100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #13
THEME: 13. "Running Away"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, untitled/unwritten story
RATING: R (adult language)
WORD COUNT: 4600+ words
SUMMARY: Det. Justin Reichert, formerly of the NYPD, has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a result, he has a bad tendency to overreact to certain situations, in particular cramped spaces, airplanes flying over, buildings collapsing, and random stuff falling from overhead; in the novella "Milk Cartons," for example, when he suffers a panic attack at an award ceremony, he reacts by running away like mad until he ends up at boyfriend Matt's place, simply because he wasn't sure where else to go. (Oh. Did I forget to mention that...he hadn't seen Matt for about a year?) Following a move to Minot, North Dakota, Reichert hopes for things to improve, and they start to as soon as he hooks up with Doug Nyrkkanen, but when he witnesses a small plane crashing, it's as if something snaps in his head and things just go downhill. He has a one-night stand with a random stranger he meets in a bar, and demands that the guy treat him like dirt--thus beginning a pretty ugly downward spiral into sex addiction and unhealthy masochistic/self-destructive behavior. (He dumps Doug, too, without giving him a reason.) For quite a while he hooks up with a tribal officer, Joe Silvertree, but the only reason the relationship lasts as long as it does (despite Reich's constant cheating) is because Silvertree, being as messed up as Reich is (or maybe even more so), is more than willing to put up with Reichert's self-sabotaging and self-punishing behavior. (Silvertree rather fits the profile of a sociopath, and is definitely a sadist.) It only takes Reichert nearly getting stabbed to death by one of his pickups--after which coworker Det. Kristeva tracks down old boyfriend Matt and calls him to Minot--for him to realize that he's unlikely to live much longer should he keep this up, so with Matt's help he starts trying very hard to turn his life around. This includes attending a twelve-step program and making plans to move out of his dank and dangerous apartment building. Anyway. Ex-boyfriend Doug is familiar with Reichert's trauma-related behaviors, having experienced them firsthand himself, but it's been years since they've been in touch, so he has no reason to suspect he'll be seeing the detective again any time soon...until he comes home one day to find that Reichert isn't quite done running away just yet... (For more Reicherty goodness, please see Scenes 3, "Making History," 7, "Eternity," and 12, "Dead Wrong.")
DISCLAIMER: I am not seeking grammar/style/publication critique for this item; I'm not trying to get published, and am content with my writing style, and just wish to entertain others. Feel free to point out errors that aren't just a matter of style preference (e. g., typos). Comments and questions on characters, plot, etc. are more than welcome. All characters, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © tehuti/tehuti_88. If you wish to share this item with others please send them a link.
Doug whistled tunelessly as he made his way through the small lobby of his apartment building, arms cradling the bag of groceries he'd just bought, a large piece of thick paper rolled in a tube stuck under his arm, his latest plans for the store's main window display. Inspiration had been coming in fits and starts lately, to his frustration, so perhaps some changes of routine would do him well, such as shopping at a different time and on a different day from usual, eating something different, and, even though he looked longingly at the elevator, taking the stairs instead of the usual. As he started up the first flight, he pondered whether he should've decided to make all such changes in one day or whether it would've been better to do this gradually, make more of a process of it. Then he told himself to stop thinking about such stupid things, and began whistling tunelessly again. He reached the first landing, and resumed his way upward.
His apartment was on the fourth floor. By the time he reached the third landing he was grateful he'd never much desired to live a lot higher, even though his building was only ten stories. His whistling resolved into more of a hum as he dug in his pocket for his key--they had yet to modernize with card-operated locks here, something he was also secretly grateful for, since he found he had a vague distrust of technology--but then the hum died in his throat when he looked up at last and saw that the door to his apartment was already open. Not just open...broken open. At some point it had swung back so the opening was only a few inches wide, but the splintering to the wooden frame and the damage to the lock system were pretty obvious. There was a slight dent to the door, as if something had rammed into it. Doug stood and stared stupidly at this for what felt like years, trying to wrap his brain around what he was seeing.
