Darren, a DC Metro police detective, has had a terrible day at work and is contemplating what to do to get a difficult case out of his head, when Paige calls. Paige is a good friend, and was his best friend Clint’s fiancee before Clint was killed in Afghanistan. Darren knows he should probably do something else to relieve his stress, but when Paige calls, he can’t say no.
He’d been coming off a pretty messed up shift when Paige called, and thinking about whether he might not stop at the liquor store on the way home. Some cases were like that—they could drive you right into the bottle, and this had been one of them. A thirteen-year old girl who lived with her mother in the Southeast quadrant of the city had blown off her uncle’s head with a 9mm. When Darren responded to the scene, with his partner, Cutty, they found a social worker with a skinny little kid who looked more like a ten-year old, sitting on the tattered couch in the front room, hands clasped between her legs, dressed only in panties and an undershirt, a blanket over her shoulders.
There were specks of blood on her clothing, and notably on the front of her underwear as well, which meant that she was already partially undressed when the shooting took place. In the kitchen, a couple of uniformed officers were talking to her hysterical mother who was explaining how unsurprised she was that her daughter had done something like this because “ain’t nobody can tell her nuthin’”. When Darren and Cutty had gone into the back bedroom to see the deceased, they found him sprawled backward across the bed, also partially undressed, but looking as though someone had tried to drag his pants back up. His head had been blown almost clean off.
Darren and Cutty had looked at each other and shook their heads. A rookie with only one day on the job could’ve figured it out. This dead motherfucker was probably no more that kid’s uncle than Darren was the Man in the Moon. And a physical examination of the skinny, scared little girl in the next room would undoubtedly reveal that she had had intercourse in the recent past. And Mom would turn out to be yet another degenerate druggie who pimped her kid out to various “uncles” over time. But until all of that came out in the course of an investigation—as Darren had no doubt it would—he and Cutty would have to take this kid in like a common criminal and treat her piece-of-shit mother like a “witness”. And that’s what they did.
Darren had been walking out of the stationhouse, heading for his truck and trying to get out of his head the expression on the little girl’s face when they put her in the back of the car—the wide-eyed fear when she looked at him, just another big man who would hurt her—when Paige called.
“Feel like dressing up and coming to a thing with me?” Paige asked as soon as he answered.
His choices at the moment were limited. Either go over to Trey’s and hang out, crawl into a bottle, or see what ‘thing’ Paige was talking about. Trey’s was always an option because no matter when—day or night—he dropped by, his boy knew to open the door and ask no questions. And even now that he was all loved-up with Shayla, his former tenant turned girlfriend, that hadn’t changed. In fact, Shayla was part of the draw for Darren—funny, happy, all the things he needed right about now.
The bottle had it’s benefits too, because then for a few hours of stupor, he would forget that he lived in a world where adults let other adults fuck children for money. But Paige was someone he hadn’t learned how to say ‘no’ to, and being in her company still trumped all else. So he told her he’d meet her in a couple hours and asked her what the dress code was.
The event she needed an escort to was a reception on Capitol Hill with the Attorney General and a few senators and congressmen. As an attorney in the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, Paige often went to things like this. She had her sights set on much bigger things career-wise and never missed an opportunity to meet the people who might help her make it happen. Darren was always more than happy to go with her because the food was good, the drinks free-flowing, and . . . because she was there.
This time, the reception was in the new Capitol Visitors’ Center, the state-of-the-art addition to the U.S. Capitol that boasted wide expansive rooms, in contrast to the hundreds-year old House and Senate buildings nearby. Darren had gone home for a quick shower and rushed back downtown, parking in Union Station and then walking over to meet Paige outside of the Visitors’ Center entrance. She extended a hand to him as he approached and Darren took in her face, flushed from the cold, and all the more fetching because of the red cocktail suit she was wearing. Paige smiled at him as she grasped his hand in her gloved one.
“You handsome devil,” she said, leaning in for a brief kiss on the cheek.
“You look good too,” Darren said.
Generally, he tried not to look too closely at Paige, because it was a dangerous path to head down. He knew all too well that he would like what he saw, and want to see more of it.
Inside, Paige made the rounds among people she knew and then, standing next to the bar, Darren watched her discreetly work her way into conversations with a couple of congressmen and the AG himself. He smiled as he sipped on his drink, admiring her drive. She’d always been that way for as long as he’d known her. In undergrad, few were the clubs that Paige didn’t want to join, the people she didn’t want to meet, the places she didn’t want to visit. One weekend, she’d dragged Darren to basically every single national monument they could hit in a 48-hour period, just so she could make sure she had squeezed every bit of history and culture out of the nation’s capital before she focused on her studying.
In those days, when he had only just met her, Darren thought she was the most fascinating creature he’d ever encountered. She kind of still was, he’d admitted to himself as he watched her. Then Paige was turning and looking about the room and finding him, extended a hand, calling him over to her.
