Chapter XVIII: Back in Black

As the morning September sun began to warm up the city after a slightly cool evening, Conners took a long sip of his coffee, smiling at his brand new office. After quitting the police department, Conners life had a strange shift. When he'd returned to private detective work, he'd found a small amount of fame. Apparently at least one employee had captured his full fight with the lieutenant and his argument for quitting. They had posted it on a few video sharing sites and it quickly gained a lot of popularity. Soon after, that video was–of course– been taken down by the department's legal team, but a few eager viewers had stored it already and had the video back up within a few hours.

The end result was that Michael become something of a local celebrity. Sure, he didn't have people wanting his autograph or wanting to meet him or anything, but once it got out that the man who'd quit the force for a morally wrong arrest was doing private detective work, he'd found his case load began to flow in quickly. It had been only around four months since he'd quit, but he'd had to rent a proper office space only a week into his resumed work. Still, he'd already decided that the rented office was only temporary. He wanted to get Bill's old place up and running properly. The place was a little on the small side, with two floors totaling about six-hundred square feet. Still, it was enough space for him to convert the second floor into a living area and the bottom level into a office area.

The only issue he had with the place was that the single bathroom was located downstairs. This he'd done as a courtesy to his clients, and during the day it wasn't a huge problem. However, if he woke in the middle of the night needing to pee, it meant an uncomfortable hike downstairs with a full bladder. Overall though, he was thrilled about his new place.

The desk had two huge filing cabinets next to it, and while he'd already nearly filled one of the drawers with case files, he knew the others would follow in the coming years. He'd also spent money on a good desk and office chair for himself. While most of his furniture was new, epically in the kitchen, he hadn't cared much about it, and bought whatever seemed affordable and functional. However, in his living quarters he had picked two items and spent a little extra. The first was a stereo system that had speakers hooked up throughout the building so he could work to music wherever he was, and the second was new, comfortable mattress.

He'd never been one to really care for the extravagant or expensive things of the world, but he had to admit that there was something to be said for a few comforts. While he was not as callous or desperate as his time spent in the streets, he hadn't forgotten what it was like to be without much of the basics.

Conners also refused to allow his newfound success to turn him into a businessman. When a client was well-off, or wanted something boring and basic, like a background check, he would charge them based on his time and expenses. However, when those who were desperate and out of hope came to him, he'd refuse to take their money and do what Bill would've called "the right thing."

He'd set Bill's ashes in an urn which had since taken up a home on his dresser, and it helped him get his mindset right in the morning. To his pleasure, he found that returning to private work and doing things in this way had also caused his mental conscious of Bill to reappear, and it would often guide him along while he worked and especially when he struggled with something morally. It helped Conners along, even he couldn't deny that hearing his dead mentor's voice probably wasn't the healthiest thing in the world.

This is going to be a fun day, isn't it kid? asked Bill's voice. First time working with the cops since your blow up.

"I'm working with Lawrence more than the cops," he responded aloud. "Besides, this is more about the casework."

You could just admit you want to see her again, kid. She's a good one.

Conners shrugged, but already knew that it was true. He did miss Lawrence, and for more than just the casework. He missed her manner of joking around and found himself almost wishing she would chastise him for the Mexican food truck he frequented. Still, he could at least take some solace in the fact that he would get to see her briefly today.

Apparently the police had gotten a heads-up that an escaped convict from Missouri was heading to Chicago to try and get lost before disappearing into another part of the country properly. Most every precinct had men out looking for him in case he made an appearance, and the local news had covered the escape. The good news in all this was that Lawrence had been green-lit for what resources she determined were required to assist, and in this case that included Conners.

Out of respect for her job, he'd kept his nose out of police affairs since he'd left. Getting too involved might put her in a bad spot as her ex-partner, and it would seem she was pulling strings to do him a favor. However, no one would likely call her out on using a consultant for something like this.

Conners slid Sherry into his holster, placed two sets of handcuffs on his belt, snatched up Bill's old cane, and put on his long overcoat, smiling at the feeling of relaxation and comfort that it brought him. His wardrobe consisted of mostly jeans and t-shirts, and he saw no reason to change that. He walked down the stairs, and glanced at the files on his desk that were still waiting to be solved. It was going to be a busy week, and that was no mistake.

The thought made him smile brightly.

Conners almost skipped as his feet–now back in his preferred converse–hit the street. Smiling at the pleasure his life had given him, he gave the cab driver the instructions to the 14th precinct. The driver made quick work of the path and twelve minutes later, Conners found himself jogging into the precinct, waving his credentials to the receiving desk cop.

"Sorry," he said, grinning. "Off to help catch a killer!"

"You don't have to look so thrilled to be here, Conners."

"Nope and I don't have to make a point of gloating when I show you up, but it's just so much fun!"

He jogged to the briefing room and was greeted by the immediate reactions of about two-dozen officers.

"Hello, hello!" he said, waving like a movie star walking down the red carpet. "Yes it's so nice to be here. I enjoy many of your local features! I enjoy your cases."