Weren't burglars more...subtle? Especially in an apartment building, with so many other occupants around, and Doug didn't even have a security system of any type set up. He simply didn't have much that was worth stealing. Not unless somebody was in the market for a nice battered drafting table and a bunch of original display sketches.
Doug slowly lowered the key, found himself slipping it back into his pocket since it was utterly unnecessary. Considered turning and hurrying back down the stairs, or to the elevator, forget changing his routine, contacting the landlord, the police, anybody--
Police. He didn't even think to set the bag of groceries down just yet, but did drop his sketch as he fumbled in his pocket for his cell phone. He speed-dialed the number marked POLICE without thinking, assuming, as any reasonable person would, that it would dial 911, but then he belatedly remembered, in the back of his head, that it in fact dialed the number of his old ex-boyfriend, whom he hadn't seen in ages. Sure, his ex was a cop, and at one time that had seemed like a nice added benefit, but how awkward would it be now, years after he'd unceremoniously dumped him and left without even a proper explanation, for Doug to just call him up again out of the blue to tell him somebody had broken into his apartment like he should care--?
He grimaced and moved his thumb over the button to hang up, when a noise from inside his apartment made him freeze.
Somewhere far within, a phone was ringing.
Doug blinked. That wasn't his phone. The ringtone was all different. He stood listening to it for a few moments, but nobody picked up. Meanwhile, his own call had yet to go through. It took a while to occur to him to finally push the hangup button, and when he did, the ringing within his apartment ceased, as well.
Doug stared at the dented door. That made no sense. Except for the obvious, yet that made no sense, either. Reichert had walked out on him years ago, had never bothered calling him back.
He racked his brain for another moment, trying to remember Reichert's ringtone, but couldn't; it had always seemed to be changing, his ex grousing that one of his coworkers always insisted on switching it on him without his knowledge, some sort of ongoing prank. Doug slipped the phone back in his pocket. He finally set the bag of groceries down in the hall, and tentatively reached out to nudge the door open. He peered inside, but everything looked to be in its place. The only thing out of place was the door. And that ringtone.
"Hello...?" he called out, softly.
Nothing. After a final pause, he stepped inside, making certain to leave the door open, even though it could hardly lock on him now. He entered the main room and glanced around, but everything was just as he'd left it. Nothing was amiss.
No, wait. The end table, beside the couch, looked to have been slightly moved or jarred, and the shade on the lamp was slightly askew. Doug had to keep himself from straightening them out, out of habit, and glanced around, more than a little nervous now. He thought maybe he could hear something, an indistinct hissing sound, but wasn't sure what it was or where it could be coming from. He strained his ears and stood still until at last he recognized the sound, and then furrowed his brow, beyond perplexed.
His apartment had one bathroom. Right across from the bedroom, where he kept his drafting table and sketches, the only rather disorderly area in the apartment. One would pass right by the end table on their way through to the hall, so Doug kept his eyes open for other signs, and sure enough, at last he thought he saw a few faint smudges of dirt or dust on the carpeting, and faint impressions of shoes. He followed this trail like a bloodhound and it led into the hallway and the bathroom door was standing wide open, not as he'd left it. Steam was escaping into the hall and the hissing noise was louder than ever. The light was blazing, and he knew for a fact he had not left it on, because he never left it on.
"Hello...?" he said again, a bit louder, but not loudly enough to be heard over the shower, surely.
No reply. Doug reached out and carefully nudged the door the rest of the way open, ducking back slightly when the steam billowed out in his face. He waited for it to clear a little bit before stepping inside. The mirror was completely fogged up and the shower curtain was drawn shut. He frowned when he noticed that the little rug beside the shower was askew--not how he ever left it, every time the thing was wrinkled it irked him enough to smooth it back out. He just barely caught a glimpse of something dark and out of place behind the garbage bin, and craned his neck, peering down at the tiles; a cell phone lay on the floor where it had apparently fallen. Doug stared at this for a few seconds, then returned his attention to the shower. A pair of scissors for cutting hair rested on the back of the sink, and he grasped them without having to search for them, gripping them in his left hand. He took a few breaths to steel himself, reaching out and gingerly taking hold of a fold of the shower curtain in his fingers. He mentally counted to three, his other fist tightening on the scissors, and then yanked the curtain aside, his heart leaping into his throat.
