The name's Sabien. Vic Sabien, homicide.
There are times in this job when you have to face the reality of public opinion, look it right in the eye and just accept the truth: there are some murders no one cares about. It's bleak and defeatist, but that's the way it is. Daniel Jacobson's was one of those murders.
The scene was, for the most part, depressingly typical: body on the floor of the victim's living room, grieving widow in the kitchen being questioned. The only thing that wasn't typical was the grieving widow was a gentleman. Xavier Mills had been living with Jacobson for the past seven years and, in his own words, they were "As close to married as the law would allow." Which meant the questioning that was going on wasn't nearly as calm and reassuring as it usually would be.
I wanted to go in there and tell my officers to dial it back, but I also wanted to keep my job and there's a fine line I've been walking for too long to risk tumbling off on the wrong side now. So I was stuck standing in the living room, eyes fixed on a dead family man who no one was going to care about. The papers would drag Mills and Jacobson's relationship through the mud, but they wouldn't care one iota about the important thing: someone decided Jacobson deserved to die.
A decision that was, in my humble opinion, no one's to make.
The papers would decide one of two things: either Mills killed him in a lover's quarrel or he was killed for flaunting his "lifestyle" and they'd leave it at that, the hell with what the evidence turned up. My superiors would more than likely agree with them and encourage me to either pin the murder on Mills regardless of evidence or file Jacobson away in the cold case file and let him rot.
I intended to do neither.
There was a crash from the kitchen and Mills's voice cried out. I huffed out a breath and stormed from the crime scene proper into the kitchen to find one of my officers - Hardyn, a scrawny red head who didn't know when to shut up - looming over a cringing Mills. "Hardyn, what the hell is going on in here?" I asked, glaring at the young officer from the doorway as he turned to face me.
"Just helping this faggot loosen up his tongue," Hardyn said, grinning at me like I was in on whatever police brutality bullshit he was peddling.
"I told you to interview the witness, not knock his teeth out," I said. "If you can't handle that, Nelson would be more than happy to take over, I'm sure." I heard Nelson squeak out a Yes, sir from the room behind me, but I didn't turn to look, I had more pressing concerns.
Hardyn's grin slipped quickly away and he narrowed his gaze into a glare. "You sayin' this thing ain't a suspect?"
I raised an eyebrow. "I'm saying this gentleman came home to find his roommate dead on the floor, and until we have any evidence to the contrary I want you to treat him like a witness," I said. "Can you handle that, or would you like to go back to the precinct and warm up your desk chair?"
Hardyn looked like he wanted to protest, but he just grunted out an "I can handle it, sir," and turned back to face Mills.
I did not return to the living room. I stayed looming in the kitchen doorway, listening to Hardyn's line of questioning - a lot more badgering and raised hands than Hardyn would have resorted to if Mills had been a woman, but I could only do so much.
I knew Hardyn wasn't going to let this go, but I couldn't bring myself to care what he thought. Sure, Mills was a nancy, but he was also a victim and my job - our job - was to help the victims. He'd lost the person he loved and I'd be damned if I let anyone make his night worse than it already was. As he left, Hardyn accidentally bumped my shoulder, shooting me a glare. Sure, I was his superior officer, but I was protecting someone he considered lesser and that made me lesser, too.
I waited until the rest of the officers were out of the kitchen, overseeing the body and evidence getting loaded into their respective vehicles, before I turned my own attention on Mills. He flinched as I sat across from him and I felt a flare of anger at Hardyn and his ilk. "We'll find who did this," I said, voice quiet.
Mills shook his head and a humorless laugh slipped from his lips. "No you won't," he said. He looked up, held my gaze. "I'm sure you want to, but I know how this ends. At best it goes cold, at worst it gets pinned on me." He shook his head. "Save your empty promises, Detective, I don't need them."
The silence that fell between us felt like the weight on Atlas's shoulders. I wanted to say more, longed to reach across the widening gap between us and offer some sort of reassurance. The problem was, Mills was right. If my superiors didn't encourage me to half-ass the investigation, they'd encourage me to arrest Mills. I slipped a hand into my pocket and took out a card, sliding it across the table. "If the worst happens," I said, "call this number."
I stood and left, not looking to see if Mills was going to keep the card or throw it away.
