|Death Is Our Heritage
Author: Guede Mazaka
Paul’s too old for drama. He’s always hated histrionics anyway, and makes a point of taking every possible opportunity to mock it. But drama he went with a little, back when he was young and too bright to understand the difference between stage and curtain. And then he tarnished in the acid filth of the beat-walk, bruised up in so many ways on and under his skin, and after that it didn’t take him long to get it. The world wasn’t up or down or right or wrong—it was relative. Relative to how much the paycheck falls short of the weekly payoff to the local monster squatting on the corner, relative to the yaw of insecurity between being in prison and having a starving family and being free and pardoned and having a dead family. The law didn’t set up crystal standards so much as formalize the pre-existing equivocations.
That was when Paul stopped trying to read people and started trying to read evidence. Facial tics, contractions of the irises behind all those theatrical tears, ways of walking. Half-ashed cigarette butts, just like goddamned Sherlock Holmes. It was a lot easier that way—got the job done with less stress on his already shitty system of beliefs. He didn’t feel like calling it morality any more, and he only continued to use the word ‘ethics’ because every couple of years they had to take that damned refresher seminar on it.
So the first time he laid eyes on the twins, he knew he wasn’t getting the whole truth, but he got enough of it that he let the rest go. What little was missing didn’t feel crucial to the current case, and everything else backed up the claim of self-defense.
Christ, Greenly would laugh. Out of all the shit-eating BPD geniuses, that jackass is the only one that ever suspected Paul of imperfection. He’s gone and converted to reluctant admiration like the rest of them, while Paul keeps pulling his rabbits out of sheet-covered corpses and does his damnedest to pretend he isn’t a cocksucking hypocritical compromised piece of shit.
The McManus brothers are the exact opposite, somehow. For all their lies and withholding information, they’re the first people Paul has met in a long, long time where the front matched the back, and both matched the insides. When Paul’s looking them in the face, he’s not getting a shove-off, a plastic fake, a fragment of humanity. He’s getting the whole goddamn personality. He’s getting it and it’s like asking what the fuck can you do about it, huh? What?
Nothing. They’re that good. They can tell the falsehood without having the sin of it land on them. It’s…natural to them, in the same way exhale follows inhale and not in the way that adrenaline levels in the blood spike immediately after a good fucking scare.
Or just a good fuck, and goddamn it, they would have to be pretty, too. Them and their tight asses and wise-ass grins and Irish lilting-your-cock-against-your-zipper dulcets. Possibly the only time Paul has wished he were straight—he’s got no issue with screwing men; it’s the faggot pageantry that usually comes along with it that sticks in his craw—but even then, that probably wouldn’t work. Duffy’s straight as a bullet trajectory and he goes melty in his own way around the twins. Add in how Connor and Murphy are all over each other, like the prelude to some seriously dick-blowing porno, and they could probably trade themselves out of death row, if prison didn’t cannibalize them first.
Il Duce’s got to know. He’s got to. That Kalashnikov-happy Father Killmas is one of the coolest, craziest, most manipulative and exploitative motherfucks Paul has ever met. The man is good, and when Paul uses that word, he’s being neither sarcastic nor complimentary. He may have some crack-headed fascinated infatuation with the twins, but he spares no love for the father. Then again, that’s about par for history: it took Yeshua Christ to start reversing the bombastic dictator bastard reputation God Almighty got in the Old Testament. Even now it’s Daddy’s Wrath and Son’s Mercy.
Once in a while, Paul wonders what unholy non-virgin played Mary. Usually when his bloody fingers are slipping on thread and needle and flesh, and his throat has gone to rasp from incessant low cursing, and Connor’s nearly found coma. Then Il Duce sits judgmental in Paul’s armchair and prays some damn thing Paul has never, ever come across in the Bible or the Apocrypha or any other remotely legitimate Christian text. Fucker’s eyes are like icepicks grinding into the back of Paul’s head, warning him that if he screws up—
--if he screws up, he’s what? Dead? It’s always hard to remember appropriateness and not laugh, because who the fuck cares. He’ll be dead is what he’s been hearing since he cracked his first case, is what he’s been expecting since he unleashed chaos in the halls of law and order, and anyway, the Duke will still be royally fucked. Because then he’ll have no avenging angels winging his sides—Paul hopes the man’s not so far gone as to believe he can keep one son for long without the other—and he’ll be nothing but an old freak with no legacy, no anchor, no trust, and no welcome in society. Paul knows.
