraid.”
Elijah Kamski stands in the doorway, a woman with blond hair drawn up in a bun and wearing a short gown by his side. The woman’s gown isn’t anywhere near appropriate for such a formal party, but then neither is what Kamski is wearing: a short velvet robe tied at his waist. Cold realization washes over Hank as he takes in Kamski’s appearance and knows that Kamksi hadn’t even been attending his own party. He knew Connor and Hank were coming.
Kamski tilts his chin up, eyes flashing. “It’s curious how someone you’ve never met before can seem so familiar. You and your brother look so much alike that I would have thought you were him… if I wasn’t acutely aware of his current unfortunate situation.”
Connor simply stares at Kamski in return. Between his impossible beauty and the cold rage on his face, Connor almost looks like an avenging angel.
“Not interested in a chat?” Kamski cocks his head. “Well, that’s no fun. I’m dying for a lack of interesting conversation around here lately. And you and your family are just so fascinating—”
Hank interrupts. “We know about everything, Kamski. The fraud, the bribery, all the murders you covered up. Whatever sick game you think you’re playing, it ends here.”
Kamski gives Hank a look of dull surprise, as though he has only just now realized he’s standing there too. Hank watches Kamski’s eyes flicker down his body as Kamski sizes him up. Then Kamski says, “You know what? You’re right. It does end here.” He looks at the blond woman at his side. “Kill the pretty one.”
The woman draws a handgun and—
Hank pushes Connor down behind the desk just as she fires. Glass shatters behind them as bullets pierce a window, and Hank only waits for the barest pause in the gunfire before he draws his own gun and vaults over the desk.
The woman has already begun advancing across the room and Hank nearly collides with her. Hank sees her pretty blue eyes widen in surprise as he pistol-whips her across the face as hard as he can. She staggers to the side from the force of the blow, the gun falling from her hands and skidding across the floor.
“Connor!” Hank calls, and Connor rushes out from behind the desk clutching a stack of ledgers to his chest.
Hank moves to follow—but a kick to his knee knocks his feet out from under him and he lands, hard, on the floor. Hank sees a flash of blond hair as the woman whirls around to drive her elbow into Hank’s face, and Hank only barely ducks to the side in time to avoid her.
Kamski steps into Connor’s path. Connor draws a gun, but Kamski grabs Connor’s wrist and twists it—
Hank scrabbles to his feet, intending to hurry to Connor’s aid, but the blond woman, blood streaming from her nose, swings for him again and he’s forced to dodge toward the desk. She follows the first punch with a second, just as quick and powerful as the first, and Hank is forced onto his back on the desk, kicking out at her. She grabs his legs and yanks Hank forward, and Hank only barely avoids smashing the back of his head into the edge of the desk as he lands on his ass on the floor.
The woman raises a single bare foot and as quick as a striking snake, aims a kick at Hank’s throat. Hank tries to duck to the side, but he isn’t fast enough to avoid her entirely. Her foot connects with his jaw and he’s sent sprawling to the ground, his gun spinning out of his grasp.
When the ringing in his ears has faded, he sees her calmly moving toward the gun he knocked out of her hand. Hank jumps to his feet and rushes her, slamming into her middle—
And as his shoulder connects with torso, her arm loops around his throat and she squeezes, cutting off his airway and squeezing so effectively that stars explode behind Hank’s eyes. Trapped under her arm, Hank struggles to free himself, pummeling her sides with his fists, but she absorbs the blows without flinching. He tries to back up but she just moves with him until he clatters into the desk and nearly collapses, his knees going weak beneath him.
Trapped in what feels like an iron vice, Hank feels as though his head is about to explode. He grimaces, uselessly gasping for a breath he can’t draw. His eyes water as he cracks open his eyes…
…and notices that at some point during the fight, the woman’s hair fell out of its bun and is now hanging down her back in a low ponytail.
Hank reaches for it and yanks as hard as he can. The woman’s head snaps back and back arches, letting Hank draw his head up enough that he can finally suck in a breath and jerk his head out of her grasp. With the woman’s ponytail still in his hand, he whips his hand toward the desk so the side of her head collides with the edge of the desk with an ugly crack.
The woman slides bonelessly to the floor, a smear of blood left behind on the desk. She lays in a heap on the floor and moves no more.
“An impressive show of strength,” a cold voice says behind Hank, and when Hank turns, he sees Connor on the floor with his back to Hank, still clutching the ledgers to his chest. Kamski stands facing them both, pointing a gun directly at Connor.
Hank’s chest heaves as his whole body twitches toward Kamski—
“Ah-ah-ah.” Kamski cocks the hammer, and the mechanical sound stops Hank cold. “You wouldn’t want me to do something you’d regret, would you?”
Hank is frozen in place. Connor looks helplessly over his shoulder at Hank, and the only thing stopping Hank from jumping in front of that gun is the fear that he wouldn’t be fast enough.
Kamski’s gaze flickers to Hank. “My subordinates have been reporting back to me about you. You’re quite the interesting man. Very bold indeed. You could have divorced yourself from this whole affair at any point, and yet here you are.”
“Divorced myself—” Hank spits. “You’ve had your goons after us since your stooges in the DPD told you we were investigating Gavin Reed’s death.”
“Is that what you believe? That those gunmen meant to kill you?”
