Chapter 22: Chapter 22

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 65

Kate stood with hesitation to enter the bar. Instead, she stared up at the flickering sign above the door. The letter B in the word Bar had burnt out and the last two letters threatened to extinguish at any time. Just as Hazel had said the bar was beyond the short row of deserted buildings bordering the sand and crumbling asphalt. It was a simple two-story brick building with an unappealing outward appearance. The small remnants of paint chips that were peeling over the crumbling brick gave hints to its original glory. She continued to question why she was there. She was at the end of the road and was in an intense battle not to allow herself to fall apart and not care to ever pick up the pieces. She had been a decorated officer and fierce fighter, but so many times she had found herself on the verge of defeat.

With a breath, she entered and strolled to the edge of the bar. It was a quiet room with only a sprinkling of patrons. There was little chatter and most had their heads down focused on their liquid escape. Kate leaned into the wood barrier and grabbed the attention of the tall muscular man tending the bar. He nodded to Kate and set a beer in front of her.

Kate lifted the mug and spoke softly, "Thanks, could I also get a double of Dos Lunas Grand?”

To the request, the man paused and looked her over. Realistically, very few could afford that specific tequila and she was surprised the bar even had a bottle. Before the man could speak she slapped the money down and slid it across the tattered bar. He continued to examine her in detail, and she fought the desire to flinch at the scrutiny. He looked down at her hand but didn't take the money. He instead grabbed a stool and turned to the back of the bar and climbed to a locked case on the top shelf. When he returned to her he had a tumbler a quarter of a way full of the amber colored liquor.

Kate left the money and took her drinks. She maneuvered around a row of tables ignoring the side eye of a few suspicious looking men. With her past training and newfound paranoia melding, she settled into the corner with her back to the wall so she could see all the exits and an eye on all that was going on. After a moment of inspection, she looked down, not caring any longer to watch the bar. Instead, she stared at the liquid in the tumbler. With a nervous sigh, she gently pushed it to the middle of the table. As she watched the small waves splash along the glass she began to rethink what she was doing. In the moment of indecision, she began to push the chair back to stand. She was almost fully upright when a voice stopped her cold.

"Kate?"

Kate's head jerked up to put the face to the voice she knew so well. Seeing the brunette before her created a flurry of mixed emotions. She sank slowly back into the chair as she tried to regain her composure.

"Alex," was all she could muster.

Forcing a thin smile in acknowledgment Kate reluctantly offered a seat to Alex. Though it felt like forever since she had last seen her, Alex’s appearance had not changed. Beyond the few strands of her thick charocoal hair that contoured her face, beamed her dark eyes. As they were always intense and curious, at that moment Kate couldn’t help but feel they were trying to get a deeper read on her. Alex tentatively pulled the chair across from Kate and as she sat leaned forward her smile faded and was replaced by a tightly drawn brow.

"Are you doing okay?” she finally asked. 

Kate didn't answer, but as Alex looked her over she began to feel more self-conscious than she had when the bartender was trying to get a read on her. Alex had seen her at her worst, and there was no hiding her true angst. She saw the all too real vulnerability that was pushing to be exposed through her once steel walls. Walls she had been slowly rebuilding. Now, with one look the remaining cracks splintered and the wall began to crumble. Kate nodded and as her discomfort began to seep out more, she distracted herself by taking in a long swallow of the beer.

Alex watched her then looked at the glass set in the middle of the table and nodded towards it. "I thought tequila wasn't your thing."

"It's not. Hazel requested it. I was supposed to meet her-" Kate stopped when she realized Hazel's true agenda.

"Ah, that makes sense," Alex said with a grin.

"What?"

"She just called me and asked to tell someone at the corner table she was running late."

"Of course she did." Kate pushed the drink closer and offered it to Alex. "I bet you don't serve amazing burgers either."

“You know I can’t cook worth anything.” The brunette laughed and shook her head before reaching for the offering. She drew in a mouthful and then set the glass down before she stood up. "Why don't you come with me? We can talk in my office."

At first Kate remained in her spot; still unsure what she really wanted to happen. Even in the events that had caused their rift, the thin amount of trust she had might as well have been found in Alex.

Alex moved ahead through the bar silently acknowledging people as she passed. Kate stood and followed at a good distance. She scrutinized every move and gesture Alex made. Hesitation to continue had Kate halting before she reached the door the brunette had stopped in front of. She looked to the swinging saloon-style ones that led to the kitchen then back to Alex as she pushed the barrier inward and gestured for her to enter. Kate kept her eye on the woman as she passed and moved into the room. Alex followed her in and shut the door before she crossed over to the desk.

She pointed to a vacant chair opposite her. "Please, have a seat."

