Julian Files Chapter 4, scene 1:
Saturday June 25, 2005
Icebox, Industrial District
“Why the hell you gotta bring me to these shit-ass places, Ced?” Julian dropped onto a barstool. “You’re gonna be that cheap, you may as well bring me to a liquor store where I can get some fucking Kamchatka for the same price.”
Icebox was as seedy as ever, and Julian swore to God he just saw a good dozen of his former cases walking across the room. He was probably going to end up in the background of twenty more of his colleagues’ shots. Christ.
Cedrick laughed, as amused by Julian’s pain as ever. Bastard.
“I should remove you as a friend,” Julian grumbled, dragging the mug of beer over that Cedrick offered him. He studiously ignored the glare from the bartender.
Whatever. Julian couldn’t be bothered to care at the moment.
“You’re in an unusually cheerful mood tonight.” Cedrick sipped the god-awful beer he’d gotten on tap. With Innocent Face ™ in full swing, he looked expectantly at Julian and his equally disgusting beer.
Julian snorted. Like he was really going to imbibe such a monstrosity as the drink he’d been offered. He looked down at the amber liquid with a scowl, and drank half of it in great gulps. He scrunched his face up dramatically and earned an outright scowl from the bartender now. He was going to get himself banned at this rate.
“You’re going to get us kicked out.”
There Ceddy went, reading his mind again. Julian huffed out a great sigh and slouched forward.
“Sorry, Crane,” Julian muttered to the bartender.
Crane didn’t seem mollified at all; with a scoff, he threw a rag over his shoulder and stalked to the other end of the bar where one of Julian’s past cases was trying to get the bartender’s attention.
Julian ran his eye over the customer, automatically pulling up the details in his mind. Ted Wilkins, 45 years old. Married with kids, until wife Janice noticed his “late nights at work” started getting a little too common and a little too long. She asked Julian to see if there was another woman, and after two weeks of surveillance Julian came back with the answer: there wasn’t another woman. There was another man. Surprisingly (to Julian, at least), Janice was relieved and paid Julian a bonus as thanks. A month later, Julian saw the three having a grand old time together at Jake and Janet’s. A happy ending, for once; insofar as Julian ever got in his job.
“What’s wrong?” Cedrick’s low voice pulled at Julian’s thoughts, and he returned his attention to his friend’s concerned face. The sad thing was, he was the one supposed to be asking the question of Ced. But Cedrick was the sort that always got to it first. Never stopped looking out for his friends, caring about them, their well-being… but didn’t always seem to turn that same observant eye on himself.
Julian felt inexplicably depressed at the idea, and downed the rest of his drink. He waited for Crane to glance back their way again, so he could gesture for a refill. Crane complied while scowling the whole time. He looked like an extra in a biker gang movie, in Julian’s solid and thoroughly unbiased opinion. While waiting for the glass to fill with the dubious excuse for alcohol, Julian studied Cedrick.
He looked tired, maybe—or not totally focused. It was subtle, but Julian noticed it, after having been friends for years. He saw it in the way Cedrick’s fingertips tapped the edge of his mug in a nervous pattern, and how his gaze strayed from Julian before returning. His usual good posture was strained now, and the darkness under his eyes spoke of more than one late night.
Beer spilled over the rim when Crane slid the mug back to Julian, who barely caught it before it crashed into his chest. He nodded his thanks to Crane, and jerked his chin away from the bar. Understanding without words being needed, Cedrick followed Julian to one of the booths as far from the rest of the skeezy crowd as Julian could manage.
They settled into the seats (Julian felt something disgustingly sticky catch on the ass of his jeans and resolved to burn them when he got home) and dragged the drinks in front of them. Julian kicked his legs out in front of him, knocking against Cedrick’s shin in the process.
“Sorry, man,” Julian said easily and Cedrick shrugged.
“You can’t help your beanpole legs.”
This time, the kick was deliberate.
A faint smile lifted Cedrick’s lips but it wasn’t with the usual enthusiastic grace. No light made it to his brown eyes and his gaze dropped to his drink unusually quickly. Julian remembered Bell’s words from the other day:
He’s been… interesting lately. Secretive.