Steam plumed out into his face, nearly making him stumble back. He dug his fingers into the curtain to avoid falling and only then noticed the dark shape crouching in the corner of the tub, just behind the spray of hot water. His eyes focused on another pair staring back up at him, wide and glassy, pupils wildly dilated.
Doug blinked furiously. "Justin--?"
The man huddled in the shower--Reichert after all--started blinking now as well, gasping hard and shuddering as the water streamed over him. It took Doug a moment to recover his senses, and then he reached in to grasp the knob and twist, turning the water off. The hissing shower diminished to a rapid dribble and then a drip; Reichert sucked in a startled breath in the sudden silence and started shaking even harder. Now that the steam had dissipated Doug could see him better; he was fully clothed, arms wrapped around his knees, which were drawn up to his chest; his fingers dug into his arms. His glasses had been knocked askew by the water and his hair was plastered close to his head and he was drenched to the skin. He was shaking like a leaf now, teeth chattering as if the water had been ice cold, and that strange feral look wouldn't leave his eyes.
"H...hey," he said, as if this were the most normal thing in the world.
Doug stared at him for a few seconds more and then shook his head abruptly to clear it. He turned, grabbed a towel from the rack, and turned back, reaching in to grasp Reichert by the arm. The detective didn't resist, though he seemed to have some difficulty unfolding his arms and legs, and nearly pulled Doug into the tub with him when he tried to stand.
"S-sorry about your d-door," he added, having to brace himself with his left leg in order to rise; Doug noticed the grimace of pain that flitted across his face but said nothing, just pulled harder on his arm and managed to slip under it so the other man could lean on him for support. This time, there was some resistance, but Doug insisted, so Reichert ended up half-climbing, half-stumbling out of the tub and onto the rug, which quickly got soaked. Water streamed in little runnels through his hair and clothes and his breathing was erratic. Doug let go of him and flung the towel over his shoulders, noticing how Reichert dug his fingers into its corner, tightening and then loosening. The glassiness wouldn't leave his eyes.
"What the hell happened?" Doug asked, grabbing another towel since this one seemed woefully inadequate for the task at hand.
"B...building." For a moment or so this was the only word Reichert could get out; he bared his teeth and chattered a few times but nothing else emerged as clarification. "Demo," he said at last.
"What...?" Doug couldn't understand what a demonstration had to do with anything; he hadn't heard of any demonstrations anyway. He had Reichert lean on his shoulder again and they made their way out of the bathroom--heading into the bedroom seemed like it would be terribly awkward, so Doug led him up the hall instead, and settled him on the couch, surreptitiously taking the opportunity to straighten out the end table and lamp now that he knew this wasn't a crime scene of any kind.
"Demolition," Reichert said. His voice was steadier now, but his shaking appeared to have grown worse, and he was grasping the towel tight, even though it too was now soaked, and a large damp patch was forming on the couch around him.
