State of Emergency – Chapter 24
March 31, 2011
From his parked car, two streets away across a tumbled expanse of stony earth that proclaimed, by signage alone, that it would someday offer 50 new luxury apartments, Chris watched the house. Even without his binoculars, he could see the way the light from the back window flickered as Derek moved back and forth, but that was all he saw. The remaining rooms at the rear of the house were dark and a brief drive past the front had shown no signs of life at all. Chipboard covered the windows and the lower panel of the front door. The garden was weedy and untended and the bricks on the leftmost side of the house slanted in towards the middle as the house gradually sank into the Mersey floodplain.
The other houses on the street were equally derelict, either abandoned entirely or overpopulated, used as squats by students and transients, doorsteps bleached with ancient, alcoholic vomit and walls stained with urine. The only new things in the entire block, in fact, were the shining, heavy brass lockplates on the front and back doors of number 19.
And all he saw in there was Derek.
He drove closer, parking behind a skip a few yards away and walking in. Rather than stop at the front door, he jogged around the side. The back yard was the same as the front, home to nettles, thistles and vines of old man’s beard that clung to the cuffs of his trousers with its tiny velcro fruit and dragged along behind him, rustling in the wet grass. The only sound from the house was the wet metallic rattle of an ancient heating system.
He took a deep breath, hunching his shoulders inside the pale yellow parka, and strode boldly across the muddy mire of the yard, heading for the back door and at last, the confrontation with Derek.
A red ripple of light from the evening sun stopped him.
Stooping, he clawed through a pile of wilting foliage to find the source of the reflection, a slow, cold fear winding slowly tighter in his chest. The metal he found, however, was not the knife, the saw, the blood-sticky implement of death he expected. Just a simple, straight bar of metal welded down the join of two metal cellar doors.
Chris inhaled sharply, half-lifting a hand to rap on them before he looked to the kitchen. No shadow had fluttered across the lit window in the last few minutes.
Derek was waiting.
Every muscle in Walsaw’s body was tense, his stomach taut and fearful as he strode the last few paces, hesitating in front of the door. Every move, his mind replayed and be-devilled with second thoughts. But he and Derek were partners. The code of that was so ingrained in every cop, every enforcer and he’d given Derek no real grounds on which to betray him.
They didn’t match well. They had no respect for each other. But still, they were partners.
As far as Derek knew. Chris’ thumb flickered over the keys of his phone, sending a text to his new – and equally temporary – partner. Carlyle would be on his way the moment the message arrived, he knew. He would be there just in time, if things went wrong.
And just too late, if they went right.
He knocked on the door. Derek opened it instantly.
“You disappoint me, mate!” He stepped back, clinging to the shadows, and invited Chris in with a sweep of his hand. “I thought you were going to come crashing in through the windows on a white fuckin’ horse!”
Walsaw blew a few stray strands of Titian hair back off his face and grinned back. “Oh, come on. I told you years ago that I don’t ride that horse.”
“And that would be your loss entirely. But speaking of riding…” Derek walked to the sink and pulled out a wet can of beer that had been cooling there, offering it to the other man. “I assume you’re here about the filly?”
Chris noted the slight jerk of Derek’s head towards the hall and had to fight to still his own instinctive nod in response. He waved a “no” to the beer instead, half-sitting on the edge of the table to indicate he was relaxed without giving up his footing. His partner swept him with his eyes, noting the careful pose, the bulges of concealed weapons, but seemed to take it in his stride.
Thinking back, the old cop wasn’t surprised. Derek could take him easily, armed or not, and the young enforcer knew it. Normally, Chris would have agreed with the assessment, but today…
Today was different. Nervous, yes. Tense, yes, but the adrenaline was pumping through his veins, fizzing in his fingertips. Even his hair felt alive, somehow electrified. It was as if, like the samurai of ancient Japan, this battle had already been fought and won in Chris’ mind. Now all he had to do was dance the steps again.
“I am. Derek, you can’t do this. You have to let her go. Let me take her into custody, take her back to San Paro and a proper court…”
The dark-haired young man snorted. “God, listen to yourself, man! You’re obsessed! You’re the one that teaches profiling, knows all the psych games. Look at the language you’re using! You just said ‘take her‘ like, twice!”
Chris ground his teeth in mock-frustration. “You know what I mean, Derek! You’re crossing way over the line here. You’re becoming one of them!”
That was the line he had always used in the past, and it had always worked. For a half-instant, he wondered what he would do if Derek stepped back from the brink this time too.
His partner shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, man. You know I’d give her to you if I could, but it’s too late. What’s done is done.” Chris stopped breathing for a moment as Derek carried on. “You were… are a good cop, a good enforcer, even. In spite of yourself… But this fixation on her, it’s not good for you. You need to let go and get over it.”
The laughter that broke out of him wasn’t fake. “You… You are telling me to let it go? You are telling me to get over it? Jesus god, Derek, look at yourself! Look at Ian fucking Carlyle!”
“But see, Chris, I have something you don’t.” Derek bent forward to stare into Chris’ eyes, bringing his face into the light, the hazel of his replacement eye at odds with the deep brown of the other. “I have an ending. I know where this stops. You don’t. You just have half a dream and no balls and no idea of how to make it happen. You should have just fucked her at the detention center, let her go and gone on with your life. Then you’d be a lot happier and none of this…” He gestured angrily around the shabby kitchen, then stabbed a finger up at his own remade face. “None of this would ever have happened.”
Chris was already moving even as Derek spoke. Invisibly at first, tension flowing into the right muscles, weight shifting, his hand sliding slightly backwards in his pocket. Everything seemed slow, burdened down as if under water. Everything except him. He moved faster and more lightly than he ever had in his life. His right knee came up under Derek’s chin as his left hand grabbed the man’s right shoulder, pushing him down to meet the blow then pulling away, twisting him further off-balance. As his foot glided through silky air back to the grease-stained floor, the other swung forward and swept round, dragging Derek’s ankles with it. As he turned, he snapped his elbow back and felt the sharp jolt of connection, heard the slow, sparkling rattle of a tooth bouncing across the tiles. As Derek fell, Chris turned fully around, bending his knees and sliding forward, landing with his taser already dug deep into his partner’s ribs. It took the blue spark of electricity to bring him out of his trance.
He turned up the voltage and jolted him again, to be sure.
The third time was just payback.
Then he was running, skidding for a moment on the slick tiles before falling to his hands and knees on the damp carpet of the hallway. Not the stairs. Derek hadn’t looked up. Just a low doorway painted with cheap emulsion, a big, heavy metal toolbox beside it. There was a hasp and padlock, but it was unlocked.
There was blonde hair caught in the hasp. Blood on the door jamb.
He ripped it open, braced to fling himself down into whatever tiny cellar appeared, and slammed face-first into a brick wall.
A freshly made brick wall.