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Important Note: This story is very roughly based on the canon of White Jazz, another James Ellroy novel set several years after the time of L.A. Confidential. Exley is in the book, but sadly White isn't. I haven't actually read the novel yet, but Kady Mae sent me a couple of snippets from it, and I got hit by this idea.

Joe Reilly is an original character of mine, although he's inspired by what little I know about the character Dave Klein, the narrator of White Jazz. But rather than actually use Klein's name without knowing what about the character I was contradicting, I figured I'd just roll my own.

Many thanks to Cesca for fabulous beta, as always, and for saving me from confusing my audience beyond repair by telling me to put this note up front. And thanks to Dorinda for being not-confused. *g*

Listening In by shalott

Reilly was more than a little pissed-off, even if he was still alive, in one piece, and apparently going to be a hero in the biggest mafia-gang-crooked cop takedown in years. It sure as hell was through no fucking fault of his own. He sat in the observation room and chain-smoked through two packs while his so-called partner went from interrogation to interrogation, right on Exley's heels like some kind of trained dog. Asshole.

He'd thought it was a little funny, White coming back to the L.A.P.D. like that after eight years off the force, but what the hell. The guy had just gotten a divorce, probably he wanted out of Arizona and a bigger paycheck to handle the alimony, and it wasn't like he really was disabled anymore. Yeah, a little limp, but far as Joe had seen, that didn't keep him down any.

So he hadn't paid it much attention. He'd figured after a couple weeks that Bud was just a pretty good guy; not a prig, not a crook, kinda quiet, not dangerously smart, and rock-solid on the street, tough as nails even if he was pushing forty. He'd gotten to like the guy, and even to trust him, far as he trusted anyone. It galled him that he hadn't even dreamed Bud was a plant, and a plant from Exley on top of that, all this time.

Nine weeks. Nine weeks, with him complacent and figuring Bud was going to work out just fine, handling the cases that landed on their desks one after another, just steady work. And then, boom. Bud shows up at his door Saturday afternoon, big suitcase in hand, says, "Let's go," and makes him drive. All the way to a two-bedroom efficiency condo off Ventura, that he's never seen before, where Exley opens the door, looks at White without a glimmer of surprise, and says, "You've got it put together?"

And Bud says, "We need a bust, and to break a couple mid-level guys," and then he opens the big suitcase on Exley's coffee table and spreads out evidence collected over twelve of their joint cases, connecting them all together. "There's going to be a big deal tonight." And Exley gets on the phone and calls out a strike team that's apparently been ready and waiting for god-fucking-knows how long, without even checking Bud's work or asking questions, and off they all go to the circus.

The second pack was empty. Reilly bummed another cigarette off one of the other guys and lit it off the tail end of his butt. The room was packed with officers staring into the cells.

Okay -- it wasn't just that he was pissed-off. He was scared. He'd spent nine weeks practically living with the guy, and he hadn't seen a single damn thing to even hint that maybe him and Exley were talking. Not even that they knew each other, much less were coordinating a giant fucking organized-crime bust together. He'd been sitting here going through every minute he'd spent in White's company, and he couldn't come up with anything. And that was fucking scary. He'd taken a couple of payouts with Bud around, even handed Bud a cut or two. Nothing big, nothing really rotten, nothing worth going after him for, but there were a million what-ifs going through his head. He hadn't gotten a whiff, and if he was that fucking clumsy or just going blind, he'd be better off retiring right the fuck now.

Not to mention -- yeah, let's take a good look at it, Joe -- he was, if he admitted it, jealous. White was supposed to be his partner. But Exley seemed to have some kind of secret mind signals going on with him, or have him attached by a string, the way they worked. They'd gone into the bust tonight together, on the front lines, same exact time, and Reilly had seen each of them shoot guys that were drawing a bead on the other, cool as ice. Now they were working the interrogations together, running the good cop-bad cop routine better than he'd ever seen it done. There were some pretty fucking hardasses in those rooms, guys who'd done time, made men. And Exley and White were taking them apart like they were made of Tinkertoys.

It all added up to a whole load of fuck-you, Joe, intentional or not, and Reilly wasn't going to lie down and take it up the ass. He wasn't sure exactly what he was going to do, but he knew he was going to start by finding out just how the fuck Exley and White had been running this, and make sure they could never pull it again. And then he was going to decide just how to fuck them both, just the right amount for payback.