Julian opened his mouth to ask but before he could, Cedrick spoke.
“So? Something on your mind that even Kris couldn’t fix?”
Julian’s stared at Cedrick, his mouth working as all previous thoughts rushed out of his mind. “What?”
“Usually you’re in a good mood after a day with Kris,” Cedrick said with a shrug. “You’re not today, though. What’s wrong?”
Julian couldn’t decide whether he was surprised, impressed, or disturbed, and he was sure the indecision must be reflected in his fluctuating expression. He finally settled on drawn eyebrows and a flicker of a scowl. “How the fuck do you know where I was? You stalking me, Beaulieu?”
Cedrick rolled his eyes and leaned back in his seat with one arm listed against the back of the booth, but there was definite smugness in the curve of his lips. “You’re wearing your Friday jeans on a Saturday, your shirt is rumpled despite how you obviously tried to smooth it, and I can see a hickey by your collar.”
Julian wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of the kind perceptive bastard he usually was to others, and found he didn’t much like it.
Accurately reading huffiness in Julian’s silence, a flicker of a smile crossed Ced’s features.
“One would think I was the PI and you were the journalist,” Cedrick said.
“I dunno, Ced. I’ve come to the conclusion that journalists are more alarmingly nosy and freakishly observant than any PI I’ve ever met.”
“You’re basing that off of me?” Cedrick asked in amusement. “Or did you find another best friend journalist when I wasn’t looking?”
“Bell’s included in the deal.”
Cedrick laughed. “He’s a doctor.”
“That’s not all he is!”
“Yeah, yeah, keep it in your pants.”
Julian pointed triumphantly at Cedrick, straightening with a loud, “See?”
Cedrick tilted his head. “What?”
“I never told you I jonesed for the dude, but you know without having to ask! I’m telling you. You’re freakier than your family, sometimes. And that’s damn impressive, with an alien kid and a robot wife.”
Cedrick kicked Julian with no heat. “Hey. That’s my family you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, I know. They could only be your family, seeing as I don’t know anyone else crazy enough to marry a woman like that and pop out a little alien.”
“Would you stop calling Boyd an alien already?” Irritation and defensiveness was beginning to creep into Cedrick’s tone and Julian held his hands up in a gesture of peace.
“Whoa, sorry. I was joking. You know I am. I like that kid, all outer space oddities aside.”
“And stop insulting Vivienne. You just don’t understand her.”
“No one does but you, Ced.” At Cedrick’s straightening back, Julian held up a hand. “That isn’t an insult. I think she doesn’t let anyone else see who she really is except around you.”
“That’s your investigative assessment?”
Julian shrugged and leaned back against the booth. It squeaked alarmingly, considering it was hard as fucking stone. “You could say that, yeah. I’ve seen enough people in my day who are like her… show one face to the world, and another to the only people they trust. Most people aren’t as selective in their trust as she is, but I know she has to show you something I never see or else you’d never love the woman the way you do. I know you. You wouldn’t stay with someone who wasn’t a hell of a lot more honorable and good than how we normally see her.”
“She is a good person,” Cedrick said quietly, his gaze dropping to his beer. It was nearly gone, but he still stared at it. He looked strangely sad, until Julian noticed that the color was almost exactly the same shade of gold as Boyd’s eyes. He wondered if Cedrick was thinking about the last time they’d seen each other, when Julian had rather harshly told Cedrick to get his shit together and stand up against Vivienne for not being a better mother to Boyd.
Not wanting to get stuck in another argument on a topic that wasn’t even on point for the night, Julian rocked Cedrick’s knee with a well-placed foot. Shuttered brown flickered up beneath thick eyelashes, and Julian took that as assent to change the topic.
“I’m pissed off about a few things.”
Cedrick looked at Julian more head on, giving Julian tacit permission to continue.
“Finny called me yesterday.”
Cedrick’s eyebrows rose. “Patrick Finley? He’s a sergeant in Sex Assault now, isn’t he?” At Julian’s nod, Cedrick frowned. “What’d he need you for?”
“Serial rapist in the neighborhood targeting vulnerable women. Stranger rapes, all of them. Asked me to keep an eye out, see if I couldn’t help ID the asshole.”
