2010-09-24: Past Midnight



Date: September 24th, 2010


Maggie follows up on a phone-call from Agent Hamm meant to help them establish Laurie's innocence, but she steps into something bigger.

"Past Midnight"

… "Powers! Listen— it's about Miles. He killed him! I mean— he would've killed him. That's the key. Look, I think I'm onto something this old warehouse on 5th I'll explain just as soon as I— " …

Salvatore Warehouse — 5th St.

Closed down. Run down. On paper, it's no longer a danger zone; it's of no real use. On paper.

Agent Hamm obviously thought otherwise. The agent's abruptly disconnected call has brought Maggie to believe otherwise as well. She, too, knows that nothing is ever as simple as it is on paper — names, numbers, words catalogued for easy access … a person can do their best to record the truth, but even the most thorough report has holes in it. The vital details are in print, but the most vital truths often get lost between the lines.

Between the lines is where Maggie is operating now. Running toward something of which there is no open investigation she's a part of. Alone at a warehouse — without backup — it's a little familiar.

She moves through the warehouse with an urgency professionally contained within the boundaries of a careful demeanor. She's on high alert as she moves along the ground level, keeping close to a side wall, a quiet figure in denim and brown leather. A very warranted danger sense has her weapon at the ready, angled, for now, at the floor. Maggie doesn't dare call out to the person who drew her here — the agent who is nowhere in sight now.

At least not all of him. By its nature, the building is dim, dusty; hardly enough to stop Maggie from spying the stain on the floor ahead. Her familiarity equals instant recognition. Only a lab could confirm it officially, but Maggie knows blood when she sees it. And when she steps further into the open to warily crouch beside it and sees the broken phone on the floor, and turns the remnants over to press a button, she knows Hamm's blood when she sees it— sees her name on the phone. Concern floods her features, only to be overshadowed by something darker.

…He killed him! … he would've killed him. That's the key…

No echo now; even the building's typical flock of crows is absent from the rafters, leaving the warehouse to radiate only silence from the remnants of crimes past, the ghosts of an empire of destitution. And with her own name flashing up at her from the cracked and dying screen of the regulation cell-phone, Maggie's eyes are on the only brightness to exist in the place.

Brightness that betrays her. It reflects off the glow of a second pair of eyes — behind her; she doesn't see. And she won't, until it's too late — when into the stillness of the room comes a sharp tiny prick. So small, so precise. Just an innocently swift pointed pressure against the skin, puncture — it only stings for a second. And, as fast as it came, the sensation is gone. Shadows melt into shadows and Maggie is alone.

She certainly doesn't feel alone. The memory of the pinprick lingers longer than the fleeting pain, and Maggie is on her feet, spun around in a heartbeat. Her weapon angles up swiftly, the leather of her loose-fitting jacket rising with the movement, shifting over a well-equipped belt. Her threat points at nothing — or is it only what looks like nothing; shadows that could hold anything. Between the lines.

One hand leaves her gun while the other remains strong, and Maggie wraps her hand around a neck conveniently exposed by her pulled-back hair above the collar of her jacket, her touch second-guessing the sharpness; it could have been anything. Falling warehouse debris, an insect, a random firing of nerves in a body accustomed to hurting everywhere as of late.

The safety of her gun is switched off regardless. A slender Mag-Lite joins it: as she starts a slow path toward the doors along the wall, its beam sweeps broadly and seeks to vanquish questions, to illuminate the truth.

The truth, as it were, is musty air coating old walls stripped by the elements, and a hairy-bodied spider that clambers to get out of the foreign light source when it comes bearing down. Her insect theory begins to hold more weight. Yet— nothing quite as musty as one might expect in a building abandoned, locked only by the rumors of its old haunts and spilt blood. Some of the doors even seem cleaner. There's no hand-print conveniently preserved in the mat of dust coating one or the other… but it falls to wonder that perhaps that's because there's no dust. No dust and— a dark red smattering near the floor.

It all registers. Just as the reddish hue on the floor brightens under the arc of Maggie's light, it brightens her eyes, heightens adrenaline. To the door nearest that telltale blood, so suspect in cleanliness, she goes; carefully. The solitary detective flattens against the wall adjacent the door, listening, a by-the-books approach has a real world advantage— but only to a point.

There are many instances in which a partner would be convenient, and this is one of them: alone, she's forced to pocket her flashlight in order to reach a hand around to the door, which she will not quite be able to see inside. Not safely. Twist, push— it gives and, as though attached to it by a rubber band, she snaps into the doorway, weapon-first.

