She's not part of the L&O gang, but you definitely want this agent watching your back ... and your bedsheets.
I knew from the start this was going to be a tough gig. First off, my boys considered it an unconscionable waste of their talents to be assigned to protect a couple of lawyers, and they were pretty vocal about it. But you know, certain friends call in certain favors...and when guys in black suits and sunglasses who talk into their coat collars recognize you on sight and nod you through security, you've got friends who really have to be listened to. You know, the government doesn't talk much about its assassins and their wetworks; but then, just because restaurants that have cockroaches don't list them on the menu doesn't mean that the kitchen isn't crawling.
So, my little team of so-called freelance security specialists -- my boys -- and I were sent to New York, to watch over a couple of high-up DAs who had majorly pissed off a serious number of big players. I knew when I met them that the woman would be fine, but keeping her boss out of crosshairs was going to be a royal pain in the ass, and so would he. But I could pit my Irish stubborn against anybody's, and I'd never lost a "client" yet. Damned if this idiot would be the first.
His boss, a deceptively quiet and polite woman, introduced us all. The younger DA, a woman named Carmichael, nodded in a resolved way that told me she'd resent having all this company, but she'd do what she was told. Jones and his team would be able to handle her easily. I could put her in Jonesey's hands and wipe mine clean -- she was safe, as far as we could make her.
The older DA, however, immediately began a tirade about not having time to stumble over a bunch of in-the-way bodyguards. At least he had the decency not to be offended that the Powers That Be had sent a woman to oversee his safety. I mentally awarded him a point for that, but he was already minus several thousand for being such a stubborn bonehead. He was gonna have to work hard to get his score out of the hole at this rate. I'd heard all of his arguments before, from higher-ranking men than he, and I talked over him, giving my boys their orders, S.O.P. The older DA -- McCoy, his name was -- I would take personally, with Woodson and his team answering directly to me. Jonesey and Woodson grinned at each other-- they didn't think I saw them do it, either -- at the hierarchy. I usually directed, took a less-than-active part in the proceedings, since my temper is only slightly less hot than the molten core of the Earth. But McCoy was still arguing -- a temper like mine might be very useful. I told him to be quiet. He almost acted like he heard me. I almost acted like I cared if he listened. He ranted a little longer, saw it wasn't going to change a goddamned thing, then dropped the subject like it had burned him.
If it wasn't going to change anything, he wasn't going to waste breath arguing about it. I gave him another couple of points. He was still in the hole.
We managed to make it through that entire day without slaughtering each other; I didn't get in his way, and he stopped protesting my existence. Fine by me. I dogged along with him to the courtroom to hear the verdict in a case he was wrapping up, where the jury convicted a guy who had raped and killed his own daughter. McCoy wasn't overly demonstrative, didn't act like it was a personal victory for him; he just looked grimly satisfied. If he ever became a judge, I thought, I wondered what kind of sentences he'd hand out.
We went back to his office. Five o'clock came, stuck around hopefully for awhile, then finally wised up and left. McCoy stayed in his office, working. I sat back on his couch, tearing at my fingernails (bad habit, but it keeps the fingertips sensitive), confident that Woodson had his players scattered all the hell over the building. Around nine, McCoy finally threw a few files into his briefcase and made to leave. I got the impression that he was disgusted to be calling such an early night. Surprisingly, he didn't throw another fit when he found out several of the boys and I would be following him home; this brought his score up another couple of points, somewhere in the range of minus two thousand, nine hundred and eighty or so. Daylight still didn't look good for our DA, but at least I had a reasonable expectation that he'd stopped digging.
My hopes were, as many hopes are, in vain. Next blowup came when we reached the parking garage, and found out that our high-profile DA-under-a-deaththreat was driving around on a motorcycle. He refused to "change his life" for some moron with a grudge. I didn't relish trying to sort through a tangle of tailpipe and handlebars trying to figure out if it was murder or dumb luck saving an assassin a little trouble. One of my boys took the bike, and Woodson and I half-wrestled Mr. McCoy into one of our cars. He had the good grace not to bitch at me all way back to his apartment. He sat, rather, quietly fuming. I didn't know we Irish could fume quietly, but there he was, dispelling all the myths. I was again somewhat impressed that he knew when to leave well enough alone. That was something I could never get the hang of.
We got to his apartment. Woodson eyed the mess dubiously, then smirked at me. I felt kinda at home, but instinctively cringed at the disaster area. It might be tough for a hitman to sneak through the place, but that also made it tough for us to move in a hurry. We all three kicked a few things out of the main path before Woodson quietly slipped out to arrange his men around the building.
