Julian Files, Chapter 3

Julian Files is a book set in the past of In the Company of Shadows. DO NOT READ JULIAN FILES IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED THROUGH FADE!

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR ICOS!


Julian Files by Ais

Three

Friday, June 24, 2005
Lexington, PA

“Come on, come on,” Julian muttered under his breath. “Turn…”

The sandwich bag crinkled with every shift of his ass, which had fallen asleep long ago. He longed to step out of the car and stretch until every vertebra popped, but he couldn’t until Junko fucking turned already.

Just as she started to tilt her lovely little head, the jackass who’d been courting her from the bar finally won. Junko’s whole back shifted to Julian and she was soon out of his sight as the two of them headed upstairs.

Julian scoffed and tossed his camera to the empty passenger seat. Just great. The one time he wasn’t on cheater duty he got a perfect shot. He snagged the remnants of his sandwich out of the bag and moodily chewed it, glowering out the window.

He was about to consider sleeping when he heard his phone trill. He hardly glanced at the name on the screen before bringing it up to his ear.

“Hey Fin,” he said around a mouthful.

There was a distinctly displeased pause. “I told you not to call me that.”

“What? But everyone else calls you it. You’re saying I’m not blue enough for your brotherhood? You wound me.”

He could imagine the eye roll he got out of that one.

“Were you at your office Wednesday night about 2230?”

“Depends. Am I being accused of something?”

Another obvious eye roll without a sound. The man’s silences were impressive.

“There was a rape down the block,” Finley said.

“Stranger, I take it?”

“Got it in one. I’m looking for suspect info.”

Julian balled up the wrapper and tossed it to the passenger floor. He thought back to the night as he cracked his neck, first one way and then the other. Pop, pop went his spine.

“Where exactly?”

“Alley off Claremore.”

Julian drummed his fingers on the dash. “I had a stakeout at North Ridge that night. I came by maybe 2200 to pick up some stuff but didn’t see anything at the time. Sorry, man. I can keep a lookout, though. What’d the vic say he looked like?”

“She couldn’t,” Finley said flatly. “She’s blind.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Julian growled.

Any kind of rapist was on Julian’s list of despicable people who he would love to see fucked over in court, or on the street if that was better. Any kind. It didn’t matter to Julian who the vic was; that asshole deserved castrating. The way Julian saw it, and the way he knew Finley saw it, it was bad enough hurting someone who at least had a fighting chance of getting you caught. It was especially chickenshit to prey on anyone who came into the situation with circumstances they couldn’t control that were used against them.
This definitely fell into that category.

“I want to get this asshole but I’ve got shit to go on right now,” Finley said tightly. “No way of knowing height, weight, race, age… Smoker’s voice and fast on his feet. Smelled like sweat. Strong. That’s it.”

“There’s probably a hundred guys in a five block radius that fit that description.”

“I know.”

Julian scrubbed a hand over his face and let out a harsh breath. His knees knocked up against the steering wheel. “Well, I’ll keep an eye out for general rapist assholes, then. Get you some good shots if I see anyone even remotely suspicious. You think it’s going to be a trend?”

“Yeah. I’ve been checking MOs. I think this guy’s hit before, some vulnerable adults. The others in my unit said—” Finley’s voice quaked with withheld anger before subsiding. “With the new standing orders, they don’t want to do jack all for investigations lately. Everything’s case closed exceptional first chance they get so they don’t get their asses thrown out the door or, for others, so they can sit around taking bribes all day. You know how these fuckers are—the world’s gone to shit so who cares about an extra rape or two? And the others who aren’t like that, they say to pick your battles. Tell me to let it go when I’m told to let it go, so I can stick around and solve other crimes. You know the shit they say. But fuck them, I’m finding this asshole and I’m taking him in.”

Julian did know. There was a lot of political upheaval in Lexington PD when the brass disappeared in the bombs. Bureaucracy took over and fucked up everyone’s lives. Finley had told Julian how suddenly after the bombs, the cops were told left and right how they had to drop cases even with good leads, or how they weren’t allowed to investigate some at all. Any time he asked, he was told the order came from “higher up” but no one seemed to know who, or what, that meant.

Added to that, after the bombs hit there was more crime and fewer communities that wanted to work with the cops, which meant some areas of Lexington went to shit real fast. People got paranoid from outside LPD, thought all the cops were corrupt, all the cops didn’t care, but internally there were a hell of a lot of them who weren’t corrupt, who did care. But they were silenced by their own superiors, and all the cops who were assholes who let the injustices slide got promoted higher and higher, while all the good cops who tried to fight the system were iced out no matter what they did.

