Richard awoke with a jolt. He didn’t even recall falling asleep. It was early evening. Time to get down to the police station. The last thing Richard wanted to do was to give that Foster bastard an excuse to roll up in front of his house with his siren blaring and dome lights flashing. He shuddered to think what the gossips in the neighborhood might say. Reverend Mother would never forgive that humiliation. Richard sat up and immediately fell back against the pillows.
His migraine had waned but it was still making its presence known. Too much stress and activity would make it flare up again. Richard needed make short work of this interview and get home before his migraine came on full force. It wouldn’t be a good look for him to curl up in the fetal position on the floor of the interrogation room. Richard sat up slowly, stood and made his way over to his toiletries bag. He popped a couple of pain pills and grabbed his car keys.
When Richard arrived at the police station, Officer Foster was out in the field. He pulled out his cell phone and left him a brief message. Twenty minutes later, the officer strutted in with his partner. They walked by without acknowledging his presence.
Richard could barely tamp down the rush of anger and resentment that rose up inside of him. He had to wait another thirty minutes while the man checked his messages, returned a couple of calls and reared back in his seat shooting the breeze with Officer Brent. Richard refused to take the bait. Instead, he leaned his head back against the cinderblock wall behind him and closed his eyes.
He had almost managed to fall asleep when Officer Foster kicked his foot. Richard opened his eyes to find the man standing over him. The irritation on his face showed his disappointment over Richard’s calm acceptance of his disrespectful behavior. He grinned at Foster’s back as they made their way to the interrogation room, ticking off a small imaginary mark of victory. A familiar voice cut his gloating short.
“Richard? Is that really you man?”
Richard turned and laid eyes on his former partner Darryl for the first time in three years. He was suddenly warmed by a rush of fond memories. They embraced like brothers. Richard had meant to look his old partner up. Time had just gotten away from him. They inquired about one another’s families and started to catch up one another’s lives, unconsciously falling into their old shorthand way of communicating. Before long the two were reminiscing, oblivious to Foster’s growing irritation until it boiled over.
“You boys are gonna have to shoot the shit on your own time. I got things to do,” Foster snapped.
Richard and Darryl shot one another bemused looks over Foster’s ham-handed attempt at insulting them. They both had to laugh. It was just like old times. Darryl turned to Richard.
“That reminds me, what are you doing with this joker?”
“He’s got it in his head that I had something to do with a gang shooting.”
Darryl laughed, “No really man. Why are you here?”
“I’m serious, I happened to be visiting a friend of my sister’s when there was a drive by shooting. Foster here thinks that I’m in a gang.”
Foster snapped, “I never said that. Look, are you going to let me ask you some questions or not?”
“I’m here aren’t I? Look Darryl man, it was good to see you again.”
“Don’t be a stranger. We should hang out sometime.”
Richard nodded and followed Foster into the interrogation room feeling relaxed. The exchange with his former partner had cut the tension building up inside of him. He sat down and waited. Officer Foster was fuming. Richard watched him struggling to master his anger. He was obviously about to pay for laughing at Foster.
“I didn’t mean to tear you away from your boyfriend, but those of us with jobs have to get actual work done. Now, I know there’s something you’re not telling me. According to the victim’s mother, you were wearing Carl’s hat and jacket right before he put them on.”
“Is that supposed to prove something?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. You know good and damn well those bullets were meant for you.”
Richard leaned forward to conceal his quickened heartbeat, certain that the palpitations were visible through the thin fabric of his shirt. He gave Foster his best thousand yard stare.
“Do you mean to tell me that you made me come all the way down here to listen to some wild conspiracy theory? I sure as hell don’t hear any evidence.”
“How about the shooter describing that hat and jacket, saying that he was looking for the man who had worn it the night before?”
“So you’re trying to build a case around a criminal who will basically say anything to get out of trouble? If it was nighttime, then how could he even be sure what color the hat and jacket he thought he saw were, let alone what type of jacket it was? I’ll wager you put the idea of the hat and jacket into his head with leading questions. You’re grasping at straws and you know it. I hope you’re not expecting me to do your job for you. Even you can’t be that lazy.”
Richard was caught completely off guard when Foster lunged across the table, yanked him forward by his shirt and slammed his head facedown on the metal table. Richard felt a stab of pain and his nose started bleeding. Foster’s threats fell on deaf ears, as Richard recovered from the shock of the attack. He’d never seen Foster do anything like that before. Richard knew if he fought back, he would only succeed in justifying Foster’s actions and landing himself in jail.
Darryl suddenly opened the door and ordered Officer Foster to step out into the hallway. A few moments later, Foster returned looking deflated. He mumbled what sounded faintly like an apology and ended the interrogation. Richard declined the offer of a facial tissue to blot his face, choosing instead to walk back through the police station with blood running from his nose. Darryl caught up with him out by his car. Richard expressed his gratitude.
