Ingrams & Assoc #3: American Life
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2015 by Jezzaz

Action/Adventure Sex Story: Chapter 1 - April's life is saved by a mysterious hero, who loses his own life in the process. April tracks down the people in his life, determined to help them.

Caution: This Action/Adventure Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Heterosexual   Fiction   Cheating   Cuckold   Revenge   Oral Sex  

He died in her arms, and she was shaking and crying frantically. She didn't even know his name, only that she owed him her life. She sat on the ground, clutching at his body, holding him, as she felt the warmth leave his body, with him staring up at her, trying to speak and only bloody foam leaving his mouth.

April had never seen anyone die before. She'd never watched the life leave the eyes, the face go slack and realize that this person, this set of memories and experiences and reactions would be gone forever.

It was cold, it was dark and it was a back alley. It probably wasn't the worst place to die, but it was probably up there in the top five.

That's where the EMTs found her: sitting on the ground, hunched over him, clutching at him desperately, crying and shaking. The attended to her, dragging her away from the body, and then attended to the other two people lying on the wet ground – it had rained earlier that day, before the sun went down, and the alley was still slick from it.

The alley itself was nothing special. Back doors to businesses, all mismatched, brick walls with graffiti on them, large garbage cans, cabling overhead. Exactly what you'd expect to find in a back alley way in any city in the world. Anonymous. Unspecial. And for one man, deadly.

The EMT's took April to the back of one of their red ambulances, to wait for the police to arrive. They gave her coffee and a blanket and recognized the onset of shock. She didn't stop shaking and asking inane questions. The EMT's were used to that – it didn't phase them at all.

Eventually the cops arrived, and with it, Detective Ambrose Hillier. Ambrose was thirty-seven, looked forty-five, was tired and grouchy and didn't want to be in a dark alleyway with a dead John Doe. He'd gone through a nasty divorce the year before and he'd only just started out dating again, and on the second date, the call had come through and here he was.

He was probably never going to see Mercy again – she'd made it clear were she thought his priorities should be – and in some ways, it was a good thing, because the life of a homicide detective meant there would be lots of missed nights, so better to find out she had no stomach for that now than later.

He pulled up his pants again –in the last year he'd lost thirty pounds and none of his clothes fit properly any more, but he was damned if he was going to wear suspenders like his colleagues. He knew he looked slovenly enough, with adding to the impression.

Looking around, he saw the EMT's helping one man who was just recovering consciousness. He looked over at one of the other bodies and caught the eye of the EMT trying to help him – it was Harry Smiles. Harry looked up, saw Hillier looking at him and shook his head. No chance there then.

Hillier looked over at the other body, the one where the girl had been found. The EMT there was still working on the body, so Hillier walked over. He put his hand on the EMT's shoulder and startled her. She looked up, not stopping what she was doing with chest compression. There was no hope in her eyes; she was doing what all EMT's are duty bound to do, just in case. In this case, there was no just in case, but she was contentious and so she was doing it anyway. He noticed her eyes were extremely blue and she had blond hair coming out of her cap that was jammed on her head. It was strange, the things you noticed in these circumstances – what leapt out at you.

He looked around and saw the girl, the victim, sitting over at the edge of one of the ambulances. She was pretty. Tall, slim, well dressed, blond short hair, cut in a page boy style. Diamond earrings, expensive shoes. Blanket that had been put around her shoulders that was now sitting on the floor. Very out of her element, he judged. He headed towards her, being stopped on the way by one of the uniforms swarming around.

"Hey, Detective," he said. It was Paul Savage. Good cop. Did the whole Blue Knight thing, knew everyone in the neighborhood and they knew him. It was nice but it didn't mean squat. No one around this particular part of the neighborhood would talk to him about things they didn't want to talk about, regardless of how he swung his truncheon. This was 2015, not 1956. Still, he was solid. If he told you something, it was so.

"What do we have, Paul? First impressions?" asked Hillier.

"Looks fairly open and shut, Detective. She," he gestured to where April was taking another sip of coffee and looking right at him, "was mugged by three ne'er-do wells. Two of them are still here, but one got away. I haven't got out of her what she was doing in an alleyway like this – rich girl like her – but according to her, these three jumped her.

"She takes some kind of martial arts and was fighting back. She took out one guy and was about to deal with another when our John Doe back there appeared. From what she says, even though she dealt with one, and was facing off against another, the third managed to get behind her, and was armed with a knife. She didn't know.

"This guy," he gestured to the body on the ground, "appeared, jumped on the guy with the knife and took him to the ground. He dropped something, and we picked it up; it's in my squad car. Just a bag of old clothes. Anyway, she belted the other guy, and kicked him the nuts. By then, our perp with the knife was up and had already stabbed this guy twice. Somehow he managed to get the knife away from him – we found it in the corner, and the guy with the knife then did a runner.

"Our John Doe tried to get the girl out of the alley and collapsed on the way. He died in her arms. She has no clue who he is. She says he just appeared and saved her life. She's pretty shaken up; obviously. That's how it's reported and frankly, it looks that way. She broke the other guy's neck, by the way. He's alive but he'll never walk again. And the other guy is protesting about how he was attacked out of the blue.

