An insidious hot bubbling from Lucas Remmer’s past started to rise inside his chest. He’d been out of practice blocking it out, a kid the last time it happened. But he felt it when he heard a scream come from inside a suspect’s house. They were there to question him, but the sound lit a fire inside his limbs to get in and help. When he saw what had happened after kicking in the door his helplessness ignited the final spark that took him out. It gripped him from the inside out and there was nothing that could have stopped it. The darkness came.
“Lucas!” Someone yelled. “Lucas! Eyes on me, man.” His back slammed into something hard. “Lucas!”
Muscles tight. Fists curled around flesh. “Lucas!”
Something pulled him back. He knew that voice. His best friend. A slow blink and then, “Joe?”
“Fuck.” Joe’s whole body went slack. “What just happened, man?”
A stack of images surfaced, fluttering like a deck of cards in his mind. Images from the past he didn’t want to remember, others that weren’t clear of the woman he’d seen lying on the floor. His body jerked out of Joe’s grip. He needed to get to the woman. He had to help her. Lucas looked around.
“Where is she? What happened to the woman?” His mind still lost to the black haze that had coated his mind his focus driven to the woman who needed help. Until he looked around to see the other officers on scene. Their eyes were wide. Some looked away. Others, stood with arms crossed their bodies primed to jump.
Joe had been his friend since the academy, the same graduating class. The man tensed as Lucas went to move around him. Joe stepped in his way. Lucas moved toward the front door, his hands fisted at his sides, his anger jumping across his skin. He didn’t want to hurt his friend, but he needed to see the woman for himself.
“Move out of the way, Joe.” He went to move again, and Joe caught his arm.
“Just hang on. Coop and Mick got her loaded on the ambo. They’re headed to Beaumont West Emergency.”
“Let me go, Joe.” Lucas’s voice low, disembodied like it was from another person said. “I need to get to her.” The whole time Lucas pushed Joe, Joe pressed him harder back into the wall.
“No.” Joe’s eyes narrowed on Lucas, searching. Joe shook him. A tiny jerk. “What the hell just happened?”
Lucas shut down. He didn’t want to acknowledge what had just happened. He didn’t think he would ever have to speak of that time in his childhood again.
Joe waited for him to respond. Lucas stayed mute. What could he tell his friend without revealing too much? He broke Joe’s intense stare and his eyes took in the room. It was destroyed. Blood. There was a pool of it.
Lucas’s panic jetted with the congealing puddle of blood that rested not too far away from his feet. Had he done this? No. He shook his head. Maybe he could un-see it. Had he caused this? He couldn’t remember. Only flashes of memory came to him. They were memories of the woman, not the man they came to question. “No,” he whispered.
Joe looked over his shoulder and jerked his head toward the door. The other officers stepped outside to greet the continually blue and red flashing lights. Lucas now recognized the flurry of movement and more officers and an ambulance. Another ambulance?
“Where’s the suspect?” Lucas asked. That was when he noticed the throbbing in his hands and uncurled them. He just stared. His knuckles were a jagged mess, red and oozing blood. Lucas’s jaw hurt too.
“Where’s the woman?” He ignored the mess he made of himself and concentrated on the one thing that mattered above all else. “I need to see her. Let go.”
“Only place you’re going is the precinct. The Lieutenant wants your ass in her office.”
“Shit.” Margo was the only one who knew his secret. He had to fully disclose his one and only weakness. He should have told Joe, but what would the guy think of him if he knew what he’d done.
“You good?” Joe asked.
Joe rubbed his face. “I don’t know what the hell just happened but you’re gonna tell me all of it.”
“Yeah,” Lucas responded. He didn’t know if it was to Joe’s statement or just to appease him so he could get the visit over with his Lieutenant.
Joe’s fingers uncurled from Lucas’s arm and he stepped back. It was then he got a full look at the destruction and carnage left behind after his blackout. Furniture was overturned, blood was splattered over the floor, the sofa. The drapes were marred with stains.
What had it looked like when they’d arrived? His hand twitched. And he flinched. A memory took a front seat in his cortex. The scream. Lucas had been through the flimsy door in a second, breaking it down with the slam of his boot. The locks had torn from the jamb. He blinked again. He saw the woman lying in a pool of blood. He blinked again. He’d moved toward her to get to her. Her swollen eyes in macabre relief, the slits barely open. Fingerprints embedded purple on the woman’s arms and neck. The suspect hovering over her. That’s when things got fuzzy.
He thought he might have groaned at one point as he exited through the tiny house’s front door. He walked straight to his unmarked ride keeping his gaze forward afraid what he might see in the other officers’ eyes.
