I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.
― Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
I have a scar running down my life, an intractable line between the boy I was once, a long time ago, and the man I am now, the man I became after. Sometimes I feel like there are two of me that have been sewn together awkwardly, overlapping at a strange angle, leaving something misshapen and monstrous behind.
I’ve known this a long time – I’ve always known this, in a way, ever since that day in the forest, that dark swooping moment when I careened out of this world and into the next one, just for a little while. But the thing I never realized was that maybe it’s a blessing, the scar that runs down the heart of me. Because the alternative to a scar is a wound, perpetually leaking blood, my life running sluggishly down my arm until it’s all gone, until I’m white and empty and clean and gone, gone, gone.
A scar is a numb thing, the marbled silvery surface of it impenetrable, unfeeling. And I’ve come to think that feeling nothing is better than living through all that pain, every single day without reprieve. When you’re in that much pain, there’s no part of you that escapes, not even your dreams, not even the dark empty place you’re supposed to be able to go when you sleep.
I know this because I have a ghost, now, the ghost of Cassie Maddox following me around. She’ll follow me to the grave, she will; she’s never going to let me go. She’ll always be there, the flickering sharp edges of her at the corner of my eye. It doesn’t matter whether I’m at home in Dublin or someplace else – the countryside, London, New York – because she’s not haunting a place. She’s not bound to the old stone walls of Dublin Castle, to the uninteresting lines and corners of the streets around my apartment. She’s bound to me – she’s haunting me – and I can remember all of the reasons why.
It’s been years, now, do you see? It’s been years, and the wound hasn’t healed. It hasn’t closed up. I’m dying from it, I think, although my body’s in good shape still. It’s killing me all the same.
They tell you, of course, that there are going to be cases that fuck you up. The number of times I heard that in training from old grizzled cops who chain-smoked a pack a day and had eyes shot through with so many blood vessels you almost couldn’t see the white anymore was so high that I stopped listening to them, after a while. I was an arrogant little shite back then. (Once I told Cassie that, and she laughed herself silly at my use of the past tense.) When you’re young you think nothing can touch you, that the rules don’t apply. Just because I almost died when I was a kid didn’t make me any different, although it should have. I should have known that there are things that happen to you that are outside of your control, that anybody can take your life from you in an instant. But I didn’t. I wasn’t that boy anymore, remember; I was the man who followed. And the universe was stitching us back together so slowly I barely noticed.
What they don’t tell you, because it doesn’t usually happen to them, is that when a case goes really bad, spectacularly bad, that it doesn’t just fuck you up. A case like the one that finished me finds all your weakest places and rips you apart there, until you’re no longer attached to any part of yourself, until you can’t make any sense of the world anymore. All the things that anchored you to reality are torn away from you during a case like that, and you only get them back if you’re lucky. I wasn’t.
It’s not that I blame it all on the case. I know I was culpable, that the brunt of the responsibility fell on me for what I did and who I became during those last few weeks of my life. But I like to think that it wasn’t entirely my fault – not what I did but what was done to me. What happened with Cassie was all on me, but the rest of it – the sleeplessness, the lies, everything else – I wonder still, sometimes, whether Operation Vestal wasn’t like some kind of malignant force with a mind of its own. I wonder whether it was my punishment for surviving, all those years ago, vengeance finally delivered from the past, so many years later. But the boy who survived never really made it out of those woods – I know that now – and it’s not fair that I should have had to pay the price for his dumb luck.
Life’s not fair, Cassie would say, leaning back in her chair, one eyebrow raised. I know, Cassie. I know it’s not.
It’s been years, now, since everything. Years, and yet I still feel like I could turn around and be in the Murder Squad room again, in the middle of a case, tie askew and wired on caffeine. I still feel like I could turn around and see Cassie there behind me. She is there, in a way – the ghost of her, the shadow, the recollection.