Paul would like to throw Il Duce out of his apartment, keep the twins back and give them the goddamn talking-to they apparently never got in America. Because they’re truth, and sometimes it hurts to watch them so Paul has to duck down, light up and look slantwise at them, and he’s had nothing to lose for so long that he’s forgotten how he got rid of his somethings in the first place. He can’t get them out of his head.
He can’t even say no when Murphy crawls into bed, offering some twisted idea of thank-you and compensation and God knows what. It’s sweet, but turns rancid in Paul’s mouth as soon as he can summon up the effort to lie on his back and stare at the ceiling. No mirror there, but he’s seen the bedrooms of enough deviants to be able to imagine it. Too bad his face is too wide and bony to be Dorian Gray, because self-annihilation would be wonderful right about now. He may have turned his head the other way and swallowed down his objection, but up till now he’s never felt like a whore.
Connor probably knew the instant Murphy thought about it. At any rate, the next morning he’s cool and chilly, and never mind that Paul hadn’t gotten around to scrubbing the fuck’s blood out of his carpet yet. When Paul starts to pour them all coffee, Connor grabs the first filled cup and shoves it at Murphy while his brother’s still trying to say what sugar and cream he wants in it. Standing by the window, Il Duce is silent and grim.
But Paul moves across the room, flicks a glance back at the twins, and on the rebound catches the Duke showing a flicker of righteous amusement. Goddamn him. Him and his end justifies the means—if they do wrong in stealing what they need, in breaking and entering, in psychologically scarring innocent people, is he going to hold guns to their heads and pull the trigger thrice?
Paul is turning that image over in his mind, and he’s surprised at how poetic it feels. How well it rounds off the whole mess.
Murphy finds him later, shuffling his feet and twitching discomfort while in the hall brother and father wait in impatience. “Hey.”
“Connor shouldn’t be up—hell, he shouldn’t even be breathing. If he strains anything, he might rip something too deep for me to get to. And then you’ll have to kidnap a surgeon and commandeer a surgery room.” The cigarette smoke curls when it hits the window pane, leaving tiny bits of grime behind. If Paul stands here long enough, he might manage to blot out his ineffectual reflection.
“Can’t stay. We’ve got to—”
This time, the exhale is not a wisp, but a flood of gray dimming the light. Paradoxically, it’s going to be a beautiful day. “Don’t tell me. In fact, don’t come back here. I can’t keep doing this.”
“If this is about last night—”
“It’s about the case files on my goddamned desk, if it’s about anything. Tell your father I’m not going to be taking his fucking bananas any more.” Paul’s always wondered how much it would take to piss off the twins, if one wasn’t a rapist or a killer or a criminal of some kind.
From the sound of things, he’s nearly about to find out. But no, the sharp inhale and the clenching doesn’t lead to anything except a strained silence.
If Murphy were Greenly, God forbid, the next thing he’d say would be something about not interrupting his sentences. But he’s not. He doesn’t have the time or the stupidity to fuck around, for one. “You think that Da’s…the reason for it?”
“Well, as long as he’s around, I can’t really tell, can I?” The ash is halfway up the filter and not slowing its crawl; Paul can feel the heat begin to singe his lip. He takes the butt from his mouth, but doesn’t yet stub it out, and watches the smoke clear to show the world. The window, in which Murphy’s reflection floats like a spirit crystallized into the glass. “The last thing I’m going to say is that you need to take a break. Not just to heal—you’ve got the whole country up in arms. And I’m telling you because I had this conversation with your goddamned father, and he says that God’s servants never rest. Right. Said it. Get the fuck out of my apartment, Murphy.”
Not that the other man will know, but Paul never uses first names when expelling someone.
Murphy goes. Him and the others are barely in the stairwell before the first laugh comes filtering back up. But it’s a high, thin, hollowed sound that barely resonates through the dirge accompanying the grind of Paul’s first migraine of the week.
Sunday, he tries confession, and he feels a little better for the next week. But then it’s just a rapidfire storm of report after report that’s got the whole agency jumping around like fleas fleeing a chemical bath. And just as he feared, it’s so damn big this time that Paul would have to retire if he wanted to avoid it.