Some units of LPD, Finley said, were like the Wild West. Others had good-intentioned people getting worn down by orders they didn’t understand. The bad cops were having a hell of a party in this atmosphere. Fucking up everyone’s lives right and left. The good cops learned to shut up so they could keep their jobs, still do what they could. Still try to help the people right in front of them as long as possible.

Thing was, if there was one thing Patrick Finley was, it was a good cop who refused to back down from what he thought was right, whether or not it was the popular choice.

Probably was going to get the guy killed someday.

“Well. You know I’ll help you, Sarge.”

“Good.” Finley hung up abruptly.

Julian snorted and tossed his phone on the passenger seat. Typical cop brusqueness. Just the facts, ma’am, and not even a tickle and a farewell at the end.

He decided to drive back to the office for a bit, maybe swing by the alley. He saw plenty of suspicious perps but no one who vibed as the asshole rapist. Then again, how was he to know at first glance? He’d have to stake it out a bit. Get closer, listen to voices, look for smokes. If nothing else he’d probably end up with another hooker or two to let detox in his office overnight away from their abusive (insert whatever here).

He used to try not to feel jaded about life, not to make sweeping generalizations, but he’d found it nigh impossible since the war.

The morning shift around this place had become rough in the past few years. Half of the prostitutes seemed a step away from Ferals. Some of the roughest hookers were targeted by the few businessmen who stopped for a quickie in the Barrows on the way to work, like the war never happened in their lala-land minds. How those rich bastards could pretend the city hadn’t fallen to shit around them, Julian would never know. But maybe it was easy when you still acted like your white picket fence and 2.5 kids in the elitist neighborhoods was all that mattered—and if the rest of the skyscrapers were rubble around yours then, well, that’s what those poor people got for not trying hard enough. Or not running away from the bombs fast enough.

He still gave Cedrick shit for living in Jackass Central up in Cedar Hills.

Either way, it was the people on the streets who paid the price of that arrogance. They were the ones trafficked, the ones getting hurt, the ones dying. And they were the ones who didn’t have a choice, or felt like they had no choice, and so they returned again and again to the very streets that would kill them.

Julian had seen it happen too many times to count. He’d stepped over too many bodies and walked in on too many ODs. He’d woken too many mornings to find the person he’d tried to save the night before dead on the couch.

After awhile, it was hard not to see the end game in those thousand yard stares. After awhile, it was hard to believe there would ever be another ending to that story.

The hallway was empty when he entered the building and stopped in front of his locked office door. He fumbled for his keys. Behind him, the door to Oswald Insurance, Co. made the god-awful screeching noise it made every time it opened. Mrs. Yells A Lot upstairs was probably never going to fix it, and Marie from Oswald had apparently not yet invested in a home remedy. Julian once again made a Note To Self to attack that thing with WD-40 next time he found a bottle.

He glanced over his shoulder, expecting Marie’s patted-down brown hair and Everywoman Smile, and was surprised to see a man he recognized instead. He turned around entirely to take him in.

“Investing in insurance?” Julian asked mildly.

Bell snorted and shut the door behind him. “Waiting for you to return, more like.”

The man had the best voice. Like deep velvet with just enough of a rumble for quirk. Coupled with the clear, dark eyes, wide shoulders and strong build… It could make a guy weak in the knees, if he were of that persuasion. And if Bell were too.

Pity the man wasn’t.

Julian glanced over Bell’s shoulder. “Marie let you in?”

“No, Linda.”

“Good God, your voice is the magic touch if that woman let you in.”

Bell chuckled, and goddamn that was a nice, low rumble too. The grin that flashed across his features was even brighter against his smooth, dark skin. “You just need to learn some finesse, Julian.”

I’ll show you ‘finesse,’ Julian thought, but knew enough not to say it aloud. For all that he sometimes (okay; really often) wanted to grab the man and kiss the hell out of him, he knew a straight shooter when he saw one. And his damn obnoxious schoolgirl crush on Bell was never going to go away or find fruition.

Them’s the breaks when you’re too open to gender.

Julian sighed more heavily than necessary, and turned back to his door. It was five seconds and a lot of awkward awareness of Bell’s warm presence behind him before he could get inside and acquire some space between them.

