azombiewrites: (The Detectives)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: A Calm Storm
Fandom: The Detectives
Genre: Hurt/Comfort.
Rating: PG
Warning: Strong violence.
Main Characters: Lieutenant Johnny Russo and Sergeant Chris Ballard.
Secondary Characters: Captain Matt Holbrook.
Disclaimer: Based on the Characters created by Jules V. Levy.
Challenge: Written for [livejournal.com profile] 10_hurt_comfort
Prompt: Arrested
Word Count: 9,292
Status: Complete

Summary: On a dark but not so stormy night, Russo and Ballard become hostages to a man who would rather die than spend more time in jail. Time runs out when Ballard is injured, his life in danger as Russo tries to negotiate their release.





A Calm Storm


It was a dark, not so stormy night, the threat of rain still echoing in the distance. Lightning flashed, a room illuminated. Bars on left side ran from the ceiling to the floor, a small prison keeping itself separate from the rest of the space. Embraced by two chairs, a table sat in the middle of the room. In one of the chairs, a man, facing the door, body still, patiently waiting. Overhead, a light, the wattage low, the interrogation room in shadows; the effect intentional.

The door opened, Lieutenant Johnny Russo pausing in the doorway, fingers still gripping the handle. Taking a deep breath, a moment, Russo waited, gaze resting on the room’s only occupant. No reaction from the man in front of him, Russo moved into the cramped room. He was grateful to be indoors, not in the mood for another cold night; there had been too many over the last month. His back to the bars, Russo created enough space to allow a second detective to enter the room.

Sergeant Chris Ballard moved past Russo, taking up a position in a shadowed corner behind their murder suspect. Leaning his thin frame against the wall, Ballard removed a packet of cigarettes from a coat pocket. Taking a single cigarette from the packet, Ballard laid it to rest between his lips, lighting it with a match. Placing the burnt, used match on the small ledge of the window, he dragged in a deep lungful of nicotine, letting it out in a rush of air, releasing smoke into the room. Body relaxed, Ballard waited.

Russo closed the door, sound of the lock engaging loud in the thick silence. Crossing the short distance to the table, he sat down in the second chair, dropping the thick folder he carried onto the table. Earlier, they had choreographed a plan; Russo, the senior detective would take the lead, ask the questions, lay a heavy hand on the suspect’s conscious.

A successful result acquired, a suspect found, Russo had volunteered himself and Ballard to take part in the interrogation; it was only right, the two detectives solving the puzzle, putting the pieces together, a killer caught. Now that he was here, in the moment, suspect in front of him, reality set in, Russo no longer sure he had the energy, the strength to take on an interview that was capable of lasting hours. Too late now, his mistake realized.

His voice silent, Russo took in the man before him with a trained eye, instinct making suggestions he should adhere to; suggestions he was too tired to acknowledge, body exhausted from too many hours working the case. For the first time in his career, Russo felt uncomfortable, a tremor of fear rummaging through his limbs. If truth admitted, he would accept the feeling of anxiety as a warning; too tired to think otherwise.

To look at him, Derek Estrange wasn’t the physical type to evoke fear in a man. Tall and thin, Estrange had a similar build to Ballard but his body carried what Ballard’s didn’t; the weight of too many years, hair turning gray at the sides, his face a road map of thin lines. Like Russo, his hair was thinning at the front, hairline in slow retreat.

Estrange stared back at Russo, his face a calm mask of belligerence, his eyes dark and empty. His gaze didn’t waver, lids slow to blink, the man’s stare unnerving. There was something dangerous in the depths of his eyes, a threat swirling in the darkness, the cause of Russo’s anxiety.

Russo put his concerns aside. It was time, no reason to delay, Estrange too comfortable in the silence. Russo quickly flicked his gaze toward Ballard, the sergeant nodding in return. Ballard would stay silent for now, a quiet strength of support. Leaning forward, Russo was ready to begin . . .

Estrange spoke first, his voice handsome, confident, “I’m not going back to jail. I’ll die first . . . or you will.”

The words caused Russo to pause. Over Estrange’s shoulder, he could see Ballard’s change of expression. Ballard frowned, his body becoming tense as he stepped away from the wall. Tilting his head, Ballard raised his left eyebrow; the subtle body language so familiar to Russo. The sergeant was asking a question. Did they need more bodies in the room, Estrange capable of so much violence?

Russo acknowledged Ballard’s question with a slight shake of his head, the small movement telling Ballard they were going to stick with the plan. Ballard nodded, no need to hide his acceptance from Estrange, the sergeant’s body relaxing once again.

Ignoring the threat from Estrange, Russo said, “Do you know why you’re here, Mr. Estrange?”

Estrange placed his hands on the table, palms down, the movement done with purpose, scarred knuckles revealing a violent history. Fresh bruises, skin scrapped from the bone, results of a more recent encounter. The man was silently acknowledging his guilt, but it wasn’t enough, words needed, a signed confession required.

“Yes.”

Taking it all in his stride, Russo said, “Do you mind if I call you Derek?”

“Yes. I mind.”

“Why don’t you tell me why you’re here, Derek?”

A flicker of distaste in Estrange’s eyes, his gaze narrowing, “You’re under the assumption that I’m guilty of beating a man to death.”

“Not just one,” said Russo, smiling, the expression morphing into a grimace. He raised his hand, curling his thumb against his palm, leaving four fingers upright. “I’m under the assumption you killed four men.”

Estrange smiled, an expression of pride, “You have no proof.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Derek,” said Russo, tapping a forefinger on the folder in front of him. “So, let’s start at the beginning.”

“Will this be for your benefit or mine . . . Johnny?”

Keeping his surprise will hidden, Russo said, “Yours, mine . . . his.”

Estrange turned in his chair, a hungry gaze travelling the length of Ballard’s body before resting on the sergeant’s face. Stare, steady and invasive, Estrange waited. He smiled when Ballard refused to look away, eye contact returned, just as intrusive. Estrange turned back to Russo, his face holding an expression of interest . . . of greed, something in Ballard giving him a moment of joy.