"But we've got video from two different angles," Savage pointed out two different cameras mounted on the walls, "and what's more, one of them is even an infrared camera. It's all exactly as she said. There's no incitement here; it's a clear case of stand-your-ground. We still don't know why she was here or why they jumped her, but in terms of events, it's exactly as she said," Savage finished.

"Witnesses?" asked Hillier.

"None yet. And I don't really expect any. It's late and it's a dark alley and most of these business are shut anyway. I think that's why they tried it on in the first place."

Hillier nodded.

"Well, time to talk to the lady then. What's her name?"

"She is one April Carlisle. Thirty-two years old. Works as a clinical psychologist for some think tank downtown. Single."

Savage suppressed a small smile at that last statement. Hillier saw it and didn't respond. He knew his fledgling dating efforts were watched with great amusement by the department, but right now he didn't care. This was a murder scene. Time enough for the funnies later. He just looked at Savage with a hard stare and Savage looked away.

He walked over to April, aware that she was studying him.

"Miss Carlisle?" he said.

She nodded and looked around for somewhere to put down the now-cold coffee. She couldn't find anywhere to hand, and just put it on the ground, by the Ambulance wheels.

She looked back at Hillier and he was aware of how good-looking she was. Groomed was the word. Hair perfect. Perfect application of makeup, apart from the ugly bruise on her cheek and the marks on her neck.

"Can you tell me what happened here please, Miss?" asked Hillier. At times like this, you used as little words as you could. Let them fill in the blanks and the silences. Often they said more than they meant to.

She said nothing, tilted her head and studied him. A full minute passed.

"Miss?" he prompted.

"Does it still hurt? Being dumped?" she asked out of the blue. "You aren't over it yet, are you?"

Ambrose Hillier stood stock still, not knowing what to do or respond.

"It's ok. It's a bit obvious. Your friend over there looks over at me, has a little smirk and you have a face like stone. Obviously something going on there. Then there's your clothes. They don't fit, so obviously something changed recently. But no woman would allow you out looking like that, so there's no woman. But at your age, no woman? Good looking man like you? There had to be a woman. So something happened, you lost weight, you are dressing like a bum. Obvious really."

Hillier took a deep breath and buried his initial response. "Be that as it may, Miss, we need to talk about what happened here."

"Yes, of course," said April. She also took a deep breath. "As I said to the other guy, I got jumped by those delightful gentlemen."

Hillier could see she was getting herself under control. Just in the few short minutes he'd been on the scene, she'd stopped shivering and was breathing easier and the color was returning to her cheeks. 'This was a tough one, ' he thought.

"What were you doing in this alley anyway? This time of night? Hardly a time for window shopping."

She smiled at that. It was an alluring and wicked smile and he could see how this woman could incite men.

"I was buying crack. What do you think I was doing here?" she answered sarcastically.

"For all I know, you were buying crack. Look at yourself. You don't belong here. So I ask again. What were you doing here?"

She sighed and nodded at a door two buildings down. A red door.

"That's the back of the Mongolian Palace. I have a deal with one of the cooks there. I like my Mongolian beef made a certain way, they do it for me. I pick it up at the back. The boss there doesn't like them to do anything special for customers, so we have to indulge in the cloak and dagger for me to get it. The cook's name is Peng Lo. By all means go and check into it."

She was relaxed as she said it, and didn't look up while recalling the details, only meeting his eyes once she was done. It was either true or she was one hell of a liar.

Hillier didn't like the way she was looking at him. More like looking right through him.

Hillier made a show of looking around. "Where's your car?"

"Round the corner. It's a late model Nissan Z Convertible. There is no way I am leaving it running in an alleyway like this. I left it on the street. Your guys have already gone to look at it," she replied. She was amused. No, she was impatient. She knew he had to go through all this, and she just wanted to get on with it and get to what she wanted to talk about. He could tell. She was good at not showing what she was thinking but she wasn't that good. Not the kind of good you need to be to hide from an observant man who'd spent almost eighteen years as a cop.

"Ok," said Hillier, noting down a few things. He still used a notebook, even though his iPhone in his pocket was recording everything anyway. He liked to give them impression he was old-fashioned even though he loved new technology. Anything for people to underestimate you. "So, walk me through it."

April got up and walked to the entrance of the alley, which was still wet enough to reflect light off the ground from the yellow sodium street lights of the main street.

"I walked in from here. I got to about here,..." she walked a few steps, "and they came out from behind that dumpster over there." She gestured to a group of three dumpsters, arranged in a quad.

"They surrounded me, giving me all that 'Hey babe' shit. I mean, it's like it was the start of one of those super hero movies, where the girl gets mugged and the superhero shows himself for the first time. I half expected to see Batman or the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles show up."

She was making quips. She was even more composed than he had thought. An hour ago she'd watched a man die in her arms, and now she was making witticisms. This girl was tough.

"Anyway, I took my heels off – when you are in a fight, you don't want heels on. Trust me on this."

She had been trained then. People don't know stuff like that just naturally. They have to be told and they have to be told repeatedly so they remember in the heat of the situation.

"One of them got behind me, and jumped on me from behind. He got his arm around my neck – you can see the bruises. The other one tried to get my bag, and I let him, just so I could get him in the right position. He grabbed the bag, fell a bit backward since he thought I'd be holding on to it tight, and was in the perfect position, so I kicked him the in balls. Hard. Fucking hurt my toes, let me tell you, but it was a perfect kick. Very squishy." April smiled ghoulishly and Hillier couldn't help grimacing and feeling the need to adjust his balls.

