“You know, it's not exactly the mark of an innocent man, sleeping in the middle of an interrogation room.”
The noise startled me out of my nice, sweet little nap. I had been in the middle of a particularly graphic dream involving – well, let's just say I wasn't too happy about being woken up by this jerk-ass of a detective (I was also ignoring any part of me that might be telling me that two years ago and a few cities over, that jerk-ass detective would have been me). “No, it's the mark of a man who is in charge of two teenagers and a five year old while in the nation's capital,” I snapped in response. Because really, even before I found the corpse (well, he hadn't been a corpse when I found him), summer hadn't been going well.
Max and I had decided way back in January that we'd take the kids to Washington D.C. for at least part of the summer, to celebrate the successful completion of kindergarten (my son, Zack), senior year (our foster child, Kit), and a year without any major hospitalizations (me). Of course, right after we made these plans I got shot, but since then I've been hospital-free. And despite what Max insinuates, I did not get shot on purpose. The location was chosen after we learned that Kit, at eighteen years old, had never been to his nation's capital. Given that he was going to start the first year of a political science degree in the fall, I had decided this was a monumental oversight on the part of previous foster parents and started planning.
Since, whatever I might say, this was mostly a trip for Kit's graduation, we let him bring whoever (within reason) he wanted. His long-time girlfriend, the daughter of my former partner back when I was a cop, was doing a summer program on a boat, so the list was cut down to just his best friend of a little more than a year, Otto Kowalski. A choice that had me regretting the offer, because the kid seriously weirds me out. He acts like a freaking robot ninety percent of the time, all analytical and uncomprehending of us mere humans, and then he'll suddenly flip out and beat the shit out of someone – and then it's right back to robot-boy. If I'd majored in psychology instead of sociology I could tell you the exact personality disorder that was an indicator of, but I didn't, so I'll just settle for saying he's definitely got one. (It doesn't help any that he also packs a hell of a punch, being a competitive boxer in his free time.) I normally mask my feelings about the kid by pushing it off as me just being a concerned parent, since Otto was on the verge of dropping out of school and had been spotted around some rather unsavory types – of course, whenever I brought that up, Kit fires back with certain connections to the Irish mob that I may or may not have. More to the side of may. I then go off on a mental tangent of cursing my stupid brother for being best friends with Irish Saunders, and by the time I remember where I was, Kit's long gone (and secure in the knowledge that he totally trashed my credibility without even having to bring up the whole 'your boyfriend is a convict!' angle).
We arrived via the wonder of BWI – we could have driven, except... you ever try driving great distances with a hyperactive, gifted five year old? That would be something you'd want to avoid if at all possible. Of course, by the time we touched down, I was considering the relative evils of a road trip. We'd tried to drug him (those of you gasping in horror at the thought of a parent even contemplating such a thing... get over yourselves), but he'd had the exact opposite of the typical reaction, meaning his natural ADHD was multiplied by a rather high figure (again, I was a sociology major; I can't count big numbers). He'd run up and down the plane the entire time the fasten seat belt light was turned off, and barely managed to stay in his seat when it was on, despite Kit reading him his favorite book (Ender's Game, and I still owed Max a few smacks for reading that to him in the first place; he seemed to take the fiction as license to be a complete smart-ass, and had taken to playing Risk versus his action figures instead of playing normal games like 'bomb the parents' – don't ask – with them).
We went to the baggage terminal, me barely putting up with Otto's constant stream of information on how, exactly, the baggage claim worked, down to the very mechanics of it all. Kit and Max seem to find it amusing. Zack, on the other hand, seems to take it as advice, as the second we got close to the track he was up and on it before we could do a thing. In the end, we were lucky to get out of there without being arrested on suspicion of terrorism. (I couldn't be too mad at Zack, however, because he was just following in his father's footsteps. I was notorious as a child for making loud comments about bombs while standing in security checks, and giving a cheerful monologue of all the possible things that could go wrong upon take-off.)
We had taken one of the later flights, so by the time we made it into the city it was pretty much completely dark out and we just crashed at our hotel for the night.
Our first full day in the nation's capital was, well, pretty typical as far as vacations went. I mean, let's be honest here. What's that famous quote, it was on an episode of some crime show recently? 'The man who needs a vacation the most is the man just come back from vacation'? Or, well, something a little more quotable. But the idea was the same.
