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Detective Don Flack stared at the lone pill that rattled around the bottom of the prescription bottle.
A cup of coffee sat on the Formica table in front of him, steam rising toward the ceiling in the air-conditioned diner. It had certainly taken long enough for the coffee to show up. The waitress -- a woman named Doris, according to the nameplate affixed to her bright pink uniform; her face was caked in enough makeup to make her look embalmed, her breath smelled like an ashtray, and her nasal voice threatened to decalcify Flack's spinal column -- had ignored him for quite a while before deigning to take his coffee order.
In theory, he'd wash the pill down with the coffee.
Assuming, of course, he could bring himself to dump that last pill out into his hand.
It had been a year. A year since the explosion that nearly killed him. A year since that idiot with the headphones who didn't hear the fire alarm. Flack ran back for him.
Then the world exploded.
When he was recovering in the hospital, after it was all over, Flack sometimes wondered what would have happened if that jackass hadn't been wearing those big, stupid noise-canceling headphones. Said jackass -- Flack could no longer recall his name, nor did he particularly wish to -- hadn't heard the fire alarm, hadn't heard the screams of panic, hadn't heard two dozen people running for the fire stairs, hadn't heard Flack and Detective Mac Taylor screaming that there was a bomb in the building.
You usually didn't find that level of obliviousness in New Yorkers. Certainly not since 9Ú11.
If not for that guy, Flack might've been in the stairwell. Or at least back with Mac, farther down the hallway. Mac got out of the explosion with only a few scrapes and bruises.
Flack almost died.
But he didn't. A few months in the hospital, and he was fit for duty. He tried to avoid situations where he'd have to take off his shirt in public, as the crisscross of scars wasn't particularly pretty. Stella Bonasera and Lindsay Monroe had both ribbed him about using the explosion to flirt with women, and they hadn't been entirely wrong -- but Flack hadn't shown anyone the scars.
The pain was near constant.
When it got bad, he was supposed to take the pills. But Flack defined bad differently from the docs. He avoided taking the pills. Taking the pills meant admitting to weakness.
But sometimes, Flack was weak.
Now, though, it had been a year, and a prescription bottle that was intended to last him six to eight weeks had finally run out.
When he got up this morning -- earlier than usual, since he was meeting a friend for coffee -- the pain was agonizing. That happened when the weather changed, sometimes. The last few days it had been unseasonably chilly, but this morning it was already eighty-eight degrees, and it was supposed to go up into the high nineties. Flack felt like someone had taken a hot knife and shoved it through his lower back up into his rib cage. (He'd been hanging around with Mac and his crime lab crew for too long -- he could actually picture that happening in gory detail, something he never used to think about before he made detective.)
But there was only one pill left.
If he took the last pill, he'd have to refill the prescription and get more.
Donald Flack Jr. was the latest in a long line of cops, most recently Donald Flack Sr. Cops didn't admit to weakness. On the street, they can smell that. You don't let the assholes know that there's a single chink in your armor, because they will find it and they will nail you to the wall.
So Flack tried to avoid the pills.
"Y'know, Donnie, it's been my experience that the pills work better if you swallow 'em."
Looking up, Flack saw his breakfast companion approach the table. "Hey, Terry."
Terry Sullivan squeezed his massive frame into the vinyl-covered bench opposite Flack. Sweat beaded on his pale forehead. Indicating the pill bottle with his head, he asked, "That's from the bombing, right? What they gotcha on, Percs?"
Flack nodded, pocketing the bottle in his suit jacket.
"What, you ain't gonna take it?"
"Don't need it." Even as he said the words, Flack winced as he moved his arms.
Sullivan shook his head, his shaggy blond hair flopping around. "You're so full of it, those baby blues of yours're turning brown, Donnie. Take it from the human dispensary, they prescribed them things for a damn good reason. You're in pain -- take the painkillers."
"I'll be all right."
Like Flack, Terence Sullivan Jr. was dressed for work, though unlike Flack, he wasn't wearing his entire uniform. Not that Flack had a uniform per se, just the expected suit and tie. As for Sullivan, he wore clothes that identified him as a corrections officer of the state of New York -- at least, they did to Flack. He wasn't wearing the light-blue shirt that would have completed the outfit, as COs generally didn't wear the full uniform outside of prison walls, but he was wearing the dark blue slacks, black boots, weapon, and belt. Said belt was filled with key clips, pouches, a radio holder (the radio was property of the prison and stayed on-site), and a lot of other stuff that reminded Flack of his days in uniform. There were several reasons why Flack liked being plainclothes, and one of the biggies was not having to carry around half the world on your belt.
The summer weather had darkened the armpits of Sullivan's white T-shirt with sweat. Sullivan's broad shoulders and well-muscled arms filled the T-shirt well, which made up for his pale baby face and shaggy blond hair. From the neck up, he looked like a twelve-year-old. People still called him "Junior" even if they didn't know that Terry, like Flack, was named for his father.