You get good at passing the time when you’ve got nothing to fill it but grunt work, or paperwork – when your whole life passes behind a desk. I don’t know what I’ve done with myself, these past few years. I honestly couldn’t tell you. I go to work and then go home. I go out to the pub with the guys from my department every once in a while, watch them get drunk and sloppy and sad and know I’m not much better. I read a lot, nothing really worth the time, mass market thrillers printed on paper that would probably melt to pulp in a drizzle. I watch a lot of television – I went through a whole phase, for a while, where all I did with my free time was watch The Wire, and miss Murder so fucking bad I almost couldn’t breathe. There’s nothing glamorous about investigating murders, no matter what I thought as a twenty-something kid. That’s not what I miss. It’s being – how do they describe it? – “real police.” That’s what I miss. The feeling of doggedly following a thread until it either dies or leads you into something bigger, into the answer to some mystery, even if it’s not exactly the one you wanted, even if it’s incomplete. I miss that. It’s about having a purpose, about the things you do meaning something to somebody, even if only to the dead.
I’m a shadow in my own life, now. I don’t think I’ve done a single thing of significance in years. I’ve slept with a few women, since Cassie, but none of them have meant anything to me, and I’ve meant nothing to any of them. Every time it happens – not often, but enough for me to know this much – I wake up in the morning and feel empty, like somebody’s come in the night and scraped me out of myself, out of my body. I don’t make them breakfast.
I know she got married. To Sam, of all people. Sam, as good as he was simple – I just don’t believe he could ever understand all the complexities that make up Cassie Maddox. I’m not delusional to believe I’m the only person who could do that, but I knew Sam, and I knew Cassie, and I still can’t quite believe that he makes her happy. Cassie’s a dark thing; Cassie’s danger; Cassie’s a knife between the ribs. Cassie was broken, when I knew her. Broken and burning. Maybe she’s gone out, now; maybe she thinks she’s whole. I don’t buy it. I can’t. I can’t suffer under the weight of what it would mean, if she were.
You have to understand this: I would never have gone looking for her. I didn’t go looking for her; I deliberately stayed out of places I thought she might be. Once our office had to send somebody to DV – I can’t remember why, anymore – and I could have volunteered to do it easily. Somebody asked me to, actually, and I made up some excuse to stay in the office. I wouldn’t have done that to her. I’m not a good person, but I like to think I’m not that cruel.
Lest you think too well of me, know this: I was terrified. Not of seeing her – God, I would have given anything to see Cassie again, if there had been some way to do it without there being any chance of her seeing me. I was afraid of what she would do after she saw me, after she realized who I was – I thought I knew what she would do. No, that’s not right – I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would turn away from me. And I couldn’t have borne that. I couldn’t have survived.
But fate has a funny way of fucking with you – that’s something O’Kelly used to say to us in Murder, gleefully, whenever something bad happened to us that didn’t also affect him. I knew my life had gotten sad when I realized I even missed having him around, to bitch at and about at will. (I’d take Dublin over Baltimore any day, but I do sometimes wish I’d had the chance to cut off his tie when he was sleeping.) Fate has a funny way of fucking with you, and fate was always after me especially. I was marked from the day I set foot in the woods.
I always thought if I saw her again it would be in the Castle, in a courtroom, somewhere where neither of us had any choice but to go about our business, even if that meant running into each other. But things never happen the way you expect them to – that’s another thing I’ve learned, another thing I was told and ignored when I was young and stupid.
I was over by Trinity, having lunch with an old friend, somebody who knew me in the weird in-between stage, the years after my boyhood was snatched away and before I became a cop. I don’t have many friends, even fewer old ones, but I see them if they want to see me. I don’t see much point in turning the only people left alive who care about me away, even if I don’t care much about them anymore.
I got there first, so I got myself a coffee and sat down to wait for him. She was sitting in the corner, twenty feet or so away from me, with a book in front of her that she wasn’t reading, even though she was staring at the open pages. I know her – she wasn’t reading. She looked older – not old, but older – and so, so tired. I couldn’t see her hand but I could imagine the ring there, what it would look like. I thought my heart had stopped. I knew I should get up and leave the shop, call up my friend and tell him I couldn’t make it, for one reason or another. But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t look away from her.
She looked sad.