Miraculously, Kit and Otto were having a brilliant time – I say miraculously because when was the last time, as a teenager, you actually had fun on a family vacation to someplace that wasn't an amusement park? Otto, of course, was full of trivia about various political intrigues that happened on this counter fifty years ago, and over here at this deli stand, and did you know the significance of that tree? No, Otto, we don't. And we don't want to. We had lunch at a Wok and Roll in Chinatown? He immediately starts in on how this was where the plot to kill Lincoln was formed. This, of course, gets Kit's beady little brain going, and he has to tell us Lewis Powell's final words, because he's a little obsessed with the guy. Seriously, he needs counseling.
Anyway, after lunch, we went to the Smithsonian. For those of you who've never been, the Smithsonian sits in this giant-ass complex with about fifty museums and art galleries, and a giant open field in the middle of it all. Said field nearly always has some sort of festival going on in the middle of it (or, at least, it did every time I've ever been there).
I managed to last two hours inside the Air and Space Museum, our first stop, before I was on the verge of developing a serious eye tick. I left Max in charge of Zack and the teens in charge of themselves and left to do some walking. Not around the field and all that, I was so over the bustle and the tourists (yes, I did realize I was a tourist as well, thank you for your concern). Instead, I took myself one street down and wandered around there. There was plenty of room for wandering as there was practically no one in sight. Weird city.
I was chasing pigeons and humming the song “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” when I saw him. Him who, I dunno, all I knew was that the splash of red across his torso was seriously clashing with his shirt. Now, I was a cop for a good nine years, I know what blood looks like, so I charged over to try and help him. After all, blood was still flowing, which meant the man was still alive. Whatever the nerds down in forensics always said, the first priority is attempting to save the life, not preserve the evidence.
As you might have gathered, the guy died. And as I was kneeling next to the corpse, all covered in his blood (which, my mind said, was going to be a bitch to clean), the local cops showed up. Hey, I'm not an idiot, I know how suspicious I must've looked. Didn't mean I wasn't still completely pissed off at being hauled in as the prime suspect.
“I want my lawyer.”
“I thought you said that you were here on vacation. You bring a lawyer on vacation with you?”
I smirked. “When he's my boyfriend, yes, I do.”
To my enjoyment, the detective seemed fairly flabbergasted. I do so love when that happens. He tried a few more stalling techniques, but I wasn't stupid, and just kept insisting that I be allowed to call Max. Eventually, pouting, he let me.
“You know, sometimes I think I should just lock you in a room and not let you out,” was the first thing Max said to me when he arrived. He seemed to be a bit disgruntled by the fact that I was a suspect in a murder investigation, I couldn't imagine why. “Kit's watching Otto and Zack, so I'm free to get you out of whatever stupid situation you landed yourself in this time.”
In spite of myself, I was a little hurt. “I'm so sorry you think trying to save a guy's life is stupid, I'll try to avoid it in the future,” I said, using my voice that's about two minutes away from a full-blown pout and sulk.
Max sighed. “Okay, okay, just tell me what happened.”
I wasn't quite finished with my story when the door banged open and my interrogator strode in, looking all smug and asinine. Max started to stand and look all lawyerly indignant, but I pulled him back down in his seat. I was interested in what the guy had to say for himself.
It couldn't be anything good, since he was carrying a folder and wearing a triumphant smirk. “Ryan Galloway, born August 17th, 1975?” he asked with the air of someone who's holding all the cards. Which, you know, would only be a good thing if you were playing War, or a similar card game. If you were playing something like BS, or Liar's Poker, then you'd basically be screwed.
“Yeah?” I asked in my extra-special snotty voice.
“You've got quite the interesting record here. Used to be a cop, till you decided to quit two years ago. In that time, you've gotten a nearly record number of parking tickets, and – oh, this is interesting. A charge of assault?”
I scowled. “The charges were dropped. And as for the parking tickets, that was mostly revenge. I'm sure you went through some version of the academy,” an extra sneer here to piss him off further, “So you know that if you follow somebody for two minutes you'll find at least ten things you could pull 'em over for. I didn't exactly make a lot of friends on the force.”
