Blood Work

Ryan suppressed a groan as he woke. His head felt ready to fall off, way too much to drink last night. He must be on Karen’s couch if the crunch of his spine was any indication. He had met her at the Copper Ha’penny last night for drinks to celebrate her promotion. The place was a dive, full of old wood and dark corners, but they had good whiskey and kegs of Irish beer which made up for the dilapidated air. The best part was that there was not a cop in sight. He had vague memories of chatting up someone at the bar before the liquor blurred the night into oblivion.

“Christ, I am never drinking Jameson’s again.” he muttered as he pried himself out of the couch cushions and in a general upright position.
“And he is risen.” A baritone said from the other side of the room.That snapped him upright too fast, head spinning as he tried to pry his eyes open. “There’s coffee and toast if you think you can stomach it.”
“Fuck.” Squinting in the low light he made out a sparsely furnished loft that was covered in shelves of books on every wall. A tall silhouette stood to one side in the open kitchen, mug in hand propped against the counter watching him. “You’re not Karen.” he managed, scrubbing a hand through his hair.
“No sorry, she was the one you were drinking with last night, brunette?”
“Yeah.” Forcing his brain to work, he scanned the room. Old newspapers filled one corner of the loft like room, a long table full of computers and science equipment sat against the far wall. Thick drapes blocked out the morning sun to a muted glow that thankfully spared his eyes. His host came out of the kitchen with two mugs offering him one.
“You were pretty toasted toward the end of the night, could not get a clear address out of you so here we are. I’m James by the way, I bartend at the Ha’penny on occasion.” He was tall with dark thick hair cut into one of those fashionably disheveled looks that only models ever seemed to be able to pull off, it worked on him. Jeans and a black button down with the sleeves rolled up, yeah, model kind of summed it up, bet he made out like a bandit with tips at the bar.
“I’m Ryan.” He said taking the proffered mug. “Thanks for letting me stay the night, I’ll be out of your hair as soon as I can call a cab.” he said scrubbing at the back of his neck, trying to get his brain to run faster, he had never been a morning person.
“No rush, I have to say you’re one of the nicer drunks I’ve had to deal with. Didn’t even try to puke on my shoes.” he said with a wry grin as Ryan paled, his face taking a hint of green. “The bathroom’s behind you to the left.”
“Thanks.” Ryan gasped, prying himself out of the low couch and trying not to stagger too much, followed by the low chuckles of James sending shivers up his spine. He emerged ten minutes later, his blond hair dark with water and feeling much less like a smashed wind up toy.
“You’re welcome to have coffee or toast if you are up to it.” James said setting his mug in the sink and pulling out his laptop. He settled down across from the couch in the only chair available.
“Thanks again.” Ryan said helping himself to a slice of toast and another cup of coffee as he called for a cab on his cell. “Where are we exactly?”
“Corner of Mathers and Slate. Apartment 203.” he repeated that quickly to the cab company and rattled off his cell number so they would call him when they arrived, hopefully. He glanced at his apparent rescuer, his long limbs folded into the chair like a child, all knees and elbows. A large silver watch clasped one wrist, a thin leather band the other drawing the eye to the stark contrast against James’ pale skin as he typed rapidly, the soft clatter of keys filling the room.
Ryan relaxed against the sofa for a moment, his head starting to clear as the caffeine and two Motrin he had borrowed from the bathroom cabinet got to work. It was a nice apartment, the furniture was a little beat up but still in good working order, like the leather couch he had slept on, worn but not broken. The room in general had a comfortable air, full of the smell of coffee and lines of sun where the shades were pulled back. Grabbing his plate he took it to the sink as he took the last bite of toast. Wandering with his coffee cup he perused the shelves lining the room, only the wall next to the door was left bare and stark white. The library was a mixed bag, science and medical texts vied for space with biographies and fiction.

“So are you a chemist or researcher of some kind?” Ryan asked, eying the small lab set up in one corner, Test tubes and microscopes fighting for space with a double screened computer.