He went into his pocket for another cigarette, found only the empty pack. But the little mike he'd swiped from the bust tonight was there, hard and round under his fingers, and the radio receiver was in his other jacket pocket.

"Anyone spare a cig?" he asked.

Lieutenant McCluskey handed him one, smacked him on the shoulder. "Go easy, it's all going to come together," he said, like Reilly was nervous, like Reilly fucking cared. Like Reilly had anything to do with this other than be a fucking patsy. And McCluskey added, "Good work, Joe," just to pour fuel on the flames, and Joe lit the cig to keep from losing it and cursing at the guy.

Hours and hours and hours. Not light outside yet, but getting close. Joe was fucking tired, but at least he'd gotten a couple more packs of Camels, and swiped a half-full bottle of Johnnie Walker out of Richardson's drawer. He took a swig, lit up, and let himself slide down against the storeroom wall. Felt good to be off his feet.

After about ten minutes he heard something from the headphones and put them on, tweaking the volume. It was a good quality mike. Not too much static, even through a couple of walls, and when the two of them closed the door to Exley's office and the hallway sounds got shut out, everything inside got really crisp and clear. Reilly could hear the paper shuffling, plastic sounds like pens rattling against each other in a cup, paperclips.

"It's been a while," Exley said after a minute, bizarrely, like Bud hadn't been back for nine weeks, working for him.

"Eight years and a piece," Bud said. "You didn't return my calls."

Exley actually seemed to hesitate. "I thought you wanted to leave all of it behind," he said.

"Right, which is why you had a big fucking case sitting on the back-burner, just in time to land it in my lap a week after my divorce went through."

The thing that was weird, Bud didn't even sound pissed-off or sarcastic, just kind of amused -- like, wow, what a stupid fuck Exley's being, trying to run that line with me.

Reilly could almost hear the little wheels turning in Exley's head; from the footsteps, he was walking around the office, probably turning away from White, trying to keep his face hidden.

"I'd been hanging on to it," Exley said. "Trying to figure out how to work it. Then I heard you might be open. I knew if I got you back here, you'd put it all together. You never needed to be told."

The rest of the conversation started to make a whole lot more sense. This was the first time the fuckers had actually sat down and talked, the whole time. Bud had been flying blind. Of course, it would've been easy for Exley to get White called back into the department, and to funnel the cases to them; but fuck, Bud had put it all together, just from that. Reilly was reluctantly impressed. And Christ, Exley was a prick.

Bud didn't seem too impressed by the explanation either. "Yeah, sure," he said.

Exley tried a different tack. "I'm sorry about what happened with you and Lynn."

"Are you?" Still that quiet amused tone.

More footsteps; Bud's this time, and Exley's too, but kind of shuffling. Joe turned up the volume a little and concentrated. He couldn't work it out; were they walking around the desk in circles, or -- wait, that bang was someone bumping one of the bazillion filing cabinets around the room. So Exley was backing up from White.

That was a trip to wrap his brain around; Ed Exley, backing down from anyone in the whole fucking world, much less some ordinary cop he could fuck anytime he liked. Reilly couldn't help grinning; attaboy, Bud, he thought silently.

"Yes," Exley said, and holy fuck, that wasn't just distance from the mike making him sound faint and far away. He actually sounded scared, voice gone small and tight and breathy.

And Bud sounded different too, just gravelly and deep, like he was leaning in and whispering. "I don't believe you."

"Jesus," Exley said, prayerfully, cracking on the last syllable.

Then they didn't talk for a while, just shuffling and weird soft noises. Joe wondered if Bud was hitting the guy, because it sounded kind of fleshy, but not hard enough for that. And oh, fuck, he knew that sound, a switchblade popping. Was Bud out of his fucking mind?

But that was only fabric ripping, maybe Exley's pretty little dress shirt, that fine linen he liked to wear, and the tie that had stayed crisp through a bust and seven interrogations was probably lying on the floor now. Joe would've laughed out loud if there weren't still people walking by in the hallway outside. How many fucking times had he wanted to just wreck Exley, take apart those clean-cut pretty boy suits of his and make him, just once, look like he wasn't in charge over everything and smarter than everyone around him.

