Author-Kimberly Workman and Author-Lucy Hale
The Essence of Inhumanity
by Kimberly Workman and Lucy Hale
See notes and disclaimer on part one.
It started with his own partner.
Of course, it was an act. It had to be authentic, that was the nature of undercover work. Just in case. And Henri had always been good at undercover.
"Get out of the car, man, you're stinking up my interior." Henri kept his voice distant and almost rough.
Rafe slid out, looking properly docile, and shifted his gaze to the building in front of him.
The door had opened, and a woman came out, making a beeline for Henri. "Officer Brown?"
"Yeah. You get a call from my Captain?"
"We certainly did. This is the gentleman?"
"Yeah. Look, he didn't break any real laws, so we can't hold on to him. But he was living in the middle of a crime scene, so we have to stash him somewhere until we close this case."
"Of course, we understand. Won't you come in for a moment? I'll need you to sign a couple of forms for us."
"Sure thing." Henri followed her, keeping one arm on Rafe, steering him along after them.
"What's his name?" the woman asked as they headed for a small desk.
"Beats me. He wasn't talking. We can give you a call when his prints come back."
"That won't be necessary. I'm sure he'll open up eventually." She slid a paper his way. "Sign the bottom, please."
As Henri worked, Rafe looked around. He'd been in this place one time before, investigating the murder of a woman who lived out of her car nearby. But he'd been a cop then. Now he was checking in.
Tables were lined up in three rows, obviously the feeding area. There were people sitting around, some talking, some just sitting. The air in the place was desolate, a feeling which Rafe shared in spades.
A few men were sitting near the door, and Rafe wandered a little closer, figuring the sooner he began this investigation, the sooner he could end it.
Unfortunately, they were speaking English. "-says for me to take it elsewhere. After that, I had to come here."
"Of course. They want people here. They do everything they can to get rid of you. Miss paying one month worth of bills, they shut you down." The second voice was tight, pinched with paranoia.
Rafe recognized the tone. He'd interviewed a few people who sounded just like that. Those were the ones he couldn't get a word spoken to, who ranted and raved about people they had known and how they ended up where they were.
And then, from behind them, another conversation was taking place.
"Ek vertaan nie, waar is hy?"
"Wag u. Vandag hy is 'n gevaar. More ons-"
Rafe didn't even wait around to listen in. He turned to his partner, who was now chatting casually with the lady who'd brought them in.
Henri noticed his look. "Yeah, uh, thanks for everything. I gotta get back to work." He smiled at the lady, then turned to Rafe. "And you..." He grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away. "What is it?"
"Those two men at the table. Our first two suspects. Afrikaan, clear as day."
Henri studied the men for an intense moment, then nodded. "Got it. I'll send their description out, see what I can find. You be careful in here, Rafe."
"I will. You just remember to feed my fish, got me?" Rafe grinned.
"Sure thing." Henri returned the smile, looking almost relieved that his partner wasn't falling apart on him. "I'll come by tomorrow if I don't hear from you."
"I know the drill."
Henri nodded, then turned. "He should behave," he informed the woman with a grin.
"I have no doubt. Nice to meet you, Officer Brown. Now let's get some food into this man, shall we?" She turned her smile to Rafe and took the arm Henri had released.
Rafe turned back to watch his partner leave, then turned almost blank eyes to the woman talking cheerfully in his ear. He was on his own now.
Jim and Blair had been pouring over the case files and witness account all morning. It just didn't make sense, nothing made any sense in this case. There was no motive, only one witness, and no sensible leads except the one that had Rafe down at a homeless shelter, and even that one wasn't exactly sensible.
"Is she sure of what she saw?" Jim asked suddenly, trying not to let his frustration come out. He glanced up from the file he held and over to where his partner sat across the desk.
"She has no reason to lie," Blair responded. "And she didn't leave much gray area in the statement. She said she plainly saw a homeless man kill Gierhake."
"But why?" Jim was getting frustrated. "What motive would the guy have had? It couldn't be robbery because the cash was left untouched."
"How about old grudges? Family vendetta?"
Jim peered at his partner. "A family vendetta? You think a man sleeping on the street in Cascade has an old grudge against a visiting businessman from another continent?"
Blair shrugged. "I admit, it sounds strange....but then, what about the flag? Whoever killed Gierhake knew who he was, knew the nationality, everything."
Jim threw up his hands. "This just doesn't fit. This lady says she recognized the killer because he's usually sleeping there whenever she walks by."
"But can we really trust her judgement?" Blair asked.
Jim shot him a glance. "Are you questioning the integrity of this witness?"
"You just did!" Blair protested. "But it leads me to wonder just how sure she can be. I mean it was dark and down an alley. Does she really know some bum by sight? She probably just got a glimpse of something and manifested this story from that moment."
"Chief, I know it's improbable, but she might have seen exactly what she's saying."
"But it doesn't fit with anything else."
"I know that," Jim snapped in return.
Blair raised a hand. "Whoa, big guy. No need to get testy. I'm just saying it would be much easier if we had some more leads."
"Well, maybe I have the break we need," Henri Brown chimed in as he joined the two at Jim's desk.
"Hey, H!" Blair exclaimed. "How'd Rafe get along?" his tone now brought down to concern.
"I got him checked in and settled. He's supposed to be in contact with us daily."
"But how's he REALLY doing?" Blair probed.
Henri looked over at him, and the two shared a meaningful moment. "I know this is killing him, but he's too proud to admit it," he answered finally.
"I'm being left out of the loop here, guys, and I hate that." Jim's tone rose.
"It's nothing, Jim," H assured him. "Just some issues Rafe's having to deal with."
"And having his uncle around isn't helping matters much," Blair added.
"Has Smola been in today?" H asked.
"Simon said he called to see if we had any leads, but that's about all," Jim said.
