Back Bay, Boston
Brant wakes early.
His alarm is set for 6 but he’s up two hours before. Since the shootout, sleep doesn’t come easy.
He rolls over and strokes Maggie’s hair. His hand reaches out and caresses the fullness of her pregnant belly. Maggie responds with a murmur clouded by the fog of sleep.
“How’s junior?” he asks, addressing the comment to his wife’s distended baby bump.
“You gonna be a fighter like your mom?”
Maggie tugs at the covers.
“Our kid is practicing the high jump,” she says.
“Sorry to wake you, Mags.”
“I was half awake. Still can’t sleep?”
The truth is, he’s bothered. He’s used to being under fire. Iraq and Afghanistan. He’d seen serious action. Dodged a couple of bullets, too. Life was short back then. And brutal. But he’d persevered and learned to survive long enough to make it home safely. So, no, he wasn’t particularly perturbed by being shot at. But Murray was different. The ambush had unleashed something — a primal, hidden anxiety Brant had suppressed since his return.
A burned out cop is no use at the detective’s table.
He stares at the ceiling as morning light creeps across the still-dark bedroom. The luminous dial on the alarm clock casts a silver glow over the room. He gives up on sleep, pulls the bed covers off and gets up.
He steps into the bathroom and goes through the motions of his morning ritual. Shave. Shower. Get dressed.
Brant descends the stairs to the kitchen and prepares scrambled eggs and bacon.
While the bacon spatters, he checks his overnight messages.
Brant has been on administrative leave since the shooting. Told to talk to no one except internal affairs and the department shrink. He has an appointment this morning at 10. A waste of time as far as he’s concerned, but what’s he going to do? Gareth Oliver won’t let him back until the shrink gives the all-clear and that’s not going to happen until Brant serves the requisite time in the chair spilling his guts.
He needs to keep Gareth Oliver happy. Except nobody who knows the man actually uses that name. For those familiar with the captain, he’s Jolly Olly — an inside joke because Oliver is anything but jovial.
Actually, Jolly isn’t all bad, Brant thinks. The man has his moments. Also, Brant knows something the other cops don’t. Brant’s years in the military had honed his instincts. He’d learned to suss out the chosen ones, and in this place and time, Gareth Oliver is a man on the rise. So if Jolly says spill your guts to the shrink, that’s exactly what Brant needs to do. Within limits.
His phone chirps. He reads the screen and shakes his head. A summons from Jolly.
COME SEE ME AFTER THE DOC. ASAP.
Brant acknowledges and plugs the phone back into its charging cradle. He’s got a feeling he’ll need a full charge. It’s going to be that kind of day.
An hour later, he’s about to head out the door. He runs upstairs to find Maggie wrapped in the blankets. He leans over and kisses her on the forehead then strokes her belly.
“Be good to your mother,” he tells his unborn child. “I love you, kid.”
* * *
The appointment with the shrink lasts an hour. The talk is mostly about the shooting and its aftermath.
“You’re not in the dog house,” the shrink says, his voice betraying a lack of confidence.
“Feels that way,” Brant says.
The shrink chews on the end of his pen, a habit Brant had noticed in their first session.
“You’ve had time to think about what happened. Would you do anything differently?”
Brant furrows his brow and considers the question. Anthony Gilbrand is mid-forties and bookish. Big round glasses, tweed jacket with patches, corduroy trousers. The man is a walking cliche, the tortured, misunderstood academic who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else.
Gilbrand shifts his weight in his oversized armchair.
“You mean could I have done anything that wouldn’t have gotten Glenn Murray killed?”
“That’s not what I said,” Gilbrand says, brandishing the chewed end of his pen like a sword.
“But that’s what you meant.”
“Let’s assume that’s what I was asking.”
Brant processes the request for a second time.
“The intel was good. Murray knew what he was getting into. Shit happens.”
Gilbrand frowns. “That seems a bit harsh. What are your feelings about Mr. Murray? You served in the military and I know you saw action. I’m assuming you’ve experienced combat losses before.”
Brant nods. Gilbrand had hit his mark.
“Couple times in Afghanistan. There was this one time, a buddy of mine….”
Brant’s voice trails off. The story remains untold as he begins to shut down. Gilbrand looks at him sympathetically, but the silence lingers.
“Like crap. I’m tired…but my body can’t relax.”