“Hey man, thanks for getting me out of that interview. I owe you one.”
“Yeah? Well, you can pay me back by having a beer with me. I’m off duty now.”
“Oh, I don’t know man. I’ve got a migraine coming on.”
“You telling me you can’t hang out with me ’cause you have a headache? I thought only women used that excuse. C’mon man, you can have one drink. If we don’t go now, I’ll never get you to go anywhere.”
Richard knew that he had antisocial tendencies. His migraine had receded to a dull throb. He supposed it wouldn’t kill him to have one drink with Darryl. The man had been asking him to come hang out whenever heard that Richard was in town.
A sense of debt persuaded him. Richard climbed into his car and followed Darryl to a neighborhood bar and grill. They found a table and ordered burgers to go along with their beers, passing the time chatting about nothing in particular. Richard knew that Darryl would eventually get around to asking him specific questions about what he had been doing with his life.
He racked his brain for an answer that wouldn’t sound pathetic. Not for the first time, he fervently wished he had spent his time away actually doing something, anything with his life besides working odd jobs, sleeping away his down time and pining for his ex-wife. Richard was so distracted that the dreaded question caught him off guard when it finally came. He was equally surprised by his blurted out answer. For one startled moment, he wondered if he had actually said it out loud. Darryl looked suitably impressed.
“You’re a private detective? That’s really cool man. So what kind of investigations do you do?”
“A little bit of everything, missing persons, suspicious deaths, you name it and I’ve probably done it.”
“Are you working on anything right now? Is that why you’re in town?”
“As a matter of fact, I am working on a little something but out of respect for my client, I can’t discuss it. You never know who is listening.”
“Right, I get it man. So what was up with old Foster? I’ve never seen him lose his cool like that before.”
“Your guess is as good as mine. He always did seem to have it in for me when I was on the force.”
“I have no idea. I never did anything to that man. He was always such a pain in the ass that I said as little as possible to him over the years. Now that I’m off the force, he acts as though I betrayed him.”
“What set him off tonight?”
“Now you know he could always dish it out but never could take it. Didn’t you see how he got all bent out of shape when we laughed at him?”
“He was a little annoyed, but I didn’t think we provoked him to the point that he would lose it and start pounding your head on the table.”
“Well, I guess he didn’t get the answers he wanted for the second time.”
“For the second time? You mean he questioned you before? He must really think he’s got something on you. What was he asking you?”
Richard wanted to kick himself for letting it slip that Foster had questioned him before. The way Darryl had pounced on that made him wonder about his friend. Was this sudden desire to hang out nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to pump him for information? Maybe Foster had just pretended to lose his cool so that Darryl could play the hero and wheedle information out of him once he let down his guard.
Richard had played enough variations on the old good-cop-bad-cop routine to recognize it. After all, cops stuck together. Foster might be an asshole but he was still a cop and Richard wasn’t one anymore . Darryl didn’t owe him any loyalty. Richard suddenly remembered why he hadn’t kept in touch with his old partner.
Darryl had always been extremely competitive with him. The constant one upmanship had grown old fast. They had a lot of laughs together and Darryl had his back out in the field more times than he could count. However, once they returned to the office, Darryl tended to describe events in a way that cast himself in a good light and implied that Richard was inept.
Confronting him about it did no good. He always either played it off as a joke or denied everything and acted insulted that Richard could even entertain such ideas about him. Funny how time had a way of fading unpleasant memories. Or maybe he had blocked it out along with the disquieting questions plaguing him about where Darryl disappeared to the night they responded to a call and Richard’s wife had shot him.
That was right around the time that Darryl had asked him to bend a few rules. Richard refused, but then seeing the stricken look on his friend’s face, had grudgingly agreed not to tell anyone as long as Darryl didn’t do that sort of thing around him. After that conversation, there was a subtle shift in their relationship, a slight tension created by Darryl’s barely suppressed resentment. His jokes took on a sharpness that was borderline insulting.
Richard suddenly wished he hadn’t agreed to hang out with Darryl. He was torn. Towards the end of his time on the force, Richard was in turmoil. After he got shot and returned to work, he was put on desk duty while he recuperated. Darryl started going out on calls with another officer. Richard couldn’t help but be a little jealous of the ease with which he adjusted and became fast friends with his new partner.
When Foster started making jokes about the fact that Richard’s own wife had shot him, it felt as though the whole precinct was laughing at him. Once or twice, he could have sworn that he saw Darryl smirking. Richard had his doubts about him back then, which he suddenly realized had never gone away. He decided to see if he could trust his friend with a made up secret.