She’d introduced him to the Attorney General of the United States, the senior senator from Maryland, and a congresswoman from Ohio.
“So are you also one of ours at DOJ?” the AG had asked.
“No,” Paige had jumped in. “As a matter of fact, Darren rejected his ivory tower work as a civil engineer to protect and serve right here in the District.”
“Ah, a cop,” the AG had said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Good, honest work.”
Darren had smiled and given some canned response, which led to a twenty-minute conversation about policing.
Afterwards, as he and Paige were leaving, he realized that he’d forgotten to think about the thirteen-year old girl the whole time, and he was thankful for that.
“Dinner?” Paige asked. “I’m buying. I appreciate you coming with me.”
“You know I’m always up for free drinks and shallow conversation,” Darren said.
Paige had looked at him. They were walking back toward Union Station, bracing against the wind.
“You always make glib comments like that,” she said shaking her head. “What’s really going on with you? While I definitely appreciate the company at the last minute like this all the time, you don’t have some nice woman somewhere waiting for you?”
“I wouldn’t have anything to offer a ‘nice woman’, Paige,” Darren said.
“Darren, that is not true,” she said. She held his hand as they dodged traffic in the circle just in front of the mammoth train station.
Inside, they opted to eat dinner at one of the restaurants right there in the station rather than take Darren’s car out and drive around the city aimlessly searching for parking on a Friday night. Sitting across the table from her in the restaurant, Darren admired Paige’s smooth, chocolate complexion, and subtle way she’d accentuated her lips. She understood the importance of being attractive without being ostentatious and did it well. She would make a great congressman or senator’s wife, Darren thought ruefully. That was the kind of life, the kind of man, Paige was destined for.
“You’re far away again,” she said, looking at him over her menu.
Paige lowered her menu and her eyes searched his.
“For a guy as funny as you often are, sometimes I think your thoughts—the ones you don’t share—must be very dark.”
She had no idea. With the shit he saw daily, it was tough not to have dark thoughts. His dark thought for the day had come when he looked at the corpse of that child rapist sprawled across the bed. Far from feeling horror at the carnage, or regret at the violent loss of human life, Darren had thought about how satisfying it would have been if the man could come back to life, just so he could personally blow his head off again.
But that was not the kind of thing you shared with a pretty woman sitting across from you in an upscale restaurant, no matter how old a friend she was. That was the kind of thing you stuffed deep down inside, or tried to make yourself forget with the help of a bottle of gin.
“I’m thinking of having the salmon,” Darren said. “How ‘bout you?”
After dinner, when he drove her home, he found that he couldn’t make himself talk and joke around the way he might normally have done. He was a little drunk, and probably shouldn’t even have been driving, but she didn’t live too far away and frankly, it wouldn’t be the first time he drove with minor impairment. Outside her building, Paige had turned in her seat to face him, reaching over to shut off the engine.
“Come in,” she said. “Let’s talk awhile.”
Darren shook his head. “Don’t feel like talking,” he said.
Paige had looked at him and smiled. “So you’ll listen then.” And then she’d taken out his key and gotten out of the truck so he had no choice but to follow her.
Upstairs, she’d changed and washed her face, the entire time talking to him almost non-stop, filling him in about some of the cases she was working on, not prompting him to respond, but just accepting his silence. Somehow she’d intuited that something was going on with him and that he probably shouldn’t be alone.
Soon she was turning out the lights, so the only one on was the lamp in her living room on the coffee table. As she spoke, Paige sat on the floor, between Darren’s legs which were spread wide as he sat on the sofa. Instinctively, he reached down and massaged her shoulders, his eyes on her long, brown legs stretched in front of her.
“You know what next week is?” she asked suddenly.
“Yeah,” Darren said right away.
The second anniversary of Clint’s death. Her fiancée, his best friend, killed by a landmine in Afghanistan at the far-too-young age of twenty-seven.
“I keep telling myself that it’s nothing to be apprehensive about,” she said. “But as it gets closer . . .” she broke off and shook her head.
Darren said nothing.
“I know it must seem silly to you,” she said.”You see death so up close and personal almost every single day. So for me to actually dread the memory of a death. And one I didn’t even have to see firsthand.”
“It’s not silly at all,” Darren said. “I dread it too.”
“Do you?” Paige turned so she was looking at him. “I mean, I know you loved him. But you seem to take everything square, right between the eyes. Absorbing every blow and just keep on going.”
“Like the Terminator?” Darren grinned.
Paige didn’t smile. Instead she shook her head. “Darren . . . don’t,” she said.
And he knew she was asking him not to cheapen the moment by making a joke out of it. Darren had opened his mouth to say something, he wasn’t sure what, when she’d unexpectedly gotten up on her knees and kissed him.
He tried to pull away, but she’d pulled him toward her with a hand on his neck and pressed even closer, her lips and tongue insistent. And he couldn’t, didn’t want to resist anymore. It felt like a dam had broken inside. Years of restraint fractured, broken beyond repair.