“He has a strength I admire, but he’s not like us, Johnny. Still too young to see what the world has to offer. Not enough years on him to see the violence men like me are capable of, can exact on another. I can change that . . . I can make him see.”

“Is that an admittance of guilt,” said Russo, not liking the interest Estrange had taken in Ballard.

“Take it for what it is, Johnny.”

“And what is it?”

Estrange leaned forward and said “It’s a threat.”

Russo nodded, uncomfortable feeling uncurling in his gut, “You like making threats, don’t you, Derek. I’m surprised you’re making one now. Usually, you threaten those who can’t defend themselves.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Johnny. I make a threat . . . it’s only the weak who cower. Only the weak are unable to defend themselves. It is the weak who . . .”

“Die,” said Russo, finishing the sentence.

Estrange sat back, body relaxing into the chair, “Your word, Detective. Not mine.”

“What word would you use, Derek?”

“Any word I use would be admittance and I’m not going to incriminate myself. I’m not that stupid.”

“You’re not that smart either,” said Russo, smiling. “You’re here and it’s only a matter of time before you do admit to what you did. We have the evidence--”

“I don’t see any.”

“We’re getting to that, Derek.”

“Get to it sooner, Detective,” said Estrange. “I’m running out of patience.”

“You have a very, short temper, don’t you, Derek. Once you start hitting a man, you don’t stop.”

“I stop . . . when I reach a certain point.”

“You said you don’t want to incriminate yourself,” said Russo. “You’re doing a fine job of admitting to assault.”

Estrange raised his hands, palms facing Russo, “And who did I assault, Johnny? I don’t see anyone pointing a finger.”

Russo sat back, hands in his lap. This wasn’t going the way they had planned. The thought . . . the assumption . . . Estrange a violent thug, would eventually crumble beneath the onslaught of questions but already ten minutes into the interview, before the real questions had started, Russo knew without doubt the man before him would stand strong. Estrange wasn’t a thug, he was something else . . . a cold, deliberate killer.

Contemplating his next move, Russo waited, taking few moments. He had to make a decision . . .

Russo opened the folder in front of him. On the top, a black and white photo of the first victim, face unrecognizable, the man identified by an engraved wedding ring. Russo picked up the photo and placed it on the table facing Estrange. He watched their suspect, looking for recognition in the dark eyes, guilt in his body language. Estrange showed him nothing, a cold personality able to hide any emotion . . . except anger.

Russo thought for a moment, an idea churning in his mind. If they could use the only emotion, Estrange was capable of expressing . . . It would change the direction of the interview. Ballard would be unaware, but only for a few short minutes. An intelligent mind, Ballard would quickly catch on, going with the flow, adjusting to the new plan.

Mind made up, interview taking a new route, Russo pushed the photograph forward, closer to Estrange and said, “Craig Davidson. Your first victim . . .”

Estranged smiled again, a slight shake of his head. Body language noticeable, understanding creeping into Russo’s subconscious. A single thought, an acknowledgement . . . Davidson hadn’t been Estrange’s first victim.

“He wasn’t your first,” said Russo. “Was he?”

“Before we start,” said Estrange. “Do you mind if I ask Detective Ballard for a cigarette?”

A sudden change of direction, Estrange hinting at co-operation. Russo hesitated, unsure. He lifted his gaze, Ballard his destination. Chris shook his head; no. Russo knew Ballard was right . . . but . . . confession difficult to obtain, Estrange a hindrance . . . any little thing could help.

Russo nodded in acceptance, “Sergeant, give the man a cigarette.”

A complete deviation from the original plan. Ballard stood still, hesitant, shoulder against the wall, body tense. Inner turmoil evident, he narrowed his gaze. Seconds passed without movement, Ballard’s body language showing his disagreement, the lack of trust he had for their suspect. Ballard wasn’t the man in charge, an order given. Ballard stepped forward, closer to the table, packet of cigarettes in his right hand.

Ballard held out the cigarettes. His intent to give them to Estrange, Ballard unwilling to stay so close to the suspect for any length of time. Estrange took the cigarettes, pulling one from the packet, handing the rest back to Ballard. Unexpected, Ballard shook his head and stepped back out of Estrange’s reach.

“A light . . . please,” said Estrange, turning toward Ballard.

Clenching his jaw, words unspoken, Ballard moved back toward Estrange. He handed the matches to Estrange but the suspect refused to take them. Tossing them on to the table, Ballard began to step back . . .

Estrange reacted, his movements quick, violent. Standing up, the chair forced back, Estrange grabbed the back of Ballard’s neck and pushed him down onto the table. Taken by surprise, his body taking a second too long to react, momentum difficult to stop, Ballard’s head slammed against the table, left side of his face taking the full impact.

Russo jumped up from his seat, chair falling to the floor. He moved around the table, toward Estrange . . . Ballard. Space between them short, Estrange too quick . . . too experienced in the manipulation of the physical form . . .

Keeping Ballard down, strength holding the detective in position, Estrange lifted his right leg toward his upper body, minimal movement, staying close to Ballard. Pulling the pants of his trouser leg up, Estrange revealed a small calibre revolver strapped to his ankle. Taking the weapon in hand, he placed the barrel of the gun against Ballard’s skull, an inch above his right ear. He cocked the gun, a warning given . . .

“Stay,” said Estrange, nodding toward a still moving Russo.

The switch of power took only seconds.

Russo stopped, hands raised in surrender. He couldn’t take the risk, Estrange’s earlier threat made too real. Guilt settled in the pit of his stomach; too eager to gain a confession, Russo had made a crucial mistake, an error in judgement. Coming so close to correcting the error, he could now do nothing; unable to help Ballard, he could only watch.

Given no time to accommodate his position, Ballard lifted back up onto his feet, his knees struggling to support his own weight, balance not doubt lost. Cheek red from the impact, bruise already forming, Ballard stared back at Russo. There was no fear in Ballard’s eyes, only anger . . . determination, strength Russo recognized. He knew what Chris wanted. Russo shook his head; he still wasn’t going to take the risk.

