CHARACTERS: Several OMC
RATING: R for language and themes.
WARNINGS: Details the aftermath of events in Bad Company, a rough, violent story. Aftermath isn't always pretty; may distress some readers. Adult themes and adult language.
SPOILERS: Slight ones for the Tritter arc.
SUMMARY: An assignment is given and undertaken with the utmost care.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
AUTHOR NOTES: Takes place before and during Bad Company. Many thanks to bironic for her contribution to this section.
Main Entry: in·ter·reg·num
Inflected Form(s): plural -nums or in·ter·reg·na /-n&/
Etymology: Latin, from inter- + regnum reign -- more at REIGN
1 : the time during which a throne is vacant between two successive reigns or regimes
2 : a period during which the normal functions of government or control are suspended
3 : a lapse or pause in a continuous series
—from Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary
Interregnum Five: Sympathy For The Devil
"I'm glad we've come to this understanding," Martin says. "It's good when minor disputes like these come to amicable conclusions." He pauses, just for a moment. "Is he as good a friend as I was, Greg?"
The conversation's over; he snaps the cell phone shut and regards it for a moment, curiously. He's not sure where that last question really came from—Martin hadn't meant to ask it, and once asked he hadn't stayed for the answer.
Well. It doesn't matter, really. Too late for his own good, Greg has finally realized the gravity of the situation, and his pleas have silenced Martin's doubts. He knows now he made the correct decision in taking this particular hostage.
He exchanges the cell phone for the silver cigarette case and lights up, carefully shielding the flaring match with a cupped hand. It had been a long time since he'd second-guessed himself like this, and it's good to again feel the absolute certainty of the rightness of his actions.
There's a hard thwack! from nearby, a grunt of pain, and Martin looks up through the rising smoke of his black cigarette.
Bobby's been playing with their captive for the better part of an hour, punching repeatedly at a single rib on the left side. Martin squints a little; he really should start wearing glasses but he's been resisting the idea for a while now. It looks like the fourth or fifth rib—one of the tall-arching vertebrosternal ribs that juts out like the bow of a sail. The constant jabs of concentrated pain had become too much, and the doctor, in a desperate effort to relieve the knot of growing agony, had tried to twist away, fighting his restraints and making low whining sounds like a trapped animal.
For that he's being punished; Bobby's hard, vicious backhands echo like explosive gunshots in the dimly-lit barn. When he finally stops, the captive's legs are like rubber; he sags in his cuffs even as Bobby clamps a large hand tight around his throat to hold him in place.
"Fuckin' Jew," Bobby mutters, and slowly, methodically, starts pounding at the rib again.
Martin watches, idly smoking his cigarette. Of course a friend of Greg's would persevere in a hopeless cause, and get nothing but pain for his troubles.
He'd observed Greg for a week. All it had taken was the camouflage of a janitor's uniform; no one pays attention to the man mopping floors.
He had been saddened to learn of Greg's infarction—in his youth, Greg House had been a natural athlete, long-limbed and coltish in his grace. It had been with great interest, therefore, that he'd watched how the younger doctor had unconsciously adapted his own long stride to match Greg's crippled gait. Later he'd watched Greg move at that same lopsided pace through the hospital, heading for the cafeteria where the other man ate alone (he usually ate alone, although Martin sensed this hadn't always been the case). Greg had stolen half a sandwich from the other doctor, then stalked arrogantly away as if it had belonged to him all along. Martin had watched them arguing in the antiseptic hallways, shouting over the best course of treatment for a patient. The younger man had turned away, exasperation and anger clear on his face.
He'd watched that doctor come back to Greg's office, unable to stay away for long, bringing coffee and a newspaper. And then Martin knew.
It had been so easy, when the time came, to take the man off the street. Presented with overwhelming odds, civilians such as the doctor always hesitated, and in that hesitation, lost the essential moment of escape. In the end it didn't matter that much anyway—if for whatever reason they'd decided not to make a street grab, they would have snatched him at his hotel later that night. There weren't many places the man went, other than the hospital.
Martin knew taking Greg wouldn't resolve the situation; if anything, the man had become even more stubborn and risk-taking as an adult than he ever had been as a kid. He was now what one of Martin's team liked to call "aimlessly suicidal"—he'd never pay, just on principle, not caring what happened to him.
No, the only way to penetrate Greg's armor was to target someone not wearing any.
Still he had been nagged by doubts whether this doctor was the one, at least until he'd had that most enlightening meeting with Detective Tritter. He'd worn the guise of an insurance investigator for that little conversation, and listened in fascination as the big cop had told the strange story of one doctor who'd offered to go to prison for another.
Martin had chosen James Wilson as his own, and nothing could have saved him.
The name had come to him the usual way. The secret message had passed from Georgie Reno's lips to one of his lieutenants, to another lieutenant, to a captain, a sergeant, a foot soldier, and at last to Martin's favored dry cleaner, Haruki "Harry" Maruyama.
"Heavy starch today, Mr. Grey," Harry had said, handing over the bundled coathangers with their three freshly laundered shirts. Martin had nodded his understanding; sure enough, scribbled on the front of the receipt right under the "SHIRTS LD LT 3 3", there was a name.
GREGORY HOUSE, M.D., PRINCETON-PLAINSBORO TEACHING HOSPITAL, NJ, USA 24
Martin had stared at the name for a long moment, stunned.
"You all right, Mr. Grey?" Martin tore his eyes away from the name. Haruki Maruyama was watching him carefully; the old man had taken a cautious step back as if ready to bolt.
"Yes," Martin replied automatically, the calming words rolling off his tongue. "I'm fine, thank you." He smiled. "Domo arigato, Maruyama-san."
Maruyama ducked his head, still keeping a cautious eye on the other man. "You're very welcome," he said softly.