"Speaking of leads, I think we might have found out something," H responded. "Rafe said he overheard two guys speaking Afrikaan and I got a pretty good look at them. Both had olive skin, black hair-"
"Hold on, let's get a sketch artist up here so we can get a picture to go by," Jim said as he picked up the phone.
Within moments, he had one of the sketch artists up in Major Crimes taking down H's vivid descriptions. It turned out that H had a very good memory for details and pretty soon they had two firm composites to go on. They thanked the artist and returned to the task at hand.
"OK, so we'll put these two pictures on the wires and see if we can figure out who these guys are," Jim said.
"Now what?" Blair asked.
"Now we wait," H responded. "And for Rafe's sake, I hope it's not too long."
Rafe sat alone, his untouched food cooling rapidly in front of him. No one tried to approach him during the meal, but he wasn't surprised. Despite what the movies might show, people who were as down-and-out as the ones around him didn't jump at the oppurtunity to talk to someone. They didn't look upon each other with some kind of unspoken fellowship. It wasn't as though talking about the good old days would make them forget what they were now.
His uncle's voice rose to his mind, unbidden. "You have forgotten yourself, Ryf. Who you were. What you are. It does not do for a man to forget his place in the world."
It wasn't quite the truth, though. The truth was, it's nearly impossible for a man to forget his place in the world. Particularly somewhere like this. Every single thing in this shelter was a constant reminder that you have nothing. Even the beds you sleep on aren't your own. You have no possessions, but what's worse, you have no dignity, no privacy. All you have is the company of other people in your position, but that is hardly a comfort. There were no bonds here among men. There was simply the knowledge that even if all of you are on an equal level, that level is lower than the rest of humanity.
So no, no one tried to make friends with the new guy, and why should they? New guys came and went, people moved on, they died, they were arrested, they left for an imagined better life on the streets or in another city.
Rafe knew the feelings too well. He knew the life. And he was quickly falling back into it, with an ease that surprised him.
But he never took his mind off the Job, the thing that would get him out of here and back to the level of decent human beings. And so to keep his mind off his reawakened feelings, he kept his eyes on two olive-skinned men.
He had tried to get closer to them to eat, but one of the volunteers here had seen his searching expression as he stood with his tray and immediately sat him down at a table, assuming he was lost or stupid or God knew what. He kept them in plain sight, though, and observed who they talked to, how they behaved.
As near as Rafe could tell, there was one other man here actually conspiring with them. If anyone else came around, they would tense up and silence their conversation. If he'd been better at reading lips, or blessed with a long-range sense of hearing like some detectives he knew seemed to be, this case would probably be over by now. As it was, he sat and watched, and hoped no volunteers would come around trying to be helpful when the residents all settled in for the night.
"You watching the foreigners?"
Rafe started at the sudden near voice, and turned to see a very young man watching him from a few seats down. "Who?"
"The foreigners. Them guys at that table. You been staring at 'em."
Rafe shrugged. "So what?"
The young man obligingly slid forward a seat and leaned in conspiratorially. "So word is they wanna be left alone. Some guys heard em talkin' when they first got here, thought they was prob'ly in trouble cause they don't hardly speak no English, and they tried to help 'em."
Rafe waited expectantly, but the guy fell silent. "Yeah, so?" He made it a point to get the words out as quickly and as accent-free as he could possibly make them.
The guy paused melodramatically. "Those guys ain't been back for a while."
"You saying something happened to them?"
"I ain't saying that. I ain't say anything. Just don't stare at 'em when they can see you, y'know?"
Rafe turned back to his tray. "Thanks for the tip, kid." He kept his voice low, his tone uninterested.
"Look, I'm just sayin. 'Cause it looked like you was watching 'em." The kid slid into the seat between them. "I never seen you in here before."
Great. Just great. The one friendly person in the place, and look who he has to talk to. Rafe hesitated. He'd tried to rid himself of the accent before, but he wasn't exactly good at it. The longer he talked to this kid, the more chance he'd slip up. "Get lost, kid."
"Whatever, man. But hey, if you really interested. You see that chippy over there?"
Rafe frowned. "That what?"
"Chippy, man. Chick. Babe." He nodded a few tables over.
Rafe glanced in that direction, and saw who he was referring to. A young woman sitting alone, picking at her food. "What about her?"
"She's a foreigner too. She just don't hang out with the rest of 'em when they talkin' shop."
Rafe's interest grew, but he hid that fact from his table-mate. "Look, kid, I could care less about some group of foreigners, okay? Now buzz off."
Not even looking put-off, the kid grinned. "If you insist, Capone." He scooted away from the table.
Rafe watched him until he was out of sight, just to be sure, then turned his eyes towards the young woman he had pointed out. She was about as young as that kid, maybe sixteen at most, and sitting alone. Strange, didn't see that too often in places like this. It was a wonder the men around were leaving her alone.
He watched her for the rest of the meal, forgetting his own food as he studied her.
If she felt his eyes, she didn't show it. For twenty minutes she sat quietly, not looking around, just prodding at her food absently, looking a million miles away. She was dressed...well, shabbily enough, he guessed. Her clothes were clean, but obviously hung too large on her frame.
And then, right before he finally decided he'd try to get closer to either her or those men, his thoughts proved prophetic. Two men who'd been sitting a row back and to the right suddenly approached her and sat.
He couldn't hear what they said, but the expression on her face as she watched them was sheer terror.
He stood, not sure exactly what he was doing, and started for her side.
"Hey, man, leave her be."
A hand grabbed Rafe's arm as the voice sounded in his ear, and he turned to see the young man. "What are you doing?"
"Don't go over there, I'm tellin' ya."
"Watch, you'll see."
Rafe wanted to shove the kid away and jump to the rescue, but he realized he'd be acting a little too out of character if he did. So he watched, ready to move in if anything happened. He was closer now, and he could make out their conversation.
"-to know why you were sitting all by your lonesome over here."
"Yeah, we just thought we'd offer you our company. A lady needs a little protection in a place like this."