McCoy-at-home was a hellofa lot quieter than McCoy-at-work, which also suited me fine. He offered us anything in the fridge, which I declined politely; I was tired, I was irritable, and I didn't have the outside shift, Woodson did. I had the indoor shift, which meant I could afford to sleep in short fits. After the day I'd had, I wanted to get right to it.
I piled up on the couch after divesting it of a box of files. I was half asleep before McCoy came around the corner out of the kitchen area, but I was aware enough to see him stop in his tracks.
What, I asked.
You intend to sleep there? he replied.
Woodson's outside, I said. You're safe as we can make you. Don't worry, I'm not a sound sleeper. I didn't add that I couldn't afford to be. The man was stubborn, not stupid -- he didn't need reminding of just why I was there.
He meant on the couch.
How gentlemanly, I started to say, but it was bound to come out wrong, so I kept it to myself. It would do, I told him. I wouldn't sleep much anyway.
He didn't feel right about that, and he padded back and forth around the living room a few times for emphasis, effectively waking me back up and keeping me there.
What, I asked again, significantly more irritated than last time.
He looked sheepish, which caught me unawares. I looked again, but no, I was right: he actually looked sheepish. I've always wondered what that looked like, and there it was, perfect example. In spite of my irritation and exhaustion -- or maybe because of it -- right then, right there, on that Sinn Fein-attituded firebomb with his hair tousled down into his eyes, it was kinda cute. I almost laughed at him, but I had a last-minute hunch that that wouldn't go over well, so I bit my tongue instead. Maybe you should take the bed, he finally said.
Okay, maybe the "gentlemanly" comment was more appropriate than I'd anticipated. I made a crack about not wanting to get my brains blown all over his pillow by mistake, which he didn't find particularly amusing, but then subjects of death threats rarely do laugh at comments like that. On the other hand, I really didn't want a case of mistaken identity opening up my skull in such an untidy fashion.
On the other hand -- and I'm aware that I'm up to three now, but anatomy was never my strong suit unless it comes to major hit points on the human body, ask me what they are sometime -- I didn't want him killed, either. That's kinda why I was there.
So the bed was out for me. But it did bring up a good point, one usually avoided by moving our clientele to safer habitat until the case is cleared, an option unfortunately unavailable to us owing to our DAs' reluctance to drop their current cases...hence their benefactors higher up calling on us in the first place. You got windows in your bedroom of course, I said. He said yes. How big is your mattress? I asked him. I could have knocked him over with an F. Do you know? I asked.
Double, he finally said, eyeing me dubiously.
I really was having a hard time not laughing, now. It'll be a tight fit, I said, grinning, but I think we can squeeze it in.
He cocked his head at me, dark eyes lancing through me like Jonesey on a really tense day. I didn't know anybody else could do That Look, and I found myself suitably impressed by it. Daylight was looking more possible for our friend the DA. Help me move the table, he said, sighing, and I went ahead and laughed at him, figuring myself safe now.
I also noted that he had given up -- at least for the moment -- arguing with my attempts to protect his life. I think maybe the image of somebody's brains splattered on his wall and soaking into his pillow might have had something to do with that.
We moved the coffee table, making a slightly-bigger-than-mattress-sized space in the living room floor. Then we hauled in the mattress, sheets and all, and dropped it in the middle of his floor. Sweet dreams, I said, dropping back onto the couch.
I thought the point of this was so you'd have somewhere more comfortable to sleep, he growled at me.
I thought it was to equalize the suffering, I told him. Go to sleep. You've been getting on my nerves all day, and you're down to the last one. Save it for tomorrow. I'm sure you'll use it.
Amazingly, he shut up. He went to the bedroom, came back in a white tee shirt and sweats, and sat down on his erstwhile normal bed and started sorting through files. I did my usual on-the-job sleeping, which found me waking every quarter hour or so; the first few times, McCoy was still reading files, occasionally scribbling in them until the scratching of the pen started following me into my sleep. I woke up once sure I could still hear it, and it turned out to be his sheets shifting around. A little light bled in from the streetlamps, showing me that he'd finally shut off the light and laid down. I patted my shoulder holster like I always do at first dark, reassured by weight and easy access, and went back to sleep for another quick fifteen.
Next time I woke up, he was talking in his sleep. I couldn't understand a damn word of it, but I recognized the tones and felt resignation take up residence. Figured. A high-power like this guy didn't sail smoothly through life anymore than the rest of us lunatics who do things the hard way. Some of us, the scars are physical, like the little slivers of bone that still work their way to the surface of my shoulder now and again from that bullet that broke my collarbone, back in '96. Rough year, that.