"He went down like the sack of shit he is," she continued, "and then I dealt with the guy behind. I pushed up, which made him push down, and I went down with him and stamped on his instep. That made he let go, and I turned on my toe and then punched him as hard as I could. The guy literally flew. I turned back again, to see where the other guy was and saw he was coming right at me, running full tilt. I just got out of the way in time – he connected with a flailing arm – you can see the bruise here, and then ran full tilt into the brick wall. I think he broke his neck when he hit. The EMT's say he broke it. Too fucking bad. Don't run at people with intent to harm, you know?"

She stopped talking for a second, looking at the wall and the small blood splat which indicated where the hapless mugger had run himself into paralysis. She also seemed aware she was babbling a bit. Hillier noted that she was still rattled and her calm was only on the surface...

After taking another breath, she said, "That's when my hero jumped in. The guy I'd kicked in the balls was just starting to get up, but the other guy, who I punched, was already up and ready to get back in the game. I didn't even know it – he was behind me and I was looking at the guy on the floor. Next thing I know there's a thump and a feeling of wind behind me and the John Doe was on top of the guy with the knife. I turned to help and got tripped by Mr. Happy Sacks over there, who grabbed my foot. I could see my guy on top of the guy with the knife, and the guy stabbing him, repeatedly, in the side. I think he was being stabbed in the lungs. I kicked Mr. Scrotum in the face and he went out, and got up and scrambled over to where my guy had been pushed off the guy with the knife, who'd managed to get to his feet. He just stood there, looking at the scene, looked at me and took off. I think my guy got his knife – something clattered over in the corner there."

She stopped again and bit her thumbnail. In any other situation it would have been adorable. In this one it just made her look young and small and frightened, and with good reason.

"The guy, John Doe, tried to get up. For Christ's sake, the guy had been stabbed, repeatedly, and he tried to get up and help me! Fuck. Where do they make men like that? I wanna go there. He was almost dead and all he could think of was to help me? Jesus Christ."

She was starting to lose it. Hillier had to do something.

"Miss Carlisle. Lets take a second. I have some questions and we can get back to it in a second, ok? Take a breath."

April was breathing heavily and couldn't take her eyes off where the body was being loaded into a body bag and onto a gurney by the morgue staff, who'd finally turned up and been granted access by the forensic guys.

She nodded and her breathing slowed.

"Sorry. It's just..."

"Yeah, I know. It's a heavy thing. It really is. Take your time." Hillier had no idea what he was saying, he just wanted, - no needed -, her to calm down. In the interim he took notes, jotting down random words of his impression of the moment.

April opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again, then said, "Why are you doing that? Why bother? You're recording it all anyway."

He stopped writing and looked over the notebook at her and said, "What makes you say that?"

She looked away and said, "Either you were playing with yourself before you came over to talk to me, or you were fiddling with some thing in your pocket. If I had to guess, it was a recording device. Certainly fits, because the amount I've said and the amount you've written down is not even remotely comparable. Ergo, must be a recorder."

He closed the notebook and smiled tightly at her. Way too smart for her own good.

"So, what do you think they wanted?" he asked her.

"I dunno. Money? Me? Both? Who the hell knows? They aren't going to say, are they?"

"No, perhaps not."

They just stood and stared at each other for a moment.

"You got any idea who he is?"

"Nope. And neither do you, or you wouldn't be asking."

"He had no ID. No wallet, no dog tags. Nothing."

"Well, shit," said April, realizing how rattled she really was by using so many swear words in one go, "there's a lot we can tell."

"Oh really?" he answered sarcastically. "OK then, Sherlock, you tell me what you see. I'm all ears. Us idiot cops can use all the help we can get, so we can."

She looked at him strangely, and then said, "Ok, you wanna be a dick about it, fine. Firstly, he's single. He's a mess – he has no one to impress or dress for. Like you, for that matter. Secondly, he's not trained to fight hand to hand in this kind of situation, or at least not recently anyway, but he has courage. He just jumped in there with no second thoughts. Another reason to believe he's single. It's unlikely someone with a woman or family at home would do that. Thirdly, a man who feels a social conscience like he did had to be involved in other things. Helping people out, donations, something like that. This is a man who threw himself in to save me..." she faltered for a second and then continued, "even when it cost him his life. A man like that helps people. I'll put even money that when you find out who he is, you'll find a history of him helping people."

She looked defiantly at Hillier, who stared back. He agreed with most of what she said and some of it he'd not actually thought of himself.

"So, you've been trained, right? What kind of psychologist are you?" he asked.

She smiled back at him. There was no humor in it, just satisfaction. "It's a personal thing. My dad, well, Uncle, well, Dad – it's complicated - made me take aikido and karate as a kid. I still run and play volleyball and I do katas occasionally. This is the first time I've ever used it. It's good to know it works."

"Mostly," said Hillier, nodding at the hearse, which was just leaving.

April bit her lip and looked down. And then said sharply, "MOTHERFUCKER..." and held her hand up to her lip. There was blood when she moved her fingers away and looked at them. "I knew he hit me, but damn..."

Hillier didn't smile, but turned and indicated for one of the EMT's to come over and help out.

