Sunlight beamed across the bed, allowed in by a gap in the curtains. Illuminating the room, it fell across the eyes of the sleeping Jack Messer.
He grumbled in his sleep, unconsciously rolling over to face away from it. Disturbed by it as he had been, Jack began to sink back into the deep recesses of slumber, sleeping off the remains of the previous day.
One arm rose and snaked around the torso of the woman next to him, pulling her closer into his warmth. She herself murmured happily in her sleep, snuggling up against him.
For a few moments, a few minutes, everything was at peace. The world was nothing more than just these two and the bed they slept on.
It was bliss.
It was bliss.
Then came the sound of footsteps from the hallway, a door closing, and the sound of water running, and Jack became painfully aware that morning had come and he had to get ready for work.
He rolled over, shutting his eyes against the light.
"It's morning." Jack's wife, Colette, muttered from her side of the bed, burrowing deeper under the covers.
Jack's voice emanated muffled from the pillow. "It's only morning if we acknowledge it Doll. Just shut your eyes, go back to sleep. The morning'll wait."
Slowly but surely, a finger planted itself in his back, pushing him towards the edge. Another finger, and Jack blinked awake drowsily from the floor.
Glancing up Jack matched eyes with his wife, grinning sweetly down at him from her position on the bed, face framed by russet brown hair. She turned her head towards the door before looking back down at him. "Kids are waiting for you."
Heaving himself to his feet, Jack stuck his tongue out at his wife as she buried herself back in the covers. Turning away, the man allowed a devious grin to spread across his features.
The morning was still young.
Stepping out of the room, Jack emerged into the living room, stretching and popping his back. He frowned, looking around the space. Everything seemed to be in order.
The old radio in the corner still stood as it had for nine years prior, as steadfast and resolute as ever. He walked over to it, switching it on and turning the volume down, filling the house with soft song.
Ev'ry morning, ev'ry evening
Ain't we got fun?
Not much money, Oh, but honey
Ain't we got fun?
The rent's unpaid dear
We haven't a bus
But smiles were made dear
For people like us
In the winter in the Summer
Don't we have fun
Times are bum and getting bummer
Still we have fun
There's nothing surer
The rich get rich and the poor get children
In the meantime, in between time
Ain't we got fun?
Jack stood for a moment and let the music wash over him, basking in the soft scratchy sound in the early morning hours. It was moments like this he lived for, the silent, quiet hours.
The time with just him and his own thoughts.
Standing in the living room, Jack was very cognizant of the years, of the steps that had brought him there. He remembered them all.
Most of all, always Evelyn.
They had all been parts of his past, unfortunate stepping stones in the path that led to that moment. He felt his eyes well up with tears at their memory. His had been a long hard road, a long hard road.
He had made it though, he had made it and he was happy. He had a wife, children, a job he felt comfortable doing. It was a job he felt like he did good with.
He helped people, kept them safe, that was all that mattered with his job. at the end of the day it was something he could feel proud of because it was some way he could help people.
It had been one of the first lessons he'd ever learned, taught to him as cruelly as it possibly could have been. No matter what, no matter who it was, everyone else came first.
After all, he had come first for someone else once. It had cost her her life.
He took another moment to breathe, to collect himself and bask in the morning glow. What he'd lost, what lay behind him was always at the back of his mind. He'd learned long ago to just let it lie under the surface, so he could carry on living.
The boy's voice broke through Jack's reminisces and Jack turned, seeing his son standing in the doorway. Conrad Everett Messer blinked at his father sleepily, his russet hair mussed and his blue eyes squinted.
Jack chuckled. "Evie beat you to the bathroom again?"
Nodding, the boy rubbed his eyes. "Since she's a girl it's going to take her twice as long. I could literally be thrown through the shower and I'd be fine."
"Yeah, I'm sure the girls would appreciate that."
The boy blushed as Jack stepped forward and ruffled his hair. The boy laughed, swatting away from his father.
The two were of an even height, though Connie had inherited his mother's hair. The boy was quiet, Jack was glad to know that some of his neglected academia had been inherited by one of his kids.
Connie hadn't decided what he wanted to do with his life yet, or at least hadn't told anybody, but Jack had no doubt he'd put every inch of himself into it. That was just the type of person Connie was.
Down the hallway the sound of the shower cut off. A few more minutes passed and the door swung open, steam roiling from it.
Emerging also from the bathroom, the young girl adjusted her blouse and jacket, fussing with her hair. "…of all the days this doesn't work…I'll just have to get…"
She saw them, her eyes lighting up before they were slowly replaced with a frown. "You're not mom. Either of you."
"Good morning to you to Evie." Jack responded, grinning widely at her.
The girl's frown dissolved as she bounded over to him, hugging the man around the neck. "Morning dad!"