Estrange stepped back, pulling Ballard with him. Keeping the gun barrel in place, Estrange removed his hand from the back of Ballard’s neck, changing position, forearm curling around the front of Ballard’s upper body, hand gripping the younger man’s right shoulder, keeping the detective upright, Ballard still finding it difficult to stand on his own.

“Sergeant Ballard,” said Estrange. “Put your hands in your pockets, please.”

Ballard ignored the polite request, keeping his hands at his sides. Estrange applied more strength, gun now pressing painfully against Ballard’s skull, the detective leaning his head forward to relieve the pressure. Estrange, aware of what Ballard was doing, lifted his forearm, pressing it against Ballard’s neck, forcing his head back up. A grimace of pain crossed Ballard’s features, the detective still refusing to do as asked.

Estrange smiled, “I like this kid.”

“This isn’t going to work,” said Ballard.

“I’ll make it work,” said Estrange, nodding toward the chair on the other side of the table. “Johnny, put the chair in the corner beside the door, the back of the chair facing the room.”

Russo frowned, unsure of what Estrange wanted. Hesitation noticed, Estrange began to squeeze, forearm cutting off Ballard’s air supply. Russo watched, wanting to know how far Estrange was willing to go. Time passed . . . so slow . . . a shift in Ballard’s body, his movements becoming anxious, hands reaching for the arm around his throat.

Caught in a stalemate, Russo sure Estrange wouldn’t allow Ballard to fall into a state unconsciousness. If that happened, his bargaining chip would be lost. Under the threat of the gun, Russo understood he would become Estrange’s only hope of escape, taken as a hostage, Russo preferring it that way; it would put Chris out of danger.

Ballard’s eyes closed, his hands falling back to his sides. Almost too late, Estrange relaxed his grip, Ballard’s head falling to the side, his body becoming limp. A sudden intake of oxygen, Ballard breathing again, eyes snapping open, his knees locking back into position.

“I underestimated you, Detective Russo.”

“Easy thing to do.”

“I’m afraid, I’m going to have to be more forceful,” said Estrange. “This will be unfortunate for both Sergeant Ballard and me. I didn’t want to reveal my intentions so early . . . but you give me no choice.”

Estrange lowered the gun, barrel travelling the length of Ballard’s back, coming to rest at his side.

“No,” said Russo, understanding coming quickly. Breath caught in his throat, he reached toward his colleague and friend, his movements too late, his efforts futile, unable to stop a bullet.

Estrange turned Ballard’s body, the detective still recovering from the lack of oxygen, unaware of what was about to happen. Russo now out of the line of fire, Estrange pulled the trigger.

The gunshot was loud, the sound echoing through the room. Flesh and blood exploded outward, the bullet exiting Ballard’s body through the front, on his right side, close to the hip. A gasp of surprise escaped Ballard’s lips. The pain arriving a few moments later, Ballard tried to move away from its source. His knees collapsed; body becoming pliable, limp with shock. With a strength you couldn’t see, Estrange held the detective, arm wrapped around his chest, fingers digging into Ballard’s side, keeping him up on unsteady legs.

The blood began to flow, a stain of red spreading out on the front of Ballard’s white shirt. Not a fatal injury but a painful one, shock and blood loss the only threat . . . unless too much time passed without medical attention; time no longer on Ballard’s side.

A warning given and clearly understood.

“The chair,” said Estrange.

Expression full of concern and worry, Russo nodded. An unspoken understanding passed between the two men, Russo agreeing to do what Estrange told him. Not wanting his actions taken the wrong way, more injury inflicted as a result, Russo held up his hands and moved slowly toward the chair. He leant over, picking it up and carried it to the corner of the room. Turning the chair so its back faced the room, he put the chair down, a soft scrape of sound when it touched the floor.

Estrange moved to the right, dragging Ballard along with him, creating space between himself and the second chair. Ballard put a hand against the wound in his side, breath harsh as he pressed the palm against the injury. It wasn’t enough, blood creeping through the gaps in his fingers, overflowing and dripping to floor; a blood trail left as Estrange pulled him across the room.

“Now this one,” said Estrange. “In front of the other one, back to back.”

“Johnny,” said Ballard. “Don’t . . .”

Estrange’s response was quick, snapping his forearm up, striking Ballard beneath the chin, forcing the detective’s head up and back; Ballard’s eye contact with Russo lost in the process. The back of Ballard’s head rested on Estrange’s shoulder.

Words whispered, so only Ballard could hear, Estrange said, “Don’t be a hero, kid. I’m going to die here today. The question is do you want to die with me? I have no qualms about killing you or your friend.”

Russo held his breath, straining to hear Estrange's words, the pounding of his heart, the blood rushing past his ears making it difficult. He could only guess, Estrange attempting to scare Chris. It wouldn’t work; Ballard not easily frightened. The kid consisted of a calm strength, an understanding of the risk that came with the job. Russo couldn’t think that way; the risk should have been his alone. He had made the mistake, not Chris.

Ballard swore, profanity colorful, unexpected.

“The chair,” said Estrange, arm returning to its original position across Ballard’s chest.

Ballard lowered his head, the movement slow, awkward. His gaze found Russo once more. Russo could see the defiance in Chris’s eyes, expression demanding co-operation. Chris wanted him to make a move. Russo stepped around the table, taking the second chair. An idea crossed his mind, his gaze searching for the weapon. It wasn’t within sight, the knowledge telling him the gun was still against Chris’s back. Again, Russo shook his head. Ballard was injured, his body weak with pain and shock. If Russo did do something, he couldn’t be sure that Chris was able to follow through. The risk too strong, if Russo made a wrong move . . .

He had no choice . . . Russo moved back, bouncing into the corner of the table. He stopped, taking a moment to steady his nerves. Taking a deep breath, he placed the chair in front of the other and moved away, back toward the door, the bars on the other side of the small room.

“Hand cuff yourself to the bars,” said Estrange.

Making a second attempt, Ballard said, “Don’t.”