Something about the way Kamski says that sends a cold wave of dread through Hank, but he suppresses the shudder that rises up his spine. “I’m supposed to believe you would’ve just let me walk away? I know you killed Reed.”
Kamski laughs at that, his gun never wavering from Connor even as he rolls his shoulders with mirth. “Is that why you’re here? Is that why you think you’re here? Him—” His gun twitches toward Connor. “His goal here is rather obvious; all his actions are part of a grand, petty attempt to save his brother from the electric chair. But you?” He smiles at Hank, his teeth flashing. “I’ve been wondering about you. I simply couldn’t understand why someone who has nothing to do with Gavin Reed’s death would involve himself.”
“The hell is that supposed to mean?”
Kamski’s eyes shine with twisted pleasure. “I didn’t kill the good Detective Reed. All of this—” He gestures with his free hand to the room around them; to the woman lying crumpled on the floor, to the utter disarray of the desk, to the shattered window behind them. “—This is just entirely disproportionate given that the only thing I’m guilty of are a series of financial crimes.”
The audacity of the lie twists inside of Hank as painfully as a knife in his guts. “You killed my partner!” Hank roars.
A cruel smile stretches Kamski’s face. “I’m sure I wouldn’t know anything about that.”
Hank bellows with rage, losing sight of everything except his desire to make Kamski regret everything he’s ever done and rushing forward, fist raised—
There’s an explosion of noise and pain, and Hank falls, too stunned to realize for a moment that Connor has caught him in his arms. The dropped ledgers lie scattered on the floor around them, Connor’s face hovering over Hank’s, pale and horrified.
“Hank!” Connor jams a hand against Hank’s chest, and it’s only when Hank looks down and sees his own blood staining Connor’s opera gloves that he realizes he’s been shot. “Hank, no, no, no—”
Hank tries to say Connor’s name, but the pain gripping his chest is so intense that he feels he cannot even draw the breath to do so.
“Oh, yes,” Kamski purrs, still aiming the gun at both Hank and Connor. “Now I remember you. Henry Anderson of the Detroit Police Department. Or rather, formerly of the Detroit Police Department.” His smile widens. “Soon to be formerly formerly of the Detroit Police Department.”
Hank realizes that Kamski really didn’t know who he was. The men he had thought were after the both of them were really only after Connor.
Kamski draws closer. “I remember your partner, too. A certain detective by the name of… Lambert? Was that it?”
Hank sucks in a gasping breath to tell Kamski to go fuck himself, which dissolves into agonized coughs and splutters. Connor clutches Hank tighter, trying to hold him still and murmuring, “Hank, no, don’t listen to him…”
“I wasn’t there when he died. But I’m told he looked very much the same way you look now.”
Connor glares hatefully at Kamski, tears in his eyes. “I swear I’ll kill you. Mark my words.”
Kamski chuckles. “Which one of us has the gun here?” He smirks down at Connor and Hank. “You see, this is what happens when you cross me. It happened to your partner. It happened to both his brothers. And now you two are my latest, lucky victims.”
Hank tries to put a hand on Connor’s shoulder to yank himself up and shield Connor with his body as much as he’s able to, but his hand doesn’t seem to want to work correctly. It trembles in the air, missing Connor’s shoulder as his fingertips brush the neckline of Connor’s gown. Connor catches his hand with his blood-soaked glove.
There are worse ways to die than in the arms of such a beautiful creature. But Hank still despairs that there isn’t more he can do to protect Connor…
Connor isn’t looking at him, he’s still staring down the barrel of Kamski’s gun, his chest heaving as a tear slides down his face.
“Don’t—” Hank gasps, unable to draw the breath to beg Connor not to look at Kamski when it happens; to look at him and let him see those beautiful brown eyes one last time…
“FBI! Don’t move!”
Kamski jumps at the sudden booming voice, the gun clattering from his hands as he turns to look at the man standing in the doorway. As the man moves further into the room, his own gun trained on Kamski, Hank recognizes him as Captain Fowler.
More men file into the room, each of them wearing dress tuxedoes and moving practically in lockstep for how orderly they are. One moves swiftly to Kamski’s side, kicking the gun he’s dropped away from him and forcing him to his knees.
The gunshot, Hank realizes, they're making their move because they heard the gunshot—
Fowler only spares a glance at Hank and Connor—Hank thinks he sees Fowler’s face harden—before he pulls out a pair of handcuffs. “Elijah Kamski, you are under arrest—”
“Under arrest!” Kamski’s hair is falling in his face, his eyes wide and bewildered. “Me! Arrest them, they’re the trespassers here—”
“Son, do you think there were twenty agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at your little shindig tonight to sample your cocktail wieners? The gig is up, don’t make this—”
Whatever Fowler says next is lost in the flurry of noise and activity that fills the room. Agents are moving about all around them, speaking to each other while they secure the scene. Once goes to examine the ledgers that Connor dropped when Hank was shot and another reminds him not to touch the evidence, but the room is spinning and it’s so, so hard to concentrate enough to hear what anyone else is saying.
“Help!” Connor bleats the word, clutching Hank close. “Please, help me! He’s been shot, he needs a doctor—”
A man replies, but Hank’s can’t make out what he says. Hank’s eyelids flutter and his head lolls against Connor’s chest.
“Hank…” Connor’s voice is close to his ear, fading in and out. “Hang on! We’ll get you… …just please… Hank… …ank…”
Hank can’t see, and the very last thing he’s aware of is Connor shaking him before he’s lost to the world.
