Chapter XIX: By Day and Night
Conners shook himself slightly, and glanced down at the check he'd recently been paid by the precinct for his help in capturing a group of burglars. He was actually getting paid a fairly decent rate. Conners could tell that Guston still hated him. The police lieutenant refused to come out and greet him and would often draw the blinds if he were in the bullpen.
It had been just over two years since he'd quit the police force, but Guston still hated to have him around. The only reason he paid Conners what he did was because he was greatly helping their arrest numbers for several of the crimes the police either didn't have the time or wits to solve, and he feared Conners choosing to work with another precinct. Guston might be petty and dictatorial in places, but he wasn't stupid.
Lawrence and he got to spend loads of time together too. While some had originally suspected her of giving him preferential treatment (which to a degree, he supposed she did) they also couldn't deny his abilities, or his record of building a case against someone. He'd also received an official document as a thanks from the chief of the metropolitan police, which Conners had proudly flaunted for a time before setting next to Bill's urn on his dresser.
As the summer wind blew, Conners took a moment to relish in the breeze as it cooled and relaxed him. Due to the weather that day, he'd abandoned his coat and simply worn his jeans and t-shirt which proudly displayed the words Silence is Gold, and Duct Tape is Silver. Lawrence had rolled her eyes at this, but he could read behind the annoyance in her eyes, and knew she liked having him around.
"What do you think?" asked Conners, as he looked over at the sergeant, who wore a white button-up he'd not seen her wear before.
"How about we get some proper Mexican food?"
"Great," he said, smiling. "I don't know if the truck I like is open right now but—"
"I will seriously kick you. There's a restaurant nearby I like. It actually reminds me of my mom's cooking: real authentic stuff, like the kind she used to make growing up."
Conners cocked his head slightly.
"Guess I never really asked," he said, feeling a little guilty as he recalled the picture in her apartment. "Is your mother Mexican then?"
"Half," she said, climbing into her wine-red car. "But she grew up in Mexico until she was nearly sixteen. Then, her dad got her citizenship and moved with her to America. Her mom never got to move with her, but they kept in touch and visited every couple of years until she passed away."
"Wow," Conners said, earnestly surprised at all that information. "I'm a bit surprised you knew all that. Still, seemed like your relationship with your mom's good."
"It is. I mean, she worries too much, and has asked me I think a thousand times this year alone when I'm going to settle down and have kids, but she cares about us. I think she's a little closer to Janice because of her son though. His name's Mikey; he's cute, but a real handful. The moment he started crawling I wished she could put him on a leash or something."
"You know, I hear they have those now? Blue leashes you just hook to the kids or whatever?"
Lawrence shook her head, laughing.
"Those exist purely to be laughed at. I mean, I know I want my nephew to be kept ahold of, but those are just… no."
Conners laughed with her again and when it died down, she turned right at a stoplight and glanced over at him.
"What about you then?"
"What about me what? I mean, I'm flattered if you're asking me for kids, but I'm not putting leashes on them."
"I meant your parents, you ass."
Conners frowned. He was scanning through his head for some convincing lie, but as he did, he heard Bill's voice protest.
If you want this to work, kid, you can't just lie to her. Besides, she trusts you, doesn't she?
Her background isn't highly illegal, though.
Respect the one friend you've really got, Conners.
"Honestly: no idea."
"What does that mean?"
"I have no idea who or where my folks are. I don't know if they're alive or not, or what they did for a living."
"What; were you adopted, or a foster kid or something?"
"No idea on that either. Honestly I have no clue what my life was like until February 21st, four years ago. I woke up in a hospital with amnesia and no ID or anything."
"No one knew you were there?" asked Lawrence, her voice suddenly as curious as it was concerned.
"No idea," he said, sounding like a broken record. "Left before I found out. Hospitals scare the crap out of me. I don't know what they meant to do with me, but the idea of truly being in the system without knowing who I was scared me, so I left."
And so he explained his life up until meeting Bill, skipping over his accidental shooting. Friend or not, he doubted she would be willing to forgive that particular act. It wasn't like he'd forgiven it, and he had been the one who understood it better than anyone else likely could. Lawrence for her part was a very good audience. She listened and asked questions without really interrupting, and let him talk for long periods of time when he wanted.
He wrapped up with Bill's death and let the moment hang there for a long while. Lawrence seemed to be chewing on everything he'd said, but he wished he knew what she was thinking. While he'd left out the shooting, he'd still admitted to an awful lot of crime and morally dark things. However, when she spoke, her words were compassionate and caring.
"I'm sorry. Things have been hard for you, and I didn't know how much Bill meant to you. I promise that we have been digging into the woman you told me about, but she is frustratingly clean, but I get why you wanted to go after her so much. Bill sounds like he was a good man."