“Something like that.” James said with a small smile. There was a knock at the door a moment later. He raised his eyebrows at James since there was no way a New York cabbie had made it to the apartment that fast, even if they ignored physics.
“Probably the landlady.” James murmured, setting his laptop to the side and getting the door, revealing a short grey haired woman who happily bustled through, her musky perfume invading the apartment along with her.
“Morning, James.” She called merrily as she hurried past him and into the kitchen. “I brought you some extra casserole. I’ve been experimenting for the cookbook again and cannot stand to look at another plate of the stuff.” she said, placing a large casserole dish on the stove. “Oh, I’m sorry dear, I didn’t realize you had company. I’m Mrs. Harper, my dear, the landlady.” she said hurrying to clasp Ryan’s hand in a quick shake.

“Mrs. Harper, Ryan here is looking for a room to rent. Think you could show him the apartment?” James asked, grinning from behind his coffee cup.

“Wait, how do you know I am looking for an apartment?” Ryan asked over Mrs. Harper’s happy twitters as she told him a basic history of the building and it’s one or two famous inhabitants.
“You spent a good hour last night listing ways that your apartment in Brooklyn was a pit and I need a roommate. Since you’re here you might as well take a look.”
The low strains of cello music filled the flat as James dug out his cell phone, the music cutting off as he thumbed it on. With a mental sigh Ryan turned with a forced smile and followed Mrs. Harper to the spare room. It was a nice sized room and frankly anything was better than the closet he currently was sleeping in, it even had it’s own full bath so he would not have to share.
James handed him a card as Mrs. Harper showed him to the door, pulling on a thick black peacoat.
“Give me a call if you think you can put up with me. I’m afraid I have to run, they want me at the precinct.” He was already down the hall and heading down the stairs as Ryan turned back to Mrs. Harper.
“Well, thank you for the tour, Mrs. Harper.” he said taking her hand intending to shake her hand in farewell only to be pulled forward and into a quick motherly hug with the small woman. She happily escorted him to the elevator and wished him luck in moving in with James.
“Might need it.” he muttered once the elevator doors had clicked shut. He gave a shake of his head, digging out the card to take a glance at it.

James M. D’Atri, Private Investigator and Consultant.

***

“Time to call in some favors and see who I am moving in with.” Ryan muttered once he was back in Brooklyn.
Comparing his dump of a room to the airy brightness of James’ brownstone loft apartment just made it seem all the worse. The constant smell of mildew filled the ugly brown carpet no matter what he tried. The room was barely wider than the twin bed he had pushed against the back wall. There was no kitchen, just a small counter space with a single sink and hot plate. The single small window looked out at a brick wall. He would not miss this place once he was gone. Everything he owned was quickly fitted into one box and his old army duffel, whether or not this roommate thing worked out he was not staying here any longer.
It turned into a long day of phone calls and a promise of lunch out with a friend who knew James from working a case together. The response was varied, people seemed to either love the guy or hate him after just having met him once. One thing they all said however was he knew his crime cases. He was the one called in when they had no leads and a messy murder to solve in New York yet somehow his name or picture never hit the news. He solved the cases yet wanted no publicity or notice.
With a sigh Ryan pulled out his gun and began stripping it down and cleaning it with care. It was his nightly ritual since he had moved back to New York, the scent of gun oil following him in his dreams most nights to memories of him and Sam cleaning guns after a long day with a few beers. On good nights it overrode the smell of blood that ever seemed to permeate his dreams.