The details had come during a light lunch in Mr. Reno's private box at the old Atlantic City Race Course. Two of Reno's bodyguards watched over them; on the track below, horses caparisoned like knights' mounts were being led to their gates.
It had been obvious how much Greg had gotten to Mr. Reno the moment the businessman began talking. Normally calm and icily controlled, Reno had reverted to the crude epithets and speech patterns of his younger days.
"Cocksucker won't pay," Georgie Reno grunted. He dabbed a cold, nakedly orange shrimp in cocktail sauce and stuck it in his mouth. "You know what he told me?"
Martin remained silent and took another sip of his Pellogrino. He could imagine what Greg had told Reno but it was Reno's story, not his.
"Said the race was fixed. Said anybody with an elementary grasp of neoclassical economics could figure that out." Reno snorted and slurped at his martini. "Neoclassical economics my ass. 'What the fuck do you mean by that?' I said."
RAND Corporation, Martin thought. Game theory. Greg would've known where to look, would have seen the signs. He took a slice of bright yellow lemon and squeezed some of the juice over his boiled shrimp as Georgie Reno continued his rant.
"'I'm not paying,' he said. 'Fuck you are,' I said. And you know what that asshole said then?"
Martin hid a small smile behind his napkin. There was a shrill buzz and multiple clanging sounds as the horses burst free.
"'I'm bored,' he said. 'This was interesting for a while but now I'm bored. Think I'm gonna try the greyhounds instead.' 'Dr. House,' I said. 'No dog track is gonna take your money while you still owe me. I'll make sure you're blackballed at every track in the fuckin' country. You're not gonna be able to bet on a goddamn flea circus in West Wang, Oregon until you pay what you owe.'"
Reno picked up another shrimp with his fingers and used it as a conveyance for an especially large dollop of sauce. The horses thundered by, throwing up wakes of dirt as they rounded the stretch.
"'The hell with you,' he said. 'I'll gamble where and with whom I want but I'm not paying on a fixed race.' Stupid fucker says 'I'm not afraid—I'm an addict and a cripple, send your goombahs to kill me—you'll be doing me a favor.'" Georgie shook his head. "Goombahs. Jesus fuckin' Christmas. Who does this guy think I am—Don Corleone? Tony friggin' Soprano? People watch that shit, they think they know everything."
Martin laid his napkin on the white linen tablecloth.
"What are your orders, Mr. Reno?" he asked quietly.
Reno took another slurp from his martini and fished out the blue-cheese stuffed olive. He popped it in his mouth and chewed noisily.
"Teach Dr. House a lesson," he said. "I'm leaving the method up to your discretion."
Martin nodded, acknowledging the level of trust from his employer.
"Whichever package you take, though, don't lose it. This isn't a special commission; I don't need an interrogation session and I sure as hell don't need the full treatment." An ugly, sour look crossed Georgie's face. "Our Doc House is famous," he said with no small amount of disgust. "I don't want this drawn out. Bad for all parties."
Reno slapped his own napkin on the table. "But make the bastard pay," he growled. "Make the bastard pay."
In the sudden silence, the voice of the track announcer floated over the stands.
"And it's Indian Dancer by a nose!"
Their captive is making oddly muffled sounds and Martin looks up sharply.
Bobby's pressing one thumb against the rib he'd been pounding, pushing hard as if he can finish breaking the cracked bone by finger power alone, but that's not why the prisoner is choking. Bobby still has the doctor's throat in a tight grip and is pressing his other thumb against the man's trachea.
Martin watches the captive for a moment as he struggles to breathe; the strangled gasps remind him of something from long ago, a boy who couldn't breathe then either.
"Bobby ..." Martin says softly, and Bobby's head whips around. Martin tilts his head back, letting Bobby have a look at his own unmarked neck. His unspoken message is clear: A mugging victim wouldn't have finger marks on his throat.
Bobby flushes and loosens his grip immediately; the doctor gasps and gulps in a deep breath.
Martin turns away and smiles a little at their captive's despairing moan as the beating starts again. Bobby's a good pupil, he thinks, but he'll need to learn to curb his enthusiasm. He walks slowly, and thinks about that other boy.
The sun is hot in the open field; Martin can hear the creek in the nearby woods.
The boy did a decent job of it, once Martin had convinced him, and now Martin's got that loose, relaxed, warm feeling that comes with great release. He's pushing the boy towards Greg, but Greg's acting all weird now, like he's scared or something, and Martin doesn't know what to make of that. Greg should be enjoying this, but instead he's staring at Martin, eyes wide with disbelief, and that's all wrong because Martin is the closest thing Greg has to a big brother, and big brothers look out for their little brothers.
Martin sits at the card table, smoking his last black cigarette. The others have all gone to sleep. The small TV acts as a night light and, with its volume turned low, a soothing source of white noise. Ray is making soft snoring noises like some greatly overgrown child.
I can't remember that boy's name, Martin muses, and watches their captive. Age catches up with us all.
The doctor appears to be unconscious, sagging by his cuffed wrists.
He was Greg's friend, Martin thinks. His right hand clenches, as if still holding that long-ago weapon he'd used to convince the boy.
Things were never the same after that. Greg avoided me the rest of the summer, and after that he and his mother moved away, following Greg's father to his posting in Japan.
Martin takes another slow drag on his cigarette. His gaze drifts to the stable and the doctor's tie he knows is draped there.
Greg left me, betrayed our friendship.
Their hostage hasn't moved.
Now this man is Greg's friend.
Martin stands up and stubs out his cigarette, and quietly turns the little TV towards the wall, extinguishing almost all its light. The wavy blue and white shadows flicker against the wood like faint signals from the depths of a deep, dark sea. In the corner, the bound man is swallowed up in the sudden blackness.
Is he as good a friend to Greg as I was?