Either way, I'd let Jack know to expect the call. Bureaucracy and prejudice might wind up tying my hands, but Jack and Trixie didn't have superior officers to reign them in. For once, that was going to work in my favor.
"You haven't arrested Mills yet?" Banks, my Captain, looked up at me over the rims of his glasses.
"There's no evidence he did it," I answered, knowing full well Banks wouldn't care.
As expected, Banks let out a sardonic laugh. "Lovers quarrel, Sabien," he said, the world lover dripping with disgust as it fell from his lips. "Isn't that obvious? Men like that can't be happy and eventually those...relationships all end the same way: with somebody dead."
"With all due respect, Sir," I said, my heart pounding in my throat, "I disagree."
Banks set the file aside and leaned forward, elbows on his desk, hands clasped before him. "Arrest Mills, Sabien, and put this matter to rest," he said. "There's no point digging any deeper."
I swallowed hard against the panic that sat heavy and sick in my stomach. "With all due respect, Sir," I said again, "I disagree."
Banks studied me for a moment, his eyes raking over me. "Are you willing to throw your career away for some fairy?"
I pulled in a deep, shaky breath and met Banks's gaze. "With all due respect, Sir, if it means finding the real killer, then yes." I couldn't go marching down the street with my fist in the air, shouting about how much I loved my man (and said man would more than likely shoot me if I tried), but I sure as hell could keep an innocent man out of prison and find the real culprit.
"You have twenty-four hours," Banks said. "If you can't turn up any evidence to the contrary by then, charge Mills."
I bit my cheek to keep from saying anything more I'd regret and gave a sharp nod. My hands shook as I left Banks's office and stalked to my own. I felt like the entire bullpen was watching me, their eyes burning as they tried to dig into my deepest secrets. I ignored Nelson, sitting ready at his desk, waiting for a task. I stormed into my office and slammed the door, pressing my back against it and finally letting my composure slip.
This case might end me - my career, my reputation. I knew it was worth it, knew I couldn't let an innocent man go to prison based on bullshit evidence, but I also knew it was going to be hard. Hard to stand silently by as my officers called Mills every rotten name they could think of, as they joked about who was the woman, because that was the only way they could make sense of any of this. Belittle, mock, dehumanize.
And the whole time I'd know, if they every found out, they'd do the same to me.
"Justice and Dixon, Dixon speaking."
Trixie's voice through the phone filled me with relief and it was all I could do not to thank her for answering because if it had been Jack I wasn't sure I could have managed.
"You two flat foots might get a call in the next couple of days," I said. "Fellow named Xavier Mills. His lover was killed and Banks wants me to pin it on him. That happens, I told him to call you."
"Any particular reason Banks is gunnin' for him?" Trixie asked. I could almost hear her pulling a notepad and pen towards her so she could jot down notes. "Not that I don't appreciate the business, Vic, I just like to know what sort of shit to expect from the boys in blue."
"I understand," I said. And I did. This could cause a lot of scandal for the department. "Mills's lover's name was Daniel." It was the only explanation I gave.
It was the only explanation I had to give.
I didn't know how much Trixie suspected or knew. I knew Jack had never told her, and I sure as hell hadn't, but she wasn't a private detective for the fun of it. She was damn good at her job and while Jack and I were careful and discreet, it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that the girl detective had figured something out. If she had, she'd never said, for which both Jack and I were grateful. And if she did know, she knew why I was so concerned about this case. And why I'd referred Mills to them.
"Yeah," I said after the silence had stretched on uncomfortably long. "Oh."
"I'll keep an eye out for him," she said. "Good luck on your end."
"Thanks." I hung up then and pressed the heels of my palms against my eyes, pulling in slow deep breaths against the panic and worry that were tight in my chest. Once I felt at least close to being human again, I stood and bellowed out, "Nelson!"
The door swung open and Nelson peered inside. "You called, Lieutenant?"
"Grab your notebook, we're canvassing the neighborhood where the Jacobson murder took place," I said, rounding my desk and pulling on my coat.
"Hardyn already took a team-" Nelson started, but fell silent at my look.
I knew Hardyn didn't care about finding the truth, he just wanted to close this case and forget about it. If he could pin it on the nancy, all the better. Nelson probably knew it, too. Hell, everyone in the precinct knew it. I was the only one willing to push against it. There wasn't a lot I could do, not without outing myself, but I had to do what I could.