April was taken over to the ambulance and breathed a sigh of relief that the nosey cop wasn't asking more questions. She'd been extremely pleased that she'd almost not lied at all to him about the events of the evening. Given what she did for a living, it was almost impossible that the situations of the night had nothing to do with what she did, but in this case, implausibly, they hadn't. It had been exactly as she had described it. She wasn't on a case, she was on vacation. The guys had come out of nowhere and she'd just reacted. And someone had died over it.

She put her hand in her pocket and twisted on the key she had in there. As the man was dying, he'd put the key in her hand. She'd take the last moments of his life with her to her death, she knew. She'd run over to him, dropped onto the ground, not heeding what it did to her expensive skirt and gathered him up on her lap, trying to talk to him and keep him with her. She'd grabbed her cell phone and made a very fast 911 call, and then just sat there, talking to him. He tried to talk to her, looking her in the eye, but the only thing that came out of his mouth was thin bubbly blood, and she could see him trying to take breaths that didn't seem to work.

She just sat there, talking to him, telling him it was going to be all right, that he wasn't alone, that she wasn't going anywhere, that she was so thankful for her life, that he had intervened, and then she watched the light go out of his eyes and she felt such grief, such pain, and such numbness, all at the same time.

And then the cops and EMT's were there and she was sitting on the back of an ambulance, wondering what her rescuer's name was, and whether he had someone. She would find out. She was good at that.

The EMT took her back to the ambulance and took a look at her lip, giving her some small slurry that would encourage healing or, as he put it, "Frankly, your saliva has more stuff in it that will promote healing than this shit has. But it'll stop you bleeding now, and that's good enough."

Once he was done, Hillier was hovering again.

"Ok, Detective, what else can I tell you?" she said, exasperation starting to show through.

He held up his hands in supplication. "Questions are over for now. We'll need you to come down and give us an official statement some time in the next couple of days, but right now, I think we have all we need."

He looked at her closer and said, "Do you have a friends? Local? Who might be in the same game you are?"

She looked at him and nodded.

"Ok," he continued, "here's what I want you to do. Pull out your phone and call me right now."

She smiled at that. A transparent ploy to ensure he had her number. She couldn't blame him.

"Yeah, ok. I don't date cops though," she retorted drily. But then she tapped in his number and heard his pocket trill. So it was a smart phone recording not an actual recorder.

"Yeah, like I'd to date you. Or you me. Waking up with you would be like a full on analysis of which side of the bed I was on. I'd be afraid to sneeze around you, for what you'd read into it. Right, now call that friend. Right now. In front of me."

April started to protest when he said, "Or I can just recommend you be taken to the hospital for observation, and then insist you come down to the station right now. Your choice."

April narrowed her eyes at him and said, "Really?"

Hillier smiled a wry smile and said, "Look, if you are anything like any other profession, now that you need your own services, you'll dither, make excuses and generally fuck up your own diagnosis. They say the lawyer who represents himself has an idiot for a client. So call."

April could see the logic. She didn't like it, but she could see it. She looked through her list of contacts, and selected Desirea McGee. She wanted Megan, but she was currently out in the field. Desirea would do. She was less of a friend and more of a boss, but she was also a PhD in clinical psychology, and as such, probably the best person to call.

She dialed and after four rings, Desirea answered.

"Hey Des," she said, "look, something has come up here, I kinda need to talk to someone ... yeah. Is there any chance ... yeah, my place. Sure? That's ok? I'm not taking you away from anything... ?"

The moment she started talking, Hillier snapped his fingers at her, gesturing for the phone. April kept staring at him as she continued the conversation.

"Give me the phone please," he said firmly.

April looked at him, debating, until she just gave it to him.

He held it up to his ear and said, "Hello Ma'am. This is Detective Ambrose Hillier of the 17th precinct. I'm really sorry to barge in on this conversation like this. Am I right in understanding you work for the same outfit as our Ms. Carlisle here? ... Yes? ... Good. I don't want to alarm you, but you should have some background, because unless I miss my guess when you come over, Miss Carlisle will feed you some rubbish and send you on your way.

"Miss Carlisle was the victim of an attempted mugging and potential homicide attempt tonight ... no, she's fine. The muggers aren't though, and neither is a bystander who attempted to defend her. No, he's dead I'm afraid ... Yes, you can imagine. I need to be sure there is someone with her tonight. She'll need it later. Yes, thanks. Here she is."

He handed the phone back to April, who was extremely pissed.

She took the phone and said, "Sure, yeah, I'm fine Des. Yeah, I'll see you in fifteen. I'll be there. Yes." She ended the call, then hissed at Hillier, "You did NOT have to do that."

He just looked at her. "Sure I did. And tomorrow you'll understand that I did. Hell, if you were thinking and not emoting right now, you'd see it now. Right now though, Miss Carlisle, you need to go home, take a long shower, have a hell of a drink and talk to your friend. I'll be in touch. Now go home. And be grateful. You are still here. This poor bastard is not. Don't blame yourself, you didn't ask him to get involved. He decided to do that, for better or worse. Be grateful and do not feel guilty. Easier said that done, but it's the truth and you are smart enough to know that. Either way, here is my card. My info is on there if you remember anything else."

He offered the card to April, who just stared at him for a moment, before snatching it out of his hand and then pushing off and walking off towards the entrance to the alley and her car.