Hank wakes thinking he’s dead. He opens his eyes to what seems to be total darkness, and between that and the awful antiseptic smell in the air, his first incredible thought is that he’s in a coffin. He doesn’t panic; he only floats in a strange, out-of-body feeling that persists for nearly an hour until he’s strong enough to turn his head and see the vague outline of the bottle of fluid hanging above him and the thin tube that snakes down into his arm. That’s when he realizes he’s in a hospital bed.
When a nurse comes to check on him, he learns he’s been drifting in and out of hazy, sedated consciousness for five days.
Information comes to him slowly. The nurses initially refuse to tell him anything about Elijah Kamski or even Connor, worried that any sort of news will overexcite him and send him into apoplexy. Hank spends a frustrating four days picking at the bandages on his chest. The only thing that keeps him from marching out of the hospital to figure out what’s going on for himself is that the first and only time he tried doing just that, he passed out from the pain and gave himself a black eye falling out of bed.
He worries about Connor. He wonders where Connor is, whether his brother’s been freed from jail yet, whether he’s in any trouble from his and Hank’s exploits. He waits and waits for Connor to walk through his hospital door, and he never does, and he never does.
Finally after four maddening days of being poked and prodded at and staring at the wall, Fowler pays him a visit. He sits by Hank’s bedside and very politely ignores Hank’s obvious disappointment that he isn’t someone else, passing him a cigarette and finally dishing out at least part of the news Hank’s been dying to hear.
Kamski’s in a federal prison awaiting trial for the murder of Gavin Reed and just about every financial crime on the books. Connor’s brother is a free man.
“Ironically enough, you getting shot expedited the process quite a bit,” Fowler says. “When your doctors pulled that slug out of you, the ballistics matched those of the one extracted from Gavin’s body.”
Hank nearly chokes on a lungful of ash as he swallows a painful laugh. “Jesus,” he says between shallow coughs. “Proof positive the gun Kamski shot me with was the same one used to murder Reed. Can’t ask for better evidence than that.”
“That may be so. But if I was still your superior officer, you’d still be three different kinds of fired right now.”
Hank frowns at that. “...I know the only reason you and your boys burst into that study when you did was because you heard Kamski firing that gun. I gave you probable cause. So if you were still my superior officer, an innocent man would still be in jail for a murder he didn’t commit and Kamski would be free.”
“Doing things the right way takes patience.”
Hank grunts softly to express his discontent. The system isn’t perfect, he knows that. Even in cities utterly free from the sort of corruption that plagues Detroit (if he allows himself to be naïve enough to believe such a thing might exist) he knows good men get eaten alive by the machine called justice every day. Unavoidable losses to a flawed infrastructure that’s still the best they’re capable of.
Hank might be getting sentimental in his old age, because even though he sure can’t think of anything better to replace what they have, he’s still very glad in this moment that he left the force.
Fowler comes every few days to visit Hank. Sometimes he dishes out slivers of information about the FBI’s successes in dismantling the corrupted power structures that had been supporting Kamski. On a separate occasion he comes to visit Hank, he tells him the mayor of Detroit is being recalled along with two judges, and impeachment proceedings have begun regarding a number of district representatives who had been taking illegal campaign donations from Kamski.
“A fed,” Hank mutters softly. “All this time you were a fed. And here I was thinking you were put in that job because you were the most crooked of them all.”
Fowler smiles thinly. “A lot of blood, sweat, and money went into making the puppets directly under Kamski’s command believe that.”
“You took me off Luther’s case.”
“And that’s why you thought I was crooked, isn’t it?” Fowler shakes his head. “Coming into that position, I didn’t know who was honest and who was dirty. A man demanding to be put on the investigation into his partner’s murder… I had no way of knowing what your intentions were. Not until you turned in your badge.”
Hank has nothing to say to that. He realizes dimly that Fowler had only mentioned Kamski being charged with Reed’s murder… not Luther’s murder or the murder of Connor’s twin.
What would Fowler say if Hank were to ask if there are any plans to eventually, finally seek justice for Luther and Connor’s family? Doing things the right way takes patience. Let’s wait until we’ve dismantled the dirty infrastructure that Kamski’s installed to support himself before we try nailing him with anything that isn’t a grand slam.
“How long would it have taken you,” Hank asks, “to nail Kamski if Connor and I hadn’t involved ourselves?”
Fowler shrugs. “Impossible to say. We were building our case.” He gives Hank a serious look. “We would have gotten him, though. And you wouldn’t have gotten so badly injured.”
Hank wonders how many other Luthers there would have been in the meanwhile and tries to suppress his shudder.
—And no matter how many times Fowler comes in, Hank always has to take the time to build up the courage to ask about Connor.
Fowler shakes his head. “Sorry, Hank. I can tell you’re worried, but I haven’t seen him since his brother was freed.”
It makes Hank worry. Is Connor in some kind of trouble? Could Kamski have figured out some way to ruin Connor’s life even from behind bars? Trapped in a hospital bed, Hank can do little more than lie there and imagine the kinds of terrible trouble Connor might be in while Hank is incapacitated and unable to go to him. Or is the truth just more mundane and somehow more terrible to consider—could Hank have done something to upset Connor? Is he refusing to call or visit simply because he doesn’t want to speak to Hank again?