The two Juniors had spent many of their formative years at each others' homes, as both Donald Flack Sr. and Terry Sullivan Sr. were NYPD. They both came on in 1978 (the year both their sons were born), when then-new mayor Ed Koch was trying to increase police recruitment in the wake of fiscal disaster, the "Son of Sam" murders, and the '77 blackout. Flack remembered lots of shared dinners throughout the eighties with the Sullivans and other cop families, their fathers bitching about Howard Beach and Mayor Koch or singing the praises of the new Springsteen album.
Sullivan and Flack were expected to follow in their daddies' footsteps, but only Flack did at first. He remembered young Terry idolizing his father and talking about becoming a cop just like his old man, right up until Sullivan Sr. asked his wife for a divorce in 1992. After that, Sullivan wanted nothing to do with his father. When Flack was a rookie, Sullivan was working as a bouncer at strip clubs.
Eventually, though, Sullivan grew weary of that life and realized that he still wanted to be a cop. He'd told Flack that he "felt stupid" going to the Academy in his late twenties, so he decided to become a corrections officer instead. Currently, he was assigned to the Richmond Hill Correctional Facility on Staten Island. The diner where they were meeting was right by the Manhattan end of the Staten Island Ferry. After the ferry, Sullivan would take the long ride on the S74 bus to RHCF.
Changing the subject, Flack said, "Don't expect quick service. Took the waitress half an hour to -- "
Before he could finish, Doris came over. "Hey, Terry. You know this flatfoot?"
Sullivan grinned. "Yeah, I grew up with this guy."
"Whyn'tcha tell me you were with him?" Doris asked Flack, her voice making his ribs throb more.
"Didn't think I needed to."
Doris shrugged and looked at Terry. "The usual?"
"Yeah, and refill my pal's coffee, will ya?"
After Doris walked off, Flack shook his head and chuckled. "Swear to God, Terry, I been a cop almost ten years, that's the first time I heard anyone use the word flatfoot in real life."
"So you gonna take that pill or what, Donnie?"
Flack gritted his teeth. "Or what."
"C'mon, I can tell you're in pain. It's like that time when you cracked a rib during that basketball game and wouldn't tell anybody."
"We had a game to finish." Flack grinned. "I was the only guy on our team who could play worth a damn, so I had to stay in."
Sullivan laughed, resting his arm along the back of the seat, one meaty hand clamped over the end. "Yeah, we sucked pretty hard, didn't we?"
"What's this 'we' crap? I was fine."
"You still play?"
Flack nodded. "I do some work with the YMCA, helpin' out the kids there."
"And if one of them was on some kind of medication, would you let 'em get away with not taking it?"
Rolling his eyes, Flack said, "You ain't letting this go, are you?"
"Hell no. I wanna see you take that pill. And don't try any tricks -- I stand over nurses who give out meds every day to people a lot more devious than your ass, and I know every trick in the book."
Flack raised an eyebrow. "Every trick?" He picked up the coffee and lifted it gingerly toward his lips, trying to ignore the pain in his ribs, finishing off the drink in anticipation of Doris's return with a refill.
"Please, it's like these guys think we're morons. I swear to Christ, every single newbie that comes in tries to hide it under their tongue the first time. And they keep tryin' to palm the things, like we ain't gonna look in their hands. Unbelievable." Sullivan shook his head. "Then again, if they had brains, they probably wouldn't be inside."
"Nah," Flack said, "just means their lawyer couldn't do a decent plea."
Sullivan shrugged. "If you say so."
"Trust me, I seen PDs that couldn't do a deal with Howie freakin' Mandel." Flack sighed. "Anyhow, I don't wanna take the pill, okay? Pain's not that bad," he lied.
Doris came back with a plate holding a slice of toast cut into two triangle-shaped slices, which she managed to hold in the same hand as an empty cup and a saucer. In the other hand, she grasped a round glass pot filled with coffee, steam rising through the brown plastic rim along the top of the pot. She put the plate in front of Sullivan -- it made a light clink as the porcelain hit the Formica -- and then did likewise with the cup and saucer, pouring Sullivan his coffee, then refilling Flack's. Then she walked off, giving Sullivan a smile and ignoring Flack.
"So," Sullivan said, "I see your boy Taylor got off."
Grateful for the change in subject, Flack said, "Course he got off, he was innocent. Dobson was bad news."
Clay Dobson was an architect who moonlighted as a serial killer. He was caught, arrested, and convicted -- and then released a few years later when his arresting officer, Detective Dean Truby, was imprisoned. Truby was a dirty cop, and Flack knew it -- in fact, Flack's notes to that effect had helped put Truby away. Mac Taylor had strong-armed Flack into turning over the notes, and Flack still hadn't completely forgiven Mac for forcing him to give up a member like that.
But that was the least of it. Dobson had money, which meant he had one of the good lawyers. Truby's incarceration put the detective's entire arrest record into question, and Dobson's lawyer felt that constituted reasonable doubt. A judge agreed, and Dobson was kicked.