She didn't look back. Hillier stared after her, appreciating her lines, but then shook his head and turned away and called for Savage.

I don't know why I am still writing this. Marianne said it would help, but that was years ago. I mean, who the hell is going to read this? Who cares? The daily doings of a man's wasted life. If this is helping though, I have to wonder how bad would it be if I wasn't doing this?

I suppose it's therapeutic. Not really sure, but it's like a habit now. It's funny though, when I write the events of my life in here, it makes it less ... pointless? Wasted? I dunno what the word is. Tara would have known. She always knew the right word.

It's funny to think that this document is probably going to end up being the only proof that I even existed and no one will ever read it. No kids, two failed marriages, bankrupt business. I don't have any friends, apart from Mr. Beam and Mr. Daniels, and Maximum the Dog. It's weird to go through life knowing that no one gives a shit if you live or die. That your presence here has so not influenced anyone or anything. I can't decide if I should be thankful or depressed. Well, that's what Jim Beam is for.

So I need to go into town today. It's Donnelly day. They should have some more stuff I can pass onto the Salvation Army group. I may have been vilified for that days work, but not by everyone. And my luck is their luck I guess. Have to have something good come out of it. Silver linings and all that. Maximum will be fine while I am gone. He's a good mutt, I've said it before. I don't think I'd manage to continue without him. He keeps looking at me and coming to get affection. It's weird, but hey, when someone loves you and wants you to love them, well, that's about the best thing in the world. You don't look that horse in the mouth. God knows, my life is the poster child for that.

Desirea was already waiting outside April's apartment complex when she got there, fifteen minutes later. She drove a red Lexus, and April could see it parked right in front. She drove into the parking garage under the building and walked up to let Desirea in.

"You ok?" were Desirea's first words.

"What do you think?" answered April, more testily than she intended.

"I think you need a stiff drink. Hell, I need a stiff drink. You need to tell me what happened and we both know you need to talk about how you feel about it, whether you want to or not."

So that's how it was. Professional Desirea made an appearance. It was hard for April to blame her – it's exactly what she would have said had the positions been reversed, but it wasn't and she didn't want to talk. Which probably meant she really needed to. Or something. It was complicated. April was smart enough to know she probably wasn't making terrific decisions right now. Time to trust someone, and Desirea was elected.

They both went inside, and Desirea went straight to the drinks cabinet, not even bothering to ask April what she wanted. She fixed her a Jameson on the rocks – a double – and made herself one at the same time.

She took it over to where April was sitting on the couch, trying very hard to make herself as small as possible and handed it to her. April looked up and said, "Thanks."

Desirea could see that April was heading into the first stages of post shock, and needed to keep her both warm and coherent. "Got a blanket?" she asked.

April nodded at a large wooden bench that opened, and Desirea found two quilts inside. She took them both out and gave one to April, who wrapped herself in it, staring in front of her at nothing.

"Ok, work shit first. What did you tell the cops about what you do?"

This was a big question. April worked for Ingrams & Associates, a semi-secret organization that provided clandestine therapy, usually sexual in nature. They had field agents – almost all PhD's in psychology and psychotherapy, who were also sexually trained.

They went in to fix marital problems, relationship problems and situations where the recipients of the therapy would never either allow it or acknowledge it, but needed to be 'fixed', because of work or personal connections that wanted them to get treatment. Ingrams was good, very expensive, and used by governments and large business all over the world. They did a huge amount of research, formed a treatment plan, then sent in field agents to effect change on the part of the targets.

What they did was pretty much illegal, but that didn't stop almost every government employing them at some point or another.

April was a field agent for Ingrams, and had been for the past three years. She'd helped put marriages back together, or – in one case – ensuring a marriage dissolved. She'd helped people overcome infidelity, betrayal, manipulation, facing their fantasies, and in the process she'd stopped one government being toppled, helped several treaties get written and in her favorite case, taken down a bank robber who was masquerading as a stripper. She had access to a state-of-the-art Research department, and several of the more esoteric spy gadgets. She was trained to defend herself, as was evidenced by her ability that evening.

What the police was told in any official capacity needed to be reported to Ingrams, so they could prepare a cover story to cope with it. It was standard procedure to report any official organization contact, just so Ingrams could watch for fall out.

"I gave them the standard story. Head shrinker for a think tank." This was the standard response to official enquiries. Some truth mixed in with omission.

"Ok, good. Now, are you on mission?" asked Desirea. "Was this blowback from a mission?"

"I doubt it. I've just gotten back from Baton Rouge. Jessica asked me to look over a potential recruit who is publishing papers there. I am officially on vacation. This event this evening did not have any relation to any mission I'm aware of. It's just bad luck," April responded, tossing down the rest of her drink.

"Well, that makes it easier to deal with officially. Ok. So not work related. What's the word on the recruit?"

"Not going to fly. It's not one person, it's a group of them publishing this under the name of a student there that was drummed out last semester. Unless we hire all of them – and I don't think any of them are Ingrams material – then we are out of luck."

Desirea nodded at that. Ninety percent of the investigations they did into potential recruits came back as 'no hires'. This particular situation was no surprise.

"So. How are you doing?" she asked.

"I'm fine," said April.

"No, you aren't. A man died in your arms tonight, April. You know as well as any the kind of emotional and mental damage that can do to you," Desirea replied calmly.