She was staring at them with huge eyes. "...asseblief, moerie."
Rafe's eyes grew. The kid was right, she was one of them. And she was scared to death of them even sitting beside her.
"What you say? What the hell language is that?" The first man asked, surprised.
"Come on, girly. Talk to us in English. We're not a couple of maniacs or anything." The second one reached out and touched her arm.
She jerked out of her seat as though burned. "Nee, asseblief!"
Her voice had gone up in volume, and Rafe saw as the three men he'd been watching spun around sharply at the sound of the words. Without a pause they all stood up and headed over.
"See? Just watch." The kid was grinning happily.
"Hey, calm down, lady. We just wanted to talk."
"What is going on here?" One of the Afrikaner Rafe was observing asked, his accented tone touched with menace.
"Oh...nothing. We were just trying to talk to the girl."
"The girl," the man repeated frostily. "Is not for you to talk to."
"Okay, man, sure. No problem."
"No, I am afraid there is problem."
The kid beside him giggled as they watched the confrontation. It appeared that Rafe and his new sidekick were the only two in the place interested, though.
The girl backed off, away from the men, her arms hugging her sides tightly.
"Why do not you men come with us, and we will explain problem to you."
"Nee, Freidrich, moenie."
Friedrich. Rafe had a name now, thanks to that girl.
"Hou jou bek!" the man snapped back.
She obediently fell silent, her eyes wide and frightened.
Freidrich and his two cronies led the men, not entirely willingly, to a door leading outside the shelter.
The young man beside Rafe shook his head with a laugh. "Idiots. They ain't comin' back. See what I was talkin' about, mister?"
Rafe turned to him. "You mean they're going to kill them?"
He shrugged, unconcerned. "Hell if I know. Might just hurt em real bad. Either way, they won't be back here."
Rafe glanced around, but no one was acknowledging that anything strange had happened. "How long has this been going on?"
"They been here a couple weeks now. Everybody know now to look the other way. You do too, or you won't be here long." He wagged his eyebrows with another toothy grin, then scooted off to bug someone else.
Rafe frowned thoughtfully. Well, this was the only proof he needed that these men were dangerous. Now he had to go back and catch them in the act, and this case would be closed.
But he had only taken one step when he heard the soft whimpering of the young girl, who was now standing alone and abandoned, arms still hugging herself tightly. Her entire being radiated terror.
Rafe hesitated, and saw two of the male volunteers, drawn by the noise, heading for the door, and he stopped. No, he couldn't afford to get involved this early, not without any stronger proof than a street fight and the words of some demented kid.
So he changed course, heading for the girl. If he'd been smart, he would have gone back and sat down. But he watched her frightened figure, almost shivering in the shelter, and he flashed on a memory.
His first days in America. He had arrived alone, without money, with the faintest knowledge of English to help him. He'd ended up quickly in a shelter, in Los Angeles, and could still remember what it was like.
Whatever she was doing there, he wasn't about to make her go through it alone.
"Hallo?" He approached her slowly.
Her eyes jerked towards him, and she stepped back.
"Aangename kennis," he said quietly, wishing he could remember a less formal way of saying nice to meet you.
Her mouth dropped open in surprise. "Praat u Afrikaan?"
"Ja." He smiled, hopefully reassuringly. "Ek sal my bes doen om jou to help." He offered his assistance quietly.
She shook her head quickly. "Dit kan nie wees nie." She backed away, refusing his offer, her eyes going towards the back door nervously.
"Wat skort daar?" He asked what was wrong, hoping she would calm down.
"Nee," she shook her head. "Verskoon my." She turned and headed for the back hall, the one leading to the beds of the shelter.
He watched her go, disappointed. Well, it was definite. She was scared to death of something. And undoubtedly it was the very men she was with.
Remembering the words of the young man earlier, Rafe wasn't surprised.
It left questions, though. What was she doing there? Why would this man Friedrich and his friends, if they were truly violent, if they were the killers, have her around? Was she a daughter, a sister?
He had to find out. And he had to find out what Friedrich and his buddies were up to, soon.
"Have we got anything on the descriptions we sent in?" Brown asked Blair as he joined him at Jim's desk.
"Not yet, but Jim's running it through international to see if we can find out who these guys are and if they have a record," Blair answered, leaning back in the chair.
"I'd settle for a name right now," Brown admitted.
"Friedrich Schmidt," Jim said as he came out of Simon's office.
"Come again?" Brown turned to face Jim.
"We sent the descriptions through the computer and one of the guys was IDed as Friedrich Schmidt," Ellison said as he set a file on his desk.
"How about the other one?" Blair asked as he stood.
"Nothing yet, but we're checking out other people that usually hang with Schmidt," Jim answered.
"Wild guess here: he's got a rap sheet," H grinned.
"Of course," Jim replied easily. "He's a government agitator. Usually ends up getting arrested for protesting, resisting arrest, the usual."
Henri picked up the file and began reading it over. "It says here he's involved in something called PAGAD, what's that?"
"Some vigilante pack. He was with them every time he was arrested." Jim shrugged.
"People Against Gangsterism and Drugs. It's a group that tries to combat the decay of the South African society through citizen action. It started out a small group that sent petitions to the local governments, but now they're nationwide, and focused on the big issues -- particularly the hold drug cartels have on the country."
H and Jim looked at each other. "Where does he get all this stuff?" Henri asked finally.
"From the news, man," Blair answered. "It's all they talk about down there. They have this slogan, what is it?" Blair paused to ponder and then the answer struck him. "Oh yeah! 'We Fear No One But God.' I think it's kinda poetic, don't you?"
"It sounds like some fringe group who can't mind their own affairs," Jim said.
"Whatever, man. But if PAGAD's involved in this, we might be looking at a drug vendetta, " Blair responded.
"We haven't got anything yet," Jim cautioned. "All we have is two guys, one with an affiliation with some anti-drug group, speaking the language in a homeless shelter. That hardly gives way to some international conspiracy."