Fowler comes to visit one last time before Hank is discharged—still no news about Connor, sorry pal—and then Hank is turned out on the street with nothing but a set of donated clothes and the couple of bucks Fowler gave him for cab fare.
Hank goes back to his office. Where else could be possibly go? But even so, walking back into his dusty, lifeless office after everything he’s been through just feels wrong. He feels like he’s outgrown the place. He’s outgrown the abandoned secretarial alcove by the door, he’s outgrown the itchy cot stuffed away in the closet. He wanders around the room as though he doesn’t even recognize it. This sad existence belongs to some other pitiful man. The scope of Hank’s world has grown beyond what these cracked brown walls can contain.
Hank’s already sore from climbing the stairs to his office. The still-healing wound in his chest aches, but after spending weeks in bed, Hank doesn’t want to lie down in his cot. So he sits down in the chair behind his desk and kicks his feet up, leaning back and looking at the ceiling. Rare sunlight is filtering in through the slats in the blinds and Hank watches dust motes float above him—
—and then wakes up with a start as someone knocks on his office door.
“Connor,” he breathes before lurching out of the chair and across the room where he throws the door open.
Connor blinks up at Hank, looking a touch alarmed by Hank’s agitation. His mouth opens, but before he can say anything, Hank yanks him into his arms and crushes him in a tight hug.
Pain constricts Hank’s chest, but he doesn’t let go. His relief at seeing Connor again is so much sweeter that there might as well be no pain at all.
Connor is still against him for a long moment, likely startled by Hank’s behavior, but he eventually relaxes into the hug, bringing his arms up around Hank. “…I’m glad to see you so well. I’ve been worried about you.”
“Worried!” Hank would laugh if Connor’s words hadn’t sent a stripe of anger and concern through him. “Where the hell have you been? I haven’t heard from you in weeks, Fowler said you hadn’t been seen since your brother was released!”
“I wanted to see you.” Connor’s voice is soft with regret. “But Fowler’s been looking for me.”
“Looking for you!?”
“Oh, not like that. Not for anything bad. The FBI just means to question me about our activities over our… holiday weekend.” Connor frowns. “I don’t have time for that. After what my family has been through, they need me.”
Fowler had come to visit with a surprising amount of regularity and frequency, Hank reflects. Had he really been dropping by to update Hank about what things he was permitted to tell him about? Or had he been hoping to find Connor, or at least some clue to Connor’s whereabouts?
Hank frowns. His displeasure with the idea isn’t solely because of the idea that Fowler might have been using him to track down Connor, but he can’t put his finger on what else could be wrong.
“Mr. Anderson…” Connor’s soft voice catches Hank’s attention, chasing the vague itch from his mind. “Can we step into your office?”
“Of course.” Hank steps aside to let Connor move through the door.
As Hank closes the door, he watches Connor wander further into the apartment, across the dusty floor and to the desk. He’s still dressed as finely as ever in a navy blue three-piece suit, and as he puts a hand on the desk, a pensive expression on his face, he looks utterly out of place in such a shabby room. Like a diamond set in a cheap ring with the fake gold plating half chipped away.
His back is partially to Hank but with his head bowed and his face in profile, he cuts a forlorn figure.
Hank gives a good-natured huff. “So I’m ‘Mr. Anderson’ now, am I?”
He means for it to be taken as a joke, but it only makes Connor’s features draw together in sorrow. “Mr… Hank. I owe you… more than I can tell you. I put you in mortal danger and in return, you saved my brother’s life.”
“Whoa, whoa. Slow down.” Hank approaches, a hand raised in a placating gesture. “Danger’s just part of the job. You don’t have to apologize for—”
“Part of the job?” Connor interrupts, turning to look at him. “Shootouts in restaurants, crawling through the sewers to escape assassins… and on top of that, you took a bullet to the chest and nearly died! You mean to tell me that’s an average case to you? That you do that for all your clients?”
Hank hesitates. “…No. I don’t.”
“Kamski didn’t even know who you are. Every danger we encountered was because of the people he sent after me. He said so himself. If I had never involved you in the first place—”
“I said stop it,” Hank snaps.
Connor’s head jerks up slightly, his eyes widening at the sudden forcefulness of Hank’s voice.
“Now I told you before. If I had wanted to quit, then I would have. There was nothing obligating me to stick with you and keep you safe. I stayed because I wanted to see this through, and that’s on me. Not on you.”
Connor doesn’t look reassured by Hank’s words. He’s staring at him with lost, sorrowful eyes that make Hank’s heart ache.
Hank moves closer, putting a hand on Connor’s shoulder. “…Thanks to you, my old partner’s finally getting the justice he deserves.
Connor looks into his eyes. His brows are drawn a knot of regret. “…That’s enough? To make up for all the pain and all the fear? To make it all worth it?”
Even looking as anguished as he does at this moment, Connor is beautiful. His mouth is hanging open ever-so-slightly and Hank can see a sliver of the white of his teeth between his soft pink lips.
Hank can hear the blood racing in his ears. He can’t think past the noise filling is head. For all he knows, the whole world has been reduced to Connor’s beautiful face right before his eyes.
“You were worth it,” he whispers, and the very next moment, Connor is kissing him, clutching at him hungrily.