“I’m can’t to do that,” said Russo.

“I’m not giving you a choice.”

“They’re going to come through that door at any moment.”

“No,” said Estrange, “they’re not. They will hear the gunshot and when they come running, they’ll see a closed door. What will that tell them, Johnny?”

Russo frowned. This man understood too much. He refused to respond. Russo knew he was no longer in control but he wasn’t going to admit it, not to this man.

“Yes, I can see it written all over your face,” said Estrange. “A single gunshot. The door closed. The two cops still inside. They’ll know you’re no longer in charge. They may even suspect one of you is injured and they’re not going to risk further injury by barging into the room.

“Now, the kid here is getting heavy, so . . . handcuff your hand to the bars, please.”

Russo looked at Ballard, unable to make contact, Ballard’s gaze drifting. Sweat formed on Ballard’s face, a slow trickle of moisture running down the side of his face, pain etched in his features. The blood still flowed, too much blood, the stain spreading, covering a wide area, the shirt becoming soaked. Time was already running short. Russo reached behind his back, pulling his cuffs from the attachment on the band of his trousers and handcuffed his right hand to the bars.

Estrange lifted his right hand, revealing the gun. He tapped the weapon against the side of Ballard’s face and said, “Now you, kid. Cuff your hands behind your back.”

“No,” said Ballard.

Letting out a sigh of frustration, Estrange said, “Detective Russo, if you don’t mind.”

“Chris,” said Russo. “Do what he says. The sooner you begin to co-operate, the sooner we can get you out of here.”

Ballard stared back at Russo. Was that disappointment in Ballard’s eyes? Russo couldn’t be sure. Ballard shook his head, slow, methodical, the request refused.

Estrange laughed, “He’s got more courage than you, Johnny. I like that in a man. He’s got my respect.”

“But not you’re compassion,” said Russo.

“No,” said Estrange. “Not my compassion.”

In a fit of anger, Estrange pushed Ballard to the table, and in a repetitive move, forced Ballard’s upper body down. Body weak, Ballard found it difficult to fight back, body bending without much resistance. The majority of his upper body hit the table, wound on his side making contact with the edge; air forced from his lungs, the rush of air carried a cry of pain.

Russo wanted to close his eyes, turn his head away. He didn’t want to watch, but he couldn’t break his gaze. He could see the hurt in Chris’s eyes, his face heavy pain, jaw clenched tight. The sight of Ballard’s ineffective attempts to fight back, too weak to do enough to protect himself, caused Russo’s own anger to grow. He could do nothing to stop Estrange, knowing his words would not be helpful, the man past the point of caring . . . Russo watched, hoping Estrange caused as little damage as possible.

Estrange kicked at Ballard’s right leg, widening the detective’s stance, weight shifting from Ballard’s legs to his chest. His hand on the back of Ballard’s head, Estrange continued to push down, holding Ballard in the same position. Estrange placed his gun in the back of his trousers.

An idea, Estrange distracted, no longer watching Russo. Uncertain if he would have enough time, Russo reached into the pocket on the right side of his trousers, use of his left hand making it difficult. He searched the pocket, sure the key to the handcuffs were there. He twisted his arm, stretching his fingers. He felt the cold steel beneath . . .

“Detective Russo,” said Estrange. “Your left hand where I can see it, please. Now!”

The attempt a failure, Russo removed his hand, letting it fall to his side, the key still in his pocket. He let out the breath that had caught in his throat, a deep sigh of disappointment . . . in himself, in his inability to keep Chris safe.

Putting his hand beneath Ballard’s jacket, Estrange removed the handcuffs, holding them up in front of his face. He dropped the cuffs on the table, close to Ballard. Gripping the detective’s right hand, he pulled it behind Ballard’s back, not gentle with his efforts. Ballard grunted, swore . . .

Picking up the cuffs once more, Estrange snapped the metal around Ballard’s wrist, closing the metal band tight, pinching the skin. He took Ballard’s other hand, pulling it back, enclosing the wrist, Ballard’s hands now successfully restrained.

Estrange leaned over Ballard, so close, his own body keeping Ballard down and said, “If you disobey me again, Detective, I will end you.”

Taking a handful of clothing, Estrange pulled Ballard back up; a large smear of blood left behind and pushed him toward the corner, dropping him into the chair that faced the room. Estrange straddled the chair behind Ballard, the detective between Estrange and the rest of the room, a protective barrier. Estrange reached behind Ballard, taking his wrists and pulling his arms up, forcing Ballard forward, bending him at the waist. Lifting the detective’s arms over the back of the chair, Estrange pulled Ballard upright, dropping his wrists, the hard metal of the cuffs banging against the back of the chair. Ballard’s head hung low, his face hidden from Russo, his breathing erratic.

Estrange smiled, and said, “Now, call the man in charge. I know he’s out there. Tell him to come in . . . Tell him to come in alone.”

Russo hesitated, not wanting to bring a third man into the situation, another hostage taken, too much advantage given to Estrange. Looking at Chris, face still hidden, Russo was no longer sure Ballard was still conscious. Shifting he gaze, Russo found Estrange staring back at him; waiting. Russo decided to take a chance, the opportunity available . . . anything to get Chris out of the room.

“Why don’t you let Detective Ballard go,” said Russo. “Captain Holbrook will take his place.”

Estrange shook his head and said,” I’m going to tell you the same thing, Johnny. In case, you didn’t hear. If you disobey me, I will kill Detective Ballard . . . send him on his way . . . sooner than planned.”

Heart skipping a beat, Russo couldn’t find his voice. He could feel a tremor of anxiety, the emotion taking a firm hold. He knew without a doubt, Estrange wasn’t making a threat . . . it was a promise. Taking a deep breath, an attempt to calm his nerves, Russo took a moment . . . it was a moment too long.

Patience running thin, Estrange grabbed a handful of Ballard’s hair, pulling the detective’s head back, revealing hazel eyes full of pain. He placed the barrel of the gun against Ballard’s right temple, too much pressure, nowhere for Ballard to go. Ballard closed his eyes, a furrow of pain written on his forehead . . .