"I'm good," Kate answered quietly. She tore at her thumbnail and looked around the modest space. It was set up like a typical office. Desk, cabinets, and chairs, but there were no pictures on the wall, or plants to bring life and contrast to the dull color of the space. But, those weren’t needed with the bay window that graciously displayed the ocean in the near distance. Kate found herself mesmerized with the sun sparkling off the reflective surface.

"Please," Alex asked again.

Kate forced herself to look away from the water and reluctantly let her weight fall into the cushion but didn't relax into the back of the chair. Instead, she leaned forward and watched Alex settle.

There was an unfamiliar nervousness that consumed the air around them. 

The curiosity of what happened in the lost time between the women had Kate speaking up. "So, this is your place?"

Alex leaned forward and looked around with admiration. "Yeah, I always wanted a bar. I saw it as a way that I could wallow in boozy self-pity and not just sober self-pity."

"How did you manage that?"

"Trish Riley loaned me the money."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, I guess almost dying and not having a career anymore was the right time to invest in me," she said with a half smile.

Kate looked to Alex for a deeper reaction to her own words, but she didn't blink. The comment was almost nonchalant. Slight envy to accept life events that easily washed over Kate.

Kate didn't want to respond to the deepening conversation and kept it neutral. "That's a name I haven't heard in a while. How is Lieutenant Riley?"

"Long since being an LT and living up the coast in peace and quiet."

Kate forced a partial smile and began to fidget again. She started to become impatient and let her eyes scan the room as if to wait for someone else to come in or reveal themselves from the shadows. Though there were no dark corners to hide in.

"So, what brings you by?" Alex asked bringing her attention back around.

"Hazel," Kate said.

"If she hadn't set this up would you have ever sought me out?"

Kate contemplated the thought. Of course, she had, but as time stretched out it only became harder to face. Guilt held her back, and now it took everything in her to not run again.

"I'll take the silence as a no," Alex said calmly.

"So it's all on me?"

Alex shook her head and let it drop slightly. "You pushed me away, remember?"

Kate just stared at her. She knew Alex was right but not ready to admit it. As they sat Kate felt the pull to leave grow stronger with each passing moment.

Alex leaned forward grasping Kate's attention again. "How long are you going to hide?"

Kate stood with her growing frustration. "I'm not hiding. I'm still in this God-forsaken town aren't I?"

"That's not what I meant," Alex said, and reclined back. “He continues to win with your silence.”

Kate knew exactly what she was referring and answered quickly, "I don't have the resources I once had, and not a single person thinks I'm sane of mind, thanks to Sloane. So tell what exactly should I be doing?"

Alex didn't respond and her expression remained neutral. It pushed Kate further. She crossed her arms to try and hold in her anger. "I get it, and it's fine."

"No, you don't understand.”

"No," Kate threw her hand up to stop Alex from continuing. "You don't understand. There are a lot of things I don't remember, but his face isn't one of them. He wanted me to see him, to see the thrill he had in watching me suffer."

Alex's quiet persisted and with it Kate turned to leave, fully regretting her decision to even respond to Alex's questions.

"Wait," Alex implored, "Don't walk away like that."

"Stay and what? There's nothing else." Kate stopped and gripped the top of the chair, but didn't change her direction. She held herself to see what else Alex had to say.

"I had made a promise to you." Alex stood and maneuvered around the desk as she spoke, "Do you remember that?"

Her words had Kate's attention and she turned with curiosity. The seriousness in Alex's eyes was one Kate had remembered. There were few things that she did without passion.

"Yeah, so did a lot of people." Kate shrugged.

"I don't break my promises. Even after they closed the case I kept working."

Kate nodded for her to continue.

"Jeremy was set up for a reason. I’m still working on why he took the fall so willingly, but I have a theory.”

“Yeah?” Kate encouraged.

“He was on to something big. Hazel found a drive hidden on Tyler’s bookshelf."

"You allowed Hazel to get involved?” Kate asked both in start and concern to the possible danger created.

“Wait a minute,” Alex’s voice rose slightly in defense to Kate’s accusation. “Hazel’s her own woman and she has been incredibly discrete about her part in any of this. She was the one that brought the SD card to me.”

Kate opened her arms and raised her hands in apology. “Okay, so what was on it?”

"Notes about some murders that on the surface looked unrelated to each other. I was able to get the case files and began to put a few things together, but after the accident, all I could remember was a name, Kyle Ramirez."

"Kyle Ramirez? Who’s that?"

"I don't know.” Alex's head dripped slighlty and she shrugged a shoulder. “My first thought was maybe a connection to Patricia, Peter’s ex-wife, and Damian’s mom. Maybe he was someone on the family tree or business partner to Caleb, but there was no information anywhere. I keep thinking maybe there isn’t a Kyle Ramirez. Maybe I got names mixed up or my brain made him up.”

