The Thick Man- Prologue

The brightness of the overhead lights causes me to squint against the glare reflecting off of the metal table’s surface. I can feel sweat roll in droplets down my face from the heat radiating from the florescent bulbs, and as it soaks through the bandage on my neck the burning sensation adds another irritating voice to the cacophony of pains already racking my body. It’s been a hell of a long day already, and given my current situation, it isn’t looking like things are going to improve any time soon.
“Well, Nick. You’ve had quite the day today. How’re you doing?”
Agent Grant Rodgers nods at the aforementioned bandage, which I reflexively reach up and brush with my fingertips. The wound sharply reminds me that it doesn’t like being prodded and I wince. “Stings a bit and needed a couple of stitches, but the doctor said I’ll be fine.”
“Good. Glad to hear it. Can I get you something to drink or anything before we start?” I shake my head and Rodgers rubs at a stubble-strewn jaw before he leans down on the table and looks me in the eye. “All right. Well, I know that you’re not feeling too hot and the last thing you want to do right now is be stuck in this room with me, but I’m going to need to hear everything from the top, even the stuff that you don’t think’s important.”
I shrug as I adjust my position in the metal folding chair, which creaks under the strain. I’ve only been here for half an hour but my butt is already starting to go numb- what my uncle used to refer to as flatassatitis. I try to keep my voice steady and full of relaxed confidence, like Bogey in Casablanca. I’m more than a little ashamed of myself when it still trembles a bit as I speak.
Here’s looking at you, jackass.
“The top of what, Grant?” It feels weird calling a federal agent that I just met by his first name, but he’d insisted. “What happened today or from the beginning of the case?”
He shakes his head. “No, further. Back to when you still worked for the department.”
He pulls a chair up next to mine and the abrasive sound of metal scraping concrete makes me cringe a bit. The heavy musk of tobacco and day-old coffee rolls off of his breath as he speaks and my nose wrinkles. “Tell me how you and Detective Charleston first hooked up. I want to hear it all.”
I squirm a bit more in the chair in an attempt to work some circulation back into my throbbing butt cheeks. “Well, if I’m going back that far can I get a different chair, or at least a pillow or something? This thing isn’t exactly fat people friendly, and if I keep squirming like this it might break on me.”
He laughs and stands back up. “Sure. I think I saw a chair outside that might do the trick. Just a sec.”
He gives me a friendly pat on the back as he goes past, and I feel a gush of cool air from the larger room beyond as he opens the door beside me. Intellectually, I know that he’s playing “good cop” with me so that I’ll relax and give up more details as I relay my story. Still, I genuinely like the guy. His Brooklyn accent kind of makes me feel like I’m starring in my own Scorsese movie. I have a good feeling about him, and I tend to be a pretty good judge of character. Besides, Nora and I have nothing to hide.
As promised, he’s back less than a minute later carrying a maroon cushioned chair with no side arms. God bless him.
“This should do a bit better for you.”
I stand and nod my thanks. It feels good to get up and stretch, even though various joints crackle like Rice Krispies and my injured knee protests as I do. My butt cheeks and the back of my thighs start to tingle now that blood is rushing back into them. I feel my cheeks warm when I see that the legs of the chair that I’d been sitting in are distorted slightly from my weight. I smile sheepishly as Rodgers folds it back up and leans it against the far wall of the interrogation room.
“Uh, sorry about that.”
He waves a hand dismissively as we both take our seats again. “Don’t worry about it.”
I can’t help but sigh in contented relief as I carefully sink into the cushioned chair and prop the injured leg up on another folding chair next to me.
He smirks. “Better?”
I nod. “Much. My posterior thanks you.”
Rodgers chuckles as he folds his hands together on the table in front of him. “Good. Now, let’s start from the beginning. How’d you two meet?”
I rub absently at my throbbing knee. The wrap the medic applied is just shy of cutting off circulation. I know that it needs to be snug to give me the added support, but it’s not exactly comfortable. I wish for the umpteenth time that the painkillers I took earlier would kick in already. “The academy. We were in the same class together.”
I’ll give him credit; Rodgers is trying hard to keep a straight face. “The police academy? I wasn’t aware that you’d gone.”
I give him a half-hearted shrug. I’m too exhausted to bother with much else. “What can I say? I’m stubborn. I paid for it, too.”