Some of us, the scars aren't so physical. Had one of my boys who started having nightmares on one of our jobs, started muttering to himself in his sleep like that -- it's a pretty intense dream you can talk through, since your body is supposed to be paralyzed during REM -- though he kept insisting he was fine. I intended to remove him from duty as soon as we got back. He got too jumpy before that could happen, though, and got his head blown off in a situation that Woodson should have been able to talk down. Idiot left behind an hysterical wife who kept demanding to know why it was going to have to be a closed-casket service. I, as leader of this particular pack, got to tell her. Sometimes I really hate my job.
McCoy shut up and turned over, away from me, very still for a moment. I tried not to be surprised that the man couldn't keep his mouth shut, even in his sleep, and I tried very hard to go back there, myself. But I kept seeing Brian's face, a good part of it anyway, staring up at me from the sidewalk where it lay. I remembered later thinking stupidly if, as I tried to comfort his widow, anybody had picked it up and saved it, and could it be propped back on his skull long enough for the funeral. Amazing the things a highpowered bullet can do to the human body.
I looked back down at the DA's back, found myself counting off which points of impact were instantly fatal, which would let him linger for an ambulance, which would merely leave him with paralysis. I briefly toyed with the idea of resigning, but I knew better.
A little shudder, then sudden stillness from McCoy. I recognized the bunched muscles, the silence, he wasn't even breathing. A long, slow exhale, a slight tremor...must have been one hellofa nightmare. After a long moment, when he still hadn't moved, I had a sudden irrational thought that somehow the assassin had managed to shoot him after all, and I'd been asleep and hadn't heard the bullet. It was ridiculous, of course, but when you're tired and seeing body parts of people who trusted you to get them home again, you're not always rational. Just take my word for that. I slipped off the couch onto the mattress carefully, then reached out and touched his shoulder. McCoy, I whispered.
His shoulder was like a rock under my hand. No stress here. A real-life, actual breath followed, then he answered me. Yes?
I started to ask if he was all right, but discarded it as a stupid question. The man was living under a death threat, and gave me the definite impression that this was only the latest-- and maybe even the least -- of his baggage. Of course he wasn't all right. Any more than Brian had been all right when he told me he was, and I was sure that would be McCoy's answer if I was idiot enough to ask. Instead I patted McCoy's shoulder and curled up behind him, on top of the covers, my back against his so that my gun didn't dig into my ribs. I could feel the surprise all over him, but he didn't say anything, and we both finally fell asleep again, this time for real.
A few hours later, I woke because his hair was tickling my cheek. He'd shifted closer during the night and had one arm pitched across me, the other curled between us mimicking a fetal position. I couldn't get to my gun, which always makes me jittery, and that brought me full awake. I listened intently, hearing Woodson and Steak talking out in the hallway, their whispers barely audible, even to me just on the other side of the door. Then they stilled, and I heard the sound of plastic scraping on leather -- one of them was pulling his radio. Barely audible, but too familiar not to know. I lifted McCoy's hand from my midriff and rolled to him, shaking his shoulder. He blinked awake at me, confused at first but memory coming back fast. What's wrong? he asked.
I told him to sit up, but stay put. I went to the door, cracked it, and found Woodson hissing into his radio, gesturing at Steak to gather up a couple of guys and go around back. Who had been in the back? I ran through the team quickly. Woodson had distributed them -- he'd have put Partell in the back.
Saw something, Woodson murmured at me, and I glanced back inside. McCoy was alert now, very much so, but he had listened and sat where I left him. The windows were clear, as was the hallway back to the bedroom. I waited in the darkened doorway, between McCoy and Woodson, for the radio to crackle and let us know what had happened. A tense minute passed, then another, minutes counted out in heartbeats, as I rapidly tried to figure how long it should have taken Steak to get to the first floor and around to Partell's position.
A shot exploded like a small cannon, followed by shouting and more bullets. Shit! Woodson snarled, Shitshitshit.... He headed for the stairs, snapping orders to the others into the radio, pausing on the landing long enough for a report to get back to us. On the run -- sighted -- corner him and bring him down--
Send Davison and Malcom back up, I told him, and go. Get the fucker. He nodded and went.
McCoy's steady eyes met me as I came back in. They think they've got him, I explained.
You don't seem convinced, he said.
I'll be convinced when I see the body, I replied, and I meant it. I pulled my own radio, intending to call Davison. It crackled to life in my hand, Woodson's voice spilling out in anger and frustration -- Partell had called them to the back when his own backup failed to show for the shooting. Failed to show. Might as well go ahead and print the obituaries; we had two dead teammembers somewhere in the building, and a stairwell left unguarded. Send them, I told him, and get your own ass back inside. Find those bodies, find out what the hell's going on.
I turned back to McCoy, and found him already trying the phone. It was dead, of course. He shrugged at me and put it back down. What now? he asked.