"He was the best. He taught me most of what I know and was…" Conners began, before mumbling. "…like a father to me in ways… I guess."
It was the first time he'd ever admitted the feeling aloud, and couldn't help but feel like a child. Lawrence placed a hand on his shoulder.
"It's ok to care for people, you know. I'm sure Bill cared about you just like you care for him. For my part, I care about you too."
Conners smiled and hastily wiped his eyes while Lawrence had the grace to pretend not to notice.
"Care about you too. Now, let's grab some food I'm sure I'll instantly regret."
Lawrence nodded and led him into the restaurant and Conners had to carefully consider the menu several times over before he felt confident enough to order anything. They had seven different listings under quesadilla. Conners knew of only one: a quesadilla. However, they had several different types, all of which broken into subsections based on what you wanted the main filling to be. Finally, he found one that offered what he understood to be either steak, chicken, or peppers, and chose the steak.
He found himself slightly frustrated when fifteen minutes later he received a tortilla with one side soaked to a greasy mess and filled with steak, cheese, peppers, and onions. Resigned to his choice, Conners merely scrapped off the majority of the peppers and onions and tried to eat his collection of oddity. Lawrence at least seemed to genuinely enjoy the chimichanga she'd ordered, along with the salsa and chips. Conners found that he didn't much care for the authentic Mexican food. He was good with the deep-fried American substitute, but the genuine article was a whole other affair. Still, he enjoyed the time Lawrence spent with him and because he enjoyed his time with her, it became a positive experience.
When they walked out the restaurant after their meal, Lawrence embraced him for a second. He found that he'd really come to enjoy these moments. It was as if in that brief embrace there was a gesture of friendship that neither of them accurately had the words for. There was nothing romantic or sexual in the gesture, just an expression of trust and understanding that connected them at a deeper level than talking could.
"You want a lift back to your place?" she asked, pulling out her keys.
Conners gave an overly dramatic flourish and held his hand to his chest.
"Detective!" he said, exaggerating the word. "I am not that kind of girl! How scandalous!"
She rolled her eye again.
"Take care, Conners."
"Catch you later, Lawrence!"
Conners strolled down the sidewalk, swinging Bill's cane from side-to-side. He liked to have the cane with him, especially on days when it would've been a pain to openly carry Sherry, like the summer afternoon. The city had gun laws that made anyone who even legally owned a firearm a suspect, let alone anyone who actually wore the thing. However, sword canes were hardly as popular, even if a younger man with a cane seemed a bit odd.
He walked a few blocks, letting the wind blow past him again and smiling.
"The Windy City indeed," he said and pulled out his phone to call a cab.
In the busier parts of the city, it was a simple enough matter to hail one down, but out towards the suburbs it was a bit of a different game. Still, it was a simple enough matter to call a dispatch, and he wanted to have some time to relax and let his mind unwind without talking much.
As the cabbie slowed to a stop, Conners noticed that the driver seemed to be eying him particularly hard. Instinctually, he tightened his grip on the cane. Nevertheless, he climbed into the back of the cab and gave the address of his office. As the cabbie took off, he looked at Conners again in the rear-view mirror.
"Hey," said the driver suddenly. "Not for nothin' but uh… ain't you that private eye. The one who helps out the cops all the time."
Conners mentally took note of the best way to either fight or duck out of the cab if he had to.
"I might be," he said slowly. "What of it?"
"Oh no!" said the cabbie, his face showing embarrassment. "I was just wondering if I might run into you. So, I took your call myself. My name's Joe, I run the cab depot you called."
"Did you?" asked Conners, still suspicious.
"I'm not explainin' this well. See, ya helped my brother about a year and a half ago. It was Christmas and he bought my niece a new car… well, not new but new to her."
Conners tried to think back to the case the cabbie mentioned. That would've been a just a few months after he was attacked by Alexander. It wasn't hard to recall the basics of the case, and his mind brought them up as if reading from the physical file. Christmas day of 2011 there had been a red convertible stolen from a driveway. The police had put the word out, but Conners had been the one who had thought to check a few chop shops and junkyards to make sure the thing wasn't being scraped. All-in-all it had been a simple enough case, nothing that particularly challenged him. Still, it had been more fun than sitting in an empty apartment watching the television all day.
"Oh… Well if I said anything rude–and balance of probability is that I did–you should I know I'm always like that. It was nothing personal."
"No, no," said Joe, who seemed slightly distressed at the way this conversation was panning out. "Nothin' like that. I just wanted to thank you."
"Thank… I'm sorry?"