I nod towards the cane that’s leaning against the table next to me and he grimaces. “Call me Captain Obvious, but you’re a pretty big guy, Nick. What made you think that you could physically make it through the academy? It can be pretty rough, even for someone in decent shape.”
I smirk mirthlessly and hold up the shirt that I’d been wearing an hour ago, now horribly stained crimson. “Because the law is in my blood.”
He snorts. “Cute.”
I sigh and drop the shirt back on the table. “It’s a family saying; kind of our credo. My grandma is a judge. My mom was a lawyer. My grandpa and father were both cops, and so are all of my brothers. Hell, I have a distant cousin that was a freaking U.S. president, or so grandma always claimed. It’s kind of a family tradition, and I didn’t want my stupid medical condition to keep me from following it.”
He arches an eyebrow. “What medical condition? I didn’t see anything in your file.”
I shake my head. “Yeah, it wouldn’t be. My body doesn’t produce testosterone. No testosterone, no muscle. No muscle means a lot of fat. It’s rare, and if doctors catch it when you’re a kid they can give you testosterone supplements so that you develop pretty much normally. I didn’t find out about my condition until long after puberty had already had its way with me. It was around the same time that I got that job with the department, in fact.” I rub my belly and follow it up with a slap that makes me jiggle for effect. “Hence this fine pile of man meat sitting before you.”
He laughs while I smile weakly. “I see. So why not save yourself some grief and just become a lawyer like your mom and grandma did?”
I scoff. “I’d rather die.”
“You almost did.”
“Good point.”
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. He offers them to me. “You smoke?”
I wave them away. “No thanks.”
“Smart man. Mind if I do?”
“Knock yourself out. It’s your party, Grant. I’m just a guest.”
“We’re really not supposed to do this in here anymore. Fuckin’ liberals…” He lights his cigarette and gives it a few puffs. “My wife is on my butt to quit on top of it, but in this business if I didn’t have something to take the edge off I’d go insane, ya know?”
I nod. “That’s why I spend all my money on hookers and blow.”
He laughs again and points at me with the cherry tip of his cancer stick. “You’re a funny guy Nick. I can see why Detective Charleston likes you.” He flicks some ash into his empty Styrofoam coffee cup. “So tell me, is that how that whole ‘Ghost’ thing happened? You decided that you wanted to play cop and you got your friend to help?”
I give my head a shake. “Oh no, that wasn’t my idea. That one was all Nora. She roped me into helping. She’s good at that.”
He waits a moment for me to continue and when I don’t he makes a little circular motion with his hand, leaving smoke swirls in the wake of the lit cigarette. “Would you care to elaborate?”
Good guy or not, I’m reaching my tolerance limit for the twenty questions game. “No Grant, I really wouldn’t. I’ll be honest with you, I’m tired, in a lot of pain, and I don’t care to chat about a well-documented event that took place well over three years ago that’s not even remotely relevant to this case.”
He nods as he takes another drag. The smoke spouts from his nose and reminds me of cartoons that I used to watch as a kid with dragons in them. Agent Rodgers suddenly doesn’t seem so “good cop” anymore. “Yeah, I can understand that, Nick. But here’s the thing,” he casually tosses the bud into the coffee cup and it lets out a little sizzle as it hits the wet remnants at the bottom. “We’ve got a pile of bodies down in the morgue. Eight of them are cops. At least one of those bodies is there because you put him there, and that’s just counting tonight. I know what you told your local cop buddies here.” He jerks his thumb towards the next room where Nora is being similarly questioned. “I know what Detective Charleston is telling them in there right now since she gave me the short version earlier. The problem is I don’t know Detective Charleston, other than by reputation, and I certainly don’t know you from Adam. So, I want to get your take on things. I want to get a good read on you and see if you’re telling the truth about what went down tonight, or if the two of you went vigilante again and you’re just trying to cover your asses.”
He leans in close, tufts of smoke still drifting from his nostrils and caressing my face, making me want to cough. “Because if I find out that you two aren’t being straight with me things are going to get a hell of a lot worse from here. That said, it behooves you, and your pretty friend in the next room, to tell me what I want to know whether you think it’s relevant or not. Capiche?”
I nod and begin.