Roland sucked in a sharp breath. The metal table was cold as ice against his naked back. The skin on his arms prickled with the chill that came through the thin sheet covering him. His chest squeezed, his throat tightening with the desperate urge to cough. Roland gritted his teeth, forcing himself to listen in silence.
Moments stretched before he trusted the silence enough to breathe again. Roland lifted his hands to shove the sheet off of his face. He sat up, wincing at the chill of the air. A fit of coughing followed, painful and all too loud despite his best attempts to muffle it. Roland spat clotted blood into the sheet and swore.
He knew damn well where he was. Roland hardly even needed the quick glance around the room that showed him the morgue’s familiar white walls. A shrouded body rested on the neighboring table.
“Bloody fuckin’ hell.” Roland resisted the urge to slam his fist down on the metal table. He didn’t have the time to spare on venting his frustration and grief.
Roland gave the room another look over, this time far more careful in his observation. He was lucky to find the morgue empty, but he likely had minutes before whoever was on duty this evening returned. Roland didn’t want to be here when they did. An empty table would cause enough fuss without someone actually seeing him walk out.
Rubbing his hands over his arms, Roland frowned. The skin under his palms was fever warm despite the chill of the room. That warmth puzzled him, as it always did. Roland shoved the thought aside. He needed to get out.
A lab coat hung on the back of the desk chair. He slid from the table. Without the meager protection of the sheet, the kiss of cold air on his skin made him shiver. Roland wondered if Ellen was on duty. He hoped Keefe was wrong and she hadn’t really liked him.
Roland tugged the lab coat on, grateful when it slid over his shoulders with only a little tightness. This was definitely not Ellen’s lab coat. His mind fished for the other pathologist’s name. Exhaling sharply, Roland shoved the thought aside. It didn’t matter if he remembered now. At least the lab coat offered some small salve to his modesty.
His personal effects were still on the tray, waiting to be taken off to evidence. Roland hesitated over them a moment. The last fifteen years of his life lay there on that tray, neatly reduced to a pile of petty items. The catalogue sheet tallied every piece: his wallet, his phone, his badge, the notebook from his pocket, the blood soaked fabric of his clothes. Whether he was ready to or not, he had to leave everything behind. This life was finished.
Swallowing, he turned away. Two steps later, Roland stopped and swore softly to himself. Retracing his steps he plucked his phone from the tray and dropped it into the pocket of the lab coat. He still needed the phone for a few more things. Upon reaching the doors, Roland paused to peer carefully out the window. He pulled the lab coat tighter around himself.
The halls were unusually quiet. The emptiness worked in his favor but also tickled a thread of worry down his spine. He couldn’t think of a good reason for the halls to be so empty, and the morgue unoccupied save for him and the other body. Roland sucked in a sharp breath. Two bodies.
“Oh God. Keefe.”
Roland crossed the room to the silent second table in two strides. The chill of the floor echoed along his spine, making Roland shiver involuntarily. He yanked the edge of the sheet back. Roland stared a moment before he finally breathed again. He told himself he should feel guilty for the relief he felt when the still face revealed was unknown to him. Somewhere some family would be grieving their loss, but not Keefe’s family. At the moment, Roland couldn’t make anything else matter to him. His hand lifted, the movement of crossing himself both habitual and comforting.
Slowly, Roland tugged the sheet back up over the dead man’s face. He frowned as he noticed the two small spots of blood that marred the fabric over his chest. Roland almost tugged the sheet back down. He wanted to stare into the man’s face and see if he could match it to his blurred impression of the man who had shot him, to look for some other clue.
It’s over. He reminded himself fiercely and pulled his hands away. This wasn’t his to solve.
By some minor miracle, he made it to the lockers without someone seeing him. Jonas had a hoodie and a pair of sweats in his that fit. Roland tried to ignore the twinge of guilt as he took them. The shoes were his own, but he’d have to trust no one would look at his feet. Tugging the hood further forward over his face and slouching his shoulders he made for the stairs.