Hank kisses him back—and this time, he has no intention of stopping, no intention of pushing Connor away. He was a fool to deny this to Connor knowing the danger they were both in. He knows he can never take Connor for granted again, that every moment he has with Connor is a gift not to be taken lightly. He’ll happily give Connor anything he wants, including himself.
Connor’s tongue brushes Hank’s lips—and Hank shivers at the rush of arousal the courses through him. He opens his mouth to Connor’s prompting, and Connor’s tongue presses into his mouth while Hank’s hands come to rest at the small of Connor’s back. He pulls Connor closer, and Connor makes a soft whimpering sound as their legs brush together.
Hank breaks the kiss to breathe. “Jesus,” he whispers, voice quiet with awe at the sheer electricity of the moment.
Connor’s pupils are blown wide. His pale face is beginning to flush with color, and his soft pink lips are hanging open again in a way that Hank finds nearly maddening in how tantalizing it is. “Hank… Hank, please, I need you—”
Hank silences him with another kiss, feeling Connor’s hands clutching at his back. “I’m here for you, doll. Tell me what you need.”
Connor’s breath is hot against Hank’s mouth. “…Inside me.”
Hank groans. His cock is already beginning to throb as he imagines the sensation of Connor, slick and tight around him—
With a surge of motion, Hank lifts Connor. Connor gives a shout of surprise, then laughs, wrapping his legs around Hank’s waist and leaning into Hank to help him balance. He cups Hank’s face and peppers it with kisses as Hank brings Connor to his desk.
Connor allows himself to be lowered to the desk, his legs still spread as they bracket Hank’s sides. “Mr. Anderson, do you do a lot of business at this desk?”
“Not as much as I’d like.” When Connor laughs at that, Hank silences him with a smoldering look. “And none I like so much as this.”
Connor is still fully-clothed; even wearing his suit jacket, which he shrugs off. Hank takes this as an invitation to run his hands up Connor’s front, feeling his warm, slim body press against his hands in reply. Hank can feel the shape of Connor’s pectoral muscles even through his vest, and Hank hurries to unbutton it and push it off of Connor so he can get an even better feel.
“Ah—don’t rumple my clothes too badly.”
Hank barks a laugh and curls his head over Connor. “Sweetheart. Babydoll. Look at what we’re doing and say that again.”
“I mean it.” Connor sounds almost offended. “I have to leave in this outfit.”
Hank grins at him. “Not if you don’t leave.”
Connor’s eyes widen as the red flush to his face intensifies. He looks rather at a loss for words, and Hank laughs again and kisses him. Just to be playful he palms Connor through his trousers and Connor gasps into his mouth.
He unbuttons Connor’s suspenders and trousers, pulling Connor’s cock out. It’s already mostly hard in Hank’s hand, and he gives it a few slow pumps to further encourage it as Connor moans. It’s absolutely gorgeous to behold, long and elegantly curved, and Hank notices as his fingers reach the base that Connor even keeps his pubic hair trimmed. Hank can guess why that might be, and it gives him an appealing idea. He leans forward and whispers in Connor’s ear, “You ever been fucked in that dress before? Had it hiked up around your hips like a tramp?”
Connor’s legs spasm around Hank and a high-pitched, breathy whine escapes him, his head tilting backward. Hank grins at this reaction.
“Next time,” he murmurs, and Connor digs a heel into the back of his thigh.
“We’ll see if your performance rates a ‘next time.’”
“Better pull out all the stops, then.” Hank lowers himself to his knees and brings the tip of Connor’s cock into his mouth.
Connor hums approvingly, and Hank is surprised to find himself savoring the taste and the weight of Connor on his tongue. A clean taste, slightly sour but not unpleasant. The taste of Connor makes Hank think of some sort of fruit he’s never tasted before, and his mouth begins to water as he takes Connor further into his mouth.
“Oh… Oh, Hank…” Connor’s fingers curl in his hair, and the soft, breathless quality of Connor’s voice are all the encouragement Hank needs. He wants to move slowly, but there’s something about the taste of Connor and his obvious enjoyment that compels Hank to move faster than he anticipates. He wants to wring more of those delicious moans and gasps out of him and drink in Connor’s pleasure.
He takes Connor in deeper on his tongue, then as Connor’s hands begin to twitch and his breathing becomes more ragged, he takes Connor even deeper, as deep as he can until Connor is hitting the back of his throat.
“Oh!” Connor’s knee brushes Hank’s ear as his leg jerks. His fingers tighten in Hain’s hair, and Hank can feel his hips rocking ever-so-slightly. “Hank, your tongue, use your tongue—”
Hank begins pushing and twisting his tongue around Connor’s cock as much as he’s able to as he bobs, and the long moan it draws from Connor makes Hank twitch in his own trousers. He swallows around Connor, and Connor’s back arches.
It’s so good. The noises Connor is making and the weight and taste and smell of him right in Hank’s face. Hank wants to swallow Connor whole; he wants to give Connor everything he can and keep him suspended in pleasure and bliss forever.
“Stop! Hank, wait, stop!”
Hank pulls himself off Connor’s cock, his mouth aching and empty. He feels strangely out of breath. “Huh? Something wrong?”
“No, no, nothing at all.” Connor looks down at Hank, his eyes half-lidded as he moves his arms to support himself as he leans back. “I just don’t want to finish without you inside me.”