Fuck Cedrick and his literal hot ass friends, anyway.

Bell settled gracefully into the chair in front of Julian’s desk. The chair had been dragged out of a garbage years earlier and looked like shit most of the time, but Bell made it look good.

Then again, Bell made everything look good.

Julian, meanwhile, dropped his gangly ass into his rolling piece of shit chair and barely managed not to fall backward in the process. He folded his hands across his stomach and pretended that hadn’t almost happened. He was about 90% sure he was convincing.

“So, what’s up?”

“Have you seen Cedrick lately?”

Figured tall, dark and sexy was here for his friend. No one ever visited Julian just to say hi. It was always about getting this or that info from him because they knew if anyone could get it, he could. Woe was him and the life of an awesome PI.

“Not for several weeks. Why?”

A rumble of a ‘hmm.’

Fuck’s sake, man. Just bottle that shit up and sell it as pheromones, already.

“He’s been… interesting lately.”

“Like, wearing Vivienne’s finest to the ball interesting, or flipped his shit interesting?”

Bell’s lips lifted on the side; a slow burn of a smile. “I was thinking ‘a bit secretive,’ but your interpretations are interesting too.”

That’s not all that’s interesting about me. Julian wondered if that thought could be read in his smirk. He hoped it did and he hoped it flustered that fucker the way every shift of the man’s mouth did Julian.

“Have you called the guy? He’s your BFF lately. Pretty sure he’d answer.”

“Ahh, Julian. Are you jealous?”

“Maybe a little. A PI needs some love now and then, too.”

“If you need a hug, I’m right here.” Bell opened his arms and grinned.

“I’ll take a rain check and double down on the offer.”

Bell chuckled. “Increasing my offer without asking. Interesting plan.”

“Important question: is anything not interesting to you?”

Bell’s teeth flashed. “Certainly not you.”

Julian stared at him. Damn. He dropped his crossed arms onto the edge of the desk. “I give. You win.”

“What do I win?”

“My devotion and an answer, free of charge. What’s the question again?”

Bell had that small smile at first, his gaze heavy on Julian, but it faded and all the weight of his worries settled back onto him. His shoulders drooped and the lines on his face suddenly became evident. With a sigh, he leaned forward, elbows on his knees and hands folded in front of him. It was a testament to how serious Bell seemed that Julian didn’t even check out his package.

“Will you check in on Cedrick?”

“Why me?”

“Because he trusts you.”

Julian almost laughed. “Like he doesn’t trust you? Dude built a secret society of truth nerds with you, not me. If you think something strange is happening, I’d think he’d talk to you first.”

“I don’t know.” Bell’s gaze drifted, caught, drifted again, and landed on the grimy glass window to Julian’s office. The black pressed letters reading ‘JJ Investigations’ shone faintly, backwards.

Julian sighed. Let it never be said he wasn’t a sucker for a damsel or dude in distress. He dragged a pad of paper over and flicked on his favorite pen. “Fine. Give me the deets.”

“What?”

Julian watched him from beneath his eyebrows. “What’s giving you the chills?”

Bell stared at him a moment, but before Julian clarified again, Bell spoke. “I noticed at the last Guild meeting. He was late.” He saw Julian’s eyebrows quirk and nodded. “You know him. That isn’t usual. He was distracted the whole time and left the second it was over. I called him later to see if he had a new lead. He said he couldn’t talk.”

“Well,” Julian said mildly. “That’s the most alarming part right there. I usually have a hard time shutting the guy up.”

“You joke, but…”

“I know. So, anything else?”

“Little things.” The slide of Bell’s shoulders up and down was a thing of beauty. “He missed a stakeout, but he’d said ahead of time Vivienne might be gone that night and he’d have to stay with Boyd if so. I figured she’d gotten caught at work. Another day he didn’t answer his phone when I called on a secure line; later said he’d been at work and couldn’t get somewhere private to talk. With anyone else none of this would matter, but…”

“But it’s Ced. I get it.” Julian tapped the pen on the desk as he stared at his notes, his mind already racing through possibilities and ways to prove it. “Tell you what. We’re about due for a beer. I’ll invite him out, keep an eye open for anything weird. I get a vibe, I’ll tell you.”

“Thank you.”

Bell had a damn good poker face when he needed it but this must not have been one of those times, because the relief was clear as day. It made Julian feel a little warm and fuzzy inside. It probably wasn’t an entirely altruistic or innocent feeling.