"Yeah, but it is one big coincidence," H broke in.
"So you're saying Gierhake may have been killed for running a company that's involved in the drug trade?"
"Could be," Henri replied easily.
"But Gierhake was clean, no record."
Blair shrugged. "Just because he was clean doesn't mean the company was."
"Are you suggesting that somebody might know more than he's telling?" H asked him.
"I'm just saying that it wouldn't hurt to ask," Blair responded.
"Well, let's have a chat with Mr. Gustav Smola then, shall we?" Jim said as he started towards Simon's office. Blair and H followed closely behind.
When Friedrich and one of his friends left the shelter later that evening, Rafe wasn't far behind. The girl he'd seen earlier wasn't with them, which told him right off that they were up to no good. He had to debate with himself over whether to follow them or try and talk to her again, but his duties as a police officer won out easily, and here he was.
They headed down 40th, going towards the cleaner parts of down town. Which, again, wasn't good.
He followed easily -- the pair walked like they weren't even thinking they'd be followed. They didn't bother looking back or moving quickly.
As they got into the more heavily populated areas of the city, Rafe became aware of people's looks as they walked past him. He ignored them with difficulty, looking away from anyone who approached. The expressions he did notice brought a world of memories rushing back to him, but he gritted his teeth and focussed on the two men, unwilling to allow feelings of self-pity to hamper his job.
Finally, the two slowed down, right outside the park near the station.
Being so close to the PD, to his friends and his identity, made it hard for Rafe to stop when they did. But he did, going and sitting on a small bench, trying to look casual as he kept an eye on the two.
They stood around for a while. just talking, looking innocent enough. But then, about twenty minutes after they first arrived, they were slowly approached by a tall, well-dressed, distinguished-looking man.
Rafe straightened on his bench, staring outright for a few seconds before he realized what he was doing and looked away.
Smola. What the hell was Smola doing there, meeting with the men who had killed his employee?
He thought quickly. He should get closer, he should find out what they were saying.
But he couldn't. Smola would recognize him in a heart beat. Especially dressed the way he was now.
Dammit! Something was definitely going on here, but he couldn't figure out what. Had Smola had his own man murdered? Why? And why import these men and have them dress as bums? What the hell was going on here?
"Hey, mister, why don't you move it on?"
Rafe turned in surprise at the voice, and groaned when he saw who it was. A cop. Some beat cop he didn't know. "Shhhh."
The man didn't respond well to that. "Excuse me? Look, man, you're loitering here. Just go back to your side of town and I won't have to haul your ass in."
"My side of town?" Rafe repeated, his voice low.
"Don't take any damn attitude with me, son. Just move it. Now!"
Rafe stood up finally, approaching the man. "Look, this isn't what it looks like. I'm not-"
"Yeah, yeah. Just get going."
"No. You don't-"
"No?" The man grinned, turning to look somewhere behind Rafe. "Hey, Perkins, we got a live one here." he called out almost gleefully.
Rafe groaned, and glanced quickly towards Smola and the two men he'd followed. Sure enough they had heard the yell, and were staring directly at him. He backed off quickly, turning, hoping Smola didn't have time to recognize him as he headed out of the park.
The cop behind him snickered. "That's what I thought."
Rafe kept his head down, his face burning with embarrassment and anger. Damned police officer. He'd be lucky to have gotten away before Smola saw him. Damn it!
He headed back to the shelter, keeping his eyes on the ground the entire way, hoping this entire case hadn't just been blown.
"You want to bring in Smola for what?!" Simon almost jumped out of his chair, on the defensive.
"For questioning about the murder," Henri replied easily. "We think it's drug-related."
"You're going to have to fill me in more than that if you want me to call in an apparently innocent man," Simon replied, still terse.
"The guy H identified down at the shelter has ties to a vigilante group," Blair explained. "PAGAD."
"And what has this group got to do with the murder?" Simon asked, still unsure.
"PAGAD protests against drug lords. We think they might have found some ties between Gierhake's company and the drug trade down in South Africa." Blair explained.
"That still doesn't explain why I should bring Smola in. We don't have any idea if this homeless guy was in anyway involved in the murder. Just because he speaks the language doesn't mean anything!" Simon threw his hands up, gesturing his point.
"Look, we're running on nothing here," Jim tried to explain. "We've got at least four guys in Cascade who speak Afrikaan, one of which is now dead. What are the odds of that being coincidental? All we want to do is ask him a few questions and see what he knows."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
Jim frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Look, I'm worried about Rafe too," Simon started hesitantly.
The tension level in the room increased with those words.
"I know this guy Smola is bad news for him. I don't know why, but I get the feeling that at least one or two of you do know. We want to solve this case fast and get him home." Simon looked at Jim and smiled a tense smile. "If I put you in the same room with Smola, you'll tear him apart. By the time this was over, I'd be surprised if he didn't take the wrap for the Lindbergh baby."
Jim laughed slightly. "Simon, I'm not that bad!"
Blair let loose a chuckle.
Jim turned towards him, pointing. "Don't you start! You're the one who brought up the idea in the first place."
"Fine, look." Simon broke up the inevitable argument. "You can bring him in...JUST for questioning. You can't force him to admit to anything and-" Simon pointed at the group "-don't let me hear of anything unprofessional going on."
"Us?" H looked affronted.
"Out!" Simon ordered with an exasperated smile.
The three filed out into the Bullpen, joining at Jim's desk. Ellison sat down in his chair as Blair took his seat on the edge of the desk and Henri stood over them.
"Well, let's give the man a call," Jim said as he reached for the phone. When someone answered his ring, he cleared his throat. "Gustav Smola, please. I don't know the room number." He waited for a moment, then frowned into the phone. "Yes, I would. Tell him Jim Ellison from the Cascade PD called, and we'd like him to come down to the station as soon as he can do help us on a case. Thanks." He hung up with a sigh. "Not there."