When she looked up and saw me staring at her, her face didn’t move at all: it froze, instead, and got very pale, even paler than she is normally. I wanted to get up, go over to her, wanted to say anything at all to her – how are you, strange weather we’re having, it’s been such a long time, I see you out of the corner of my eye every day of my life, I love you, seeing you is like having my heart ripped out of my chest and put into my hand – but I couldn’t do any of that, couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, and then my old friend was there, saying hello, sitting down, and when I looked back over to the table where she’d been sitting, she was gone, like maybe she’d never been there at all.
The next time was a few weeks later. We’d ripped off the bandage, now, and the universe wouldn’t keep us protected from each other anymore.
It was predictable, this time; it was about the job. I heard a man beating up his wife in a flat upstairs, and because I’m still a cop, and only a coward when it comes to myself, I grabbed my badge, took the stairs two at a time, and pushed open the door – it was unlocked – when I got up there, pulled him off of her. He’d messed her up pretty badly: the right side of her face was a mess from where he’d been wailing on her, and she was shaking and there was mucous running down her face, she was crying so hard. He got me in the eye, but I’ve never been afraid to fight dirty, and once he saw my badge he calmed the fuck down. There are two kinds of criminals, I’ve always found: the ones who panic when they find out what you are, and the ones who just shut down. I’ve always managed to respect the fighters more, even though they’re probably the stupider ones.
I rang the police and waited in the apartment with the guy in the front room while the girlfriend hid in the back. And when Cassie walked through the door, I swear to you, I wife even the tiniest bit surprised. I hadn’t been expecting her, but as soon as I saw her, I knew, the way you just know things sometimes, that it had to be her. Of course.
She wasn’t surprised to see me, either – I’d given my name on the phone call. She stopped in front of me and looked at me for a long minute, her eyes two little hard pieces of flint in her pale, pale face. I wondered why she was volunteering to work night shifts.
“Hey,” I said finally, because if one of us had to start it might as well be me.
“Hey,” she said, and there wasn’t a hint of fondness in her voice, but she wasn’t turning away from me, either. That was all I could realistically ask for.
“Trying to get the powers that be to move you out of purgatory, are you?” she asked.
“No,” I said, because it honestly hadn’t crossed my mind at all. I’d accepted that tip lines and door-to-door was my fate a long time ago.
“All right, then,” she said, and I couldn’t for the life of me tell what she was thinking. I could see the rings on her finger and tried not to stare at them, but she caught me looking and put her hand in her pocket.
“He’s scared shitless,” I told her. “Only run-in with the cops as years ago, he keyed some guy’s car.”
“What about her?” Cassie asked.
I shrugged. “She’s in the bedroom,” I told her. “I couldn’t stay with both of them at once.”
“I mean, will she be willing to say anything?” she said. “Against the husband.”
“I couldn’t tell you,” I said. “You’re the one with the psychology degree, Cassie.”
Her lips went tight. “Just part of one,” she corrected, although I knew she’d taken time off to go back and finish. But she was turning away from me, walking over to the husband and crouching down in front of him. He’d been cuffed by then and his arms were pulled awkwardly behind his back. His wife had managed to get a few scratches in; his face was a mess. I wondered whether this was something he did often, or if it had been building up in him for years, just waiting, and waiting, and waiting to come out.
“Come on,” Cassie said to me a few minutes later. “They’re going to need to talk to you, down at the station. Take your statement.”
“Sure,” I said, and watched her walk away from me. Her back was very straight and her hair was longer than I could ever remember it being, twisted up into a bun at the back of her head. There were a few grey flecks in the mess of curls, glinting silver in the dark.
I had to wait for a long time in an interview room before anybody came to talk to me. I wasn’t worried – if it were me, I’d deal with the suspect and the victim first, too, when the case was as clear-cut as this one, which didn’t even really deserve to be called a case at all. There was no mystery here; what had happened had happened and the right person would be punished for it.
I was surprised, though, when Cassie walked through the door, holding a pad and pen and a digital recorder. She looked tired in this light: the fluorescent light did nothing for her skin. She sat across from me and watched me speculatively for a moment, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing, thinking of all the times we’d been a room like this one, on the same side of the table.