In the contained room behind previously closed doors, the flashlight truly is the only source for her now, no light streaming from frosted windows but her own bouncing back. This reflecting is both friend and enemy, casting a bit more repeated light around, but also creating flashing, strange tricks with them all the same. But in any amount— the blood is not hard to follow. From a blot at the bottom of the door, it goes to a splatter on the floor, and then in larger amounts.

Then it's pooled. And it's just not blood anymore, but a lop-sided shoe resting in the red. From the shoe, a foot, and an entire body all the way up to the lolling head. Agent Hamm. Sat in an armed office chair, the fair-haired agent looks the picture of having dozed off waiting for her; his chin has sunk to meet his chest, arms stretched along those of his seat, limp fingers bumping the rests. It's the legs that splay forward finalizing gruesome tones to the deceptively casual pose.

Violated fabric at the knees expose tissue and bone beneath, and alongside the holes that have bore right through. Blood that has drained out met the chair bottom and, too heavily concentrated, leaked eventually to the floor where his feet rest in the evidence of his own loss.

It can't be said that the gruesome sight is met with surprise. Still, that is not to lessen what's felt: Maggie's sympathies are freely shared with the room— quite likely to go unseen by Hamm. Deep lines of regret turn her brows, a sad frown marks her mouth, and it moves, as if she might say something to him— she doesn't, only approaches quickly; she doesn't let her guard down, the second-time risen flashlight continuing to guide her way with her gun up by one shoulder, seeking out corners, sweeping back behind her.

It's next to impossible to step in the blood. She has to, in order to perform a crucial task— perhaps futile, but then one never knows: Maggie lowers her flashlight, the beam skirting off along the floor as two fingers around it check for a pulse, watching the door all the while.

His skin is misleadingly warm, yet gently cooled by the immense loss of blood. Underneath her probing touch, no sign of life leaps to be felt. In the shadows and corners, there's only the occasional, soft drip of blood as spots here and there sink through the overly saturated chair. Plop to meet the rest. Plop one more drop not where it's supposed to be. Pl—

Suddenly— like a shot— something tightens around Maggie's wrist, desperately clinging, digging. Hamm's hand has a death-grip on her. Eyes from the door find his rolling up the top of their sockets to try and find her there against the fall of the chin he can't lift. Her— or something. The haziness of fading clouds that formerly intense green. "… 'm—mmm…"

Maggie's touch was leaving before the man's claims her with his. His stir to life brings her instantly closer. "Agent Hamm— " urgent, firm, her voice nevertheless has an underlying softness, "hey, hey, hang on, try to focus, okay?" It's becoming further obvious that she needs more than two hands; with Hamm immobilizing her flashlight hand, she very reluctantly holsters her weapon to replace it with communication: the radio on her belt. A glance sweeps around them, forever wary. Light-headedness interrupts her caution with aberrant and unsteady blinks. Maggie also needs to focus, it would seem. Grim against this new development, she goes on: "Can you tell me who did this to you?"

There's no focus for Hamm. Even as fast as it clung, his fingers begin to loosen with creeping weakness; more of his life always soaking into the floor, his and Maggie's shoes. Not even shaking under duress, the hand simply cannot retain purpose in numbed appendages… his arm slips against that of the chair— cling— he's back. Fervent, there's nothing left in him but what he puts into grabbing Maggie, a demanding, needy tug asking for her to come to his level, where time is running short. All meaning is shoved into those husky, rattling words: "… 'mm…— Laurie!"

Again, Maggie's hand was just about to slip away — not out of uncaring but out of necessity — when just like that, she's grabbed again. Unhesitatingly, she moves down, bending in close, as intent to listen as Hamm is for her to hear. She reels; his death grip becomes a boon. Confusion registers on her face but doesn't hold her back— nor does the unwell feeling gradually making her far more unstable than she'd like. "What about him?" She meets his urgency and encourages to his consciousness as best she can, "I'm going to get you help, but you can stay with me, alright, you can do it— what are you doing here?"

Should Maggie be gripping someone else's arm, listening to the same encouragements? The very edges of the room become a tilt and blur for the detective. A hand tightens around her radio as if it could brace her. Fingers fumble to depress the correct button on the side. There aren't many to choose from — it flickers to life. A low murmur just barely picked up by the radio is spoken into it; she can't talk over Hamm and miss a word. That's if he has any left. She uses as few of hers as possible. "… request for a 10-13 at 566 5th…"

But it's unlikely now that, even with fingers driving into her skin, Hamm was ever — truly — with her. Not a second saw his eyes clear to seeing, hazed and drifting, and now his head wavers on an unsupportive neck. "Laurie— " forces out of him fervently and is, even then, barely a mutter of a call, "'mmm— sorr—" — SHHLIC. Jerk of his head up, as if tugged by a string from behind, his slack mouth and wide eyes — seeing? — … no. A gruesome bobblehead, Hamm's neck completely folds with no spark of neurons, only the rattling of a bullet inside that brain as he goes, and is, lifeless. Fingers on her skin are the last thing to relax for the last time, freeing her.