“Captain Holbrook!” said Russo, not willing to reveal Holbrook’s first name. “Come in. Alone.”

Estrange smiled, anger leaving his body, the emotion making a slow retreat. He lowered his right hand, the gun falling out of sight. But he kept a tight grip, fingers still tangled in Ballard’s hair, keeping Ballard’s head back, the detective’s face available for viewing; Estrange displaying his work like a piece of art.

Ballard’s chest rose and fell, diaphragm in rapid movement, his breath quick, harsh. He was pale, pain draining the color from his flesh. His eyes were still open, his gaze restless . . . searching . . .

Russo heard the lock disengaging, watched the door open, swinging toward the right side of the room, hiding Estrange and Chris. Captain Holbrook stood in the doorway, a group of armed uniformed police officers behind him.

Russo made eye contact with Holbrook. Difficult to keep his gaze steady, guilt a strong emotion, Russo quickly glanced to the right side of the room. Holbrook nodded in understanding. Nothing more Russo could do, he leaned back against the bars, the support uncomfortable and waited.

Holbrook stepped further into the room, posture stiff, unsure, body turning to the right, facing the corner . . . He stopped; a jerking motion, surprise keeping him still. Left hand resting on the door handle, Holbrook lifted the forefinger, moving it left to right, a sweeping motion . . . a signal given and understood.

“Close the door,” said Estrange.

A simple command, difficult to follow when your brain is still catching up; Holbrook taking too long.

Knowing Estrange would react, taking his anger out on Chris if Holbrook didn’t respond immediately, Russo said, “Estrange has a short tempter and very little of patience.”

To prove the point, Estrange pulled Ballard’s head even further back, stretching his neck, tendons pulled tight . . . too tight. Ballard’s body moved in the chair, shoes scraping against the floor, legs pushing upward, an attempt to alleviate the strain on his neck, his efforts weak. Ballard groaned, the sound, long and deep, escaping through a clenched jaw.

Holbrook closed the door, slamming it shut, displaying his own anger. He took a step closer to Estrange, stopping when Estrange lifted his right hand, the gun now cocked, the revolver taking aim, moving toward Ballard. Holbrook frowned when Ballard flinched away, unable to turn his head, Estrange keeping him in place. The red indentation in Ballard’s temple explained the detective’s reaction. A circular mark, a bruise already born . . . a light purple beginning to darken, a scrape of skin, a speckle of blood. Holbrook lowered his gaze . . . so much more blood below . . .

“Step back,” said Estrange.

Taking a step back, Holbrook said, “What do you want?”

Estrange let go, fingers flexing, stretching, and said, “No offer to swap places with the kid?”

Slumping into the chair, Ballard tried to lift his head, the effort too much, not enough strength left in his body. He spoke, the words whispered, his voice dry . . . hard to understand. He swallowed, something catching, a cough torn from his throat. Pain pulled him forward, body curling inward, his arms caught behind the chair. Estrange gripped his shoulder, pulling Ballard back against the chair. Head slumped forward, breath out of control Ballard struggled to find a way through the pain.

“Let him go,” said Holbrook. “I’ll stay in his place.”

“That wasn’t hard . . . was it?”

A voice full of pain, a whisper, “No.”

“Kid is too stubborn for his own good,” said Estrange. “What do you think it will take to make him cower?”

“It would take a lot more than anything you could do,” said Holbrook.

“I’m capable of a lot of things.”

“What do you want?”

“I want time.”

Russo shook his head. Time was the one thing they didn’t have, Ballard already running out . . . a memory; words spoken early in the interview crawled slowly into the peripheral of Russo’s mind. A reason, an explanation beginning to form, not yet able to make a connection, the thought slipping away. Russo fought to remember . . . I’ll die first . . . It wasn’t enough. The situation not so desperate that Estrange would put the gun to his own head.

Or you will . . .

No. If he wanted Russo dead . . . the shot easily taken . . . Russo right there in front of Estrange. It was something else. Something that mattered, a reason that would explain everything . . . a reason that would explain Estrange’s violence toward Ballard. Russo stopped fighting it, relaxing his mind. It would come to him . . . the sooner the better, Chris’s life at stake.

“Time?” said Holbrook. “Time to do what exactly.”

“I want your men to stay out of this room. If they try to force their way in, I’ll kill him,” said Estrange, tapping the gun against the back of Ballard’s head. “I have nothing to lose.”

“He’ll do it, Captain,” said Russo.

“I believe him,” said Holbrook.

“Good. Now that we have an understanding . . . leave.”

“At least allow a doctor to come in to see to Detective Ballard.”

A slow, deliberate movement, the gun changing hands. Using his right hand, Estrange dug his fingers into the wound on Ballard’s side. The effect immediate; Ballard’s head snapped up. Estrange moved his own body out of the way, giving Ballard room. A strength born out of pain, Ballard struggled to move away, shifting to the left, not going far. A few seconds, his struggles decreasing, weakness taking over once again. He fell forward, cuffed hands keeping his body on the chair. He lifted his right leg, curling it upward . . . No longer able to keep quiet, Ballard cried out, the scream saying so much . . . too much.

“Let him go!” said Russo.

“Too late,” said Estrange, a smile of enjoyment on his face.

Ballard stopped moving, his body slumping forward. Estrange took his shoulder, pulling Ballard upright, the detective’s head falling back, landing on Estrange’s shoulder. Estrange removed his hand, flicking his wrist, a splatter of blood appearing on the wall, the floor. No words needed, Estrange nodded toward the door.

Holbrook moved to the door and opened it. He paused, no more risk of pain to Ballard, the detective unconscious, Holbrook said, “You came into this room as a suspected killer. You’re going to leave it guilty of attempted murder.”

“It won’t be ‘attempted’ if you don’t leave,” said Estrange.

Holbrook walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Estrange placed a hand on the back of Ballard’s head, pushing the detective away, Ballard’s head falling forward. Estrange stood up and stepped away from the chair, stretching his legs. He wiped his hand on his trouser leg, removing as much blood as he could. Lifting his hand in front of his face, fingers stained with blood, Estrange wore an expression of disgust.