"Well, here's hoping this will be the break we need," Blair responded.
"Words of death," H retorted as he moved back to his own desk. "Nothing's ever easy around here."
"You got that right," Jim chimed in.
"Well. The sooner we get this settled, the sooner Rafe can get out," Blair observed.
"Yeah, need to get my old partner back," Henri agreed. "What I left today was...I dunno, a shell."
"What was wrong with him?" Jim asked, looking between Henri and Blair.
"I had to remind myself who he was, you know? He had the rags on, getting into character, and it just took me aback for a minute," Henri responded.
Jim shook his head at another round of Rescue Rafe melodrama. "He's gonna be fine. You're too down on the guy. Rafe's been undercover before and he does a fine job if you ask me."
"But this is different," Blair looked at his partner. "If we don't get him out as soon as possible...we might not get the same Rafe back."
The silence was tense after Blair's statement. Finally, Henri spoke up.
"Hey, guys, how about we call it a night?" he said glancing at the time. "We can pick it up again tomorrow."
Blair knew how hard it was for H to say that. He knew that Brown didn't want to waste anymore time than was necessary before they got Rafe safely back.
"Good idea." He turned to Jim. "Come on then, you owe me dinner."
"Me?!" Jim asked shocked, following his partner towards the door.
"Yeah. Remember, certain wager on the Knicks game last night?"
"Oh, come on. They shouldn't have lost and you know it. It was a freak of nature."
"Doesn't matter. There was no Act of God clause in our deal, man."
"Yeah, yeah. Dinner."
Brown watched them go, hoping that Rafe and he could be back into that friendly banter real soon.
No matter how hard he tried, he could never get used to the rocks. There were men in the town with feet so callused they could walk on glass and not feel it, but for him it always hurt.
Walking the red clay ground in bare feet, going to work or to school, he couldn't move very fast. He couldn't run to avoid being late and missing a day's wages, he couldn't run to escape the voices or the laughs, or the bigger children with shoes on their feet who could always move faster.
He had learned at a young age to look down. He could go from the door of his family's shanty to work to school to work again without seeing anything but the dirt a few feet in front of him. When you looked down, you could not be yelled at or hit for disrespect, and you wouldn't have to see the faces, laughing or pitying or disgusted.
Kyk na my nie. Don't look at me. Anytime he was out of the house, his constant thoughts, sometimes spoken aloud under his breath as he stared at the road. Please, no one look at me. He prayed constantly for invisibility. The streets were the worst place to be. And yet they were more his home than the shanty outside town could ever be.
Everywhere he went, the voices followed:
Just go back to your side of town and I won't have to haul your ass in. Look, the bastard Ryf is off to school again. Perkins, we got a live one here. Ach, Ryf. Hy is fokkin sleg. Look, man, you're loitering here.
Kyk na my nie. Stop looking at me. Asseblief -- please.
What's wrong, kid? Living on the streets and you can't hardly speak no English? You retarded? Gaan trek draad, Ryf. Fuck off, kid. Ek hou my nie op met stront nie, Neimand. Move it out of here, you worthless piece of shit.
Kyk na my nie. Asseblief, Here.
God, make them stop.
Please, please, stop. Kyk na my nie.
Stil hou! Stop!
"Kyk na my nie!" Rafe jerked into consciousness, the words still on his lips, the familiar soreness in his throat that meant he'd spoken them aloud more than once.
That dream. Christ, he was having the old dreams again.
A wave of pain swept over him, also familiar. He sank back against the stiff cot, letting out a breath that was half sigh, half sob.
That was the world he remembered. Dirty streets, endless hours of back-breaking work. Being Neimand. Nobody. At work, at school. At home. It was the pet name of everyone in that town for him. He had learned to answer to it, to almost be happy when he heard it, because that meant someone to talk to, someone was speaking to him.
A pathetic, lonely existence. One that he had thought he escaped coming here. But no, in America it had been the same words, in a different language. He was Nobody again, and the only good thing about it was people here often times didn't go out of their way to hurt him. No, they'd wait until he was an inconvenience to them, a disruption of the view, a fly in the champagne.
But he had aged, he had learned the language, and he wasn't stupid, despite what anyone thought. He taught himself, with little help from sympathetic outsiders, to read and write. He slowly earned enough spare change for a clean set of clothes, and then he was able to find a man who would hire him to work. Slowly came the apartment, then better jobs and better clothes, until he was able to move away from the dirty streets of Los Angeles and up north. Up where he had a view of the mountains. Cascade.
He vowed to become a different person in Cascade. Due to immigration reasons, he couldn't have his name changed like he'd wanted. Spelling it and pronouncing it slightly differently was as close as he could come, but it was enough. He wasn't Ryf the bastard neimand, he was Rafe. Plain Rafe. And then, when he got the urge and went through the academy, he became Detective Rafe. And there he was happy. He made friends, he had a good job. He had Henri. And he was happy.
He had forgotten himself.
*It does not do for a man to forget his place in the world.* His uncle's words, and they were true. He hadn't seen it, but they were.
He was still Ryf, no matter how he spelled it. And he knew now better than ever that he was only a set of clothes away from not even being Ryf. To being Neimand. Rafe had plastered himself in Calvin Klein and Brooks Brothers to try to forget, but there was nothing different about him. Nothing to hold the clothes up.
Rafe's head jerked up, surprised, and he traced the soft voice to where a girl was standing nearby, awkward. He recognized her quickly. "Hallo," he replied quietly.
"Wat skort daar?" she asked just as softly.
What was wrong? He could rattle off a list. "Niks."
She looked dubious. "Ek glo jou nie."
He smiled wryly. Why should she believe him? "Wat is u naam?"
Rafe hesitated. "Ryf," he said finally, his voice low.
She smiled tentatively. "Dit spyt me-"
"Well, this is interesting," a voice cut her off suddenly.