A fresh surge of arousal rushes through Hank at the promise behind those words, and he has to work to push himself to his feet again slowly enough to keep his knees and hips from creaking. He’s fully erect by now, and when Connor catches sight of the tent in his trousers, he makes an impatient noise, the muscles in his thighs flexing.
“Oh, God,” Connor moans. “Fuck me right here on this desk.”
“Hold on, I have to get—”
Connor groans and reaches back to dig in his discarded suit jacket. He pulls out a small jar of oil from one of the interior pockets, passing it to Hank.
“…You came prepared.”
“Hurry up…” Connor’s hips are still rocking. Even as he reclines further on his back, only sitting up slightly to watch Hank with dark eyes, he pumps his hips absently as though he can’t bear not to move.
It’s maddening to watch. With a growl, Hank yanks Connor’s trousers and underwear down, pulling them off the legs until Connor is spread out, his lower half utterly bare save for his socks and garters.
Connor gasps, his cock shifting with his hips in the open air. His legs are still spread in a way that seems downright obscene with how he’s rocking, and now that Hank can see the cusp of Connor’s ass beneath him, he’s gripped with a powerful urge to just slather himself in oil and bury himself inside. But no, he has to do this correctly.
He dips his fingers in the bottle of viscous oil and spreads Connor’s ass with his thumbs, revealing his hole. Connor makes an anxious sound, as if urging Hank to hurry up and do something with it, so Hank obliges by slowly pressing a slick finger inside of him.
Connor gasps, his breath stuttering as Hank presses further inside of him. “Hurry… don’t be gentle…”
Emboldened by those words, Hank presses a second digit in despite the tight resistance. Connor vocalizes at that, a grunt that might be a noise of pain or pleasure, but he doesn’t tell Hank to stop. On the contrary, his knees spread wider apart and his cock twitches, so Hank moves his fingers in and out, opening Connor as quickly as he dares.
Connor pants, his voice filled with something more substantial than the pretty arousal it held when Hank was sucking his dick. There’s almost something animalistic about Connor not as he lies back, trembling and breathing heavily like he’s been wounded. Hank withdraws his hand to apply more lubrication, and when his fingers pop out of Connor’s hole, he whines, high and needy, and cries, “Hank!” in a half-strangled voice that nearly sends Hank fumbling with the vial of oil. He hurries to slick Connor back up, this time pressing three fingers in.
“Oh!” Connor’s fingers scrabble for the far end of the desk. “Hank—Hank—!”
Hank cannot—literally cannot, he thinks he may burst—listen to Connor cry out for him any longer. His whole body is aflame with need, his heart pounding madly and his whole being aching for the very thing Connor is begging him to give. He yanks his hand out of Connor and then pulls out his own cock, red and engorged as if angry to have been ignored so long.
Hank messily slicks himself up—and while Connor is wordlessly moaning to be filled again, Hank shoves himself into Connor, wrenching a cry out of him so sweet and satisfying that Hank can’t help but pull back and shove into Connor again.
The pace is fast and chaotic—Hank feels as though he has lost all control of himself, enslaved by the sensation of Connor’s hot, unbearably tight hole. It pulses around him and rocks with his and Connor’s bodies, Connor pushing against him even as Hank fills him. Every aspect of Connor screams his desperation, from the movement of his body to the beautiful noises he’s making to the wide-eyed, rapturous expression on his face.
Hank hauls one of Connor’s legs over his shoulder so he can pound in even deeper, pulling Connor even further toward him. Connor wails, his arms spread out over his head in a position of total surrender, his other leg hooking behind Hank.
“Hank!” Connor’s voice is hitched and utterly broken. “So big! So full! Please, please, I need—!”
Whatever he’s trying to say is cut off with another cry as Hank impales him deeper than ever.
“Please! Fill me, please!”
At that, Hank pushes himself faster than ever, sparing no thought but to fill Connor’s request. He slams into Connor over and over, bucking wildly while Connor screams, lost in the slick, tight sensation of Connor beneath him, Connor taking him, Connor pushing them both into a world where nothing but them and their pleasure exists.
Connor cries out again—and he arches his back and throws his head so it makes an audible thud against the table that Hank hears even over all the noise, and that’s what finally does him in, the fact that Connor is so overcome by what Hank is doing to him that he’s lost all sense of himself.
Hank’s orgasm tears through him with all the force of a tidal wave, seizing him in pleasure so intense he’s lost to everything except what he feels. He can feel himself spilling into Connor, hear Connor’s stuttering gasps as his own body tenses, and for a brief moment, Hank thinks Connor is going to come with him, and the thought sends an aftershock of pleasure through him. But no, Connor doesn’t come, he just squirms with the sensation of being filled by Hank, the exact thing he begged for.
Hank’s orgasm is so powerful, he nearly blacks out—there’s a moment where the world goes dark, and Hank thinks he’s about to fall asleep on his feet, but then the next thing he knows, he’s back to himself, panting like a dog over Connor, who’s trembling and gasping for breath himself.
“C-Connor…” Hank carefully lowers the leg from his shoulder. “Jesus fucking Christ… you okay? Not gonna slide off the desk if I move?”
Connor doesn’t answer. He just closes his mouth and swallows thickly before glancing at Hank and closing his eyes.
Hank slowly pulls out of Connor. Oil and semen drip onto the desk and onto Hank’s trousers, but Hank can’t bring himself to care much about the fate of his pants. Connor still doesn’t move.