"I know. I don't even know his name. He died for me, and I don't even know his name."

"OK, I'm going to recommend a couple of weeks off for you over and above the vacation time, ok? Full pay. I want you to come in and see Dermott and probably me, on a two-day basis. We need to talk this through. This could come out in a very sticky situation in the field, and we need some degree of closure on this. You can see that, right?"

April wasn't listening. "I didn't even know his name. But I will." April hunched forward on the couch and stared into Desirea's eyes. "I will know everything about this man. And I will find someone of his. Some relative. And I will help them. And I will find the man who killed him and I will make him pay. I owe this man my life and by God, I pay my debts."

Desirea pursed her lips and considered what April was saying. She was displaying some degree of mania, but she was also in shock. Having a project like this could well be what she needed. Something to focus on, but something that was related to the reason for obsession. It was probably better than having her sit at home, moping. And April was a capable field agent. If she said she was going to find out about this man, she would.

"Ok. I can see how you'd need this – I know I would. I'm giving you Ingrams' support if you need it. You have two weeks. But no collaboration with the local cops, ok? I don't want awkward questions about where you are getting your information."

April looked at Desirea as though hearing her for the first time, and then nodded. "Understood."

"I still want you to stop by in a couple of days to talk to Dermot and me, ok? Now. One more drink, then you need to take a shower. Do you want me to stay?"

April understood what was being asked. If an Ingrams' agent asked if you wanted them to stay, what they were really asking was 'Do you want to cum repeatedly this evening under my extremely trained hands?' Due to what they did, most of the agents found external relationships almost impossible to pursue while they were still field agents. Aprl had first hand experience of that. They could never explain themselves and if some of their professional work was discovered, there was no chance of a relationship surviving that. So they tended to date among themselves in a very casual way. Sharing sex, to them, was like bringing a potluck meal to a party.

April was no stranger to female love, but that night, she just wasn't in the mood. "Thanks, but no. I appreciate the offer, but I can't get into that mindset."

Desirea nodded. "Ok. Drink. Then shower. Then bed. Alone, if you must," she pouted, in a faked way.

April smiled, for the first time that night.

"Next time, I promise."

The next day, April woke late, having had many small minor nightmares, all involving a man with no face being shot in front of her. She'd got up, had some hot milk, gone back to bed and had another one. Eventually she fell into a dreamless sleep. She had no idea why he was being shot – her man had been stabbed. She was aware enough that the dreams were just that, dreams. The confused ramblings of a tired mind that pieced together random events and tried to construct narrative around them. Not something to pay too much attention to unless they were repeated.

At eleven, she got a text from Hillier, asking her to drop by so she could give an official statement. She arrived at midday, and spent an hour going over her statement in a witness room.

After she finished, Hillier invited her to lunch. As they exited the station, Hillier saw her Nissan Z Convertible and raised his eyebrows. "So the head shrinking game pays well then? How small do you shrink the heads to get paid like that?"

April just smiled back and said facetiously, "I'm just that good."

Hillier took her to a local ribs place, and studied her as they waited for their orders. This was a very different woman from last night. April was composed, well made up, calm and curious about him.

"So, lets get straight into it," Hillier said. "The likelihood of us finding the guy that killed this man is very low. We have a good idea who it is – the other two always traveled with a third guy, Hector Gonzales. But we asked around today, and he's gone. Long gone. Took off last night. We think he's either in Mexico by now, or Paraguay. Finding the details on our John Doe might also be hard—"

Their order arrived and Hillier stopped while the food was put on the table. When the waiter left, he hesitated after seeing the expression on April's face.

"So that's it? He died, case closed? What the fuck, Ambrose?" It was the first time she'd used his first name, and he liked it. After a second he shook himself mentally. He could not get involved, and he also judged she wouldn't want to.

He sighed. "The thing is April, it's not about desire. It's about resources. This guy is dead. Yeah, it sucks what happened to him, but he put himself in that situation. Sure, we could throw resources at him, but if we find out who he is, then what? Did we solve anything? Is anyone better off? For the cost of all that effort? The bottom line here is that my captain, who is trying to make lieutenant just doesn't see this as a priority. Sure, finding murderers is what we do, but the bottom line here is that it's just very unlikely we'll find the guy who did it. He's long gone and he won't be back."

April couldn't quite believe what she was hearing.

"This man saved my life. What does it take for a little justice for him? A blowjob? Is that what it takes?" April was being deliberately crass, but she didn't care. She was pissed.

Hillier ate some of his ribs and wiped his mouth. "Chance would be a fine thing, but my dick would likely drop off if you tackled it. Look, April. I didn't say we weren't going to try. I am just trying to let you know that there's a good chance we won't resolve it, at least to your satisfaction."

"I think you need to do better than that. What if there is a wife waiting for him? Fucking. Do. Your. Job" she said, poking at him with a rib, that she then ate.

"Well, I can tell you something," said Hillier, "he was military at some point. He has a tattoo that we think is from an artillery group from back in the '90s. We're hoping that will lead us somewhere."

Now it was April's turn to think. She had the key, and hadn't mentioned it yet. She had a lead, and now he had his. She wanted to know what he discovered, but she was also mindful of the warning from Desirea, so she just nodded.

"If we find out anything, I promise to let you know, ok?"