The darkness that overcame Cedrick’s face made Julian feel better about how royally fucking pissed he still was about the topic. Some people these days dismissed that sort of topic like it meant nothing, like it was someone else’s problem and not their own.
But not Cedrick.
He felt the pain of innocents more than anyone Julian had ever met. The man had more compassion in one day than Julian had felt in his entire life, and somehow—somehow, it meant Julian never felt alone. The days Julian felt overwhelmed by life, he knew somewhere out there was Cedrick, ready to take on that anger and pain along with him, if he just needed it.
If he only asked.
He felt one shard of weight lift from his chest, moving him from feeling drowned in water to simply suffocated by a blanket.
“I’ll help,” Cedrick said flatly, and Julian knew he would.
Letting out a low breath, Julian nodded. “Thanks. Maybe your people can let me know if they get any leads. I’ll send you the deets later.”
“I’ll get it out to everyone soon as I get it. If you do any stakeouts and need a partner, you know I’m up for that, too.”
“Thanks, man. We’ll see. You need to be home with your family sometimes, too.”
A shade of the sadness from before filtered across Cedrick’s features, and Julian fought the urge to shake his head. Only problem with Cedrick and his compassion was he had a terrible poker face, which was comical considering his wife was nothing but poker face. But every emotion of Cedrick’s was a silent movie playing across his face, muted and quiet and greyed out compared to the vibrant colors around them.
“I forgot to mention that case to Bell yesterday,” Julian said casually, and was rewarded with Cedrick being jolted out of his thoughts.
“Why did you see Bell?”
“He came to me.”
Cedrick turned the glass between his fingertips and, after a moment, took a deliberate drink. The fact that he didn’t speak immediately and wouldn’t quite meet Julian’s eyes made his squirreliness even more evident.
“You know why he came.” Julian was intrigued despite himself.
Cedrick shrugged with one shoulder. “Not necessarily.”
“Yes, you do. You know he’s worried about you.”
The front door became very interesting to Cedrick, who stared at it like it held the meaning of life.
Julian punched Cedrick in the shoulder, regaining the journalist’s dodgy gaze. “Beau. Don’t even try that evasive shit with me. What’s the deal? Bell said you’d been acting strange lately. I was planning to psychoanalyze you and tell Bell without bringing it up to you, but you’re freaking me out now. You’re not normal.”
Cedrick let out a dark laugh. “Thanks.”
Julian crossed his arms with a scowl. “You know what I mean. Spill.”
Cedrick was silent for long enough that Julian couldn’t disregard the ambient noise any longer. It was loud on a Saturday night, with so many conversations overlapping beneath the music that it was impossible to pull out any one coherent sentence. From the corner of his eye, he saw the Wilkins and their boytoy pass by, Janice’s hand rested possessively on the man’s lower back. She didn’t notice Julian, of which he was grateful because he didn’t want to have to deal with her turning tomato red and sputtering how it “isn’t how it looks.” Despite it always being “how it looks.”
He’d run through that scenario enough times with other past clients that he didn’t feel the need to go through it now.
Especially not when Cedrick was about to crack. He was sure of it.
A great sigh released from Cedrick, deflating him. He turned quiet, dark eyes on Julian. He looked more exhausted than Julian had seen in a long time.
“I can’t say much,” Cedrick warned, and Julian nodded. He didn’t want to give Cedrick time to rethink opening up.
Luckily, Cedrick didn’t. He drank the rest of his beer and kept his eyes down, somewhere around the apparently-rumpled-despite-smoothing-it-out shirt Julian wore. “There’s something I’m working on. It’s been bugging me.”
“Bugging you how?”
Cedrick scrubbed his face and shook his head. “I can’t tell you right now.”
“Come on, Ced. You gotta give me a little more than that.”
In the pause that ensued, the music changed to something a hell of a lot shittier; a tune Julian didn’t recognize, but Cedrick apparently did because he tapped the melody against the side of the mug. But Julian knew Cedrick well enough to realize that this time, Cedrick wasn’t pausing to decide if he wanted to speak at all. It was a contemplative quiet, the sort that happened when he was running through the pieces of an article he was stringing together, and determining whether he had enough facts to speak about it.