Gilbrand sucks on the end of his pen. “I’d like you to think for a moment. Have you experienced any moments of heightened anxiety, any time when you’ve felt like you’re out of control?”
Brant considers the question.
“Are you sure? Either since your return from Afghanistan or after Lieutenant Murray’s death?”
Brant rejects the thought a second time.
“How are you with tight spaces? The subway or a crowded street car?”
“There was an incident a few days after the shooting. I was on the Green Line to Kenmore when my heart rate shot through the roof. And the thing is, I had this taste in my mouth. Some weird metallic taste. Never had it before, never had it again.”
Gilbrand smiles weakly.
“The shooting is triggering unpleasant memories of your time in Afghanistan. That metallic taste, some studies suggest it may be a minor bleeding of the gums brought on by the heightened state of anxiety. That anxiety may also be why you can’t sleep. We need to quiet your mind.”
“The captain’s not letting me back so what’s the point?“
”I can talk to the captain. He’s more sympathetic than you realize.”
Brant frowns. He shifts his focus.
”How’s the kid?”
Brant picks up a framed photograph sitting on an end table. In the picture, Gilbrand has placed his arm around the shoulders of a young man with doughy, soft academic features.
“We’re not here to discuss me,” the shrink says as he takes the frame from Brant. “And you’re avoiding the subject.”
“We both know this is a futile exercise. Jolly’s using what happened with Murray to keep me out of the department and away from the dick table.”
“Assuming that’s true, why would the captain want you here with me?”
“I don’t know? Check the boxes maybe. Build a paper trail.”
“You’re being paranoid. The captain is genuinely concerned about your well-being. The department looks after its own, Detective Brant. What is it you REALLY want? You’re here speaking to me now. I’m assuming you want something.”
Brant cocks an eyebrow. He hadn’t expected the question.
“What do I want? I want to catch the bad guys, I want to make the world a safer place for our kids…for your son and for my baby. I want a level playing field. I want good things to happen to good people. I want to make sure the bad guys in this world get what they deserve.”
Gilbrand pulls out a folder and begins flipping through its pages.
“And who are the bad guys?”
“You know who I mean, doc.”
“No I don’t. Who is it you’re really talking about? Pimps, drug pushers, car thieves?”
“Some,” Brant says without pause.
“You don’t say that with much conviction.”
Brant places his hands on his knees and leans closer to Gilbrand. The shrink looks back at him with burning eyes.
“You want to know who the real bad guys are, doc?”
Brant leans back as he prepares his fusillade. Anger builds within him.
“I’ve been in this department almost six years. The bad guys aren’t the poor black kids on the corner slinging dope or the whores selling their junk. They’re doing what they can to get by, to work a system that’s stacked against them from the start. The real bad guys are the cocksuckers at the top. They’re the money men who never worked a real job in their lives, the Harvard-educated lawyers who won the life lottery by being born into wealth, the CEOs and the public relations managers, the lobbyists and the political consultants who all have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Those are the real bad guys and they’re the ones I’m going to take down.”
Gilbrand closes the file.
“You’re a man with a mission.”
“You could say that.”
Gilbrand chews the end of his pen.
“The folks you’re talking about, they don’t give up their wealth and power without a fight.”
“Yeah, I’m counting on that.”
“What about Sergei Volodin? Where does he fit?”
“He’s my white whale, doc.”
“And you’re who? Captain Ahab?”
“If it fits, sure.”
Gilbrand shakes his head.
“I just have one more question for today. You said your mission is to catch the bad guys. How does catching Volodin help you bring down the people you spoke about?”
Brant’s eyes twinkled with energy.
“Volodin’s a thug and a beast. He’s a shark. But you know, the thing about sharks is they’re feeders. They feed on whatever floats their way. They’re part of the food chain. I take out Volodin, I disrupt that chain. Who knows what happens then, right?”
Gilbrand takes out a pad, writes a note and hands Brant the piece of paper.
“Next time we meet, I’ll have a few names of programs that I think will help you. I have some ideas but I want to make a few calls first so we can get you the right help.”
“Thanks, doc, but I don’t want a prescription.”
Gilbrand waves away Brant’s protest.
“Take it. At least for now.”
Brant shoves the script into his pocket and stands to leave.
When he’s in the waiting room outside Gilbrand’s office, he reaches into his pocket and retrieves the prescription. He reads the tight, precise script.
“Don’t end up at the bottom of the sea, Captain Ahab.”
Brant folds and pockets the note.