"My brother was losing his mind, and the cops all seemed resigned that the thing was gone. An hour later you and that detective friend of yours roll up and toss us the keys like a Hallmark movie or somethin'."
"Oh," said Conners, a bit thrown off.
He'd never really been thanked by a client or their relative like this. Granted, most of the time, he was either arresting someone or solving a murder, but even if the client was someone who was happy, the police usually took the spotlight. He'd been fine with that arrangement too, it meant he could operate with a little anonymity. Being known by someone he'd never met was a little odd.
"Well, hope your niece enjoys her car," Conners said, without any clue of what he was supposed to say to the man's thanks.
"Oh, she does. She still tells that story sometimes. Anyway, I asked around a bit about you, and it seems like you help people out a lot. A half-dozen of my guys seemed to know who you were. I even saw that clip of you shouting at the police lieutenant."
"I try to help people sometimes, and I try to annoy the lieutenant all the time," said Conners, smiling as Joe pulled up to the curb in front of his office.
Conners reached into his pocket to fish for some bills, but Joe waved his hand to reject the money.
"Nah, your money's no good to me. You do good for the city. Having you around lifts people's spirits and whatnot. You need a ride, you call me, and I'll make sure you get where you need to go, no charge."
Conners froze, sensing a trick or trap.
"Why would you do that?" he asked, cautiously.
"Detective, you recall what you charged my brother for your work?"
"I… not really."
"Not a dime. You just helped him out and told him he didn't have to pay you. So, if you're riding with my guys, you pay exactly what we had to pay you."
Conners felt a strange mixture of relief and gratitude. Joe seemed genuinely interested in helping him out in whatever way he could, and he couldn't deny that having some free ferrying around the city could be helpful.
"You're sure?" he asked, nothing wanting to take advantage of a spontaneous offer. "I do keep fairly busy."
"Good," said Joe. "The busier you are, the more you're helpin' folks. I've been waiting months to meet you, detective. I'm sure."
Conners nodded and clasped Joe's hand.
"Then, I'm happy to accept your offer Joe, and please, call me Conners."
"Conners it is."
He smiled and Conners returned the expression before he exited the cab and walked into his office. He had to admit that free travel was not something he'd have foreseen, but it was a huge perk, and cabs were often even quicker at getting through the city than a cop car could be. Conners saved the number for Joe's cab depot in his phone before heading upstairs to rest.
He put his cane up against the dresser and collapsed into his bed, face-first. He took a deep sniff of the freshly laundered pillowcase, relishing in the clean scent. After a long moment, he rolled over to look at the dresser which had Bill's urn and his thanks from the chief of police on it. It was odd that the two items were completely different in almost every way. The certificate was an official recognization of his abilities and efforts awarded to him by a highly decorated official, and it meant very little to Conners, all things considered. The urn was simple and outwardly held no value outside of a sentimental meaning, yet it was something that Conners appreciated far more, and the thing that made him try to be better.
He still couldn't say, even after all this time, what it was about Bill that had changed things for Conners. Why had the old man gone from a teacher to a life guide? What about the man still let his voice become Conners' moral guide?
Conners rolled back over onto this stomach and after a few moments, feel asleep, still fully clothed.
His dreams were far from relaxing, though. He dreamt that he was in an alleyway, a pistol very unlike Sherry in his hands. He could not force himself to move, as if his body were not under his own control, and he was paralyzed inside of his own mind, helpless to do anything but watch as the scene played out before him.
The pistol was pointed squarely at a young boy, who Conners had no name for, but the blonde hair and blue eyes were instantly familiar to him. Despite screaming inside of his own head, Conners watched in horror as he shot the boy, dead center in the chest. Three people stood nearby, just watching: Joe, Lawrence, and Bill. Joe spoke first, his eyes wide in confusion and pain.
"I thought you helped people!" he screamed, and the words hit Conners as if they were a sledgehammer.
Lawrence had disgust and hatred etched in every line of her face as she looked at him. The look said more than she could've with words, and it felt like a knife in his heart, making him weep internally, still unable to move.
Finally Bill walked two steps forward and looked Conners in the eyes.
"I thought you could be better," he said, his voice low and filled to the brim with disappointment and pain.
Conners awoke in a cold sweat, and flailed so hard that he actually fell out the bed and hit the floor hard. It took him a full ten seconds to realize where he was and what was going on. It was another four before he realized he was crying, and dehydrated. He stood up slowly, his legs and hands shaking so bad he nearly fell over again, and made his way to the kitchen.
Conners filled a glass with water from his sink, and felt himself whispering over and over, "I'm sorry…. I'm so, so sorry."
Even then, he couldn't say who exactly it was he was actually apologizing to.