He takes a coffee break, spends it decidedly not drinking coffee and bangs up his knuckles so there are four red streaks on the door of the snack-room refrigerator. Then he rips his tie loose and uses it to wipe up the shit. Later he’ll torch the thing in a wastebasket, but for right now, he’s staring at the stains and thinking about the traces of similar ones he never quite got out of his carpet—he’ll have to get new carpeting installed, and pass it off as hot chocolate, or something. Would that he could reupholster his morality as well, because he’s calling on the goddamn thing and it’s not answering. Nothing’s answering except a real lowdown fatigue and a morbid reflex to see, like a rubberneck whizzing by a wrecked school bus.
Paul has no clear memory of going back into the meeting room, but he remembers walking out straight to the bathroom and puking up lunch. And his recall of every investigated scene, every brilliant insight, every almost-miss, is clear as his head is muddy.
He’s got a lot of those. Fucking Il Duce probably never fully understood how useful it was to keep Paul Smecker from looking too closely at something. And now Paul can’t keep his eyes shut at all.
So one night he’s staggering about red-gazed from insomnia and caffeine dregs, latest forensics crinkling in one hand, and the doorbell rings. Sometimes Paul wonders if maybe he’s got some Irish in him, because the back of his neck prickles. He puts down his shotglass, puts down the papers, runs a hand through his hair and opens the door, ready for the gunshot.
Instead, he gets grunge-eaten darkly gaunt Murphy, clutching at the soaked shoulder of his black coat and paling faster than bleaching clothes.
“I told you—” Paul begins, but this time it’s his turn for the interruption.
“They’re not here,” Murphy grates, closing his eyes like admitting that is threatening to rip out his guts. “They don’t know where I am. Now are you going t’kick me out or let me in? I’d like t’know so I can get on t’passin’ out already.”
He gets to come in. He gets to spend two weeks of soft moans and no protests at the fumble-fingered bastard stitching him together in Paul’s bed, while Paul works overdrive because now his vision’s split between the man at home and the men still out there. Murphy’s apparently right; the others don’t know and it’s driving one of them mad enough to start dropping little errors all over the place like insecticide-sprayed birds. Connor, most likely.
One day Murphy is sitting at the table eating breakfast one-handed while Paul leans against the kitchen, juggling java and donut and newspaper. “It was a girl. Woman.” Murphy’s jaw works hard around the words, like they’re reverse-choking and trying to get back down instead of out. “Down in San Francisco. Littlest thing, but she’d knocked off half the…whatever the hell they call it, triad, around there. Last thing she said was at least she wasn’t dying in some bastard’s bed. After that, I wanted…but I couldn’t even talk t’them anymore. Look in Da’s eyes, Connor’s eyes, and nothing there.”
“You got here alone from San Francisco?” Pardon the slowness, but it’s early and Jesusfuck, Paul hasn’t done sympathy in a long, long time. Since he did drama, actually.
“Fuck off, man. Connor’s not me, and I’m not him.” But the twisting cheek muscle and the sudden stab at the food says it’s pretty damn close. “You’re hunting us.”
“You were getting real close. Da wanted to kill you. Connor said no, you’re on the side of good, but Da…he can grind on you.” Murphy shrugs, gives Paul a glance from drained eyes.
And when Paul’s gone back to being as straight and narrow as he ever gets. The irony’s not funny or poetic, but just dingy overused shit that leaves him with a bad taste in his mouth. “I can see that.”
When Paul comes home, late in the dark, there’s the remains of dinner in the kitchen and an Irish man going through his notes. Murphy’s bundled into the couch, leafing through the reports with a strange, almost humorous intensity. He doesn’t look up when Paul comes and sits by him, folding hands demurely between knees even though those things need to get written up tonight.
Whistling, Murphy holds up a Texas double murder. “Jesus Christ. Were you there, man?”
“A day afterward. Apparently, I’m the only one that can keep up with you.” Paul eases the papers from Murphy’s hands and folds them neat into a spare manila folder. When he turns back, Murphy is right there, palms warming Paul’s cold shoulders and blankets dropping away to leave only a thin shirt between him and Paul. “What?”
“When you caught us, what were you going to do?” Murphy asks, fingers just lying there.
It’s so damned late—Paul’s always so damned late. Makes his feet and head heavy, makes them want to sink and drag and die. “How the fuck should I know? I’ve got no problem killing your father, sorry but yeah, but you three are some fucked-up trinity where I can’t tell where one ends and another starts. You…congrats, McManus. You fucked me up royally.”