“No problem.”

They both stood at the same time in one of those weird unspoken rules where their brains saw all the minute movements of the other’s body and responded without translating it fully to thought. And then came the requisite awkward moment where they both stood there, not sure how to go about parting ways with a giant ass desk, an acquaintanceship, and a probably pretty-damn-obvious one-way mancrush between them.

Julian fiddled with the paper and pen and hated himself a little for it.

“I should go,” Bell said. “My shift starts soon.”

Because you have to be a goddamn doctor on top of everything else. Fucking perfect men.

“You know where to find me,” was all Julian said.

“And you me.” Bell moved that god-awful chair aside and once again made it look about a thousand times better than Julian ever would. But then he hesitated. “Do you think Cedrick will avoid you?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“I thought you stayed in contact more often. But if you haven’t heard from him in weeks, it might be tied into this.”

“Yeahhh…” Julian rubbed the back of his head and canted his gaze away. “He may or may not be pissed at me for saying he needed to get his shit together for his kid.”
Bell said nothing, but in that silence he said a lot.

Julian frowned and turned his gaze back to Bell. “He needs to stop letting Vivi-dear control things, that’s all I’m saying.”

Bell shook his head slightly to himself and turned to leave. Julian didn’t let him get to the door. He swung around the desk and headed toward him.

“Come on, man. You have to have an opinion on this. You’ve met her.”

Bell paused with his hand on the doorknob and looked back. “Everyone has an opinion on Vivienne but none of us know the context. I don’t have near the information to develop an opinion, and to get it I’d need to violate my friend’s privacy. So I won’t. I trust Cedrick has a reason for all he does, and it’s only right to extend the courtesy to his family, too.”

Julian scoffed. “Can’t form an opinion until you know all the facts; typical Guilder. And God forbid you get involved. He could just be blinded by love, you know. Wouldn’t be the first time in the history of the human race.”

There was a pause, and then: “We’ve told you not to call us that.”

“And I’ve told you I don’t care. It rolls off the tongue. Guilder. I like it. Besides, I name all my cases to remember them better.”

“And we’re your case?”

“Ask me enough questions, you may as well be. I should get a line identifying me as a contributor in one of your editions.”

“I don’t think you truly want that.”

“No,” Julian said more soberly. “I don’t.”

Bell nodded. “Keep in touch.”

Julian made a salute with two fingers to his forehead and a flick away. “Sure thing, Indiana.”

Bell was about out the door but paused and looked back at him.

“What would that make you?” Bell eyed him, looking him very closely up and down. “Virginia?”

Julian lifted his nose. “Massachusetts, I’ll have you know.”

Bell’s smile was easy. “My mistake.”

“Yep. Now get your ass out of my office before I have to come up with a realistic threat.”

“Well,” Bell drawled as he stepped through the doorway. “Wouldn’t want to put you out.”
Julian eyed him. Did he know what he was doing? He had to know what he was doing.

Fucker.

He shut the door in Bell’s face and felt briefly vindicated, until he heard that low, rumbling laugh again. Wanting to simultaneously kiss and punch someone was unfortunately not a new experience for Julian, and he had yet to come up with an ideal solution. The only solution he really had was Kris because at least that fulfilled half the urge.

He strode back to his desk and dragged out one of the lower drawers; it was heavy as sin and always protested noisily when it was moved.

“Too bad,” he told it sourly, and snatched his phone from the depths. It was only a handful of seconds while the phone rang but he felt on edge and impatient, so when Kris picked up Julian wanted to ask what the hell he’d been doing, going to Antarctica and back before answering? Or maybe the goddamn fucking moon?

“Hey,” he said instead. “It’s me.”

Kris yawned. He had probably been asleep. He was always asleep. But no matter how tired he was and no matter the time of day, the thing that was easy about Kris was he never asked questions, he always knew what Julian wanted, and he never expected anything from Julian that Julian wasn’t willing to give or expecting in return.

“My place or yours?” Kris asked.

“Yours.” Julian’s gaze lingered annoyingly on the ugly chair before jerking away. “I need a break.”

There was a pause, and then Kris laughed.

“What?” Julian demanded.

“Bell was there, wasn’t he?” Kris asked knowingly. Annoyingly smug. “You only ever sound that cockblocked when he–”

“I’ll be there in twenty, asshole. You better be ready.”

Julian hung up on him. That felt good, too.

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