***

“Hey Rye.” Brian called waving him to the chair next to him.
“Brian, you’re looking good.” He said with a grin, and he was looking good. Brian’s dark military cropped hair had gained a few hints of silver at the temples but he still filled out his uniform like the linebacker he used to be in college.
“Thanks, so tell me how in the world you got wrapped up with D’Atri? I thought you were retired and off the force. Off to find some hot girl to knock up and have 2.3 kids or something.” he said with a smirk.
“Very funny, he apparently works at this pub called the Ha’Penny. We started talking and he’s looking for a roommate. I saw the place yesterday, It’s a good location.” he said fiddling with the menu and taking a sip of water. He no longer knew how to talk to his old co-workers now that they could not really talk shop.
“So you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop on the crazy roommate?” Brian asked with a grin.
“Something like that. I called around and some of the things I have heard about this guy are nuts.”
“No more than some of the things you and Sam used to get into.” he said with a laugh before the look on Ryan’s face sobered him. “Listen Rye, you can’t let what happened stop everything. You still have your life to lead, Sam wouldn’t have wanted it.” he said haltingly.
“Like you know anything about what Sam would have wanted.” Ryan snapped, forcing a breathe in and out before he did something he would regret, his temper was on a hair trigger when it came to Sam, it always had been, no one messed with his partner. Taking another breath, he unclenched his fist from where it was balled against his leg.
“Anyway… this guy D’Arti is just doing his job same as you and Sam did.” Brian said, rubbing a hand along the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable.
“Yeah, but at least I had Sam to watch my back. This guy sounds like he is running around trying to get himself killed. He’s a complete ass to most of the force and the rest tolerate him since he does solve cases.”
“Yeah, but he does solve them, that’s the rub. Who cares if he is nice or not if the job gets done?” Brian pointed out taking a sip of his drink. Thankfully the waiter interrupted them and once he left they moved on to safer topics.
After lunch he went to the gym, going through the weight machines and pounding the punching bag until his arms were dead weight. Tugging on a hoodie he ran the streets back to his building taking random side streets and crossing through parks until it was almost too dark to see. He ignored the drug sellers on the corners near his building as he jogged past, heading up to his room.
Letting his clothes fall where they would, he made his way to the tiny shower with a shower head that was too low for even someone of his average height. He normally dressed and showered in record time but tonight he lingered his eyes falling to the pale scars littering his arms and legs.
“Dammit, Sam. It should be you here, not me.” he whispered, fingers tracing a pale line of skin down his wrist to where it twisted along the hollow of his elbow and coiled around his bicep. He let the water drown him until it went from it’s normal tepid warmth to arctic cold. Stumbling to his bed he slid under the sheets and into fitful dreams of blood and smoke.

***

“Sure you don’t need help with any of the boxes or anything? Mr. Simmons next door is normally willing to help out if we need it.” Mrs. Harper asked handing him the key as she took his down payment and forms.
“No, I just moved back to New York recently so I don’t have much.” Ryan murmured uncomfortably.
“Well, if you need anything you just let me know.”
“Of course, thank you Mrs Harper.” he agreed, surveying the apartment. James was out. They had agreed to meet up when he moved in but some case had come up and he had sent a text telling him to go ahead and move in and they would see each other once the case was over.
“Is James out often? Must be nice to have a quiet renter.”
“Oh, goodness, James quiet?” she said with a laugh, “Heavens no. It’s quiet while he is working on a case but the rest of the time he is a right bear. I hope you’re up to dealing with it, my dear, he can be a bit much.”
“Well, I guess we’ll see.” he said with a grim smile.
“There is a casserole in the oven if you are hungry later, feel free to call if you need anything. I’ll leave you to get settled.”
“Thanks again, Mrs. Harper. Have a good afternoon.”
“You as well, dear.” She said happily as he showed her out and closed the door behind her.
He surveyed the loft for a moment before heading to his room with a sigh to unpack. Maybe he should hit the storage unit for a few things now that he had the space. By the time he had gotten out of rehab Sam’s family had removed all of his stuff from the apartment they had shared since Police Academy. He wound up in Brooklyn when he could not afford the rent by himself. Most of his things went straight into storage, it was easier that way.
With another sigh he went to the kitchen to survey the empty cupboards and fridge. Apparently his new roommate had a thing against having food in the apartment. The fridge had a few bottles of expired condiments while the cabinets turned up an ancient box of cereal and tea along with an assortment of cookware mixed with laboratory glass and test tubes . With a shrug, he tossed everything expired and added the items to his own list. He had not really been eating much since…he ruthlessly stopped that thought, no time to go there today. He would do better, he at least could use a real kitchen, maybe buy a cookbook or two. The landlady had said she was writing one, maybe she could help. Taking another deep breath he forced his feet to move, closing the cabinets and grabbing his jacket.
When he got back from the store James was frantically scribbling along one white wall with a blue marker. He was still in his bartender attire, jeans and a fitted tee shirt along with combat boots. The wall was covered in taped up sheets of paper and news clippings, various undecipherable lines of scribbles and diagrams filled the space around each.
“There you are, perfect timing. You’re a retired cop right?” James asked, pausing in his writing to run his hands through his hair, pulling at the dark locks. He stepped back to take in the wall as a whole.
“Yeah, out about six months now.” he said setting the bags down and starting to unload things.
“They retired you as soon as you finished rehab?” James asked absently, digging through the files covering the couch seeming to not see Ryan almost dropping a jar as he spun in shock.
“How did you…”
“Hmm, oh, your gait is slightly off like you had an injury to your right leg. It’s mostly recovered but you can tell that your left leg is stronger. You favor it slightly when you stand as well. I thought it might be from your time in the Army but if you just retired from NYPD, as young as you are, it must have been a bad injury.”
“Bad enough.” Ryan said forcing himself to keep moving to put up the groceries, ignoring the slight pull of scar tissue in one leg. The docs said it was all in his head, that he should not be able to tell a difference but it still was there. He breathed through the slight heat of the ones on his arms and chest. It would go away, it always did in time.
“Listen, I am working this case and one of my suspects is being illusive. An old Army Ranger who has holed up somewhere. I’ve got some people keeping an eye out but I could use your help if you’re up to it?”