If that doesn’t get the long-lashed bastard off his lap, then Paul doesn’t know what will.
And it seems he just doesn’t know, no matter how close he gets, because Murphy not only stays put but also does his fucking hardest to shove his tongue down Paul’s throat. Idiot, idiot, idiot. It’s been something like seven months and Paul’s been living in their heads, sniffing their shit trail for all that time, and it’s like fireworks of sourness when it all comes flooding up. He has Murphy on his back, not being gentle about it, and that shirt Murphy’s sneaked from Paul’s closet is the most inappropriate thing Paul has ever seen. So he shoves that up the lean chest, shoves it repeatedly over Murphy’s ribs till he finally figures out it’s not coming completely off while Murphy’s arms are down and settles for gnawing at Murphy’s collar like the bitch he is.
The fingers are in his hair now, stroking the back of his neck, and there’s a knee pressed into his side. Rubbing hard and slow and arrhythmic, pushing him sideways till he pushes back and suddenly their cocks are springing towards each other through the restraint of cloth. That doesn’t last long—not while Murphy arching and groaning like he is, face tucked firm into Paul’s neck—and then Paul would be satisfied with just this furious grind of everything into hard heat. He would. He’s gone that low.
But Murphy pulls his fingers down. Gets them finding something slick, and then gets them inside. Still not looking, still hiding in Paul’s shoulder and Paul can’t blame him for that because Paul ain’t no spring chicken so much as a winter monster. Then Paul’s seated inside, prick wrapped deep in Murphy and all those stupid clichés about the ultimate closeness explode. Because this, in fact, isn’t the closest he’s ever been. But what it is might be the truest.
He fucks Murphy. Yes, fucks. Harder and faster, till Murphy’s head finally drops onto the sofa and the goddamn saint is watching while the sinner gets his own back. And Paul’s eyes finally close, and he shoots through the white into the first decent sleep he’s had in months. Ringing through his dreams is a name not his own, and he doesn’t give a shit now, because he never wanted the name anyway. He wanted the substance.
When he wakes up, Murphy’s still there. “I always wonder what would’ve happened, if we’d told you everything the first time.”
“I’d have even more blood on my hands because of you.” The rest is fading from Paul, going bittersweet as he sits up, and all that’s left is his inability to let the softening illusions stand.
Murphy keeps staying, like a quiet pet that does the dishes and always curls up to Paul’s left side. So it was inevitable that one night, Paul would open the door and get punched in the face by Connor. Il Duce, thank whatever version of God’s up there, is still out of the picture.
“Where is he?” Connor snaps.
Paul can only roll his eyes now and hook a thumb over his shoulder. Then he slaps Connor aside and stalks away to work, unwilling to watch what comes next. He knows this part of the story, anyway. And he’s done and done and now he’s done in. Can’t do any more. It’s up to them to take things forward, while he follows like the trained robot he is.
They’re nice enough to lock the door. Murphy leaves a note in shaky, hesitant writing: an address in Ireland, plus the name of a brand of whiskey. The paper is under two coiled rosaries.
* * *
The woman that opens the door is rough, blowsy, viper-eyed. She fixates on the wrapped bottle Paul’s carrying, then on his face. “Who th’fuck are you?”
“Paul Smecker, formerly of the FBI in Boston.” He digs into his pockets while she mutters imprecations against all law enforcement, then produces the crucifixes.
For a long time, she just stares. Open-mouthed, cigarette dropping off her lip. The moisture starts in the inside corner of her eyes and swiftly spreads outward, and then she turns around and cries against the door frame.
“They’re not known to be dead yet,” Paul says, possibly because he’s slightly uncomfortable.
“Don’t matter, do it? They’re on the road for it, and there’s no getting off it.” She doesn’t stop leaking tears, though she does stop sobbing. When she takes the rosaries from him, he sees that her nails are cracked through and yellowed, but still formidable. That won’t last long.
In the end, she makes him keep the bottle of whiskey. Walking down the hill from her house, Paul swings it up and opens it for a long, burning swig while his eyes take in the green countryside, with its calming softness. He feels like he’s floating, suspended in the air and simply taking it all in.
He’s going back to America. Because he knows how to wait and to watch now. He’ll be there when the curtain goes down and the lights flicker out, once and for all.