He snorted. “Imagine that. But back to the assault – wanna tell me what that was about?”
Looking back, I may have actually growled at him. “Look, the sonuvabitch kidnapped one of boys, what the hell would you do?”
“Call the police.” His voice was calm, with a side of 'duh'.
This time, I know I growled. “Look, the circumstances were... just, that wasn't really an option, alright?” I slumped over on the table suddenly. “Can we get this circus over with now? You really think I killed that guy? I don't even know him!”
“Doesn't mean you didn't kill him.”
“Look, you know how many murders are committed by strangers? Like, eleven percent. You give me a calculator and some scratch paper, I'll calculate the exact probability of me doing that.” Look, I may not be able to count to big numbers, but give me a statistics problem and I'll do it for ya – sociology may be a soft science, but we rely a hell of a lot on statistics.
The detective-jerk – who still hadn't given me his name – suddenly grinned at me. “Well, then it's a good thing that he wasn't a stranger to you, isn't it?”
Not quite what I'd been expecting. “Huh?”
He slapped another folder down in front of me and opened it. “The man you killed was Cyrus Trujillo, a lawyer. More specifically, a few years ago he was the lawyer to one Paul Moreau.”
The name – Moreau, not Trujillo, although there had been a Trujillo in my chemistry class in eleventh grade – rang a bell somewhere in the back of my mind. “Uh... wait!” I furrowed my brow. “You mean the retard from the bank sniper case?”
“What bank sniper case?” That would be Max.
I waved my hand dismissively. “It was back before the whole serial killer thing. That's when Adessi shot me.” My hand went instinctively to my shoulder, where the bullet had grazed me. I still held a grudge against the stupid nurses who wouldn't give me anything stronger than aspirin for the graze after the first dose of pain medication. “Why would I want to kill Moreau's lawyer for? The guy's serving twenty-five to life, seems pretty good to me.”
Another smirk from Detective Jackass. “You wanna read the transcript of the trial? Specifically, your cross-examination by Trujillo?” He pushed some more papers at me, and as he did so, it came back to me. Oh man. That was right. I'd completely forgotten the fool he'd made out of me, and the various comments regarding my personal virtues. Plus, there'd been a moment when I had pulled an Otto and totally flipped out. Greeeeat.
Max, not being aware of this (as it happened back when he was experiencing the wonder of prison first-hand), reached for the transcripts. I quickly pushed them back to Detective Asshole. “Yeah, I remember. But wouldn't I have killed the guy sooner, if I was gonna do it? I mean, it was years ago, my life's changed a bit since then.”
“Well, you were a cop back then. Maybe you were worried about being caught by your co-workers.”
“So I wait two years after I quit, track his movements so that I wind up taking a vacation to D.C. right when he'll be there, and then kill him?” I paused. “And in such a very messy way?”
Detective Smirk leaned back, smiling. “Well, you said it, not me.”
“You're fucking insane.” For that comment, I got my foot stepped on by Max, plus a little inner tangent along the lines of 'who's Insane, and why are you fucking him?', which made my inner self giggle (of course it would, my inner self is all of twelve years old, permanently).
“It's not like your family has no history of murder, for even more petty reasons,” he said sweetly, and I knew instantly what he was talking about. I wasn't too infamous because of my crazy psychopath of an uncle, thanks to the fact that he's my mother's brother, and therefore of a different last name than myself, but it didn't take too much digging to find it out.
“If you found out about his uncle, then I'm sure you also found he was the one who brought him in,” Max said coolly when it became apparent that I wasn't going to speak.
“Brought him in half-dead with a gunshot wound,” the detective said snidely, as if this proved everything in the universe was exactly as he said.
“One caused by his cousin,” Max snapped in response. “Not him.”
“Still, these things are genetic, you know.”
I was too far past annoyed, by this point, to bother making a nature versus nurture argument, although it was tempting. I settled for a glower/pout at the detective instead (hey, it worked on my parents, maybe it would work on him too).
“Plus, there's the motive and all of the forensic evidence all over you,” he added sweetly, before standing and leaving the room – of course leaving the folders for me to brood on.