"No need," rumbles an unnaturally low voice, reverberating painfully in Maggie's light head, as shadows peel away from shadows at the doorway. "Sick of hearing him say that, anyway." The rustle of something black — a coat — the sheen of a bald head and callous eyes. Then just a turn on heels and the darkness accepts the man back in, into the warehouse floor.

As if the gunshot wasn't enough, the up-close sight of Hamm's accelerated death and the sudden presence all compound to fling Maggie backwards, wide-eyed. The man's face is so fast to careen of her sight; she follows it like a beacon toward the dark warehouse floor. She stumbles— in dizziness, in blood; balance seems to be regained for an instant only to prove an illusion. She fights again to find an equilibrium that's no longer reachable. It's quick— stumble, reel, step, stumble to the door—
"… 10-5?" a man's voice on the radio queries. Repeat message.

No time. As the detective grabs for the doorway for support, the radio clatters to the floor. It at least frees her hand once she straightens from the doorframe, allowing her to slide her gun into her possession once more— a weapon she points out into the warehouse, the flashlight, this time, on the other side. Immediately, ferocity hits bewilderment. No clear target. Only shapes and shadows, intertwining tangible and intangible in her moving vision.

Maggie spins fully into the room and slams her back hard against the wall as a tight jaw clamps down in frustration. In a ploy for focus, she hones in on a random point (not Hamm), but this, too, is invaded by things that aren't there. Dogged, she makes a lunge for her lost radio.

BAMM the radio explodes in a shatter of material and disconnected buttons — repetition to the same that destroyed Hamm, but the radio dying is a duller violence. A flash of light bursts from the gun's fire, illuminating the shooter's position, if only for an instant. Less. The burst of one seems to spark a dozen others in Maggie's vision, a barrage of blinding paparazzi in an empty locale. Not even footsteps out there — only rustling. It flutters like the wings of the crows that won't perch here anymore, charting some casual progress from one side of the warehouse floor to the other. "Do you feel it, detective?" Growling, rumbling voice — a demon's voice, it surges through the floor and pulses up Maggie's confused body. "How useless you are?"

Bamm, the radio is gone; slam, one hand hits the floor, the support for Maggie's body when it comes crashing heavily down; she shouts out in anger and surprise. The flashlight is lost in the process, already useless— it becomes indistinguishable to the flares pulsing in her eyes. She climbs on her knees, scrambles, pushes; every movement starts out strong and determined only to deflect off course seconds later. The chaotic world weighs down around her, trying to glue heavy limbs to the floor— not entirely unlike the sensation of a tired body climbing out of the water, falling on land. Her gun-hand lowers, hits the ground. Maggie's fierce stare, even directionless, certainly doesn't scream useless or helpless. "Nope, can't— " Another attempt to rise gets her to both knees, " — say that I do."

"You just watched a man die," accuses the voice, the bass so vivid, so strong, that emotions become difficult to discern in the words: they come at her like commandments. "It's there. Even if you can't see it." Rustle, rustle— is that the noise the world makes, as it tumbles and crashes around Maggie from every angle, spinning her ups and downs. In the bizarro realm that has become reality, thunderous footsteps become quieter on approach. Rustle, rustle— it's reached her. A towering figure crouches to the detective's level but is still not at it; he towers yet. The blur of now makes his bald, crooked features into an incoherent outline that just reads threat.

"But don't worry— " With utter calm, and a slow reach of arrogant confidence, this walking shadow plucks the gun from Maggie's numb, unresponsive grip — easy as that. Last efforts? It doesn't matter; he comes away with the weapon, tucking it deliberately around his back before he addresses the detective's last moments of consciousness. The hand moves to her face, grabbing her roughly by the ear and hair to draw her face near his, to whisper intimately — but rumble painfully: "— I'm going to give you a purpose."

The glare of the captured cop roves this way and that until it finds some manner of focus on the looming, unfamiliar face. Her own fights to scowl against a growing numbness, expressing her intense abhorrence of this whole situation up until the end. Her arms swing, try to reach for— something, but can reach nothing, grab nothing.

Words are forced out into Maggie's tumultuous world through gritting teeth. They arrive light and lilting, but there is no mistaking the hate and sarcasm that have combined in them; rare form, warranted now. "Lucky me," she articulates before — even in the man's rough clutches — she reels, her neck lolling down, sideways, aiding his pull of her hair. She fights against heavy blinks until she physically, chemically, biologically cannot struggle: the blur washes out every singular thing.

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