She jerked in fear, her eyes going somewhere to Rafe's right.
He turned and saw with sinking feeling that Friedrich and his companion from earlier were standing casually, watching them.
Friedrich gestured to his friend, keeping his eyes on Rafe.
The second man turned to the girl. "Annerl. Com."
She hesitated, but went to him slowly.
He grabbed her arm when she was close enough and pulled her away from the other two men, out of sight in the darkness.
Rafe faced Friedrich. "Is there a problem?"
"Afrikaner you," the man replied flatly.
Rafe didn't respond.
Friedrich shrugged. "We can do it in English if it makes you happy. You were following us today. I thought it was coincidence perhaps, but now I hear you speak the Suid-Afrikaan language like a native. This is no coincidence, I think." His sharp features hardened. "Did Smola hire you?"
The mention of his uncle's name sparked a reaction in Rafe before he could cover it.
And that seemed a good enough yes for Friedrich. "I did not think he was sneaky. Why did you not take the girl and go?"
Annerl? Was she somehow connected to his uncle? This made less sense the deeper he got into it.
"No matter. I credit Smola with the nerve to spy on us, but I do not credit you for choosing to be that spy."
Rafe watched as the third man from the group arrived with the second man. Annerl was nowhere in sight.
Friedrich smiled grimly. "I think after today Smola will have to do his dirty work himself."
"H is really letting this get to him," Jim said as he got two beers out of the fridge. He walked over and offered one to Blair, who was sitting on the couch.
"Thanks," he reached up absently, still intent on the papers he was grading. His glasses on, hair tied back, he looked more the part of a professor than he ever did in front of those classes he taught.
Jim waited a moment, but it was obvious Blair wasn't going to acknowledge what he'd said. "Why is H so uptight over Rafe?" he asked directly as he sat down on the other end of the couch.
Blair hesitated, looking over at his partner. "His partner's in a homeless shelter, Jim." He was getting tense under the pressure of keeping the secret from Jim.
"So what? Rafe's been undercover lots of times. Brown's getting upset over nothing," Jim took a swig of beer.
"Jim," Blair tried to calmly explain. "This assignment is different. Rafe isn't in the best condition to do this."
"You mean because of his uncle?" Jim probed.
"That's part of it...but not the real reason," Blair faltered. He looked at his beer, trying to block out what he was sure Jim was going to ask next.
"So...what's the real reason?" Jim pushed harder.
"I...I can't tell you," Blair explained. "I promised Rafe I wouldn't tell anybody."
Jim paused before continuing. "Chief, I respect the fact that you want to honor Rafe's wishes, but if this is going to hinder the case in any way, you need to tell me."
Blair looked at Jim solemnly. "I don't know."
"You said we should never keep secrets from each other," Jim replied softly.
"It's not my secret!"
"What good will your secrecy do Rafe if he gets himself killed by being distracted? If I know what's wrong, maybe I could help."
Blair hesitated, then took a thoughtful swallow from the bottle he held. Finally he shrugged. "I'll give you the basics. The rest will be up to him."
Jim nodded soberly.
"How much do you know about Rafe's past?"
Jim thought about it, and realized with surprise that he didn't really know anything about his friend. "Assume nothing.
Blair grimaced. "Nothing, great." He took another gulp of the cold beer. "Rafe was...he was born in South Africa."
Jim was ready with a smart-ass reply to that, but he held it in, seeing the genuinely nervous look on his Guide's face. Instead he just nodded for him to go on.
"Okay. Well, he was basically a street kid."
Jim's brow furrowed, but he tried not to register his surprise. Rafe? The Yuppie?
"Anyway, when he was about nine, there were these riots all over the part of the country where he lived. Rafe's family was one of the only white families in the town, and all the anti-apartheid rioters came tearing into their house, stealing everything, and killing two of the kids. So after that his family moves in with his uncle. Gustav Smola," Blair clarified unnecessarily. "They lived with him for about a year, and he made their lives hell. Until Rafe's father had borrowed and saved enough to get them tickets to America. Rafe's dad, of course, hates him at that point 'cause of the kids being killed, and he leaves him at the airport. Rafe shows up back at Smola's house, and he drives him to the airport and puts him on the next plane personally. Best thing he ever did for Rafe, if you ask me."
Jim shook his head, stunned.
Blair smiled slightly. "I know. Hard to imagine, isn't it? But that's only half of it. When Rafe got to America, he ended up on the streets in L.A."
Recognition dawned in Jim's eyes, and Blair and Henri's protests from the beginning of this case suddenly made sense.
"Yeah. He lived there for a while, taught himself English. Got a job, started making money, ended up in Cascade, went to the academy, and there you go. Our Rafe."
Blair nodded. "I would have thought so, too. But you should hear him. He's not the same guy, even just talking about it."
"And...and he was okay with this? With going back?"
"I don't think so. But I don't think he would have refused to go. It's just...it's his state of mind. We're worried, you know? Rafe is so convinced that he's worthless, 'cause of what happened to him as a kid. We're just afraid this is gonna push him over the edge."
Jim nodded. He knew what Blair was talking about. Rafe was definitely in trouble. It was like a recovering alcoholic going to a bar. In his years on the force he had seen people who grew up in abusive homes who appeared to be recovered and fine, but one hit in a fight, one slap from a husband, could drive them back into their childhood, make them weak and vulnerable and unable to stand up for themselves. Confronted with the past, no matter how horrible, it was hard to resist slipping back into the patterns.
"He shouldn't be there," he agreed quietly, at the same time knowing that there hadn't been any other way. He was the only one Simon could have sent. "We should...we should go, get him out. Talk to Simon, tell him what's wrong. He'll pull Rafe out in a heartbeat. Or at least send one of us in to be with him."
To his surprise, Blair shook his head. "This is something best left for Rafe alone. He's the only one who can do this and he NEEDS to do this. Now that he's there, he needs to see it through."