Demolition--? Then it occurred to Doug. That was right...he'd read in the paper just a few days before. A large factory building, shut down years ago, finally set to be destroyed in a controlled implosion; such things didn't happen often in a place like Minot, so he'd had vague thoughts of going to watch, but had forgotten, what with all his plans for the new window display. Then, like a set of dominoes, various disconnected thoughts and memories started falling together in his head, one after another. Controlled implosion--building falling straight down--the fire department and possibly representatives of the police department being present, just in case--firefighters, firetrucks, falling debris--toppling buildings--stuff falling out of the sky--Reichert's eyes going wide and glassy and his pupils dilating like moons waxing--why that looked so familiar, Doug had seen that look before--the two of them still a couple, on their way to the apartment building, Reichert turning to say something to him just as something came plummeting out of the sky, a misbalanced flowerpot striking a lower windowsill and shattering into fragments, a few pelting against them, Doug throwing up his arms to protect his face, but not before he saw the way Reichert's eyes went wide and glassy and dilated, the sudden jerk that passed through him before he'd whirled away and flung himself violently at the entry doors and practically forced his way into the lobby and out of sight. Doug hurrying in after him, calling out his name, hearing his feet pounding up the steps--Reichert never, ever took the elevator--catching sight of him as he vanished onto the first landing. Hurrying after him--finding his apartment door standing open (Reichert had a key to his place--he'd been reluctant accepting it, but had done so--now the key was still protruding from the lock, how had he ever managed to fit it in and twist it in his haste?)--rushing inside, calling out his name, bewildered, no idea what was going on--finding him, strangely enough, huddling in the shower with the water streaming over him and his arms over his head and strange strangled noises escaping him as he shook like he was being buffeted by a hurricane. Barely able to speak coherently--all that Doug could understand was, "Stop falling--get it off me--stop falling--get them off me!!" Having to turn off the water and take his elbow and grimace at the startled shriek he let out and then try to talk him back down to earth from wherever he was, a process that took a good fifteen minutes or so, until the shaking finally began to subside, and Reichert had at last started to lower his arms from his head, still cringing and trembling and letting out piteous sounds. It had been another hour or so before Doug had him sitting on the couch, a towel around his shoulders, a stiff drink in his hands (several more already down his throat), and an awful look of shame and humiliation on his face.
"Sorry," was all he'd kept saying for a good long while; "Sorry for freaking out." Another half hour and a few more drinks before his eyes again went glassy, but this time for a different reason, and he'd at last been able to describe just what had been going through his mind.
"Is that all it was?" A nod from Doug, and a slight grimace from Reichert, who looked down into his glass. "That...flowerpot. I thought...I felt something hit me and thought for sure it was..." He'd trailed off, seeming to debate whether to continue or not, then, finally, "I thought for sure it was...y'know...shit falling...them falling...both of them..." Another grimace, and he swigged down the rest of his drink to give himself enough courage to finish. "And...other stuff, too. Something...I guess some wet dirt or something hit me. I thought maybe it was...y'know...a part of somebody." And he'd set the glass down sharply with a clink and started scrubbing his hands through his hair and shaking himself as if he were covered with bugs. "I feel like it's all over me! Dust and steel and glass and people." An awful shudder. "I can't get it all off me!"
Doug had taken that moment to do something utterly against his principles and better judgement, but he could think of nothing better to do; he'd gone to his medicine cabinet and fished around until he'd found them, some tranquilizers he'd been prescribed some time back for an especially stressful period but had never had reason to finish off. To his credit, Reichert had protested taking any--"You don't mix that shit with liquor!"--but after a moment or two of argument he'd finally taken one, and after another short while his stare had grown hazy and his speech had grown slightly slurred and dreamy, but at least he wasn't shaking or freaking out anymore.
"This isn...isn't know...isn't new, you know," he'd murmured, Doug having to remove the half-emptied glass from his hands before he could spill the rest. "I got an award." At first Doug thought he'd changed the subject, especially since he took so long following up this comment, though he finally did. "But I didn't get it. I wasn't there. Was s'posed to be there, but wasn't. I was there, but I ran off again. Again? Not again. This was the first time, actually. I mean I was there, then I ran off, so I wasn't there when I got the award. Except I didn't get the award, 'cause I wasn't there to get it, 'cause I'd ran--run away." And then he'd started dozing off, so Doug hadn't gotten to hear the rest of the story until much later the next day, when the detective had finally sobered up and recovered enough from his hangover to tell him about the award ceremony he'd been attending, to get a medal, except for some reason he'd panicked, and had gone running, and had never gone back. He seemed embarrassed in the telling, and Doug had gotten the distinct feeling he admitted this only because he rather had to, by then.
