Here's a little truth before the fiction. Is it stranger? I doubt that very much, but it is laden with uncanny coincidence...
I couldn't find my dice. I know, D&Ders, that's a capital crime, but I had no idea where they were. I was trawling through Twitter when I saw that authors Sam Sykes, Joe Abercrombie and Myke Cole were taking part in an author's D&D game. I asked Sam to roll me 2D20 and he graciously obliged, replying with a score of 19. Now, I hadn't been clear that I needed to know the two numbers rather than the result, nor was I sure if he'd misread my request and only rolled it once. I know, I'm odd. I was also reluctant to interrupt the D&D game so, as I sat getting my haircut, I pondered...
Back home, I began the noble Quest for the Dice, which only took a couple of minutes, if I'm honest. No trekking over mountainous piles of books or having to speak Dwarven to a cupboard door; they were in the wooden box where I keep my pens. I wasn't sure what to do next (roll twice again? or just once, and take the result off Sam's 19 to give me two numbers?) but as the dice dropped out of its container, the result was 17. That left me with 2 if I played Sam's 19, but I rolled again. The result? 2. Call Mulder and Scully.
So, without further preamble, allow me to present: Top Gun meets True Detective.
The years have taken their toll, but he’s hung on to the swagger. Even with his hands cuffed in front of him, he puffs his chest, still holds his arms wide to accommodate burly biceps, sweeps the room with the narrow-eyed gaze of a man who dared to stare into the sun.
There’s more beef on the face, a padding of jowl around cheeks and chin, and the hairline is further back than it used to be, but neither male nor female can deny the sheer presence of the man. He turns every head, not a few hearts are set aflutter, and some breaths are literally taken away.
The whisper whips around the bullpen. This is him, Kazansky, in the flesh. The Iceman.
Jordan and Wolfe walk him in, nonplussed. Doing their job, just like any other day. This time, though, they turn left instead of right, an empty office instead of the interrogation room.
Inside, the cuffs come off. Kazansky rubs his wrists, takes the single chair at one end of the desk. He knows the drill, he’s sat on the opposite side enough times before, and waits until Jordan and Wolfe have made themselves comfortable to voice the feelings about his current position.
“What the fuck?”
Jordan leans back, arms folded across his ex-quarterback chest. Wolfe pushes a manilla folder across the table.
Kazansky opens it, takes one look at the photograph inside. Closes it again, scowling.
“Can I smoke?” He asks, already knowing the answer.
Jordan shakes his head, points to a No Smoking sign.
Kazansy shrugs, gets out a packet and a Zippo, lights up regardless.
“There are no ashtrays,” Wolfe says.
Another shrug, an examination of the cigarette’s tip. “Make it quick, then.”
Wolfe looks at a Jordan, but he’s too busy glaring at Kazansky to notice. “When was the last time you saw Mitchell?”
Kazansky smirks around the cigarette. “What’s he done now?”
“Answer the question,” Jordan growls.
“How about I just walk out of here instead, put an end to this little show? You’ve got nothing to charge me with.”
Wolfe grins. “You’re no saint, I’m sure we could find something.”
Smoke streams out of Kazansky’s nostrils as he points the cigarette at Wolfe. “I remember you. Fresh out of the academy, green as Astroturf.” He smiles. “Taught you well, didn’t they?”
Kazansky leans back, hands flat on the table, cigarette sending out unreadable smoke signals. He takes a deep breath, flips open the folder, looks at the grinning face. Still the picture from twenty years ago; that’s how they always see Mitchell. Kazansky tries to match the expression, but it just makes his face look twisted.
“This is about Bradshaw?”
Kazansky gets no answer. It’s doubtful he expects one, for he doesn’t look at the two detectives, but nods his head like a wise man.
“I still remember the night we found him.” Kazansky taps his temple, ash drifting down from the cigarette onto a lapel. “It’s etched. My only unsolved.”