“I hate getting my hands dirty.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” said Russo.

“I did what needed to be done.”

“He’s going to die if he doesn’t get help.”

“He’s got plenty of time.”

Russo couldn’t look at Chris, the sight of his friend left Russo with a feeling of helplessness. He couldn’t help Ballard, not physically . . . maybe there was another way. If he could get Estrange to talk, reveal his plan . . . conversation was all Russo had left.

“How did you get the gun into the room?”

“The officer who searched me wasn’t very thorough.”

Estrange began to pace the room, distance short, not long until he had to change direction. He held the gun by his side, finger resting against the trigger. He was calm, body language oozing confidence. His stride long, he reached the end of the room, turned, and made his way back . . . toward Ballard.

“We’re you expecting us?”

“Yes. I made a mistake,” said Estrange. “An error of judgment. Much like you did when you told the kid to give me a cigarette.”

“The kid has a name.”

Estrange shrugged, and said, “I’m not interested in his name. He’s a means to an end.”

“Why didn’t you use me as your means to an end?”

“Because you put the kid right in front of me,” said Estrange, walking around the table back to Ballard. He ran his fingers through the detective’s hair. “How could I resist.”

He was right. Ballard was supposed to stay in the background, only coming forward if needed. Russo had changed that, taking the interrogation down the wrong road. Now, Ballard was front and center, the focus of Estrange’s attention, a pawn in a plan Russo didn’t understand. This was Russo’s fault . . .

“How does it end,” said Russo.

“With his death,” said Estrange, resting his hand on the back of Ballard’s neck.

“Captain Holbrook won’t let that happen.”

“No, he won’t”

“If you want to kill one of us,” said Russo. “Why don’t you just do it?”

“Where’s the enjoyment in that?”

“Is that what this is about? You want your fun . . .”

Estrange moved quickly, stepping toward Russo but not too close, keeping out of Russo’s reach. He pointed a finger and said, “What I want is no concern of yours . . . Johnny. You have no further part in my plan.”

“Then why am I here?”

Estrange turned away, leaving the question unanswered. He was watching Ballard, waiting . . .

“You killed those men,” said Russo. “Didn’t you?”

“You know I did.”

“No, I didn’t know. We didn’t have any proof, only a bluff.”

Estrange turned, his back to Ballard, “Then you had no knowledge of my mistake.”

“No,” said Russo, shaking his head. “We didn’t.”

Tossing his head back, Estrange let out a deep, vibrating laugh. He couldn’t stop, body shaking. He bent forward, hands on his knees, gun almost falling from his grasp. He stumbled, grabbing onto the table to stop himself from falling. Gaining control, he stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes.

“What’s so funny,” said Russo.

“This,” said Estrange, waving his hand, pointing at Ballard, at Russo. “All of this . . . it was for nothing. If I had called your bluff, I would have walked out of here a free man.”

“Call it another mistake.”

“Call it one of many, Johnny. I’m getting too old for this. Violence . . . you can only do it for so long. Someone younger, stronger will come along. I do not intend to lose a fight. Fall to my knees in front of another man. I’ve seen men fall, Johnny. Men who begged for mercy I wasn’t willing to give. When I go . . . It will be quick.”

Russo stepped away from the bars. He could feel the sweat on the back of his shirt, the material sticking to his skin. His knees were stiff, the joints cracking as he moved. He watched Estrange; the expression on the man’s face . . . things quickly came together for Russo, pieces of the puzzle falling into place. Estrange was certain a death will occur. But he wasn’t referring to Ballard. He was talking of his own death. The man wanted to die; death by cop.

“You’re a coward,” said Russo. “That’s why you want more time. You’re trying to gather enough courage . . . you hurt Chris . . . you keep hurting him to make us angry. You want a cop angry enough to want to kill you, to pull the trigger.”

“Hurting him won’t be enough . . .”

The words a physical slap, Russo decided he could wait no longer, Estrange’s threat taking away any choice he might have had. He was taking a big risk but he no longer cared. If Estrange wanted to die, let it be now and not at a time of his own choosing. Russo began a second search for the key to the handcuffs. He turned his shoulder, his hips moving with him. He pulled at the metal bracelet keeping him cuffed to the bars. Pain bit at skin.

“If you remove a key from your pocket,” said Estrange. “I will kill him now.”

“No you won’t. You need him.”

Estrange stepped back toward Ballard, his movements quick. He stopped beside the detective and placed the barrel of the gun against the back of Ballard’s head. Ballard moved beneath the touch, tilting his head away.

“I’m getting tired of seeing you do that,” said Russo. “If you want to die so badly, put the damn gun to your own head!”

“You said it yourself, Johnny. I don’t have the courage.”

Fingers finding the key, Russo turned his head. If he couldn’t see what he was doing, afraid he would drop the key . . . if it fell out of reach . . . Pain exploded in the back of his skull. His legs stumbled, his balance shifting. Automatic reaction, he pulled his hand from his pocket, palm reaching for the back of his head. The key fell from his fingers. He looked down, a leg filling his vision; Estrange kicking the key away. Escape was lost. He turned around in time to see Estrange back away from him; gun turned in his hand, grip holding the barrel. Estrange had hit him with the butt of the gun.

“You won’t stop me, Johnny.”

Ballard moved, his head lifting, narrowed gaze searching. Noticing Estrange on the other side of the room, Ballard tried to get up; a wasted effort, his body lacking the strength, his legs collapsing beneath him. His head lolled on his shoulders, unable to stay upright, falling back. He stared up at the ceiling, an expression of confusion settling across his features.

“Look who’s awake.”

Estrange moved back to the corner, straddling the chair behind Ballard once again. Estrange reached forward with his hand, placing the palm on Ballard’s forehead. Ballard turned his head, Estrange’s hand moving with him.

“His skin is clammy,” said Estrange. “Shock.”