She planted a quick kiss on his cheek before turning and swatting Connie on the arm. "And morning to you too."
The boy grinned. "Morning Twin."
Evie was taller than both her father and her brother, towering two inches over them. Where Connie had inherited his mother's russet hair, Evie's locks were the same fiery orange as her father.
She frowned at both of them. "I'm trying to find mom to see if she can fix this."
The girl reached up and pointed at the hair that hung down around her face, pulling at it. "It doesn't want to cooperate today."
Jack stepped forward. "You know…I could try to help."
Moving away, Evie shook her head. "No thank you dad. This requires a certain touch. Neither of you has it."
She smiled jokingly at them as Connie chuckled behind his hand.
"Out you. Both of you. This requires a woman's touch."
Colette was suddenly amongst them, her russet hair waved and her form clad in a teal green dress. She zipped over to Evie, oohing appreciatively as she ghosted her finger's over the girl's wide shoulders. "I love what that blouse does with your shoulders Sweetheart."
"Well you should." Evie grinned at her mother. "You bought it."
"Something had to be done in apology for what I'd given you." Tutting, Colette shook her head. "No one deserves my shoulders."
She wrapped an arm around the girl, guiding her away. "Now come on. Let's get away from the men and fix you up right."
The two women departed, leaving Jack and Connie alone. Jack turned to his son, suddenly serious. "So Connie…when's the last time you…"
He significantly rubbed at the knuckles on one hand.
Connie frowned. "No one's needed it for a while. Not since Chauncey. I settled Chauncey well."
"Good on you." Jack chuckled quietly. "I know you're really protective of her, and that you get into trouble over it sometimes but it does me good to see you taking such good care of your sister."
He let his voice dwindle off and didn't finish his thought. He didn't know how to explain to Connie that when he saw the boy looking after his sister, it made him feel like, in some small way, his debt to Evelyn was being repaid.
He felt like, through his children, he was moving closer to redemption.
Silently, he reached forward and clapped Connie on the shoulder, keeping his hand there for a moment before speaking. "Just always make sure that when you put them on the ground, they're gonna have some trouble getting back up."
"They might think twice about it next time."
The boy nodded, his face triangulated somewhere between concern, determination, and ponderous. "Yes sir."
"Good." Jack slapped him on the back. "Now let's go meet your mother and sister at the dining room table. You'll both need some breakfast in you before school today."
Jack frowned as he stared at himself in the mirror, tracing one hand along his chin. He grimaced as his fingers brushed against the pockmarked, bumpy skin along the left side of his jaw.
It didn't hurt him anymore, not even to the touch, but the sight of it, the memory of what happened, would always haunt him. He'd always hear the rattle of the grenade, the fiery cacophony of the explosion.
His throat and jaw would always burn in his memories, as he lay there, wondering if he'd end up like the boys who went home with plaster faces. He hadn't.
Jack knew, had known for the eleven years since, that he'd gotten lucky. It didn't stop him from remembering it though.
Turning the faucet on, he bent down and washed his face, cleaning off the few strands of mustache hair from where he'd trimmed it up. The worm had gotten a bit too bushy for his taste, and so he'd trimmed it back. It still sat proudly on his upper lip, maintained and orderly.
The only part of his life that was.
Wiping off his face with a towel, he glanced at himself in the mirror again before turning and exiting the bathroom. He crossed the hallway back to his bedroom and up to his wardrobe.
The wooden door squeaked open as he selected a white shirt, gray pants, black vest, and gray jacket. He slipped on the pants and shirt, before selecting a blue and black striped tie, hanging it around his neck.
His hands reached up to tie it but fumbled in the execution, his fingers not nimble or dexterous enough to manage tying it.
"Looks like you might need some help."
Hands reached around him and took hold of the tie, knotting it without even having to look. As they worked, Jack felt a light weight descend on the top of his head.
He could smell the shampoo his wife used on her hair as her presence and her arms enveloped him and her chin rested atop his head. Leaning back against her, Jack closed his eyes and reflected how close to heaven he felt at that moment.
"Tie's done." Her voice murmured into his ear, breath tickling his skin. "You've still got to get to work."
Hands placed on his back propelled him to his feet. Turning, he glanced up at his wife, meeting her gaze. Both grinned at the other for a moment, before he leaned up, and she tilted her head down, the two meeting in the middle.
"Now go save the city hero." Colette murmured against his lips. "Be the honest man that the Bureau needs."
"I do my best Doll." Jack murmured back, resting his forehead against hers. "I'll see you tonight."
"See you tonight Jackanapes."
The two moved in for one more goodbye kiss before Jack stepped away, retrieving his hat from the hatrack and planting it on his head. Turning back, he winked at Colette before exiting the house and closing the door.