The sound of voices damn near roared in his ears as Roland pushed through a door into the precinct proper. A fierce effort was required not to look up when he caught the mention of his own name and the familiar sound of Keefe’s raised voice. He focused on the tiles in front of his feet and the path to the main door, sparing only sidelong glances. No one looked his way. Whatever Keefe was saying appeared to hold the attention of the entire precinct. Keefe managed to provide cover for him one last time, even without realizing he was doing so.
Roland indulged himself in one last look at his former partner. His fingers tightened into fists in the pockets of the hoodie. Keefe wasn’t as young as he’d been years ago. There were laugh lines at the corners of his eyes now that never quite left, even when he wasn’t smiling. The hints of grey at his temples spread further every year, but this was the first time Roland had seen him look old.
Swallowing, he continued towards the door. As his hand closed on the handle, Roland felt a prickling tightness between his shoulder blades, giving him the distinct feeling that someone watched him. The force of the sensation almost made him turn. He resisted the urge until he was through the door and could look back through the glass. The woman at the dispatch desk met his eyes. Shock and recognition were clear on her face. Cursing, Roland released the door and jogged the rest of the way down the stairs to lose himself in the streets.
Roland had already begun to prepare for this. Forty candles on his birthday cake this year had been a vivid reminder that another life was passing him by. He had a fistful of cash and a spare key to his apartment hidden under a stone in the back pew of the church where he stopped to pray. He’d shipped the parts of his history he couldn’t bear to part with on ahead of him under another name.
It didn’t matter now if he planned to go differently,and wanted just a little more time. Shaking his head, Roland pushed into the apartment in the neat brick building he’d called home for the last fifteen years. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness rather than turning on lights. Feeling like a thief in his own home, Roland gathered the few last things he needed: a set of his own clothes that wouldn’t be missed, the laptop whose drive he couldn’t afford to leave lying about. He took one last look around him in the darkness. There were other things he might have liked to take but they belonged here in this apartment with the rest of the man who had died today.
A new identity waited for him in London, and an account with enough to get him by until he could find himself a new job.The modern world made reinventing himself more and more difficult with each passing year. Establishing his new identity had taken months, and it wouldn’t get him out of New York tonight. Scowling, Roland shoved Jonas’ clothes into the dumpster. He tried to tell himself he could come up with another way, but he needed a name to get on a plane. Roland only knew one person who could get him one tonight.
Roland hesitated outside the door to the rundown apartment. There were far too many reasons he shouldn’t get the kid involved in this. He tightened his hand on the laptop tucked under his arm. The kid had taught him enough. He could do this himself, couldn’t he? Roland sighed and reluctantly lifted a hand to knock on the door. If he could do it himself, he would never have come here in the first place.
The door was thin enough Roland could make out the thump of music and several overlapping mechanical voices in the background. A few of the sounds abruptly stopped with his knock. There was the sound of feet making their hurried way across the floor. Silence told him someone had reached the door. Taking a deep breath, Roland shifted to put himself deliberately in front of the peephole. He offered a smile he didn’t really feel.
The sounds of chains rattling and locks clicking were his reward. The kid grinned broadly and stepped back to let him in. He should stop thinking of Tsela as the kid, Roland rebuked himself. Perhaps Tsela had been a scrawny kid when they met, but he was what… Nineteen this year? Twenty?
Shaking straight black hair back over his shoulder with a habitual movement, Tsela leaned past Roland to do click the chain and locks back into place. “Did I forget we were having a lesson tonight?”
Roland was pretty sure Tsela knew he hadn’t forgotten a thing.
“No,” Roland said. “I need a favor. I dinna like askin’…”
Tsela waved a lean brown hand at him dismissively, but his dark eyes were all too keen as they met his. “Is this a questionably legal favor?”
Guilt stung Roland all over again. He hesitated a moment before answering. Avoiding Tsela’s curious eyes, he studied the room instead.