"Jesus, Bud, please," Exley said, actually begging. Holy shit, he was going to be able to sell this tape for real fucking money. Half the guys in the precinct, hell, in the department, would pay to hear Exley whimpering like a little bitch.

There was a sound like a lump of metal hitting the floor, and something else. "Grab the other side of the desk," Bud said, and the something else again -- a zipper?

Joe stared at the receiver; what the fuck? And then he figured it out. Not that it was much of an achievement with Exley giving a long, low moan straight into his ear, making little whining hiccups, and Bud breathing hard and grunting every once in a while. Reilly could practically see them. Exley stretched out over the desk, ripped shirt on the floor next to his belt, pants around his ankles, and White on top of him, dick pulled out of his pants, shoving it in nice and slow.

Oh, Jesus Christ.

"I can't -- I can't -- " Exley said.

"Yeah, you can," Bud said, almost gentle, except there wasn't a question in it.

"Yeah. Oh, fuck, yeah." Exley panted hard for a while, no other sounds. Then, "Okay," he said, a whine in it. "Okay."

And there was no mistaking that sound, meaty and sweat-sticky, thighs slapping together, even if they hadn't both been making enough other noise to make it clear. Reilly was so fucking staggered he just sat there, didn't turn off the receiver or take off the headphones or stop the tape. He only noticed he'd dropped his cigarette when it started to burn a hole through his pants. Cursing quietly, he slapped at it, while in his ear Exley moaned again and said, clearly and calmly, "Oh fuck," and Bud said. "God, yeah."

By the time Reilly had gotten the cig out, they'd stopped, and the only sound was the two of them panting. The mike was on the desk, tucked under Exley's pencil sharpener, and Reilly could hear every noisy breath while they got themselves back under control.

"Well, now I'm not sorry," Exley said, after a while, voice still wobbly. And then he started laughing, and Bud too, warm and easy like Reilly had never imagined either of them sounding ever, and now he could tell that other noise was kissing, deep slow kissing, the way you kissed a girl you wanted to impress.

"I'm going to have to redo those reports," Exley said, sounding normal again. "Look at me, I'm a fucking mess. Goddamnit, White, my shirt."

"Put on your coat and no one'll notice," Bud said. "Come on, I'll buy you a drink."

"A drink? Fuck you, White," Exley said. "You're buying me dinner."

Reilly took off the headphones when the door shut behind them, and stopped the tape recorder. Holy fucking shit. In a million years he wouldn't have come up with this. Bud had been married eight years, Exley fucked movie stars and models on the weekends. And, apparently, saved big cases to use them as an excuse to get White back in town and bend over for him.

Reilly took another swig of whiskey, ignoring his dick; after a little while the hard-on went away. He popped the tape out of the recorder, held it up to check how much tape had run through. It was priceless. He could fuck Exley with this any time he liked, backwards and forwards, just destroy the guy. Wouldn't even have to get his own hands dirty, just drop a copy in the mail anonymously to one of the many, many people Exley had fucked over the years, or to one of the slimier rags in town. Hell, probably even the Times wouldn't be able to resist running with this story.

It was security, plain and golden. Reilly looked at it another minute, then he snapped open the case and ripped out the spools, the tape shiny and smooth under his fingers as he yanked and stretched and broke it. He had a little heap of thin brown tape when he was done, less than a fistful. He put it in the chipped mug he was using as an ashtray and dropped his cigarette inside, watched the tape melt and scorch, smelling like burning rubber.

The storeroom didn't have any windows, but it had to be almost morning by now. He'd go home, take the day off, get some rest. Monday he'd see White across the desk again, pretend he didn't notice him and Exley both looking like guys who'd spent the time in between fucking their brains out, making up for eight years of lost time.

The tape was cooked, the last few open flames dying. Reilly blew them out, then snapped off the antenna and tuning dials on the receiver and tossed them into the cup. He'd throw the whole thing into a dumpster on his way home. Maybe he'd leave the mike in the office, though.

Exley would find it pretty quick, of course. He'd look up the serial number, find out it was missing from the night of the bust, and realize someone out there had listened in. He'd know someone had heard the whole thing, all of it, every last little begging whimper he'd made.

Reilly grinned.

= End =

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