She had the recorder in her hands but put it down without starting it up. “You look old,” she said instead, folding her fingers together, and I was so startled I burst out laughing. I did look old: my hair was in-between black and silver, and there were lines etched all over my face. I saw myself every day in the mirror, and every day I looked older.
“Thanks,” I said, and when she smiled it was just a fragmentary thing, there and then gone again, sad but not bitter, not exactly.
“I never thought you’d stick around here so long,” I told her when she didn’t say anything.
“Me neither,” she said, and the thread through her voice was bitter, then. She was married to O’Neill: she couldn’t ever go back to Murder. I’d known that, of course, but it was different to see how it had played out in life, the way it was written on her face. I would have been happy to never leave that interview room for the rest of my life, if it meant I could just watch Cassie’s face, the shards of expression that she tried but didn’t quite succeed in suppressing flickering by.
“How’s Sam?” I asked.
She smiled again, tight and insincere. “Fine,” she said, and I knew she was lying.
“Right,” I said.
“What about you?” she asked, and she sounded like she didn’t want to, like the question was being dragged out of her without her permission. I shrugged.
“Nothing much,” I said, and she reached out for the recorder again, twisted it between her hands for a moment before hitting record, setting it down on the table, and launching into her set of questions. She didn’t look at me again until she left the room, and then it was just to glance over her shoulder for no more than a few seconds before she left me alone again.
I’d like to be able to say that I left well enough alone after that, but I’ve learned enough about myself over the years to know that I’m not so good as all that.
I waited as long as I could – a couple of weeks – before ferreting out some excuse to go up to DV from the basement room where I was manning the tip lines with all the other cops who’d fucked up too badly or were just too stupid to be anywhere else. I bought a coffee before heading over and swung by her desk once I’d dropped off the folder I’d been carrying with one of the other officers.
She blinked when she looked up and saw me, and only somebody who knows Cassie as well as I do would have known that she was surprised.
“Hey,” I said. “I was in the neighborhood.”
I handed her the coffee and she took it automatically. “Oh,” she said, and looked down at it as though she weren’t sure how it had wound up in her hand.
“How’s it going?” I asked, because I figured if I was going to go down, I might as well go down in flames.
She looked at her computer screen for a moment, then back up at me. “Like absolute fucking bollocks,” she told me, and I laughed, and laughed.
This is the problem with knowing someone so well you think you’ve almost become part of her, or her a part of you: you can never unknow her. I tried to wipe Cassie out, or at least take some of the color out of the image of her I carry around in my mind. But I couldn’t do it. If you know somebody like I know Cassie, she owns you. And I know Cassie better than I’ve ever known anybody. I know the exact size and shape of her head, what she looks like when she spins cartwheels over the sand of the beach, each and every one of her expressions except for the ones she’s grown since I left her. I know the feeling of her sternum under my hand, the ripple of the bone harsh through her meager flesh. She was so skinny back then, especially when we were on cases. I guess I thought she’d be a little heavier now, a little healthier looking, with marriage, with age. She’s just as skinny now as she ever was, though, and it looks less good on her. In some lights, from some angles, she looks like she’s starving, even though I know her well enough to know that she must eat more than enough. But, of course, you need something other than food, to keep you alive.
We went for a coffee the weekend after that, back at the same little coffee shop by Trinity where I’d seen her for the first time. I wondered whether O’Neill knew she was here with me, whether she’d told him anything at all about seeing me again. I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to ask.
“Tell me this time, really,” I said, stirring milk into my coffee. “Why’re you still in DV? I figured you’d be well out of there by now, what with your degree. Doing real profiling, something like that.” Even if you couldn’t go back to Murder, I thought, but kept that to myself.
Her face went tight again, and I knew I’d been right; there was something up with the story about her going back to Trinity. This is the danger of talking to a cop: after long enough, we can’t turn it off anymore. We’re always thinking in secrets, in lies, in tics that give you away.
“I never finished,” she said, and took a sip of her coffee.
“I thought you went back,” I said, as innocently as I could, and if she had bothered to look up at me instead of just shaking her head, she would have known in an instant that I was full of shit.