“Hold on, let’s just—” The muscles of Hank’s back scream in protest he leans over Connor to bundle him into his arms, but Hank doesn’t care. He pulls Connor off the desk and slides to the floor as delicately as he can under the circumstances, sitting Connor in his lap, heedless of the way Connor is dribbling on him.
He tucks Connor against his chest and slowly strokes Connor’s cock.
Connor jerks weakly in his arms—
“Shh.” Hank wraps his free arm around Connor as much as he can as he gently works Connor to completion. “Just relax. I got you. You’re alright.”
Connor turns his face into Hank’s neck and makes muffled noises until he eventually comes, spilling onto the dusty floor.
Once Connor has finished, Hank lifts him again and carries him into the tiny W.C. to tidy him up as best he can. He doesn’t have many amenities, but he at least has soap and water with which to clean Connor’s battered hole.
Connor seems to come back to himself a bit more by the time Hank is rinsing out the washcloth one last time before putting it away. He begins stirring with more strength, blinking up at Hank.
“Hey,” Hank murmurs. “You okay?”
Connor nods, then makes an effort to stand, which Hank overrules with a firm hand on his shoulder.
“Whoa, there. Easy does it.”
“I’m not… not broken, you don’t have to...”
“I know. Just… give yourself a minute to get your bearings.”
Connor allows Hank to carry him out of the W.C., and he lets Hank support him as he hobbles over to the desk to dress himself again.
He eyes the mess on the desk and the floor. “I’m sorry if I ruined the varnish.”
Hank shrugs. “Eh, don’t be. It’s a cheap piece of junk. I oughta replace it anyway.”
Connor gives Hank an odd smile as he does up the buttons on his trousers and suspenders again. “Yes, I imagine you’ll be doing quite a bit more business once word gets out about your exploits.”
That comment gets Hank thinking. While Connor finishes dressing, Hank considers exactly how much more business he’ll get. Enough to keep the lights on and food in his belly? Sure, maybe for another six months or a year, but then what? Once Elijah Kamski becomes old news, will he have made enough of a name for himself to keep himself alive? Or will he be right back where he was, forced to choose between two meals a day and the rent of the office he lives out of?
He’s so consumed with his thoughts that he’s surprised when Connor pushes a glass of whiskey into Hank’s hands. “Huh?” He blinks down at the drink. “Where’d this come from?”
Connor holds his own glass in both hands. “Found a bottle of bourbon in your closet. I know it’s more traditional to have a smoke than a drink after sex, but I figured with what we’ve been through, we deserve the extravagance.”
Hank stares at the drink a moment longer—then smiles, shrugging. “…Fine. What the hell.” He downs the drink in two gulps, barely tasting it but feeling the burn as it travels down his throat. Then he grabs Connor around the shoulders and kisses him.
Connor splutters a brief laugh against his mouth, then kisses him back, smiling all the while.
But when Hank pulls back, there’s something sad about Connor’s eyes.
Hank pauses, cupping Connor’s face. “What’s wrong?”
Connor’s smile never leaves his face despite the sorrow in his eyes. “I’ll tell you when you’re drunk enough. Have another drink.”
So Hank does.
Hank doesn’t know how much time has passed by the time he wakes up. He lies in his cot for a while, floating in that happy state between sleep and wakefulness… until he remembers the events of the previous day and he realizes that despite losing consciousness while he was drinking with Connor, he doesn’t feel hungover. Drowsy, but not hungover.
He rises from his cot. The mess on the floor and desk has been cleaned up, and there’s a pile of money sitting in the middle of the desk. Fat stacks of cash bound together with paper bands for easy counting. The smell of it alone is enough to convince Hank it’s all real.
On top of the pile of money is a piece of paper folded neatly in half.
Connor drugged him… to leave him the money he owed and write him a goodbye note?
Hank doesn’t touch any of it, not the cash or the letter. He sits heavily on his cot, holding his head in his hands.
Amid the despair and the sting of rejection, Hank can’t help but think this through. This doesn’t make sense. Connor could have just told him he was leaving town, or that he needed to take some time to be with his family. Or, hell, he could have just paid Hank and then told him he never wanted to see him again. Why drug him? What possible reason could Connor have to drug Hank before going through the trouble of leaving him a goodbye note?
So you couldn’t follow him, a little voice in Hank’s head answers, and something tickles the back of Hank’s mind.
When your doctors pulled that slug out of you, the ballistics matched those of the one extracted from Gavin’s body.
Had Kamski had a gun when he entered the study? Hank doesn’t remember seeing him draw a gun. He remembers watching Connor run around the desk and draw a gun on Kamski. Then Kamski grabbed Connor’s wrist and—
—and the next time Hank saw Kamski or Connor, Kamski was holding a gun and Connor was missing his.
Kamski disarmed Connor and then he shot Hank with Connor’s gun.
When Hank crosses the room to read the letter, he already feels reasonably certain about what it’s going to say.
Dear Mr. Anderson—
By the time you put down this letter, you might be disinclined to believe anything I have to say. But before I tell you what regretful things I must tell you, I hope I can at least compel you to believe two very important things. The first is that I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and my family in the time that we’ve known each other. I’ve come to admire you and… feel more for you than I ever thought possible. I don’t expect I will ever forget you, Mr. Anderson.