The apartment was tiny and more than a little worn. What looked like a fortune in electronics took up most of the living room. Despite everything Tsela had taught him, Roland still didn’t know the purpose of half the monitors, banks of lights, and switches that surrounded and overflowed the cheap desk in the corner. The music from earlier was silent now, but Roland could hear the familiar hiss and buzz of intermittent voices over the police scanner. He turned to look at Tsela, but all he could see was curiosity in his face. His name hadn’t come over the scanner yet then.
“Aye. It is,” Roland finally said. “Exactly the kind I’ve been steerin’ ye awa’ from.”
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense. Drink?”
Roland nodded and watched Tsela bend to the small fridge under the corner of the desk. Tsela handed him some sort of energy drink.
“You shouldna drink too much of this stuff.” Roland took the offered can.
Tsela shrugged and popped the top on his own can. He took a long swallow before he turned to face Roland. “Okay, so what does the most straight arrow cop I know need me to break the law for?”
“I’m the only cop you know, as far as I ken.”
“I’ve been acquainted with a few others,” Tsela said. “ I just don’t like most of them. Now, what do you need?”
Tsela leaned back, settling his narrow hips against the side of the desk in a way that made Roland tense in anticipation of an avalanche of expensive equipment. Neither the desk nor anything on it budged.
Roland sighed. “I need a new name. An’ a passport an’ a plane ticket for Heathrow. It doesna have to last me past gettin’ through customs on the other side, but I need it tonight. Can you manage it?”
Tsela let out a low whistle, fingers tapping on the can as he considered. “Probably… You got money for the ticket?”
Roland nodded, parting his lips to say something else. He took a sip of the energy drink instead, nose wrinkling slightly at the flavor. “Cash.”
“London and fake IDs, huh? You going to tell me what this is about?”
Tsela’s eyes widened in a way that told Roland he’d answered a bit too emphatically. Tsela frowned and was silent for a moment, fingers tapping all the more agitatedly at the can in his hands.
“This isn’t exactly easy to do…” Tsela said, with just a touch of sullen irritation in his voice. “And it’s illegal as hell.”
“Aye, I ken…” Roland knew he should apologize. “An’ I canna tell you why. I promise it’s better this way. Do you think I’m doin’ somethin’ I shouldna?”
“No…” Tsela said slowly. “You’re a good man. I’m sure you got a good reason…” He was still frowning. “Fine. I’ll do it. You’re not in some kind of trouble, or nothin’ are you?”
“No’ th’ kind you’re thinkin’.”
Tsela straightened and moved around the desk to take his place in the seat there.
“Gonna take a couple hours probably.” He pointed at the couch. “Get cozy.”
Roland frowned down at the passport that was handed to him. The thing looked genuine enough even if he’d just watched Tsela print and alter it. He frowned as he flipped through the pages, resisting the urge to ask just how Tsela had learned to do it.
“Dinna make a habit of this.” Roland said finally.
“Yeah, I know. I’m clean, remember? This is for old time’s sake.”
“This will work?” Roland tucked it carefully into his pocket. “Dinna want tae get arrested.”
“It should. Especially if you keep talking like you talk.” Tsela chuckled. “It’s the very best I can do. You pick up the ticket at the airport. It’s under this name.” He frowned. “Not going to be seeing you around any more, am I?”
Roland frowned, eyes drifting briefly toward the muted tv in the background as it promised news in an hour. “No.” He couldn’t entirely keep the regret out of his voice. “An’ I need one more wee favor.”
Tsela nodded, face sober. “What’s that?”
“Dinna think annaone is likely tae even come see you. Let alone ask… but if they do…”
“I never saw you?”
Tsela nodded again and swallowed once. Suddenly, he looked very young to Roland.
“Alright. Take care then. And uhhh. Thanks. For… you know…” Tsela said, his voice cracking faintly.
“Aye.” There was no use drawing this out any longer. Scooping up the laptop, Roland made for the door. “Stay safe.”
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