April just nodded at him again, not trusting herself to speak again. They finished their ribs in silence.

I got a note from Old Man Donnelly a couple of days ago, via the P.O. box at the post office in town. He asked me to stop by and said he was sorry things had worked out the way they had. His kid had no ill feelings towards me – as such he shouldn't I would have thought - he's still breathing because of me - but I just didn't say anything. No point in getting belligerent. Been there, done that, got me nowhere.

Anyway, upshot was that he runs a bunch of dry cleaners in town. He says that people leave their clothes there all the time, and they usually just throw them out. I could see he was groping for words. Upshot was that he offered me everything that was over six weeks old, left at their stores. I could see he thought that I needed this charity. I don't, but there are plenty of people who do, so I said yes. I'd pick them up once a month and then run them around to the various Salvation Army outlets and battered wives shelters. He doesn't need to know where they are going, and they'll be grateful for whatever is given.

It was the next day. April was up early and touring the soup kitchens and homeless shelters in a five mile radius of where her John Doe had been murdered. She had a plan and she was going to execute it.

She'd already driven around, looking for a likely car that the key she was given would fit in, but found one multi-story parking lot and two flat lot car parks full of cars within walking distance. She could try going back, day to day, to see which cars had not moved, but that would take too long. She had a plan to figure out which one it was much faster. The key she had wasn't a remote, so she couldn't just drive around clicking it, although it did mean the car was older. But given the sheer number of cars in the lots, it was just too much.

She'd seen the package that her guy had dropped when Hillier had been told about it, and she knew what it was for. She also knew she couldn't talk to the place where her John Doe sprung from in the alley, since Hillier would be doing that, and she didn't want to tip her hand – even though once it was understood what the clothes were, it was obvious where he'd come from. Besides, she had another clue, in the key in her pocket. Her hand kept popping into her pocket and gripping it, to be sure she still had it.

She was on homeless shelter number four when she came up with the goods. It was a Salvation Army shelter, with some nuns in attendance. It was full of mostly women, some well dressed, some not. All had that pinched face look that comes from worry and not enough to eat. There was that strained vibe that comes from people who don't trust others much being forced together. Lots of stolen glances and people looking straight ahead. It had taken everything April had to smile and walk in and engage people in conversation.

Eventually she'd found a nun who knew who she was referring to – the mountain man, who dropped off clothes and blankets once a month to them.

"Oh yes, Joe!" the nun had exclaimed, a big smile on her face. "Such a nice man. So quiet, but always here. He drops off clothes and usually works with us doing odd jobs here in the shelter. He's one of the few men we allow in here – he's just so sad around women and he doesn't speak. He just fixes what we ask him to fix, doesn't talk to anyone, and leaves."

"Let me be sure we are speaking of the same person, Sister. Large man. Beard? Wearing flannel?"

"Oh yes, that's Joe. Very quiet, which is a shame. He has a lyrical voice. He told me he sang once."

April thought about how to ask the next question. "Sister, I hate to be nosey, but I'm a lawyer, and we have reason to believe this man might be someone we are looking for. A relative has died and we need to be sure we are looking for a man of this description. Can you tell me his last name? Where he might be living?"

The sister stopped ladling soup into waiting bowls and wrinkled her brow. "You know dear, I don't think I ever heard his last name? As you can imagine, last names are not used a whole lot here. Joe just showed up, helped and left. As to where he lived, I think he said something about living in the woods. I know it was out of the city. He always drove that beat up truck and it's always covered in mud. I think that must mean he lives somewhere muddy? Is that ok, dear? We don't tend to keep detailed records here."

April hesitated and said, "Anything more than that? I really need to locate him as soon as possible. What kind of truck does he drive?"

The nun poured soup into one more outstretched bowl and said, "No, I don't think so. It's a brown truck, at least I think it is, under all that mud. It's an older model – manual windows and so on. I honestly don't know more than that – just that he's a blessing in disguise for us here. When I see him, I'll tell him you're looking for him. Although I'm not sure this is the man you are looking for."

"Why do you say that?" asked April, curiously.

"Well, you mentioned relatives? Joe was alone in the world. He mentioned it a couple of times – that he was alone; no siblings or parents."

April could have kicked herself. Her story wasn't panning out. This was what happened when you went in unprepared. However, it had opened the door to find out more about him.

"So Joe wasn't married?" she asked, plunging on.

"No, not that I'm aware of. He once had dinner here with us and someone asked him about that. He gave them a stare that said a lot. He said something about 'Not again.' No, I don't think there was anyone at home waiting for him."

April smiled tightly and said, "Well, I won't keep you, sister. Keep up the good work," and got out of the shelter as fast as she could, before the nun asked for a business card or something to pass on.

Two hours later she was standing in front of a battered old Ford pickup truck. It was in the corner of the second ground parking lot. It was, as reported, spattered with mud. So much so that the front windshield showed only clear glass where the wipers had been employed.

She stood, looking at it for a moment, trying to imagine the man who used this truck. It was at least thirty years old, before fuel injection and plastic bumpers. This one had chrome bumpers, or would have if it hadn't been covered in mud.

She walked around the truck, peering in the bay in the back. There was nothing big there, just some blankets, a couple of gardening tools and a bag of mulch.

"Ok, girl. Time for some answers," she said to herself, and with that, she inserted the key into the lock on the driver's side.

