Fusco thinks he’s being followed by a man in a suit.
These days, he thinks this a lot.
That’s reasonable, isn’t it? After all, sometimes it’s true. Not most of the time, but every so often. Once somebody bursts into your life like that, tears down everything you thought you knew, and leaves you alone and friendless in dangerous territory, he thinks you can be forgiven for looking over your shoulder from time to time. Always looking for a man in a good suit and a dark coat lurking behind you like the specter of death.
But he’s not paranoid. Someone once said to him that it’s not paranoia if everyone actually is out to get you. Fusco’s willing to concede that not everyone is out to get him. But a few people, maybe. The criminals he used to shake down. The corrupt cops he’s trying to bust. The man in the suit.
On a bad day, he sees them in the corner of his eye every time he goes outside.
He thought today was a good day, but here he is, stuck in traffic on the way home, and he keeps spotting pieces of a dangerous man every time he glances in the rearview mirror.
Fusco likes to think he isn’t losing it. He hopes that if he does start losing it, Reese never finds out. He knows that he is definitely losing it because, stalled at a red light and breathing in exhaust fumes, he decides to call him.
“Lionel,” he says, voice smooth and untroubled. “This is a surprise.” He doesn’t sound surprised. He sounds coldly amused. Lionel wants to ask him what’s so fucking funny all the time.
Instead he asks, “Is there something you need?”
There’s a pause. Maybe he’s a little taken aback. “Something I need? You called me.”
“Yeah, ‘cause I can’t help but notice that you’ve been following me around since I left the precinct.” He adjusts his rearview mirror to look for him, thinks he catches a glimpse of him leaning against a phone booth, but when he checks again there’s no one there. “So I was wondering if maybe you needed something.”
“Good job, Lionel,” he says. There’s that edge of mockery in his voice, that condescension that makes Fusco want to fight him even though he knows he can’t. “I didn’t think you could see me. No, I’m just checking in.”
“Great, hey, here’s a thought.” Fusco rubs at his brow, fights off a headache. “Maybe next time you wonder how I’m doing, you could just call me. You know, talk to me. Instead of following me around like a serial killer.”
“It’s a nice thought, Lionel. But given your history, I’m not sure you’d be honest with me.”
“Hey, when have I ever lied to you?” he asks. There’s a long, crackling pause. Fusco hears the sounds of traffic echoing in his ear and knows that he has to be someplace close by. “Anyway, you might as well come up and talk to me if I’m just going to pick you out of the crowd every time.”
Finally, Reese asks, sounding almost innocent, like he’s just tossing out an offhand comment, “Do you really think I’ve only been following you since you left the precinct?”
A cold, solid weight settles in the pit of Fusco’s stomach.
“Have a nice evening, Lionel.” Reese hangs up.
The light changes and Fusco moves along with the flow of traffic, phone still pressed to his ear. He’s not sure what he’s listening for. Confirmation that he isn’t going crazy, maybe, that he’s not going to turn into some paranoid shut-in who can’t leave the house because there’re too many goddamn bogeymen out there.
All the way home, he checks his mirrors. He knows he won’t find anything, but he has to look.
The worst of it is, after that he keeps seeing him.
This isn’t new, not exactly. Reese always did things like this; popping up in the backseat of his car, turning up at crime scenes just to say hi, appearing out of nowhere with a quip and a threat. But never this frequently. Never without a job for him to do.
Never at this level of intense scrutiny.
Usually, he feels like he’s being tested. Like he’s being measured up as a decent human being and always, always found lacking.
(And he wants to measure up, doesn’t he? Wants it so bad it’s pathetic, cringing on his knees begging for some kind of absolution, for someone to tell him he’s doing good. Except it’s not just someone, it’s him. He wants the man in the suit to tell him he’s done the right thing; that it’s over; that he doesn’t have to hate himself anymore. Wants it so much that if he didn’t have his pride, he’d ask for it. He knows that he’ll never get it, he might never deserve it, but sometimes the aching want gets to be so terrible it keeps him up at night.)
He doesn’t feel like he’s being measured anymore. Just examined, like a bug in a jar. No judgment being made; he’s just being seen for what he is.
In some ways, that’s worse.
The tipping point comes on the day when he’s hauled into an interrogation room, one of the little dingy ones with “faulty” security cameras and blood soaked deep in the floor. He’s just dragged in as he’s walking past, and he thinks “Oh God, they know, they know,” but then he sees who has him and just thinks “Oh God, he’s insane.”
Reese pushes him back against the rough cement block wall, one hand braced against his chest, the other clamped over his mouth. He whispers harsh in his ear, “I am going to uncover your mouth, and you’re not going to say a word until you’re spoken to.”
It all happens as he predicted.
“Have a seat,” Reese says, guiding him towards the rickety metal folding chair. Fusco sits down, palms flat on the table. The tabletop is riddled with dents, and he realizes he is mimicking the perps that get dragged in here every day. He has never been on this side of things before.
Reese looms over him on the opposite side, hands mirroring Fusco’s. “You said you had HR’s major players figured out.” He leans in close across the table. “Go.”
Fusco’s jaw drops slightly. “Are you kidding me?”
“Frequently,” he says. “But not today.”
“Is there some reason we couldn’t talk about this on the phone?”
“Lionel,” he says, voice low and drawn out like a warning. He’s making Fusco dread the sound of his own name.
“I don’t know,” he continues, “It just seems like something that might have come up one of the five or ten times I called you offering this exact information.”
Reese’s head tilts slightly to one side; one of his hands curls into a fist. He looks annoyed. Fusco’s past caring.
“Or, you know, maybe if it was so fucking important that this happen in person, you could have asked me to meet you somewhere, or caught me on the way home, or met me at my apartment, since you obviously know where I live. Really, anything other than hauling me into a room where people have been murdered and scaring the shit out of me. Anything other than that would have been OK.”
Reese reaches out and seizes Fusco under the chin, forcing eye contact. He gives Fusco a very long stare, and it’s at this point that Fusco notices for the first time how tired he looks. Finally, he says, “Some days I just want to kill you and save us both the trouble. Other days, I can’t bear the thought. Why do you suppose that is?”
Fusco can’t hope to answer that. He wants to ask what kind of day today is. He wants to ask what the prevailing feeling is. Instead he asks, voice thick and harsh with disgust, “What are you, bored?”
Reese considers. “You might be right,” he says. “I might be very, very bored.”
The idea seems to profoundly unsettle the both of them.
Fusco closes his eyes, relaxes in Reese’s grip. It takes him a long while, but eventually he lets go and allows Fusco to settle back into the chair. Fusco tells him everything.
At the end of the day, he leaves his car behind. He walks, he takes the subway, he takes cabs. His route drags him through every borough, some twice. He steps off in strange places just for the hell of it, grabs dinner at a place he’s never heard of and it’s bizarre and terrible, but it’s great. What he creates is the longest, most convoluted commute ever devised by man. When he gets home at an ungodly hour, he collapses into bed and vows never to take the subway again unless he absolutely has to, which he will tomorrow because he left his fucking car.
When he gets to work the next day, there’s a goddamn flower arrangement on his desk. Not a big thing, just a handful of fat white roses in a bowl of water. There’s a card. It reads, “Thanks for trying.”
Across the desk, Carter raises an eyebrow. “You got a girlfriend, Fusco?”
He laughs a little. “No,” he says as he tears the card in half.
“Jesus Christ, I hope not.”