"But H needs to protect his partner," Jim replied immediately. "It's as important to Henri as this could be to Rafe."
"Why do you say that?" Blair questioned, looking at him oddly.
Jim considered explaining it, but decided against it. "Nothing Chief, nothing. Hey, you gonna drink that beer or just hold it all night?"
"Oh!" Blair realized that the beer bottle was sweating in his hand. "Drinking is good. I think I need a drink right now."
Rafe's apartment was a mess. For a guy as anal about personal appearance as Rafe was, he sure lived in a slum.
Well, Henri knew why that was, at least. Most of his paychecks tended to go to his wardrobe, so he lived in a small, one room apartment with old, mismatched furniture and a bare minimum of decorations.
At least, Henri assumed most of his money went to his wardrobe, 'cause he sure didn't buy anything else. Nothing new ever came through the doors of this apartment, no new furniture, no television, not even little things like CDs or books. He was still driving the same car as when Henri had first met him. Henri had asked him a few times where all his money went, but Rafe always shrugged and changed the subject.
Hmmm. Henri smiled slightly as he looked around the quiet apartment. Maybe Rafe had a wad of cash saved up through the years stuffed under his mattress or something.
He debated for a moment whether or not he should go check, but abandoned the idea, turning to the one thing Rafe had actually gone out and purchased the entire time Henri had known him -- a large fish tank. He was in to goldfish, and he had a lot of them. Filters and little castles to swim through and mermaids floating around. Those fish lived better than their owner did.
Why he bought them, and spoiled them so much, was something else Rafe would never tell Henri, but he knew. He knew Rafe just needed something else with him, something living and breathing. Henri had a feeling that when Rafe was alone here at night, he talked to those fish the way most people talk to their friends.
He fed the fish, careful not to put in too much, and stared into the tank for a few minutes. It was relaxing, he'd give Rafe credit. Watching those little guys aimlessly swimming back and forth, it was peaceful. The light hum the aquarium gave off, it was soothing.
"You guys miss your owner?" he heard himself asking quietly.
The golden forms made no response, darting back and forth, going up to grab the flakes of fish food floating over their heads.
"Don't worry, he'll be back. I'm sure you miss the conversation." He watched one of the fish come to the glass near him and bump against it, looking for all the world like it was watching him. "Yeah, yeah," he grinned at the round eyes of the small fish. "I miss him, too." He chuckled to himself. "I miss him so much I'm pouring my heart out to his fish."
Shaking his head with a smirk, he moved towards the door, slowly, almost reluctant to leave. He looked around at the small, shabby couch -- one he'd slept on after one-too-many some nights, and had found surprisingly comfortable -- the armchair in the corner. The fish tank taking up part of one wall, the small kitchen with the bare necessities for one man living alone.
We gotta get this guy a woman, Henri found himself thinking for not the first time, when something out of place caught his eye -- not hard in an apartment that hardly ever changed. A cigar box.
Henri hesitated near the door, surprised. Rafe, like him, was into smokes from time to time, but again he never spent money on them, especially not a whole box. A gift, maybe? From...a lady? Could it be?
A grin appeared on his face, and he couldn't resist. He went over to the small end table and picked the box up. It was too light. Almost empty, by the feel of it. There were no cards in sight, no love notes signed by feminine scrawl.
Oh, well. Henri was starting to set it down, when he noticed the edge of a scrap of paper sticking out of the lid. He grinned and opened the box.
The grin faded. Henri sat down on the couch and almost absently reached in and sifted through a few of the papers neatly folded and tucked away inside.
A picture caught his eye and he pulled it out. An indrawn breath greeted the sight of two black-skinned children, literally skin and bones, lying prone on a clay street. He studied it for only a second before looking back down at the box. Other pictures, other children. African, Hispanic, white, Asian, children of all kinds, all as thin as Holocaust victims, all with the same dead eyes.
Henri reached in and pulled out one of the papers. He opened it, and skimmed over the letter, a typical form letter thanking Mr. Rafe Van Rij for his generous donation. UNICEF. He reached in and grabbed some more. The same thing, over and over. Different countries, different groups. Friends Without a Border. Operation Rainbow. Save the Children Fund. Yabloka Children's Fund. War Child. Children in Distress, Children's Aid Direct, CARE, World Emergency Relief, HomeAid America, PLAN International, on and on and on. Thanks for your generous donation. Thank you for your contributions.
At the bottom of the box sat a dark booklet. Henri lifted it and his eyes grew even wider. A bank book.
It didn't even occur to him that he was invading his partner's privacy. He didn't even think about it as he flipped it open. Rafe had written on the front page, a scrawled note:
Just In Case
Henri drew in a breath. Just in case what? What was going through his partner's mind when he sat here by himself? He glanced at the first couple of entries. Rafe must have been depositing half his paycheck in, once every month. Since 1991, his first year on the force. When Henri saw how much it amounted to, after the latest entry, his eyes almost bugged out.
What the hell was Rafe saving it for? What was 'Just In Case'? Why was he living in this grungy apartment when....Man, if there was one thing Rafe was good at, it was surprising the hell out of his partner.
Suddenly, it occurred to Henri that he shouldn't be there, he shouldn't be going through that box. If Rafe had wanted him to know, he would have told him.
He shut the box with a snap and put it back on the table quickly, getting off the couch and going to the door without a pause. He felt like a grave-robber, and that was a bad feeling. Because Rafe wasn't dead, it didn't make sense.
But he couldn't shake the feeling as he locked the door with the spare key Rafe had given him almost a year ago that he was peeking into the life of someone he'd never met. Some different person who was still living in a dark, cold past. Someone he wasn't sure he ever wanted to meet.
Rafe was jarred into consciousness abruptly, and he tried to open his eyes, look around.
But he couldn't. He felt the press of fabric around his face and groaned aloud. Blindfold.
A voice reached his ears. "Up so soon? We can't have that."