“I don’t have enough verifiable facts yet to know for sure,” Cedrick finally said with a frown. Turned out Cedrick wasn’t the only one who could read his friend’s mind. Point 1 to Cedrick and Julian both. He met Julian’s eyes. “All I can say right now is I’m thinking about a future article on possible prison cover-ups.”
Julian’s eyebrows shot up. Well, well. Color him even more intrigued, now.
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Like I can’t tell you right now because it’s still mostly a hunch,” Cedrick said sardonically. He pushed the mug away from him and sighed. “I’m not trying to put you off, Julian, it’s just—”
“Ceddy-baby needs his facts to be concrete before he casts aspersions on anyone else’s house, yeah, yeah, I know,” Julian flashed a grin. “You think I don’t know you well enough by now?”
The smile that Cedrick gave him was much closer to normal. “Guess you do.”
“And Bell does too, damn sexy bastard.” Julian shoved Cedrick’s shoulder. “So call the dude tomorrow, or something. He’s having kittens over how worried he is about you.”
Cedrick rolled his eyes, but the smile grew. “Will do, Mom.”
“If I’m your mom, then I expect some motherfucking cookies and chocolates delivered Monday to my desk. Show a lady some love for shoving you out of her vag.”
Mischief crinkled the edges of Cedrick’s eyes. “Should I send some flowers, while I’m at it?”
“Only if you brush up on your floriography first. Last time you told me you hated me with those orange lilies.”
A true laugh erupted from Cedrick; deep, joyful and infectious. In that moment another piece of the heaviness that had been weighing on Julian lifted. Cedrick had become like a brother, and Julian never wanted anything to happen to him. When Ced was acting so morose and sketchy, it started to grate on Julian until he felt it reflected in himself.
How fucking pathetic was that? Getting so unnerved just because his friend wasn’t feeling his best.
Julian resisted the urge to sigh. Somewhere along the line he’d become such a wuss.
“I can’t believe you know that offhand. There are times when you’re an incredible geek.”
Julian smirked. “Tsk, tsk, quite the negligent little journalist you are. Just going to trust me on my word that I had the right meaning, there?”
“You know I’m going to verify it when I get home.”
This time, it was Julian’s turn to laugh. “Yeah. I do know that. Offhanded joke or not, you just can’t live with yourself if you don’t get the answer from at least three sources before you go to bed.”
Cedrick flashed a wicked grin. “Not so negligent, then, am I?”
Julian scoffed. “Stop looking for pats on the back and get out of here. I’ve seen you glancing at your watch all night. You gotta get home to the missus, right?”
“Right.” Cedrick pushed himself to a stand. He threw some cash on the table. “Get that to Crane, will you?”
Julian grimaced. “Come on, man. That lazy asshole doesn’t need any more of a tip than you already gave him.”
Cedrick chuckled. “Sure does with the way you’ve been talking tonight. If I’m not given the evil eye and thrown out next time I come here, it’ll be a miracle.”
“Then don’t ever come to this hellhole again.”
Cedrick looked reproachfully at Julian as he shoved his wallet in his back pocket. “It’s a good place for CI’s who don’t want to stand out. You know that.”
Cedrick snorted. “What, you bring your CI’s to the Emperor for a little ten thousand dollar wine and a stay overnight? You can afford that on your salary?”
“Shut up, Dad.”
Cedrick’s lingering look was bemused. “I don’t think I understand our relationship anymore. Are we… brothers? Married? Asexually reproducing…?”
“We’re none of those things because you’re too fucking stupid and ugly to be part of my gene pool. Now get the fuck outta here and tell Bell you’re just being a sketchy bastard on purpose and there isn’t some dramatic bullshit going down that he needs to worry about.”
It was Cedrick’s turn to roll his eyes with a, “Yeah, yeah,” before he turned and filtered through the crowd. In a blink, he was gone.
Julian stayed there for half an hour longer, bored but not feeling like going home yet. He was unsuccessful in finding someone interesting to bring back for the night, but he did find a new client.
Baby steps all around.