Needless to say, they had enough to hold me, so I got to be an overnight guest of the Metropolitan Police Department while Max left to calm the kids. Which, if I knew them in the least bit, was more for his sake than theirs – Zack probably didn't care, Kit would be assured I'd make it out, and Otto... given who Otto's brother was (yeah, I remembered the name Kowalski from my long days as a detective), this was probably about as common to him as a cold to most folks. Max, on the other hand, was freaking out, despite my efforts to convince him that, after all, he was the convict, not me.
When I awoke on my little dingy cot – which they'd forced me to sleep on, despite my whining that I'd much rather sleep in the interrogation room, as the chairs were far more comfy – it was to the sound of pouting. Many people think that pouting is a silent activity, but it's not, not really. Not when you're me, anyway. I've got this sixth sense when it comes to the misery of others, wakes me up so I can get full enjoyment out of it.
Sure enough, Detective Moron was standing in front of my holding cell, sullen glare on his ugly mug. Well, not actually too ugly, but let's not go there. “You're free to go,” he said, with all the energy of a teenager on the weekend.
“What, finally got it through your beady little brain that I'm innocent?” I asked, standing and stretching leisurely.
Now it was his turn to growl. “Look, just because you maybe didn't do this, doesn't mean you're innocent. I'll be watching you.”
“Aw, how sweet.”
“Your boyfriend's waiting for you,” he managed to spit out between clenched teeth. For some reason, I have that effect on many people. I can't imagine why.
He let me out, led me over to Max, and then disappeared, whining and grumbling as he went.
“You know, I never got his name,” I told Max cheerfully, hooking my arm through his despite his sigh of annoyance at me.
“I did. You'll love it,” Max said, with a grin to some private joke or another. I waited patiently – I mean, normally I wouldn't, but I was still waking up, so patience was a lot easier to fake. “It's Galloway. That was Detective Galloway.”
Had I been eating or drinking, I would have begun to choke. As it was, I choked anyway on pure air. I'm talented like that. “You know,” I said when I finally recovered (no thanks to Max, who'd just smirked superiorly at my choking), “I thought he seemed kind of like me. Didn't realize that he was me, though.”
Max chuckled, and dropped my arm as we left the station. Which was beginning to worry me, since back when we first got together, he was the one pushing for public displays of affection. And now he was withdrawing from all of it. I'll freely admit that I'm a paranoid son of a bitch (well, not son of a bitch, my mother is a lovely woman, but the same general idea), but still. That wasn't just my paranoia, I didn't think. I frowned at Max, but he was a few steps ahead of me so it bounced unnoticed off of the back of his head. I also noted that it was pretty dark outside, and used my super magic private detective skills – my chosen career since I had quit the force – to deduce that I had more been napping than sleeping, and it was still the same night as before. A sigh, and then, “So why'd they let me go? Detective Me seemed pretty set on charging me for this guy's death.”
“Witnesses, of the electronic kind,” Max said, turning his head to smile at me. “This city is pretty much littered with security cameras, especially just a block from the Smithsonian. One caught the attack, and unless you've learned how to turn into a six-foot-three black man, you're off the hook.”
“Ah.” I paused. “And what if I have?”
“Learned how to turn into a six-foot-three black man.”
Max gave me a look, and possibly wanted to smack me upside the head, but managed to restrain himself. He had far more self-control than me. Not that that would be something you'd want to brag about, exactly, but it was an accomplishment nonetheless.
“The kids at the hotel?” I asked after a few moments of silence as we made our way to the nearest metro station – we hadn't bothered to rent a car, because this was D.C. A car was going to be more of a pain in the ass than anything in a city like this. And since they've got a nice public transportation system, there wasn't a point.
Max nodded, but didn't seem to interested in talking to me. Which just added to my paranoia, I'll have you know. Like I really needed something to add to that, right?
I sighed, and started to sing songs. In my head, of course, I wasn't crazy. Or, rather, I was, but I didn't really want other people to know in such an obvious manner.
The kids had many, many things to say about my little adventure – and about my blood-soaked shirt, that I hadn't yet been able to change. Mostly mocking things, and a few clinical observations on the ability of various cleaners to remove blood from clothing from Otto. He was such a little freak, seriously.