The engine sputtered to a halt as Detective Tom Kazansky pulled his battered sedan up to the scene. He sat there for a moment, looking like he was brooding, which was only half true. There’d been another argument with his wife, equally as stupid as the last, tempers fraying over the slightest thing; sooner the baby was born, the better. Kazansky wasn’t sure if the timing of the call was perfect or couldn’t have been worse. Whatever, it had got him out of the house, which was something.
He wanted a drink, but that would have to wait. Wouldn’t have minded watching a couple of dancers at the bar, but that wasn’t going to happen either. Instead, he stared at the single-storey dwelling in front of him, picket fenced by crime scene tape, white walls dappled red and blue by the lights on the patrol cars.
It didn’t take long for him to spot another vehicle nestled between the cruisers, a Kawasaki Ninja 900 as immaculate as the day it rolled off the production line.
“Shit.” Kazansky’s eyes narrowed in his rear-view. “Just be cool,” he told himself. “Iceman.”
He got out of the car, heading for the officer closest to the tape. Wolfe: a young man, all fresh-faced and bright-eyed, even at this time of the night. Kazansky wasn’t sure if he should envy him or be annoyed by him. He chose neither, flashing his badge before clipping it to his jacket pocket.
“Yes, sir. First on the scene. He, erm...” Wolfe shuffled nervously.
Kazansky cycled a finger in the air for the rookie to continue.
“He’s ordered that nobody else is to enter, sir.”
Kazansky looked over the uniform’s shoulder at the house, noticing the number for the first time. 1316. Hearing it on despatch, he hadn’t given it a thought, but now, seeing them on the wall... “Of course he has. This is Bradshaw’s place.”
The rookie returned the revelation with a blank look.
There was no time to explain. “Don’t worry, kid. He’ll be pleased to see me.” Before Wolfe could reply, Kazansky had ducked under the tape and was setting off towards the open front door. The portal gaped at him like a black maw, the red light of a military-grade torch dancing around inside like the fires of Hell itself.
He didn’t even pause. “Mitchell, it’s Kazansky.”
The voice came from further back, to the right. The kitchen, Kazansky guessed. He’d been here once before, a couple of years ago, a few months before Bradshaw had been shot. It was supposed to be a team-building barbecue, but it turned into a volleyball game in the large back garden, which degenerated into a drunken trade of insults that had the neighbours threatening to call the good and honest cops.
The kitchen door was held open by a wedge shaped like a goose and, as he stepped inside, Kazansky was momentarily dazzled by the torch’s light.
“I told you to fuck off,” Mitchell said, but his heart wasn’t in it. Not like all the other times he’d suggested Kazansky combine sex and travel.
Further in now, and Kazansky could see why. Mitchell was crouched in front of a body, one propped up in a seating position, back against the refrigerator. The limbs were splayed out, and a small pistol rested in the palm of his right hand.
Small, but big enough to do the job. There wasn’t enough of Bradshaw’s head left to identify him, but Kazansky recognised the tattoo on the forearm, the emblem of that military academy he’d attended before dropping out to become a cop. A good one, too. Before...
Mitchell. Seeing him made something snap, just like it used to. The prick was still the same – immaculate hair, perfect nose, those fucking teeth – and even as Kazansky strode towards him, fists clenched, he could hear the voice in his head telling him to calm down.
Fuck that. How could he be calm when Mitchell was regarding at his former best friend with a detached stare, that ever-present folder open on his knees, taking notes and making sketches of the blood-spatter patterns on the fridge.
Yet, the voice was loud enough so that when Kazansky struck Mitchell, it was with an open hand rather than a fist, pushing him away instead of knocking out a trio of those expensive teeth. “Son of a bitch!” Kazansky roared, accompanied by the flutter of paper and rattling of pencils.
Mitchell just lay there, prone like his ex-partner, looking up at Kazansky, all three of them painted red by the torchlight.