Ryan blinked. After what just happened he would be fighting flashbacks for the rest of the day if he stayed in. His leg ached in time with his heartbeat as each breath pulled at his chest making it burn. He forced himself into a straighter stance, narrowing his attention until James was the focal point of the room. Just another mission, the body could be ignored until later.
“What would you need me to do?” he said, his tone coming out harder than he meant it to.
“Help me run down some leads. I have names and addresses all over the city. Can you track them down and see what they know about the soldier while I work on another angle? I can cut you some slack on the rent if you like as compensation?”
Ryan gave a short nod, “Who am I asking about?”
“It’s all in here.” James said handing him a folder and pulling on his coat in a flurry of motion. Grabbing another stack of folders he was out the door, calling down the hall for Ryan to text him with any updates. Ryan gave a sigh, letting the aches of his body wash back in like a dull throb. He had a feeling he would have to get used to his roommate running off randomly for cases. Going to his room he changed out of his slacks and button down and into a pair of black camo pants and his old combat boots, a sweater and his beat up army jacket he had never been able to toss. Stuffing his keys and cell in one deep pocket he sat on the edge of the bed to read the file.

Michael A. Rogers was a retired Staff Sargent who had been honorably discharged due to an injury that laid him up for several months. There was no information on how or why he was injured. He had returned to New York and started taking odd jobs as a body guard on the side for several small companies. There was a small stack of information on the companies and on paper at least they seemed legit. His remaining family, a sister that lived in upstate New York had filed a missing persons report after she had not heard from him for a week and found his apartment trashed when she tried to visit.

Rising he wavered for a moment before pulling out his lock box and tucking his Beretta in the back of his camos, the knife at one ankle was a given. It would not do to underestimate a ranger.
***

Posing as a friend just back from a tour of duty was easy enough and he was given several conflicting addresses and places to check for the missing vet.

***

“I looked up a few of the cases you had worked on.”
“…and what did you think?”
“Depends, did the case with the duck in the Vatican really happen?” Ryan asked deadpan, eyebrow cocked.
“Nondisclosure agreements, sorry.” James said with a grin. “Not worth the lawsuits to discuss it.”
“Yes, priests tend to be lawyer happy, don’t they.” he said with a grin.

***
(after the case is over)

Ryan stumbled into the main room blinking in the light. Loud music throbbed through the room, making each breath seem to have an extra thump somewhere between his ribs. James had taken down the wall of newspaper clippings and notes and scrubbed the wall back to its former pristine condition. The man himself was pacing in front of his laboratory table, gesturing and talking to himself as he worked on something.
Ryan braced himself and marched right into James’ path forcing him to stop and notice him.
“You know it’s three am, right?” he asked loudly, competing for volume with the music. James waved that away with one hand.
“Busy.” James pronounced, turning back to his
“Busy.” Ryan repeated.

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