The door opened and she noted there were no creaks. It was well maintained, then. She pushed into the cab and sat there, drinking it all in. The leather seat – real leather she noted – was smooth from years of use. There was a tear on the surface of the seat that had been neatly stitched up. Before doing anything else, she slid the key into the ignition and turned the engine over. It started with no problems and as she sat there in the cab, she could feel almost no vibration.

This told her several things. Whoever her John Doe was, he had valued his possessions and treated them well. With a car as old as this, it would have a hundred vibrations, and he'd dealt with them all, up to re-setting the engine mounts, which are usually the first to go. He obviously cared about things, and cared about preventative maintenance.

She shut the engine off and took a deep breath. Somewhere in this car would be license and insurance information that would tell her who he was. She leaned over and rummaged in the glove compartment and hit pay dirt. There was license and insurance information in the name of one Julian Sullivan.

Julian. That was his name. Not Joe, Julian. Her savior was named Julian. April sat there for a full ten minutes just looking at his name, the guilt in her almost overwhelming her ability to think.

The address was relatively local, and she took the insurance information with her as she jumped out of the vehicle.

She spent five minutes looking for a nail or a glass sliver, sharp enough to pop a tire. Eventually she found a rusty nail and jammed it into the side of the front drivers side tire, it giving a satisfying hiss as the air rushed out of it.

While that happened, she pulled out her phone and called a number she'd used before.

"Jimmy? Hey Jimmy. Listen, in a bind here. A car I have borrowed has a flat. Yeah, west side. I'll give you the address; can you drive by and pick it up? Brown ford pickup. License is B673-99. Thanks. Bill me and I'll come get it in a few days? Thanks, dude. Say hi to Samantha for me. Yeah, I would be here but I have a thing I have to be at. As it is it'll be hell finding a cab around here. No, don't worry. I can handle that. No, I'm fine. Will you stop worrying? That's great, thanks, Jimmy. I owe you again."

With that, she ended the call and stood looking at the truck again for a moment before murmuring, "I'm going to make it better. I swear. I'm sorry. I will. I will make it better."

Ambrose looked up as Gene Anthony hovered over his desk. It was a matter of office conversation about how Gene could hover. He hovered better than anyone had any right to. He could stand by your desk, in your light, yet make it seem like he wasn't there to talk to you, until you noticed him, when he suddenly lit up and said hi.

It was weird but most everyone in the station put up with it, because Gene came to them, which meant they didn't have to go to him. As a coroner, his place of work wasn't the most popular, even if Gene was considered harmless.

"Something for me, Gene?" asked Ambrose, leaning back and stretching. His spine popped in ways he didn't like to hear.

"Oh hi, Ambrose! Good to see you," said Gene in his nervous way. That was another thing. He was always nervous, and yet no one could figure out why. The man was one of the best coroners the city had ever had – his hunches almost always paid out, his paper work was immaculate and he was conscientious. Like Paul Savage, the cop from the other night, if he said something was so, it was so. You could take that to the bank.

"Yes, so, I just got done on the John Doe. The report is here," he said, offering Ambrose a folder with papers in it. Ambrose took it and flipped it open, still looking at Gene.

"Anything unusual?"

"No, not really. He died of suffocation, brought on by stabbing that pierced both lungs. He was relatively fit, had somewhat high cholesterol, his liver shows signs of some heavy drinking but his blood test shows clear, no drugs or alcohol. He might drink, but whatever he was doing when he was killed, he was sober as a judge.

"There are two major scars, both bullet wounds. One in the shoulder and one in the hip. The one in the hip would also have damaged his pelvis, and there are signs of reconstructive surgery on it. I would put them both at over fifteen years old. He has a tattoo on the right shoulder, but it's not something I've seen before. I think it's military related – I've seen similar types of things before -, but I wouldn't bet on it. It's a got a Latin phrase on it but I've no idea what it means. I hated Latin at medical school. His last meal was a fast-food burger and a coke. That's about it, I think."

"Ok, I'm going to give the VA a call, do you have photos of the tattoo? I was thinking they might be able to ID it, perhaps even our guy."

"They're on the back pages, along with a CD with the images I took on it," replied Gene.

"That's great, Gene. Thanks." Ambrose turned his attention to the file, and then realized that Gene was still hovering. "Something else?"

"Um. I dunno. I think this guy ... I dunno what it is. I think he's ex-military. I think he's Gulf war? He got shot. The wounds are indicative of combat, not gang-related. Gangs do headshots, whoever shot him was trained because of the location. If he is military ... I..."

Hillier pulled his glasses off and looked at Gene, sympathetically. He knew what this was about. Gene Anthony had an older brother, who had been killed by a roadside bomb early on in the Iraq conflict. He held every serviceman in awe and was constantly looking for justice for all of them, for his brother.

Hillier said gently, "Gene, if he is, you'll be the first to know. I'll keep you up on this the whole way, ok?"

"Thank Ambrose. I just ... well, I just want to be sure the effort is put in, you know?"

Hillier smiled at him and said, "Sure thing Gene. You know I will. For you."

Gene smiled back and turned to go.

Hillier sat back and wondered at this simple ID case. What was it about this guy that inspired effort? First April, now Gene? He grunted and went back to his desk, looking through his rolodex for the number for the local VA office.

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