"This is Michael Conners," said Lawrence, trying to hold back a smile at his antics. "A police consultant who is going to assist us on this case. Don't worry if he's an ass, it's not personal."

If the gathered officers had objections or questions, they kept them to themselves.

"Alright, you all have your assignments, let's go!"

The team broke up and Conners went to Lawrence, and she embraced him quickly.

"I missed you," she whispered to him.

"I missed you too. I mean, I've eaten so much crappy food lately and my stomach has a mad case of the revenge rumbles right now."

That did make her laugh a little.

"Somehow I have no trouble believing that. Anyway, let me go over this quickly. Our guy's name is Terry Ryan. He escape from St. Louis country jail, and they think he arrived in town a couple hours ago, but he'll need some place to rest and change. We've got people at the train stations, docks, and the airport, but he might choose to lay low for a while. It's a big city after all."

"Oh, well we need to have this guy back in cuffs for his name alone."

"His name?"

"Yeah, Terry Ryan? Dude has two first names, you have to pick one."

"View must be lovely from the glass house of yours, Conners."

"Yeah, he's not going anywhere quickly, he'll have to stay here a few days at the very least, and likely a few weeks."

"How are you so sure?"

"He can't move easily or in the open, even if he did find a hiding place, plus the file says he was born and raised in Bowling Green. That's a country town, not a metropolitan city. I doubt our man can even board the L-train smoothly. Forget trying to look like he knows where he's going in cabs and the like. Plus, it's not like he had access to a smartphone and computer in prison. Even if he did have a drop-off outside of the jail, he won't be able to smoothly look up where he wants to go. He's got to spend time in the city, figuring things out."

"You seem to have really thought this out," said Lawrence.

"I know, I know," he said. "I'm a big, sexy brain on legs, but we have a job to do sergeant, and I'm just not that kind of woman."

She rolled her eyes at him, but he could tell she enjoyed his joke. That came as a relief to him, because he certainly didn't want to go over the real reason he knew what it was like to be scared and lost in the city with no idea of how to get around in it.

"So what's he most likely to do?" Conners asked, half to himself, half to Lawrence. "If you were lost in a new city and needed to lie low for a bit."

"Well it's not like he can go out and check into a motel right now. Even most of the seedier places want an ID. We should check through his old contacts and see if any of them could've gotten him some place in the city."

Or he could just get an illegal ID, said Bill in Conner's head. Plenty of people in prison would know people in that line of work. St. Louis and Chicago aren't all that far apart and it's unlikely he picked it at random.

"That's a good start," said Conners. "I want to hit up a few contacts and see if he might've picked up a street ID. If he is planning to stick around it'd be good for him to have one regardless."

Conners quickly ran through a list of people he knew from his time with Hunter's gang. He knew it wouldn't be an exhaustive list, but it was starting point, and if those on his list hadn't seen Ryan, perhaps they would know someone who had. Conners nodded softly to himself and began to jog out into the street when Lawrence called out to him.

"Just… look, Ryan's dangerous, so be careful, ok?"

Conners flashed her a smile and winked.

"Hey, it's me."

"Yeah," she said, so quietly he almost missed it. "That's why I'm worried."

He hailed down a cab and gave the driver instructions to the area of town where one of his old contacts like to lurk. The man's current name was Melborn, but everyone just called him Mel. Some Conners knew suspected that it was somehow connected to his actual legal name, but he'd had so many through the years it was impossible to be sure. It was Mel who had made Conners his fake papers before he'd met Bill, and while Conners had kept his distance since then, he hoped that their past business would still count for something.

"Hey Mel?" Conners called out, walking into a small space behind an apartment building. "You working?"

One of the windows slide open half-way and Conners saw a heavily dirt-stained man standing behind his makeshift counter looking at him with a weary eye. Eventually Mel's eyes focused and he smiled, showing two missing teeth.

"Conners," he said. "Good to see ya, lad. Was wondering when I'd be running into you again. Figured you'd find trouble soon enough. Your kind always do. So, what do you need to buy?"

"Information," said Conners, pulling up Ryan's picture on his phone. "This is an escaped con from St. Louis. You make anything for him?"

Mel leaned forward, smiling slightly.

"Can't say as I have. I'd heard you'd turned streets on us. Have to say I'm pleased."

"Not a cop," said Conners. "Private work, or I'd be arresting you instead of paying you, wouldn't I? Why would that make you glad though."

"Oh, because otherwise I'd have felt a little guilty."

Wham!

Conners felt something slam into the left side of his face so hard, it knocked him to the side and sent him sprawling on all fours. Before he could focus himself properly, he looked up to see a huge man charging him. Conners took the second to release a breath and his adrenaline kicked in.

The man charging him very tall, even taller than Conners was–and he stood at six feet two inches. On top of that, the man was heavily muscle-bound; the white t-shirt he wore seemed to be straining with he effort of keeping his muscles contained. His face bore several scars and Conners had no doubt his body was just as disfigured. He wore black jeans and a worn leather coat and a a flat cap. All-in-all his clothing might not be out of place, but he still cut an impressive figure. As best Conners could see the man bore no weapons, but also didn't appear to need them.