Ballard blinked, his lids heavy, difficult to keep his eyes open. Hand changing position, Estrange pressed the palm against Ballard’s chest, above the detective’s heart.

“His heart is beating too fast.”

“He needs medical attention,” said Russo, knowing Estrange would only shut him down.

Ignoring Russo, Estrange turned Ballard’s head, the detective facing the wall. Estrange leaned over him, face against the curve of Ballard’s throat. Estrange breathed deeply, a smile of satisfaction growing.

“If I wait any longer, he isn’t going to be aware. He won’t know what’s happening . . . he won’t know he’s dying.”

Russo watched from the other side of the room, unable to do anything. His thoughts wandered, his imagination a dangerous thing, images of what Estrange had in mind for Ballard flashing through his mind. He pushed the thoughts, the images to the side; he couldn’t think that way.

“You don’t need him. If you open the door and raise your gun,” said Russo. “They will shoot you.”

“No,” said Estrange, turning Ballard’s head back, the detective’s gaze roaming, unfocused. Estranged sat back, his hands in his lap. “I would feel . . . cheated.”

“How?”

“I’ve put a plan in motion. If I change it now . . . it would be the same as falling to my knees. No. I won’t do that.”

“It’s not the same. If you aim your gun at an armed officer--”

“Enough!” said Estrange, his voice loud. “I’ll not argue this point any longer. I made my choice. I will not deviate from my plan.”

“Then don’t use Chris. Use me.”

Estrange shook his head, “If I do that, I would have to start back at the beginning. You’re too healthy; too much fight still in you. The situation isn’t desperate enough for someone to shoot me to save your life.”

“That’s what you’re going to do,” said Russo. “You’re going to wait until Chris is near death and then invite a police officer into the room . . .”

“I don’t think I want to wait that long . . . not anymore. The kid is ready . . . and I’m ready to die.”

Estrange placed the gun in his lap. He reached around Ballard, fingers searching for and finding the small knot in the thin black tie the detective wore. Tugging at the material, he loosened the knot, creating more length, enough room to adjust its position. Pulling up the collar of Ballard’s shirt, he lifted the tie up over the collar. Slowly, carefully . . . he moved the tie, turning it, an inch at a time, until the knot rested on the back of Ballard’s neck . . . a makeshift garrotte. With care, a contradiction to his use of violence, Estrange folded the collar back to its original form, patting it down.

The black tie, an ugly contrast against Ballard’s pale skin . . .

“No . . .” said Russo, mind desperately trying to find the right words, nothing worthwhile standing out. “Don’t . . . please.”

“Johnny,” said Ballard, body shifting, an attempt to get up.

Fingers of his left hand wrapping around the knot of the tie, Estrange took a strong grip, pulling Ballard back. Ballard froze, his eyes wide, the noose around his neck recognized for what it was. Chris wasn’t a stupid man; he understood. Estrange’s actions revealing his intent.

“Call him in, Johnny,” said Estrange. “Tell Holbrook to come in.”

“No,” said Ballard.

Finding strength from deep within, Ballard began to fight back. He lifted his leg, placing the heel against the wall, the position creating leverage, a respectable attempt to push himself, the chair, over onto the floor. The right side of the chair began to move, two legs separating from the floor, Ballard’s efforts doubling as a result. Ballard began to fall . . . the noose pulling against his neck, taking the breath from his lungs.

Estrange was quick, lifting his left leg, wrapping it around the chair . . . around Ballard’s side, his waist and pushed against the detective’s momentum, the chair slamming back onto the floor. Heel digging into Ballard’s hip, the wound, Estrange forced a slumped Ballard back up into the chair. Noose no longer tight, the detective breathed deep . . . quick, his lungs hungry, the pain creasing his features.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Estrange. “The kid’s got more left in him than I thought. I like him. I would have been honoured to beat the life out of him in a back alley.”

“He wouldn’t fall to his knees and beg for mercy,” said Russo. “Chris isn’t weak . . . not the way you like them.”

“Weak enough now, though. Isn’t he, Johnny?”

“Physically. Not mentally. He’ll fight you all the way, Derek.”

Estrange nodded, accepting Russo’s words for truth, “It’s time, Johnny. Tell them to come in.”

Russo shook his head. He wasn’t going to fall to his knees, give Estrange what he wanted. Not anymore. He wasn’t going to beg for mercy, not to this man. He still had plenty left; like Chris, he decided to fight Estrange for as long as possible . . . until there was no choice left . . .

“No.”

“Don’t disobey me, Johnny,” said Estrange. “You know what I’ll do.”

“Then do it.”

Estrange pulled on the noose, the tie digging deep, biting into flesh.

Ballard’s breath caught in his throat, unable to take another. Lungs already weak, he began to struggle beneath Estrange’s embrace, legs kicking against the floor, the chair. His hands gripped the back of Estrange’s chair . . . he fought with everything he had left but he couldn’t escape the death wrapped around his throat.

“Call them in. Now!”

“No.”

Another stalemate. This time, Russo hoped Estrange would give in first.

He didn’t. The noose still tight, Ballard unable to breath.

“No.”

“You give me no choice, Johnny.”

Estrange threw the gun toward Russo, the revolver landing within reach. Russo looked down at the gun, the sound of Ballard choking loud in the small room, the sound tearing through him. He closed his eyes. Everything had gone so wrong. He hoped . . . expected, Estrange to stop, not willing to kill Ballard until someone was pointing a loaded gun in his direction. How could he have been so wrong? He looked back up.

Ballard’s struggles were becoming weak, his body twitching, his eyes closing; fear no longer available to Estrange. The man was watching Chris, not Russo, his concentration focused on one thing. He now gripped the noose with both hands . . . if Russo didn’t act . . . Chris would die.

Russo picked up the gun, the weight familiar.

Ballard stopped moving, body collapsing, death hovering.

Estrange snapped, “He doesn’t have any time left, Johnny. He’s going to stop breathing at any moment. Do you want to be responsible for his death?”