"Fucking stupid," he'd muttered, grasping a mug of steaming coffee, "to go running away from trees and shit."
"Sorry about your door," Reichert said now, again, huddling in his towel; he wasn't shaking as hard anymore, but he scowled blackly at the footstool, and made a face, shifting. "And about your couch. And about...Christ, about every-fucking-thing." He peered behind him at the doorway and Doug saw the guilt flicker through his eyes; he hastened to shut the door as best as he could, then made his way toward the hall.
"It's covered." He gestured toward the bathroom. "Valium--?"
Reichert grimaced and shook his head adamantly. "Fuck no! That stuff messed me up! I could...maybe I could use a drink, though," he said, a little sheepishly, and Doug nodded and retrieved a bottle and glasses from the kitchenette, returning and pouring him a glass; Reichert downed the first one in hardly one swallow, but made himself take the second one more slowly, as Doug sat on the chair on the other side of the coffeetable to watch.
"So...I guess my brain just snapped, or something," Reichert said after a few moments sipping, wiping his mouth with the back of his glove. "I guess something went wrong. Unplanned. Thing was...supposed to come down at a particular time but I guess it came down a few minutes early and...the fire department was there, I know their chief, nobody was hurt or anything, but I guess I meant to be out of there before..." He made a slight face and shivered. "I wasn't there to watch or anything. I know exactly what a building coming down looks like. I was just talking to somebody about something completely different and was going to get the hell out of there. I figured I'd be okay. Even when it was clear something went wrong, I told myself I'd be okay. Then--there's just this noise, you know, this bam-bam-bam noise, and you can see each of the floors, just going, and there's all this smoke and..." He trailed off and chewed on his lip, swirling the liquid in the glass.
"I guess I freaked out and ran away. Again." Another guilty look toward the door, then back at Doug; Doug blinked, not having expected the eye contact.
"I'm...I don't know why the hell I came back here. I mean..." His voice faded out again, and this time he shrugged, wincing a little. "I really want to give you some kind of explanation but I can't."
"A panic attack," Doug said.
"Panic attack. That's what you get when you've been through stuff like you've been."
"That's exactly what Matt said."
"My b...the boyfriend I had before you. Back in New York." He lowered his head, seeming to shrink a little into the towel, swirled the glass again. "Before I ran all crazy into your apartment I ran all crazy into his apartment. But it looks like I'm devolving. I never broke down his door." One more glance back.
"You didn't have the key," Doug said.
"The key." When this earned him a blank look he raised an eyebrow. "You gave it back, remember?"
"Of course I remember." A faint note of indignation flared up in Reichert's voice, then he blinked, then sank again. He set the glass down with a small clink.
"I at least owe you an explanation," he murmured. "For the last time you saw me."
Yeah, you do, Doug thought, but didn't say it. Instead, he thought about how the last time they'd spoken hadn't really been the last time he'd seen the detective, even if Reichert was unaware of this; he'd seen him occasionally on the street, from a distance, as was expected to happen now and then to two people living in the same city, and he compared how Reichert looked now to how he'd looked those times, and how he'd looked when he'd last gone storming out of Doug's life as if Doug had done something horribly wrong, which he knew he hadn't.
"You're looking a little bit better," Doug said at last.
A blink. Reichert lifted his head. "You shitting me--?"
"No. You do look a little better." He felt a bit of surprise to realize that he meant it.
A very long pause. "Guess I'm glad you haven't seen me lately, then," Reichert said at last. He removed the towel from his shoulders; Doug held out the other one he'd fetched, but the detective shook his head. "I...better get going before they send out search parties for me. Really have to work on my method. Bolting off for nowhere doesn't seem to be doing me much good." He dug in his pocket, then his other pocket. "Ahm..."
"Your cell fell on the floor. I'll go get it." Doug left the room and, entering the bathroom, stooped to retrieve the phone from where it had fallen behind the garbage; when he returned, Reichert was on his feet, rubbing at his left knee with a pinched look on his face; he accepted the phone, again with that sheepish expression, tucking it away and holding out a card.