“Uh, sir? Is everything all right?” Wolfe, from the front doorway.
“Fuck off!” Kazansky and Mitchell both bellowed, suddenly united.
Kazansky extended a hand to Mitchell, the same one that had pushed him over. He took it, used it to haul himself upright so the two were face to face. Or would have been, if Mitchell hadn’t been those few inches shorter.
Yet, there was strength in the man, born of a defiance against everything and everyone. It was no secret that the Captain was a friend of Mitchell’s father and had pulled strings to get the son of his dead buddy onto the force, but Mitchell had always seemed to resent this, had railed against the system, his ends justifying the means like those maverick cops that were so popular on TV.
Ultimately, it was Bradshaw who’d suffered; taking the bullet meant for Mitchell, shattering his soul along with the vertebrae. He learned to walk again, but to a man who’d wanted to fly, it was like being grounded.
Everyone blamed Mitchell, especially himself; he’d shed those movie star looks for a couple of years to work undercover in Vice, walking the ragged edge or some such bullshit. Now he was back, picking up his pencils and papers, showing them to Kazansky.
“Wait a minute.” Kazansky squinted at the top sheet. It was the blood spatter, all right, but there was a definite shape to it. “Like wings,” he heard himself whisper.
“Yes.” Mitchell grinned like a loon. “I’ve seen this pattern before.” He flicked through the photographs in his folder, taken months and years apart, all showing roughly the same shape.
“No such thing, you always said.” Blue eyes sparkled. “Ritual killer. Has to be.”
Kazansky said nothing, staring at the dark pattern on the refrigerator. Eagle, hawk, something.
Bradshaw only had half a face, yet what remained seemed to be looking at him in expectation. “We’ll see justice is done here,” Kazansky promised.
“But your Dynamic Duo never did.” Jordan sits back, smug. “Quit, didn’t you?”
Kazansky looks wearily at his burned-down cigarette. “I’ve heard this shit before, you know.”
Wolfe blinks as ash spills onto the table. “What shit?”
“I find clues now and again in my line of work, that same pattern repeated. I sometimes tread on the wrong toes, and in every state I’ve found there’s a pair of assholes just like you who’ll haul me in, wanting to know about Mitchell or that case.”
“You’re a private detective now, right? Trailing wives for jealous husbands.” Jordan grins. “How is your wife? Kid’s doing well in college, I hear. Affordable on the alimony? ”
Kazansky smiles back, but it’s tight. “Fuck you.”
Wolfe sits straight. “Do you think Mitchell killed Bradshaw?”
“No. He fucked him up is all. Bradshaw was never the same after he took that bullet. Neither of them were, but they were both damn good cops.”
Wolfe looks at Jordan now, who shrugs.
“On your way, Iceman.”
Long time since he was home. Too long.
Same goes for his friend, the derelict sat there on the park bench, casting crumbs out of a brown bag like Christ feeding the multitude. Only a few pigeons have taken up the offer, though, and Kazansky isn’t surprised; he can smell him from the next bench.
He sits. Elbows on knees, hands clasped together. Like he’s praying, but he’s looking down at the scuffs on his shoes rather than the man at his side.
“They know, don’t they?” The voice is hoarse, slurred. “Matter of time.”
Kazansky looks at him now. The face is hidden behind a thick beard, tangled like the long hippy hair and equally in need of a wash. He looks like a bad disguise, a costume partygoer who hasn’t changed his clothes in decades.
“I had to set him free, let him fly.”
“I understand.” He does. It’s taken him many, many years, but he does.
They call it his only unsolved case, but Kazansky knew Mitchell was guilty as soon as he walked into that kitchen. He knew, because he’d likely have done the same for his best friend.
“Then you won’t tell?”
“No. I promised, didn’t I?” He stands, sending the pigeons scattering as he walks away. “See you.”
“Goodbye, wingman,” Mitchell whispers, watching the birds soar into the sky.