"There’s nothing?” Kate asked and tried to digest the sudden revelation and what it could mean. 

"Nothing yet, and I’ve asked Luke. He hasn't gotten back to me, and no other contact I have has come up with anything. All the files were taken along with my backups. Whoever took them knew where to look in my apartment. But, my gut says this Kyle is connected to what Jeremy did at the docks, your attack, and Tyler."

The disclosure caused Kate's stomach to flip. With it, a mixture of anger and hope rushed through her "Why didn't you say something?"

"I was planning on it. I was headed to the hospital to talk to you. I was driving and the next thing I know is I'm in my own hospital bed with no memory."

Kate couldn’t verbalize her reaction. She didn't know what to do. She felt at a loss to what was right or needed at that moment. It was easier to assume that those who had been invested in her and Tyler bailed before it consumed them. When it was pinned on Miller she knew they were done really fighting for the truth.

"I couldn't recall the crucial piece, lost my job, and all my trust in anyone." Alex paused and drew in her bottom lip before she continued. "The worst was that I failed Tyler."

"I don't know what you want me to say," Kate responded honestly, "You could have come to me."

"I was no good to anyone. I would just make things worse."

"You don't know that."

"Yes, I do." Alex half laughed. "I don't have the information anymore. All I could remember was that name, and no matter what I seem to do my decisions hurt you the worst. I can't help but think everthing happened because I thought we, I, was untouchable and could do it all."

"What are you talking about?"

"Peter."

Kate shook her head. "No, Alex, I pulled the trigger not you, and I'd do it again."

"But, I pushed you to go in when you knew the safest and positive outcome was waiting."

"Don't give yourself too much credit. If I hadn't agreed or thought we didn't have a chance of success I would have cuffed you and locked you in my truck."

Alex chuckled and guided the conversation further. "The one thing I do know is that doing something mundane is helpful to the psyche."

"Tending bar is mentally stimulating?"

"Kinda. More that it gives me time to do other things." As she spoke she opened a drawer and pointed to a series of files on the desk. "I asked Peterson to consult on some cases. Of course, they’re not big on outside consultants, or maybe just me. But, he did refer me to Cold Case. They accepted my help and I've made notes on a few, but doing this also gives me access to the evidence locker and older cases.”

"Smart to keep your mind busy. You've always been the best investigator I've known. I'm sure the department appreciates the help."

"Praise wasn't my point. Maybe fresh eyes could make a bigger difference."

Kate couldn't hide the uncertainty that consumed her. "Are you asking me to help?"

"I couldn't imagine a better person."

Kate shook her head. "I'm not that person you knew."

"Like I am? Look, we've both been through hell, you more than me. Trish helped me get back to a somewhat recognizable human being. Let me do the same for you."

Kate let her head drop in doubt to what was being put on the table, but Alex persisted.

"You just need to put a new person back in that shell of a body."

"Alex, I-"

Alex cut her off before she could finish. "You're not alone."

Kate closed her eyes. It was hard to believe those words. Though they didn't feel empty coming from Alex, she continued to fight the idea that she really wasn’t destined to continue to flounder through life.

"I know I can help you find some concept of closure, but you have to give it a chance and trust me."

As the last sentence sank in Kate remained in contemplative silence. She looked away again, but to really consider what was being offered. All she had for so long was the desire to reveal the truth. There was little room to think she could be anything good. And even beyond that, to have something real and stable felt too far out of reach.

When the silence stretched longer than Alex cared for she spoke up again. "Stop thinking, Kate. Stop living as a ghost. Do something. Something more."

"It's that easy, huh?"

"No. When I hit that bottom I hit hard. The only way up was doing what made me feel anything and that was doing something good in the depth of all this bad."

"That was deep, Alex. Bravo," Kate said with an exaggerated silent clap.

"Don't be an Ass, I'm serious. What else do you have to lose?"

Kate slowly slunk back into the chair. She had to think. She scrubbed her eyes and then rested the weight of her head in her hands before she looked up at Alex. She was right, what did she have to lose? But, it also meant she had to care, to think, to be. It had become mindless and easy to do nothing. All she had for so long is the pain inside her and knew there was no escaping it.

Alex pressed one hip against the desk for balance and bent forward to be at Kate's level.

"Stay. I have the room. At the very least to have an anchor somewhere."

"I don't need charity."

"I'm not offering charity, I'm offering a chance to do something."

Kate shook her head again but didn't break their eye contact. "I can't promise you anything."

Alex smiled and stood back up. "That's good enough for me."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: October 21, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Kathrynmp. All rights reserved.

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