Come on, I replied, grabbing his hand and pulling him with me down the hallway. This building have a fire escape?
He started to answer, but heavy footsteps on the stairs stopped us both. I knew immediately it wasn't any of my boys, and before McCoy could ask, I skinned my gun and shoved him behind me. The footsteps paused at the landing, approached the rest of the stairs more cautiously. I eased towards the door, waving McCoy back at the same time. I didn't dare look to see if he was actually doing as he was told again.
Writers and movie directors who love slo-mo will try to make you think that these incredible bursts in your life will actually drag down to long, agonizing moments, but a second can be as agonizing as an hour if you use it right. It doesn't drag down. It happens so fast that you can't credit it, that you have to stand back afterwards and look around to see what happened and if you really lived through it. McCoy actually had more of the story than I, and explained to the rest of our team and the police officers who showed up because of the shooting just what had happened, how the door had burst inward rocked on its hinges by a booted foot, how I had stood in front of the shattered door and squeezed off three quick shots to the killer's face even as he fired on us. He only managed one shot; we found the bullet lodged in the wall in a near-direct line with our heads. It would have gotten me around the eyes or McCoy square in the face. But he had moved back toward the bedroom like I'd told him, and avoided the bullet.
I'm not sure what saved me. Too stubborn to get shot again, I guess.
We stood around in the street for awhile, in spite of the fact that it had started to rain softly, while my boys and the local badges wandered around the building and grounds, finding bullets and bodies. Two of our team were dead -- Lewis and Benson. Partell had run the other guy to ground, the one who had decoyed him while the guy I'd gotten had killed them, clearing the way for him to get inside and upstairs. It would take a little more investigating to make sure that they were the only players, but it felt over to me, and I'm usually right about those things. They hauled out the boys' bodies, and those three bullets I'd fired felt very satisfying.
McCoy stood with us, in the rain in his sweats and tee shirt, looking for all the world like he'd lost friends that night. One of the cops there was a friend of his, and I still don't know if the guy was on duty or if he had just come to see how things settled out. Either way I was glad of it, to have somebody around who knew McCoy and would know if I needed to turn him over to somebody in a white coat, or if I could keep charge of him for the time being. Briscoe, McCoy said his name was, and he gave me the immediate impression that I could put my gun in his hands and feel as safe as if it were in my holster. I liked him instantly. He asked me if I was all right, which I appreciated; no one usually asks us. People tend to expect us to get shot, like it's part of the job. The risk is; getting shot isn't. We try to avoid it, in fact.
After a minute or so more in the rain, Briscoe jerked his head at me and started talking to McCoy. He was trying to get him to go back inside.
I took up McCoy's other side. We need to get back inside, I insisted, where we can have some light. We still don't know we're safe.
McCoy nodded, but seemed none too thrilled about going.
Don't wanna stay here? Briscoe asked him.
I must admit, McCoy replied wryly, I'm not crazy about the idea.
I smiled to myself. He was doing well for someone whose attempted murderer had been gunned down in his doorway. Those bloodstains were gonna be there for awhile, and they showed. A lot.
C'mon, Briscoe said decisively. You can stay at my place.
You know I come with him, I pointed out.
I know, he replied good-naturedly, you're a package deal.
I made quick arrangements with Woodson; he'd give the locals a few more minutes, then regroup the team and take up positions in Briscoe's building. Sloppy work tonight, I thought, but I always think that when we lose somebody. What could we have done differently? We were armed and ready, and one of the bastards still got us. At least we sure as hell got them.
I trudged through the rain, lifting my head up in time to see Briscoe and McCoy by Briscoe's car, arguing about something. Lewis and Benson dead, but McCoy was still alive, and still arguing. I wondered if this man was worth two lives. At least, I comforted myself, Benson and Lewis had been there by choice. McCoy had made it abundantly clear that none of this was his choice.
I reached the car, and Briscoe made a joke about my reputation, going home in the middle of the night with two older men. I smiled at him, a genuine, tired smile, not like those fake things I hand out to most of my "clients" and acquaintances. Woodson and Jonesey will never let me live it down, I admitted to him, but it'll make a hellof an opening line at parties. He seated me in the front, between the two of them; it made me a little uncomfortable, not being able to shield McCoy from the other side, but I could resist pulling my gun. The threat really did feel over.
Halfway to Briscoe's apartment, I looked over at McCoy to find him sound asleep, his head tilted back, but with his hair still in his eyes. His breathing was even and quiet, his hand, fallen down against my leg, relaxed. My three bullets felt even more satisfying, and I supposed I hated my job a little less.
He'd see daylight. I was sure about that.