“No,” she said.
I ran through the list of things she might have been doing instead, in that space of months several years ago, before I started hearing about her in DV again. It wasn’t long: either she was on loan to Interpol, going after something international, or she’d had some kind of breakdown, or she’d been undercover. The first didn’t make any sense for somebody working domestic violence, the second was possible but highly unlikely, and the third – the third made sense. Frank Mackey always was a slimy bastard. They say once you get dragged into his shit that it’s well impossible to ever get out again.
“You were undercover,” I said, and it was a stab in the dark, but I just thought about what it would mean if I were right, what she might tell me. I was living with one foot in the interrogation room, even still, even after so many years of grunt work.
I knew from the way she froze that I was right.
“You don’t have to tell me,” I said, but I was lying. Or, well, not lying, exactly – she didn’t have to; I couldn’t make her. But it was a tactic to draw her out. I knew that perfectly well; she probably did, too.
“You married Sam once you got back,” I guessed, and I could tell that I was right about that, too, from the way her hands folded and opened around her cup.
“Yeah,” she said finally, after she took another sip. “Yeah, I was undercover for a while.”
You fucked up, I thought, but I kept my mouth shut.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, since,” she said, frowning a little, gazing out the window next to us at nothing at all. “I think I felt – I think I probably felt a lot like you did, during – during the Adam Ryan case.” She paused while my pulse jackhammered in my chest. “It was like that. It was a lot like that.”
“I’m sorry,” I told her. I wouldn’t have wished that on anybody, her least of all.
“It was such a long time ago,” she said, almost to herself. She was still staring out the window. “It should feel so far away.”
“Those cases don’t,” I said. “They never do.”
“I know,” she said, and there was a deep toll in her voice of sorrow, and longing, and part of me wanted to know what had put it there, and another part wanted nothing to do with it at all.
I spent so many years imagining what would happen if I saw Cassie again that I wasn’t sure how to deal with the reality of it, the fact that she was no longer just an idea or a memory but a real, physical being – a person. All of the sudden I was confronted with her body, with her wicked little smile (only a little dulled with age), with her quick sharp tongue. She wasn’t just the object of my guilt anymore: that is what I am trying to say.
I watch her when I see her, and I can tell that she’s being dragged down by some unidentified sorrow – or sorrows, plural. I wonder, sometimes, what happened to her on that undercover case, the one she never talks about, the one nobody’s ever talked about, as far as I can tell. Mackey keeps his own records and grunts like me have no access to them. If there were any way I could finagle a glance, I would do it. I’ve got no moral qualms about that, now that she’s back near me; all the time I spent over the years keeping away from her for her sake (so I told myself) has melted away into nothing, and I’m not as good a man as I was trying to be for all that time. I’m exactly as selfish as I always have been, my whole life. I want her to stay. I don’t know if I can survive her leaving again.
I don’t even care if it’s just like this forever, occasional rendezvous at coffee shops and pubs, nothing real or quantifiable or known. I’m Cassie’s secret, now, but she’s not mine. I don’t have anybody to keep her secret from.
“How’s Sammy boy doing?” I ask her. We’re at a grimy pub far enough away from Dublin Castle that nobody is likely to spot us and start gossiping. Don’t think this is innocuous: I know, well enough, the answer to my question. But I want to hear how she’ll answer it.
“Sam’s smashing,” she says, expansively sarcastic, because I’ve had the good sense not to ask until we each have a pint in us. “Sam’s fucking brilliant, the pride of the Murder Squad, even O’Kelly can’t find anything to complain about when it comes to Sam’s police work.”
“I hope he hasn’t been telling you that himself,” I say.
“Sam? Never,” she says. “That’s straight out of the horse’s mouth, that one.”
I try to imagine O’Kelly heaping praise on anybody, and fail.
“Congratulations,” I say, raising my glass to her, and she snorts. I feel vaguely guilty about this, about plying her with liquor to get information out of her, but not all that guilty. I’m drunk myself; I’ll feel worse later.