Russo didn’t want to kill this man. Didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. He should call Holbrook back into the room. Let his boss . . . Holbrook would come in alone . . . unarmed, too much time taken to get a weapon.

There was no time left.

Russo raised the gun and pulled the trigger.

Estrange’s head snapped back, a small bullet hole in his forehead, the small calibre bullet bouncing around in his skull, not enough force for it to exit out the back. Grip slacking on the noose, fingers still wrapped around the tie . . .

Ballard took a breath, death leaving him behind.

Russo slumped against the bars, the gun now a heavy weight. So close . . .

“Matt!”

The door swung open. Holbrook looked at Russo, taking notice that Russo wasn’t hurt. Pushing the door further open, Holbrook stopped, taking in the sight in front of him, before crossing the room, reaching Ballard’s side. He pulled the noose from Estrange’s lifeless fingers. The knot too tight, Holbrook couldn’t create enough room to remove the tie from Ballard’s neck.

“Get the medics in here,” said Holbrook, not taking his eyes off Ballard.

“Uncuff me,” said Russo, arm reaching out to the uniformed officer standing in the doorway.

Impatient to be free, Russo struggled, making his release more difficult. Seconds past. The bracelet broke open. Pulling his wrist free, Russo passed the gun to the officer, taking the handcuff key from him and quickly made his way to Ballard, forcing his way past the two medics who had entered the room. He lent over Chris, putting both hands against the detective’s face, a palm on each cheek.

Unresponsive, Ballard remained still; rise and fall of his chest, shallow and quick, the only movement, a demonstration of life. Russo took notice of the warmth beneath his hands, a flush of heat breaking through skin clammy with shock.

“Help me get him on the floor,” said Russo, pulling the chair away from the body of Estrange, the movement limited.

The chair difficult to move, Russo looked behind Ballard, at the space between the two chairs. Ballard had a tight grip on Estrange’s chair . . . a death grip. Russo lowered his head, wiping his face with his hand, taking a moment, his emotions on the verge of taking control.

“Johnny?”

Gently, Russo untangled Ballard’s fingers, removing the grip. Once free, he pulled Ballard away from the man who had caused so much pain, Ballard’s feet dragging across the floor. Using the key, Russo removed the cuffs, Ballard’s arms falling to his side, a slow swaying movement.

Each man taking an arm, they lifted Ballard from the chair, lowering him to the floor. A hand on Ballard’s forehead, Russo could feel the rising panic, the emotion choking him from within . . .

“Johnny,” said Holbrook, taking Russo’s arm, pulling him away. “Let the medics take care of him.”

Russo looked up. Holbrook stared back at him; no anger, no blame. Nodding, Russo stood up . . . there was nothing more he could do. He stepped back out of the way, making room but staying close, ready in case Chris needed him. A few moments later, adrenaline sneaking out the back door, Russo collapsed, Holbrook taking his arm once more, leading him to the empty chair, sitting him down. Russo leaned forward, elbows on his knees, head resting in the palms of his hands. He closed his eyes . . . snapping them back open, images of a dying Ballard . . .

“Johnny . . .” said Holbrook. “What happened?”

“Death by cop,” said Russo.

He couldn’t say anymore, not ready to go into detail. Ballard his only focus, Russo lifted his head and turned to watch. Their movements too quick for him to follow, the medics worked on Ballard. A third medic entered the room, a stretcher his only luggage. Within seconds, they had the detective secured, strapped down. Gaze following, Russo watched as they began to take Ballard from the room. Russo stood, moving with them, his intention to stay with Ballard. He took Chris’s hand, the young detective’s fingers slack, cold.

“Wait,” said Russo. “Take that tie off him.”

A hand at his elbow, Russo pulled away, back toward the table, forced down into the chair, a firm grip on his shoulders keeping him in place. He felt restricted, kept away from his friend . . . just as Estrange had kept him away. Russo stood up, pushing through the restriction.

“Johnny!” said Holbrook, his voice holding a tone of authority.

“I have to go with him.”

“We’ll go to the hospital,” said Holbrook, sitting on the edge of the table. “But first, I need you tell me what happened.”

“I have to go with Chris,” said Russo. “You didn’t see what that man did to him, Matt.”

“I saw some of it.”

“Not enough . . .”

Russo turned his head, enough time to watch the medics leave the room, stretcher between them, Ballard’s pale and bruised face disappearing from his view. He couldn’t stay here . . .

“I have to go with him, Matt.”

“Not until I know you’re okay.”

“I almost killed him.”

“Johnny . . .” said Holbrook.

“No,” said Russo. “I made a mistake.”

Holbrook frowned, “What do you mean.”

“Estrange asked for a cigarette before we started. I thought he was willing to co-operate. I thought if I agreed . . . Chris didn’t trust him . . . it was my fault, Matt. It was my fault Chris got so close to him.”

“It doesn’t matter how it started, Johnny. If you said no, Estrange would have found another way.”

Russo nodded. Matt was right.

Estrange had a plan already formed, a way to escape life in prison. It would have happened one way or another. Russo sure, he had been Estrange’s intended victim . . .

. . . because you put the kid right in front of me . . .

. . . Russo wishing it had been the other way, his own body inflicted with Estrange’s violence instead of Ballard.

“I’m okay, Matt,” said Russo. “I just need to be with Chris. I don’t want him waking up alone. Not after . . .”

“All right,” said Holbrook, giving in, standing up and stepping back. “I don’t want you driving. Get someone to take you. I have to stay here. Call me. Keep me up to date on Chris’s condition. Can you do that, Johnny?”

Russo nodded, eager to leave.

“I’ll meet you at the hospital after I’ve finished here. But I’m going to need a report, Johnny. We need to know what happened in this room.”

Standing up, legs weak with anxiety and concern, Russo walked away, leaving the room. Pausing at the door, he glanced toward the corner of the room. Estrange was still in the chair, a grimace, much like a smile on his face. Estrange was dead, but Russo wasn’t sure it was over. He knew Chris would heal physically but he wondered if Estrange had done enough to cause Ballard to cower beneath any further inflictions of violence . . .


The End.



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