Lucas stood at the passenger door and looked at Joe over the roof of the car. He went to open his mouth and make some excuse for his actions but closed it. What could he say? He got in and buckled up. Joe yelled something over to one of the other guys and got in.
Lucas looked down to find his hands shaking. His opened and bloodied knuckles a reminder of what he didn’t remember doing.
The driver’s door slammed, and Lucas jumped. Fucking jumped.
Joe gripped the steering wheel, his friend taking a quick look over at Lucas. Lucas ignored him.
The drive to the precinct seemed to take a lifetime.
Rubbing his face with his fucked-up hands, Lucas slammed his locker.
He’d been suspended. Lucas wasn’t surprised.
His badge now sat on the Lieutenant’s desk along with his police-issued Smith n’ Wesson M&P. He had to fix this so he could get back to work. He was the job.
Margo didn’t want to take his gun and badge because she was on his side. But she couldn’t have one of her Detectives going off, losing his shit on a suspect to the point where Joe had had to restrain him. But he knew the man he’d beat the shit out of deserved it. That and a lot more.
The wife or woman the man had been assaulting had barely been conscious when they’d busted down the door.
Joe and he had arrived to ask the man some questions on a case they’d been trying to solve for a couple of months. It was the first break they had gotten. At least the asshole was in a cell. Joe had struggled to pull him off as things went critical, but he’d also said it had taken longer for Lucas to snap out of what had gone down. Lucas took a slow breath trying to calm his heart rate, a trick one of his earlier shrinks had taught him. He could have killed the guy without even remembering it. From what the paramedics had told him, the man only needed some stitches after they’d woken him up with some smelling salts. Lucas had punched the guy hard enough, Joe said, that he hit the floor with such an impact it rattled the whole place. He and the other officers had gotten him cuffed, on a gurney, and quickly assessed he would be fine. He’d been quickly hauled off to jail.
As his hands still trembled with emotion he opened his locker once again and pulled his coat and go-bag out of his locker. He threw everything else that was in his locker in his bag and was just about to leave when he smelled tobacco and fabric softener. Joe must have changed while he was in with the Lieutenant.
“You okay, man?”
Lucas’s head shook with a jerk. He kept silent. When Joe’s hand landed on his shoulder Lucas pulled away turning to his best friend.
He regretted Joe seeing him at his worst. The scene Lucas and he had walked in on had him on a precipice. On one side was the rage on the other was a helplessness he’d not felt in a long time. And then there was the shame, but he pushed that down. All sides daggers to his psyche. The beast of emotions inside him had been dormant. Not so much anymore.
A ball of inanimate emotion ready to burst out of his skin had been his nemesis as long as Lucas could remember. And it had gone off today. He didn’t grow up with violent parents. There was no sordid past that had him sitting in a shrink’s chair to sort out teen angst. No, that had come as the edge of adulthood crept closer.
He’d seen violence all his life growing up in a neighborhood that stood on a line, that if crossed, could bring a world of hurt followed by a lot of bad decisions. He had never crossed that line but it had crossed his. Images from the past crowded his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced them into the small box deep in his mind.
He looked up past Joe and saw the sign over the door. “Protect and Serve” Lucas laughed. There was no humor in it.
Joe frowned. “Talk to me, Luc.”
Lucas hadn’t done his job. He’d added more problems for everyone in his unit.
When he’d walk in on the scene, his mind remembering more as the day dragged him across a graveled pavement, he’d seen the look in the woman’s eyes. Abject terror. Her muddled and beaten body had probably still been in a fight or flight mode but it wasn’t able to react, and she’d seen him, and the panic had pushed her to the point of passing out. When he’d looked at her he was pretty sure she thought he was a monster.
“I got to go.”
“Come on. Jesus, Luc. Had I not stopped you, that guy would have been done. As it was, it took three of us to pull you off him. What’s going on?” Lucas thought it had been just Joe. Now he understood all the other guys in the room.
Lucas could see the hurt in his friend’s eyes, but he didn’t want to talk about it.
“I need to go,” he repeated.
“Fine. You don’t want to talk about this with me. But you need to talk to someone about what happened.”
He nodded, not able to look his friend in the eyes and left the building. Lucas drove straight to the hospital. Once there he was glad to see a nurse on duty that knew him. With his badge on his Lieutenants desk, he had nothing to show proof of his identity that had some pull to get in and see Marcella.
“Hi, Detective Remmer.”
“Cindy,” he said. “I need to ask Marcella Neens, the woman who was attacked and brought in earlier some questions.” Since he wasn’t so lucid after his blackout he had had to ask Joe on the way over what the woman’s name was.
