Three months ago…
Waking up in a haze, I opened one eye slowly. There was a noise coming from somewhere beside me, that sliced through my head like a sharp knife.
Reaching out, my hand ran across the carpeted floor of my living room. I had no memory of how I got there. Couldn’t even remember the bar I’d been at. There was a fuzzy memory of pissing some woman off, and stumbling into a car after multiple rounds of shots. Then the bottle of whiskey that kept me company when I got home.
Rolling over, I groaned when the noise started again. It was too early, I was still drunk from the night before, and all I wanted to do was sleep.
The screeching sound stopped then started again.
“For fuck’s sake,” I mumbled in a gravely voice. Even to me it sounded like I’d eaten fire and doused it with gasoline the previous night.
Rolling to sit up, my head pounded, and my stomach churned. I eyed my phone, ringing on the floor beside my leg. Wayne Husley’s number popped up. My boss at the FBI, he’d been trying to reach me for the last two days.
“Yeah,” I croaked as I answered the phone.
“You sound like shit,” his deep voice replied. “Did I wake you up?”
I ran a hand over the rough stubble on my jaw. “What time is it?”
“Nearly noon. Look, Mick, get yourself cleaned up. We need you back on the job. Taking two weeks leave, I can understand. I can even understand four, but you’ve been cleared to come back, and we want you to come in.”
“I can’t. You got my resignation…”
“I’m not accepting it,” Wayne interrupted. “You’re grieving, I get it, I’ve been through it. No one wants to lose a friend like that. No one. None of us knew.”
“You’re not fine, Mick. You were on suspension pending an inquiry that was over weeks ago. I gave you some time to get back in the game, but you’re still out of it by the sound of it. We’ve all lost someone. I’m sorry you had to go through it, it’s a shitty situation that no one expected. And like I told you before, we had to open the investigation, it wasn’t your fault.”
He kept talking as I stood up and stumbled across the living room. Boxes of my belongings lay half open around the edges of my apartment. I weaved around the labyrinth, trying not to trip on them.
Wayne repeated the same things as every other phone call I'd had from him since I left. I listened, just like I was doing right now, but what he didn’t seem to understand, was that it didn't make a damn bit of difference.
I stepped in something wet, and glanced down at an uncapped bottle of liquor I’d started drinking yesterday and had apparently finished off last night. Picking up the bottle, I noticed about an inch of brown liquid still left and finished it off. It trailed down my throat, scorching all the way. I set it down on a box, where it teetered for a moment before falling to the floor again. I left it where it landed and walked toward my bedroom.
“What I’m saying is, you’re not alone, Mick. What happened was self-defense, pure and simple. It’s a sealed case now. Done and over with. Get dressed, get sober and come into the office. We can talk about it and get a counselor assigned to you.”
Images of my partner started to roll through my head and my stomach responded. Balancing myself with one hand on the wall, I fumbled my way to the bathroom.
“Wayne, I know you mean well, but I’m not coming back. You have all my credentials and my firearm. I’ve signed all the non-disclosure agreements. I’m done, that was it. I need to go.”
I hung up the phone on his next protest and instantly felt bad about it. Wayne was a good man, decent boss and someone who I’d listened to for advice many times over. He’d been one of my mentors when I’d first joined the Bureau several years ago and didn’t deserve my shitty attitude, but he was trying to fix something that was long gone.
My bare feet touched the tile in the bathroom as I entered and made my way to the sink. Grabbing some headache meds, I popped two quickly then looked at myself in the mirror. What I saw was a man I didn’t recognize. Not even close.
My once shaven face was now overgrown with a beard that I rarely trimmed. My hair had a couple of months of growth and was currently sticking up all over the place. The only thing that was familiar were the muscles on my bare chest. But even those stared back at me in mockery. I knew beneath them was a man that was half dead.
Guilt and stress had eroded the man I’d been over the past month and hadn’t left anything behind. I felt raw, like my emotions had been shredded, and there was only a husk left of who and what I used to be.
My phone buzzed again. Mason calling.
“Yeah,” I answered while eyeing the tub. I turned the water on and let it run as I started stripping the slacks off that I’d worn the night before. I had no idea where my shirt, my keys and my wallet were, and didn’t care.
“Hey, bro. You still headed this way this weekend?”
“I’ll be there. Moving company gets here Friday, packs it, ships it. I’ll drive down and they’ll deliver a few days later.”
“Alright. Dad asked if you wanted to have dinner…”
“No,” I cut him off shortly. “I need some space and I don’t want to see him.”
“Mick,” he began, his tone patient. “Look, I know you’re going through shit, but maybe coming back here isn’t the best idea. I know you quit the Bureau, but don't forget you never liked Kingston. It’s different here.”
I turned off the water and slid into the bath. My skin protested with the burn from the heat and I flinched.
“It’ll be fine. I just need out of here. I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Yeah, see you soon.”
I hung up the phone and threw it on the floor. Laying back in the water, I shut my eyes and immediately regretted it. Images flashed through my head. Things I’d seen and done swam to the surface as I tried to block them out.
I’d been with the FBI for more than five years, and had called it home more days than I could remember. Sleeping in the office on occasion, staying in hotels. Always hunting and searching for the next clue from the dead. That was the normal status of things working in the Behavioral Science Department.
When I’d been transferred to the missing person’s department several months back, I’d had hopes that I could do some good, make a difference. It hadn’t been my choice to move from behavioral science into that line of work, but I’d tried to make the best of it.
I hadn’t realized how much of a toll that would take on me at the time, but I’d learned after the first month. The months following were even worse. And now those cases had me waking up at night, drenched in sweat, and barely able to breathe. Alcohol seemed to kill it some nights, other nights it was women. But nothing ever got rid of it completely and I’d burned out long before I’d gotten here.
Anger burned in my chest. Resentment, rage, and bitterness flowed through me, quickly followed by sorrow. My body hurt, and I felt broken.
Mason was probably right, but Kingston was the only place I could go. The city was calling me home.