They didn't spend too long on that, though, because the teens wanted to go to a club they'd heard about from Petey Adessi, the older brother of Kit's girlfriend. There was another weirdo, seriously, although since he was a philosophy major it was expected of him. By all accounts, if he actually managed to graduate and get into a college, Otto would be majoring in English. Something that's amused me ever since he first mentioned it.
Max left not long after them, not saying anything to me when he left, which gave me an even deeper paranoia and sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I pushed it away long enough to give Zack his bath – yes, five year olds can generally bathe themselves. I had no doubts he'd get himself clean. I just worried for the rest of the bathroom if someone wasn't in there with him.
He seemed pretty worn out by the day, barely managing to keep up his usual monologue of nonsense throughout the bath. Despite the spectacle at the airport and on the plane, I was beginning to think I should take him on vacation more often. Or maybe just set him free with teenagers more often. It was questionable which of the two was responsible for his half comatose state.
I tucked him into bed (we'd gotten two rooms, each with two beds; the teens mostly stuck to their room) and then crawled in next to him. My little adventure wasn't just a source of amusement, it was also really freaking tiring. I would have slept in my and Max's bed, but... the way Max had been acting, I wasn't sure if I'd wake up to find him next to me. And I was pretty sure that if he was in the same bed as me, he wouldn't be close to me. So instead I chose to cuddle my son. I had loved cuddling when I was a kid – I still did. Truth be told, I preferred hugging over kissing any day. I don't know why, it's just something to do with the contact that makes me feel better. I wasn't exactly going to be getting that from Max any time soon, I could tell.
Max eventually arrived back at the hotel. It appeared that he had gone swimming, since he was damp and had a towel over his shoulders. Of course, he could have gone to someone else's hotel room and taken a shower there, but somehow I doubted that was the case – I mean, whatever he was feeling towards me now, we'd still been best friends since kindergarten, and I knew Max wasn't the kind of guy to cheat on anyone, no matter how much they might deserve it. He'd wait to break up with me first.
That particular thought caused me to curl up a little tighter around Zack, and tuck my head further into his hair. Before Max, my relationships lasted less than a month – very few of them went further than two dates. And I hadn't exactly been upset over any of them. I mean, I was retroactively upset over my relationship with Zack's mother, but that was mostly because I would have liked to have been a part of his life since he was a baby, not just starting at age three. Most of my girlfriends, I'd just sort of waved at them as they left me in disgust. I probably wouldn't have dated that many girls (I mean, some, yeah, but not the number I did; but don't get me wrong, it's not like I've slept with hundreds of girls or anything) if it weren't for the fact that I had this stupid hope buried in my heart that I'd be able to find someone who wanted to put up with me for longer than two dates, that I could find a... well, soul mate, I guess, as cheesy and romance-movie-cliche as that sounds. And then I'd finally pulled my head out of my ass and realized what I felt for Max, and we'd been together for two years, a length that shocked even my family, who knew Max brilliantly well.
But now... I swallowed. Maybe I was doing what I had a long history of doing, sabotaging the relationship. But why now? I mean, it was way past longer than my previous longest relationship (which, oddly enough, was with another Garcia – Max's older sister Lizzy), so I couldn't be panicking over that.
Well, maybe I wasn't sabotaging the relationship. Maybe Max was just realizing that I was a complete asshole. I mean, I thought he'd known that already – again, we'd been friends since we were Zack's age, he had known that when I had performed my “heroic rescue” of my friend Tina when a car had been racing towards, I'd actually been trying to run out of the way and had accidentally knocked into her on the way. I mean, he knew me. This couldn't be coming as a surprise to him. Except maybe I had just worn him down. Maybe he thought he could deal with me, love me, but was now realizing that it was way too much for him – or not enough.
Yeah, there was no way in hell I was going to be able to sleep too well tonight. Not peeking out between my eyelashes to watch Max get ready for bed and lie down in the middle of the second bed in the room without even pausing to wonder why I'd moved to Zack's instead of staying in ours. And then before long, he was asleep, in a deep sleep. Leaving me.
It was entirely possible that I cried myself to sleep that night, although I'd deny it like hell if ever questioned. Mostly because it didn't actually happen – I mean, I was possibly crying as I fell asleep, but I was put to sleep by the sleeping pills I take. What can I say, I'm just so brilliant that I need pharmaceutical help to turn my brain off long enough to sleep.