Her face twists into something guarded and bitter and she raises hers to mine, touches them together, and takes a long swig. There’s one long, dark curl falling in front of her face.
“He doesn’t know where you are, does he,” I ask, and she looks away. “Sorry,” I add, going for shamefaced. It isn’t entirely insincere.
“S’fine,” she says without looking at me. “It’s – you know.”
“Not really,” I say. “I’ve been told I’m not exactly marriage material.”
“One night stands only, for sure,” she says, on autopilot, and cringes when she realizes what she’s said.
“That’s me,” I reply drily, and take a long sip of my beer.
We play “remember that time” for the rest of the evening, because that’s safe, familiar territory, play until we’re both smashed and giddy, twenty-somethings again, with nothing but a wide-open road in front of us and pasts that weren’t full to the brim of fuck-up after fuck-up. I want to put my hands on her and hold her here, in front of me, forever; I want to climb behind her on her Vespa even though she drives a car now, and lean into her as we peel off into the darkness, the wind whipping through our graying hair. I want to not be getting older, want to start moving in the other direction, until I’m a kid again, and instead of following them into the woods I go somewhere else, somewhere safer, somewhere better.
We wander out of the bar just before closing, and the air is sharp and cold but that doesn’t do anything to make me feel any less drunk. Cassie is looking up at me with the face of somebody who’s heart is breaking inside of her body, so I reach out for her and tangle my hand in her hair, which is coming undone already, and before I can do anything else she puts her small, cold hand around my wrist and says, “I got an abortion, you know.”
I freeze, and she smiles up at me sadly, sad and lonely and entering middle age, and I don’t know what to say to her, what she’s trying to say to me.
“I think about it all the time,” she continues, and I swallow.
“Do you – do you – want –” I manage, and she moves her fingers along the bones in my wrist.
“Sam can’t,” she says.
“You mean –” I start, and honestly don’t know how to keep going.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, and I slowly disentangle my hand from her hair. She smiles, sour and sad, and her body is so tiny I want to wrap myself around the entirety of her, to keep her safe.
What would the baby have looked like? Her hair, her small hands; my eyes, maybe.
“I don’t want to do anything with the rest of my life but look at you,” I tell her, and it’s true. “Cassie. I don’t care. I don’t care.”
She looks at me like she’s seeing me for the first time, and her smile is broken now, not bitter anymore.
“I do, though,” she tells me. “I care.”
“Cassie,” I say, but really I’m begging, because I know what her sternum feels like under my palm, the hard press of her nipples against my chest; I know what the dark parts of her smell like. I know every turn of her head, every angle of her disdain. But I didn’t know this about her. I didn’t know that this was something that she wanted.
She covers her face with her hands, and she was shaking all over, but I don’t move, don’t touch her again. “I promised him I wouldn’t do this,” she says, voice audible but muffled by her hands. “I promised, I promised, I promised.”
“Cassie,” I say, letting my voice go, swing up and down, break at random. “Please don’t leave me again. Please.”
She lowers her hands after wiping away the tears that have spilled out onto her face.
“I hate you more than I’ve ever hated anybody,” she tells me, almost defiantly now, but it just makes me smile, because I know what it is. You can only really hate the ones you’ve loved.
“I know,” I say. “I know.”
The light from the streetlamp is orange and grimy, and I think: at least I’ll always have this, the memory of her standing right here, in this light, in the cold, even if she walks away.
I don’t tell her that she’s killing me, that I’m bleeding out even now in front of her, that this is a wound that will never scar over, will never heal. I don’t tell her that sometimes I talk to her, when I’m alone in my flat, like her ghost really is haunting me, like she’s dead and I’m the one who’s been left alive to suffer the consequences. I don’t tell her that I love her, even though do, even though I love her more than I’ve ever loved anybody or anything, more than being on the Murder Squad, even. I don’t tell her any of these things because I’m a coward, because when it comes down to it I’ll always be the one who runs away. I don’t tell her because I don’t have the words. I don’t tell her because I love her too much.
She blinks once, twice, swallows, and reaches out to touch my wrist again, her fingers cold and dry, before taking her hand away.