Didn't take Dobson long to go back to his old habits. He killed one woman and had taken another, who was able to ID Dobson as her kidnapper. Mac tracked Dobson down, fought with him, cuffed him -- and then, according to Mac, Dobson jumped off the roof, claiming he would take Mac down with him.
It almost worked, too. Mac was the subject of a hearing; it was all over the press. Ironically, it was Truby who saved the day -- he had some dirt on Deputy Inspector Gerrard, and Mac used that to make sure he was cleared.
"I got a buddy up in Riker's," Sullivan said, "and he told me about Dobson. There's three types inside. There's the innocent guys who got screwed. There's the guilty guys who feel bad about what they did. Then there's the guilty guys who don't give a rat's ass. That's most of them, really."
"Dobson was one of those?" Flack asked.
Sullivan nodded. "Big-time. Your usual asshole, that's one thing, but my buddy told me when he heard what your boy Taylor said, about how he jumped to get back at Taylor? Said he bought it. Your boy couldn't have done anything different."
Flack said nothing.
He supported Mac. Mac was his friend. The first face Flack saw when he woke up in the hospital after the bombing was Mac's. And Flack knew that Sinclair, the chief of detectives, and Inspector Gerrard were trying to score points with the media and cover their own asses in the Dobson case. And Mac had every reason to be pissed off at Dobson, since it was because of Mac's actions that Dobson was sprung, and Mac felt responsible. Flack doubted he would have done anything differently if their positions were reversed.
But Mac also went after Dobson without telling anyone what he was doing, which was strike one. He didn't call for backup, strike two. And then he and Dobson got into a fistfight, which was strike three, and would've been strikes four, five, and six if they went up that high. You brawl with a suspect, and that's a get-out-of-jail-free card for the bad guy, because nothing you do after that will matter to the DA's office or the perp's lawyer. The cop beats the perp, the perp walks.
What Mac did was a step down a dangerous path that led to the likes of Dean Truby.
Still, Flack said none of this to Terry Sullivan, because while Sullivan was his friend, so was Mac Taylor. You didn't rat out your friends. Not even to other friends.
That was weak. Flack didn't do weak.
The pain in his ribs grew tighter. He imagined he could still hear the last Percocet rattling around against the plastic.
Finally he said the only thing he could say, words that were still true regardless of any doubts Flack might have had: "Mac's the best. Department'd be a worse place without him."
Sullivan lifted his coffee cup. "Then here's to him."
Flack didn't lift his cup very high, as it hurt.
Seeing him wince in pain, Sullivan said, "Jesus Christ, Donnie, take the damn pill, would you please?"
"Maybe later. How's Katie doing?"
It never failed. The best way to distract Sullivan had always been to ask him about his daughter. His baby face broke into a huge smile. "She's the best. You know she's in kindergarten now?"
"Really?" Flack couldn't believe it. "Wasn't she just born last week?"
"I know. It's crazy. We can't keep up with her; it's like we have to buy a whole new wardrobe every month. And she's reading, too. Teachers wanted to put her in the first grade, but Shannon didn't wanna. I guess I don't blame her -- keep her with kids her own age, y'know?"
They kept talking through two more cups of coffee each, before Sullivan looked at his watch. "I gotta get a move on. Uncle Cal'll be on my ass."
"'Uncle Cal'?" Flack asked. He tried not to grind his teeth as he reached around to get his wallet.
"Calvin Ursitti. He's my shift lieutenant."
"You don't call him that to his face, do you?"
"Do I look suicidal?"
Flack chuckled and tossed a five down onto the table. Taking a deep breath, he then got to his feet.
"Will you please take the pill, for the love of Christ?"
"I'm fine," Flack said through clenched teeth. "Give Shannon a hug for me, okay?"
"Shannon hates your guts, Donnie."
Flack sighed. "Still?"
"You went out with her sister and dumped her after two dates, Donnie. You think my wife's gonna forgive that anytime this millennium?"
"Apparently not." Flack looked around, caught Doris's eye, and gave her a friendly wave. Doris just rolled her eyes and went back to reading the Post.
"She's crazy about you," Sullivan deadpanned. "I gotta get the ferry. Be good, Donnie."
They left the diner, Sullivan headed to the ferry terminal, Flack headed to his car. He pulled out his cell phone and turned it back on. He didn't turn it off very often, but he hadn't seen Sullivan in way too long. Just once, he wanted to get through a meal without being interrupted.
Only a cop would consider three cups of coffee a meal.
But then, Flack had been living on coffee lately. He had to do something to swim upstream against the sleepless nights. The pain was worse when he was lying down.
Miraculously, there were no messages on the phone. Somehow, he had made it all the way to seven in the morning without the NYPD requiring his services.
Flack didn't anticipate that state of affairs surviving to his lunch hour.
Copyright © 2008 by CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Entertainment AB Funding LLC., Inc.