Stepping onto his sidewalk, he glanced back at his house, eyeing the flat fronted brick structure. It wasn't much, but it was home, and had been home for almost ten years. He hoped it would be home for many more.
His eyes swept the front yard before coming to rest on his car sitting in the driveway. The old, old reliable Roadster, ready to go into battle as always.
Puttering to life, the car backed out of the driveway, as Jack maneuvered it out of the suburbs.
Passing by a house, he waved at the boy playing in the front yard, receiving an answering wave from Tommy Schwartz. The boy was one of Connie's best friends, and Jack had no doubt the two would get into some sort of mischief before the day was through.
He made a mental note to see with Colette about inviting the entire Schwartz clan over for dinner sometime. It had been a while since they had all eaten together.
They didn't have many friends in New Ophelia, on account of his job.
Making another couple of complicated turns, Jack finally reached the edge of the suburbs, driving out and onto the main road, into the city proper itself.
New Ophelia City stretched out in front of him, shining and glistening, hiding the rot underneath.
The city had been founded in the Ophelia valley, by the Burke and Woodfin families. The two families had built huge mansions on either side of the valleys, and the initial village, same as the valley it rested in, had been named after the Woodfin's eldest daughter, who had married the Burke's eldest son.
The village had sprung up as a neutral space for the workers of both the Burke's and Woodfin's manors.
Their families grew, expanding the village into a town, and the town into a city, until four hundred years and two large fires later, the valley had been completely consumed by the New Ophelia City.
The buildings swept out from the center of the city like ripples in a pond caught in stark relief, the taller skyscrapers in the center of the city flattening out into smaller and smaller buildings as the city swept outwards.
The city was a warzone between the mob and the police and alcohol was the main battleground during prohibition.
The mob wanted booze to flow freely and would do anything to keep it on the streets. The cops on the other hand could care less, but enjoyed the power Prohibition granted them.
The agents tried their best to take down the mob, but the mob always seemed to be almost preternaturally one step ahead of them, seemingly clearing out safe houses and warehouses three days before the existence of such even crossed NOCPD desks.
Jack turned down a side street, watching a pair of figures in dark coats and hats out of the corner of his eye even as they watched him.
The mob all operated at the whim and wit of a few men. They were a shadowy conglomeration of unallied gangsters.
No one had ever laid eyes on them, or even knew where they operated out of. Some preferred moving out in the open, but others, like the Ace of Spades, valued their secrecy.
Rumors said that at least some of them was holed up in Easttown, a burnt out part of the city, but no one was really sure. Not that it mattered
They called the shots, and the gangsters didn't move without their orders. They were beginning to turn on one another.
Passing another street, Jack saw a squad car parked, with two cops lounging on it, eyeing the street through narrowed eyes. He sighed, seeing the irony in policing the police, but someone had to do it…even in a city like New Ophelia
It didn't help that corruption almost seemed like a way of life amongst the police. To not be corrupt was to break some sacred creed.
As a chronic breaker of said creed, Jack knew they had it out for him. If it was up to them, Jack knew they'd have his badge, or his life.
He didn't intend to give up either.
Other men with his disposition had their families threatened, their lives put up to weigh against the job. He didn't intend to give them up either.
In essence, Jack Messer was a wall, and upon him he hoped to break the concerted efforts of the mob and the rumrunners. It was the best, the only way, to do good at that point in time.
It was what he had to do.
Finally pulling the roadster into the parking lot of the old mansion they used as a base, Jack turned off the engine and climbed out of the car. He adjusted his hat, straightened his tie, and then stepped into the building.
There would never be another place, Jack theorized, that was so close to both God and the Devil's work all at once. It was a dangerous paradox, a snake eating its own tail. Jack was never quite sure which end of the snake he was, the eater, or the eaten.
Either way, he was going to get rolled on. That was just the nature of living and working in New Ophelia.
That was just the nature of keeping the peace.
The door swung shut behind him as he entered the building, taking off his hat and striding into the main meeting room. To his surprise, he saw Stuart Seidel already sitting around the table.
Glancing up at him, the man fixed Jack with a weary grin. It had apparently been another late night for him. Jack could see it on his face, could smell it faintly on him.
"Hey Bossman." Seidel's voice was strained and quiet, his eyes narrowing against the light.
It had been a very long night for him.
"What was her name this time?" Jack raised an eyebrow at him. "Is she married? And does her husband know?"
Seidel raised an eyebrow. "Come on now Messer. How stupid do you think I am?"
He frowned, studying Jack's face. "You know, on second thought, don't answer that. I don't think I want to know."
"No, I don't think you do." Jack snarked back, splitting his lips in a small smile. "Now come on. We have miles to go before we sleep."
He shook his head, thinking of the hours of booze-busting that lay between his wife, his children and his bed. "Miles to go before I sleep."