It made his insides curl up to think that Marcella would still have the frightened look on her face when he went in to see her. Lucas didn’t want her to fear him but there was a definite chance that she would feel that way. Remembering a little more of what had happened he’d gotten to the woman at one point, such a quick second before the suspect tried to get back at the woman and Lucas had gone at him again, she was still lost in fight or flight mode and Marcella had seen his figure leaning over her and had cowered in fear, a natural reaction.
“She’s in room 201, Luc.” She smiled and stopped him before he could move away. “Hey, do you want to catch a drink with me later? I had a nice time the last time we hung out.”
Lucas tried to remember if he’d ever spent time with Cindy without giving away that he didn’t really remember a time they’d hung out.
“Sure, I’ll call you.” Cindy frowned and went to stand up, but Lucas quickly walked down to Marcella’s room without looking back. He probably deleted Cindy’s phone number. He wasn’t much for relationships. His job was what mattered. And he wasn’t interested in getting her number again either. He had to get his shit together and even thinking about a relationship gave him hives.
He stood outside Marcella’s room and tried to stockpile some courage to walk past the threshold. Once Lucas walked in he knew what he would see. It made him curl up his fists as his anger once again grew causing his nails to dig into his skin. One more deep breath and he moved into the room the ground shaky. Or was that his legs.
“Oh, Jesus!” He couldn’t help the outburst. She was black and blue everywhere and what he couldn’t see Lucas was pretty sure it would be the same.
He took a seat that was close to the barred bed and didn’t look away. As quietly as possible he released the pin in the side barricade and moved it down. Lucas scooted his chair closer. She was too thin, the bruises more evident because of it. Her one hand lay next to her covered form. It seemed to be the only place that she didn’t have bruises and without thinking of the consequences he slid his bigger hand under her delicate one. Thin and pale, the manicure still perfect but without color now, Lucas stroked her fingers like he was touching the cap of hair on a baby’s head.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more,” he whispered. “If I’d gotten there earlier maybe we could have prevented what happened to you.” His forehead went to her hand and rested there. Then to his cheek.
The hand under him jerked and his head shot up. Marcella’s eyes were only the narrowest of slits, probably making it hard to see.
“I’m sorry,” Lucas said but didn’t let her hand go. He continued to stroke her fingers so she would understand he wouldn’t hurt her. She tried to pull away again. “I’m Detective Lucas Remmer. You’re in the hospital. You’re safe.” Her breaths were getting faster and the beeping on the machines sped up. “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you. My partner and I rescued you. I’m sorry…I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you sooner.”
Marcella began turning her head in hard angry jerks. Back and forth, back and forth. Moaning.
“Are you in pain?” Lucas stood up to get a nurse. This time he felt her grip harden and he held in a wince.
“No, no, no,” she whispered repeatedly. “Not your fault.” Her breathing hitched a few times and her eyes skittered around the room.
“He’s not here. You’re safe. The man who beat you is in jail.”
Her eyes met his. Marcella’s breathing began to slow and finally level out. Cindy rushed in breathing heavy. Her eyes flashed down where their hands were joined, and her lips pinched together. She took some vitals and wrote some things down on a chart.
“She needs her rest, Luc. And you’re obviously not here to question her. You need to leave.”
Marcella squeezed his hand hard. “No,” came the small voice, her throat still swollen, which it would be for a while. Cindy’s head turned toward Marcella and her face softened. But as soon as she took in Lucas sitting next to her bed, again the woman glared at him like his head was an empty can and her eyes were a forty-five that had just shot at him. She turned on her heel and left the room.
“I’m Marcella,” she said.
“I know sweetheart. I’m Lucas.”
“I know.” A small smile lit her face as tears welled in her eyes. But in the next moment something banged outside in the hallway, and what followed was a deep roar from, Lucas guessed, another patient. There was shouting and running feet. Marcella reacted and jumped pushing herself back as far as she could go, her body starting to shake uncontrollably. She groaned and curled in on the pain he could guess was bad. Lucas stood up and moved slowly toward her never dropping eye contact. Her eyes never leaving his stare.
“You’re going to be alright. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Lucas decided then and there that he would do everything he could for Marcella in her recovery. Even though they were complete strangers, when he looked at her, there was a connection that he couldn’t deny. Something had happened to him in that house while she lay on that floor bleeding. More than just the blackout. Something that brought back the past he’d kept buried for too long. He didn’t know what his time with Marcella would bring but he wasn’t going to hide behind his badge or his past. He needed to figure things out. And he thought Marcella might just be the first step.