"My number...since I don't know how much a lock or a new door costs. I know it's covered, but I want to do my part, so, no arguing, okay...?"
"I've got your number already."
"You do?" He seemed genuinely surprised.
Doug raised an eyebrow and nodded. "On my phone. Never got around to taking it off."
"Oh." For a few seconds Reichert didn't seem to know quite what to do. "Well...just so y'know, I might be moving out of that place soon, so, my landline number should change. Not sure yet though. Guess we'll see." A pause. "Hold on a sec...my phone started ringing after I..." He frowned. "Was that you?"
Doug lifted a shoulder. "I thought somebody robbed me. I was trying to call the police." When Reichert just continued staring at him, brow slightly furrowed, Doug took a moment to unfold the dry towel and spread it out over the damp spot on the couch that Reichert had previously occupied. "I'm assuming you wanting to pay for my door is...some kind of restitution thing. Asking forgiveness or making amends or something...?"
"How..." Reichert let the question die when Doug met his eyes again, then nodded slowly. "Yeah...something like that." He fidgeted. "That's...actually kind of what I wanted to try to explain to you, but..."
"You have to get back to work. I get it. You can explain it when I get my door and I send you the bill."
A few more blinks, and then Reichert's tensed posture changed, muscles relaxing; the stress and guilt in his eyes faded somewhat as well. "Okay...I guess." He put the card back in his pocket and both of them turned for the broken door. Reichert looked it up and down with displeasure as he opened it. "Christ, didn't even know I had it in me. I'm sorry I probably just about gave you a heart attack. Hopefully...maybe next time I'll run someplace else. If there's a next time. Hope not."
"You said you're leaving your apartment?"
"Ahm...yeah...maybe, I mean. Not sure yet. But starting to look like it."
A memory of once visiting Reichert's apartment--something Reichert usually frowned upon, preferring to go to Doug's place, feeling unease at the questionable nature of the building and its few inhabitants, blinking at the perpetual dimness and the boxes of New York belongings, still packed as if for moving, and the general sense of gloom and despair that hung over the place, making him feel depressed just looking at it from the doorway--flitted through Doug's head, then was gone. "Good," he said. "I always figured you should move out of there," he said. "Be a good chance of pace."
One more long stare. "Yeah," Reichert said at last, and the last bit of strain faded out of his expression. "I think so too." Once more, to the door. "Sorry again. I should still be there when you send me the bill. I'll try calling you then."
Doug didn't even bother asking if he still had his number, since it was obvious. "Talk to you then," he said, instead, and Reichert offered a halfhearted wave before limping away, rubbing now at his left arm; Doug looked over his door, determined that he'd likely barrelled at it shoulder first, and might not have even stopped to consider just how much pain he'd inflict going at it with his left arm. He wasn't too surprised...Reichert had often been negligent, that way. As he watched him descend the steps out of sight it occurred to him that he might not be as negligent too much longer, perhaps it was something he was working on. He shut the door the best he could, taking a moment to slide the end table in front of it just in case; he pondered setting to drying the couch off, but decided it could wait for now, especially since, for some odd reason, a few ideas for the window display had started drifting about in his head. He retreated to his bedroom instead and settled himself at the drafting table, making a few random sketches before starting to work them into some semblance of order.
For a short while, he felt mild surprise to realize that he wasn't upset, wasn't angry, wasn't disappointed or confused. He wasn't exactly happy either, but he wasn't upset. Something about their brief conversation, and the prospect of another one, hinted at a resolution to the situation between them, and though it obviously wasn't going to be an ideal resolution, still, it was better than the nothing he'd been agonizing over ever since Reichert had last walked out. He understood that was all he'd really been looking for all along.
He bit the inside of his cheek, and brought down the pencil and sketched some trees into his preliminary design, since they seemed to bring it more to life. Then he lifted his head and stared out the bedroom window at the back street for a while, not because he was bored or his mind was blank, but rather because it helped settle down the storm of thoughts swirling around in his head.