With what time his mind could give him, Conners reached for Sherry and raised it as quickly as he could. However, before he could've aimed the weapon, he knew it was already too late. This large man moved far quicker than Conners had given him credit for. The scarred man gave a long swipe with his left hand and knocked Sherry from Conners' grip.

Time sped up again as Conners spun on his feet readying his grip on the cane. He didn't release the blade just yet, preferring to keep what cards he still held for now. The man made no move to go for the gun, but cracked his knuckles and scowled at him.

"Hi there," said Conners, holding the cane in front of him as if it were a broadsword. "My name is Michael Conners and I suppose you're wondering—"

The man did not let him finish and charged. Reacting instinctively, Conners swung hard with the cane, and his blow connected with the man's left shoulder. While the hit was solid, the man didn't give any reaction at all, as if he hadn't noticed the blow. He wrapped his huge arms around Conners' waist and tackled him, sending them both to the ground.

Conners felt the concrete ground dig at him as he brought the handle down on the man's back as hard as he could repeatedly.

"You! Are! Very! Rude!"

Finally with that last strike, the man grunted and rolled away from Conners, who sprung to his feet and charged. The man assumed a defensive pose, but left his legs spread too wide. Conners waited until the last second and let the adrenaline take over him again.

He used his momentum to go into a long slide right between the scarred man's spread legs. The classic move at this point would been hit his foe in the crotch, but the would require some very fine aim and might end up causing him more trouble if he couldn't release from the attack before he kept sliding. So instead Conners unsheathed a small portion of the blade within the cane and used it to cut deep into the man's calf. This blow landed well and as Conners came up on the other side of his opponent, he heard the man hiss and curse quietly in what he took to be Russian.

"That was dirty trick," said the scarred man, his voice heavily accented.

"Welcome to competition in America. Mind telling me why you're attempting to make me into your afternoon workout."

"Not part my job," said the man, and Conners felt fairly sure his was either Russian or Serbian.

He's been hired to kill you, said Bill's voice. Can't be that many people who want to kill you with access to assassins.

Yeah, I'm normally so well liked. I've left Richards alone for too long anyway. Ten-to-one he works for her.

"I'd still at least like a name to call you by. It's ok, I know it likely won't be your real name."

The man seemed to consider him for a moment, then smirked slightly.

"Alexander."

"As in 'the Great' or 'Pávlovich?"

Alexander smiled at him again.

"You do like to talk. Time for talking is over now."

And he rushed again and Conners quickly removed the blade from the cane, readying himself. Alexander made to bat the blade away as he'd done with Sherry but Conners was expecting it ducked down beneath the blow, and stabbed out with his weapon. It entered Alexander's other leg at the shin and poked clean out the other side. Conners yanked the blade back out, twisting it as violently as he could would doing so to cause more damage. It worked, and Alexander collapsed.

Conners backed away, panting heavily. Their fight hadn't been going long, but it had been demanding and he could feel his muscles protesting the wear and tear they'd been through during the battle. Alexander wasn't out, but he was wounded, and that was enough for a very brief breather.

"Whatever your being paid," he gasped. "It's not worth your life. Work with me and you can still come out of this alive."

Alexander forced himself to his feet, despite the pooling blood leaking from his right leg.

"I was not hired to make a deal with you. If you don't kill me, then she will."

She, said Bill's voice in his head. Pretty well confirms it, kid. Unless you think Lawrence or Wilson's wife wanted to take you out.

I have to agree.

"Right. Well, she wants me dead, she can come try it herself then."

Alexander rushed him again, limping slightly from his wound and Conners managed to side-step him fairly easily, dragging the blade along his opponent's thigh. This time, Alexander collapsed fully and seemed unable to rise. Conners cuffed Alexander by placing a knee in the small of his back to hold him down. Finally, he retrieved Sherry and kept it pointed at the man while he reached for his phone.

"Hey Conners," said Lawrence, sounding smug. "Guess who found a jail mate's of Ryan's with an old apartment in Chicago?"

"That's great," Conners said, smiling softly even as he grunted from pain.

He gingerly touched his ribs and figured Alexander had either bruised or fractured them by falling on him.

"You sound hurt," she said, suddenly concerned. "Are you alright?"

"Mostly yeah, I'll need an ambulance and a squad car when you can though. I'm not seriously hurt, but I think I've got some bruised ribs and I'll need to be checked out for internal bleeding. Ran into a… Russian assassin, I think? He's mostly subdued but sooner would be better."

"I'll have someone sent to you now. Where are you?"

"Thanks Lawrence," he said, leaning against the brick wall. "Knew I could count on you."

As he texted her his location, he half-heartedly glanced towards the window, but wasn't surprised to see that Mel was long-gone, and there was little doubt that the word about his true allegiances would be out on the street soon. He'd have to be careful.