The second thing you must believe is that Elijah Kamski is an evil man. He killed my brother. He killed your partner. He deserves worse than the safe and comfortable jail cell he’ll likely spend the rest of his life inhabiting. As a matter of fact, he ought to count himself lucky he has that much.
But Elijah Kamski didn’t kill Gavin Reed. Nines did.
And although events didn’t transpire the way we planned, I was his accomplice.
The truth behind Gavin Reed’s death is that Reed was only meant to be a pawn in a larger scheme. Reed had been part of our plan to kill Kamski. We had been after our revenge against Kamski for years, and when Nines met Reed, a man with his own reasons for wanting Elijah Kamski dead, we knew we could use him as a means to that end.
Reed and Kamski had a pre-existing relationship. The exact details of it aren’t important; suffice it to say there’s a reason for the strong resemblance between the two of them. When we learned about this, Nines carefully inflamed Reed’s hatred for Kamski, cultivating his darker impulses. When Reed was finally amenable to the idea of murder, he and Nines hatched a plot. Reed would summon Kamski to a warehouse close to the river, threatening the exposure of his and Kamski’s secret. Once there, safe and sequestered off from the rest of Detroit, Nines and Reed would murder Kamski.
And then once Kamski was dead, Nines would murder Reed to ensure his silence and arrange the scene to make it appear as though Reed and Kamski had shot and killed each other.
You were meant to be a pawn in the scheme as well. You and I both had our own roles to play. You remember how I came to your office that night spinning a story about my misguided little brother, in over his head in some sort of trouble. I knew before I engaged your services that you had worked with Reed in the past. I was confident it would only take you a matter of hours to locate him. If all had gone according to plan, you and I would have arrived at the warehouse to find Nines the shaken sole survivor of a shootout between Elijah Kamski and Gavin Reed.
That was when your role would have truly begun. You were meant to be our test audience. If you had arrived at the scene of a double-homicide, investigated for yourself, and come to the conclusion we wanted you to arrive at, that Kamski and Reed had shot and killed each other, then we would have been fairly confident the police would have believed this version of events as well.
If you had become suspicious, I was meant to kill you. Then my brother and I would have skipped town and left all three bodies for the police to discover at their leisure.
But things didn’t transpire the way we planned. Kamski outmaneuvered us, for the moment he walked into the warehouse, he intuited what Nines and Reed were up to. And he told Reed flat-out what Nines intended to do to him after Reed had done his part.
Reed turned on my brother. Nines was forced to kill him prematurely while Kamski made his get-away.
And with no one to blame Reed’s death on, Nines was arrested for the crime. He had only enough time to hide the weapon somewhere he hoped I might find it before the police would.
When you and I arrived at the warehouse that night, I discovered my brother and mine’s plan had fallen apart in the worst possible way. Nines was in custody and our intended target was free. But I knew Kamski had to have been there when Reed died, and thusly, I knew it might still be possible to pin Reed’s murder on him. All I had to do was convince you to take on the case and wait for you to connect Kamski to the scene of Reed’s murder.
I hadn’t anticipated what would happen between us while you were working toward that inevitable conclusion.
Even as I write these words, I can scarcely believe that I’m the same person who helped concoct a plan that would put you in such danger. I cannot face you again knowing that I once gladly would have killed you had you become an inconvenience. Not after everything we have been through. Not after everything we have shared.
I owe you so much, Hank. The truth is the very least of what I can give you, and now you have it.
Don’t look for me. You won’t find me at the apartment I took you to. I don’t want you to find me. I want you to be successful and happy and have every wonderful thing you deserve to have.
Please try to forget about me. I don’t think I will ever forget you, but I hope you will forget about me and find happiness.
Hank reads the letter twice.
It smells like Connor. It smells like the scented oil Connor likes to use in his bathwater, and Hank closes his eyes and holds the letter to his face, trying to imagine how Connor must have looked as he composed this letter. He finds he can’t arrange Connor’s features in his mind’s eye in an expression he finds believable. Every time he tries, all he can see is the discontent and the vulnerability Connor’s face held when he opened the door of his apartment to Hank.
That might have been the first moment Hank saw more of Connor than Connor had truly ever intended to show him.
Hank digs a cigarette and a matchbook out of his jacket. He folds the letter into a triangle, then strikes a match and lights it on fire. He drops it in the ashtray and watches it burn while he lights his cigarette. He can barely taste the flavor of the tobacco or smell the smoke rising from the smoldering fire. All he can smell is the scent of Connor’s bath oil; all he can taste are Connor’s lips on his.
He packs a bag with a change of clothes and as much of the cash on his desk as he can carry. He’s going to need the cash, he knows he will. He just won’t be needing it to pay rent or to keep the lights on. In fact, he doubts he’s ever going to see this office again. He isn’t sorry to think about leaving it, or even sorry to know he’s giving up his career as a private investigator. It’s not as though he has much to give up, anyway. He doesn’t much feel like running headlong toward a dead end anymore.
He’s ready to close that chapter of his life. Now he has something else to look toward.
Connor might not want to see him again, but Hank didn’t particularly want to be left behind by Connor without a proper farewell. He has things he wants to say to Connor, too, and he thinks Connor would be surprised to hear what he has to say.
Hank locks the door behind him as he leaves. He wonders if Connor’s empty apartment is really as empty as it seemed, and resolves that it’s as good a place as any to begin his search.