So as Nelson and I left, I met Hardyn's gaze and raised an eyebrow, daring him to challenge me.
He scowled, but said nothing.
"Your neighbors don't like you very much," I told Mills. He'd been arrested - by Hardyn, of course. He sat hunched over in interrogation, not meeting my gaze, his hands clenched together. I flipped through Nelson's notes form earlier in the day. All variations on a theme: those two had it coming, they're an affront to good taste, et cetera and so on. No one had seen anything that night, they claimed. I doubted they'd tell us if they had seen anything, too pleased to have the degenerate couple gone.
"No one likes us very much," Mills said in a quiet voice. He looked up briefly, then returned his gaze to the tabletop. "Danny was between jobs. His foreman found out and," he waved a hand before him. "And no one'll give him a good reference now so he couldn't find anything. And I-" his voice hitched. "I'm going to lose my job and I won't be able to keep the house and that was. That was all we wanted just." He raised his head, met and held my gaze, "We just wanted to live."
"I understand," I said. And I did. But. "Couldn't you have just said you were roommates?"
Mills scowled. "We didn't want to lie," he said. "We shouldn't have to. Not about loving one another."
The man had a point and I had to fight to stop myself from nodding my agreement. "There's a certain climate to the world, Mills," I said, pushing Nelson's unhelpful notebook aside and leaning forward. "You do what you have to to protect yourself."
There was a moment, a quiet moment that stretched between us, and I knew from Mills's silence that I had told him more than I'd intended to.
He lowered his gaze and picked at the table. "I know," he said. "And we did at first, but." He let out a hollow laugh. "But when we moved we decided to just be a couple, opinions be damned."
I sighed. "Can you think of anyone who would want to hurt Daniel?" I asked.
Mills barked another of those empty laughs. "After everything?" he asked. "The list of who wouldn't is shorter."
He was right, and I'd known that before I asked. But I had to ask.
"Had the two of you fought recently?" I asked. "Maybe about Daniel's job prospects?"
"I didn't kill my husband, Detective," Mills said.
I almost choked at the word husband, how easily he said it, like it was the most natural thing in the world. I tried to disguise my surprise with a cough, but I could tell Mills had seen it. I shook my head. "We have to look at every angle," I said. I stood. "I'm sorry."
My words hung useless and ineffectual between us, but for what it was worth, I meant them.
In the end, none of it had anything to do with them being a couple.
Mills did call Jack and Trixie and they were working the case as best they could while I, against Banks's direct orders, reexamined all of the evidence and found something that didn't fit. In their rush to put the faggots behind them, someone had missed the obvious: a print that didn't belong to anybody who would have been in the house.
It took much longer than twenty-four hours and a lot of overtime for myself and Nelson, but we matched the print to a string of robberies from a nearby neighborhood.
After all of that, a robbery gone wrong.
Two men's lives destroyed - one dead, one dragged through hell - and the whole time it had been a robbery.
I hated it more than I could say. Wished I could rage about it, tell the Captain exactly how I felt about the investigation. Wished I could do more than present the evidence, ensure Mills's release, and move on.
"Mills is staying in the house," I said, leaning my head against Jack's chest. "I couldn't tell you why, but it makes sense to him."
I felt Jack shrug. "It's his home," he said.
"His lover was killed there and his neighbors hate him for being a friend of Dorothy," I said.
"Still, they made it their home," Jack said. "There's a sense to that." He pressed a kiss to the top of my head and his arm tightened around my shoulders. "This case hit you hard, didn't it?" he asked.
I blew out a breath. "Yeah," I said. "Thought I was going to lose my job solving it."
"Would you have pushed it that far?"
I stayed quiet for a moment, thinking. Would I have? Could I say for sure now, when the danger was past? "Yes," I finally said, pushing up on my elbow to look Jack in the eye. "I'd've had to."
Jack nodded. "Thought as much," he said.
I lay my head back down, listening to Jack's heartbeat and breathing as he started to drift off to sleep, imagining living out in the open with him. The two of us taking care of my daughter, telling people we were each others' husbands. It had a certain appeal, and maybe someday.
But for now, the secrets and the lies would have to do.