Rafe's face swung in the direction of the voice, and he could feel a sudden movement in front of him.
Pain suddenly slammed home as something solid connected with his jaw.
He blacked out again.
The next morning, Blair tried not to stare at Henri, but the detective was acting even stranger than normal. He was quiet, solemn, thoughtfully gazing down at the reports Blair was sure he must have memorized by now.
"Henri, what's wrong, man?"
Henri glanced over. "Nuthin."
Blair almost laughed. "Yeah, that was convincing."
"Uh, look, Blair, I'm just not in the mood to talk about it."
Blair? Uh oh, this was more serious than he thought.
"Well," Jim broke the silence that fell as he came out of Simon's office. "If it was coincidence before, it's even more of one now."
"What you got?" Blair asked as he turned from Henri.
"Friedrich Schmidt's accomplice. Name's Mikial Wasamba; he's Schmidt's good friend and co-agitator." Jim said as he handed Henri the folder. "Apparently they do everything together. Protest, march, get arrested. They're real pals."
Henri glanced through the file long enough to confirm the photo was the man he'd seen. "So we've got two PAGAD members in Cascade, a dead South African businessman, and Rafe's uncle. There's got to be a connection between them."
"We'll have to wait for Smola to show up before we can jump to any conclusions," Jim replied. "But it would be one hell of a coincidence if they weren't."
"Sometimes I get the feeling that Cascade's the center of international crime," Blair chuckled.
"You don't need to tell us, Hairboy. We're living it!" Henri retorted.
Blair flashed a relieved smile at the familiar nickname.
Jim heard a peculiar voice, so he tried to focus. He recognized Smola talking to someone outside in the hall. "Heads up, guys."
Sure enough, a moment later the South African stalked in with the bodyguard they had seen before.
"What is the meaning of this? The hotel clerk told me last night that my presence was demanded down at the police station," Smola spat, obviously angry.
"Good morning, Mr. Smola," Jim put on a courteous air as he strode over to shake his hand. "We just wanted to ask a few questions about the company you and Franz Gierhake ran."
"You have not found his killer yet?!" Smola exclaimed. "You are not doing your job."
Jim opened his mouth with an angry retort.
Blair Sandburg stepped up beside him before he could speak. "Mr. Smola, this case is complicated and it takes time."
"Too much time," Smola muttered.
"Why don't we go into the Captain's office? We can discuss it there," Blair replied as he motioned towards Simon's door.
"Fine, fine," Smola obliged as he began walking.
Jim shook his head in annoyance as he follow the older man.
Blair sighed as he started forward, but Henri returned to his desk and started putting on his coat.
"H, you not coming?" Blair asked.
"No, I'm going to go see Rafe. He didn't call in last night, and I got a bad feeling about all these coincidences."
"Tell him...just remember he's going to get out soon," Blair decided to amend his statement.
"I'll do that, thanks," H called as he headed to the hall.
"Chief, you coming?" Jim stuck his head out of the office.
Blair padded over to the office door.
"-had no intention of forcing you to come." Simon was saying in a calm voice. "My officers have a few questions for you that could help shed some light on why your employee was murdered."
Smola was sitting bolt upright in his seat. "Ask your questions, then."
Simon glanced over at Jim, a warning look in his eyes.
Jim nodded slightly. He'd be calm. Just because the guy was an asshole didn't mean he was a criminal. "Alright, Mr. Smola. Have you ever heard of a group called PAGAD?"
Smola turned to him in surprise. "Of course."
"Any idea why that group would have an interest in shutting your company down?"
He blinked. "PAGAD is a group that protests criminals and drug smugglers, Detective. It has nothing to do with my company."
"You sure about that?"
"The two men we are looking at for Gierhake's murder are both long-time members of PAGAD."
Smola frowned. "That...what does that mean? It means nothing. What murderers do in their spare time is of no relevance."
"Not unless their activities have something to do with their motives."
Smola met his eyes with a glare. "Detective, whatever you are trying to say, just say it. You waste time with these statements."
"Alright," Jim replied steadily. "PAGAD is trying to shut your business down. That means this group has a reason to suspect that your company is involved in criminal activities. Why don't you tell us why they suspect that?"
Smola was almost trembling with anger. "Detective, you know nothing about my country or it's people. PAGAD is not a violent group. They are ordinary South African citizens who march and protest to put an end to the hold the drug trade has on our country. They would not murder anyone, even to accomplish those goals."
Jim paused, surprised. Smola's fierce protest of his accusations took him aback, but mostly because he wasn't protesting his own company's activities, but the suggestion that this group of protestors had committed a murder.
"As for my own company," Smola said after a moment, when he had gotten himself under control again. "There is no reason for me to believe that PAGAD or any other group would think us criminals."
Jim stared at him silently, his senses carefully going over the man. Smola's heart was racing, but Jim had no way of telling if that was out of anger or guilt, or because he was lying. He reached over to Simon's desk and grabbed the two pictures they had printed off the computer. "These are our main suspects for Gierhake's murder." He handed them to Smola.
The older man took one look at the pictures, and his heart sped up even faster.
Jim almost smiled. Gotcha. "Do you know these men?" he asked innocently.
"No," Smola replied too fast and too loudly.
Jim smiled grimly. He was lying his South African ass off.
Smola looked up at him suddenly, his brow creased. "You say they are members of PAGAD?"
Jim nodded silently.
"That...that doesn't make any sense." Smola's eyes went back to the pictures, brow furrowed.
"Mr. Smola, you are not under any suspicion of murder," Jim said finally. "If we can show that PAGAD did have an interest in killing Gierhake, we'll be one step closer to arresting these men."
"No," Smola shook his head stubbornly. "They are not murderers. Perhaps these men are." The hand clutching the pictures shook slightly. "But not in PAGAD's name."
Jim frowned. They weren't going to get anywhere like this.
Continued in Part Three...