Part Eight, Chapters 24-27
When Simon finally left for the Arboretum the March skies were still gray and lowering, a chilly wet wind scudding dead brown leaves across the parking lot. The weather suited him fine, even if it made him hunch his shoulders and stick his hands in the pockets of his zipped-up bomber jacket.
The rain burst free with a vengeance when he was on the freeway, not so much hitting the windshield as assaulting it. Simon hissed in irritation and slowed, slapping the lever for the windshield wipers up to its maximum. Fortunately by this time of the afternoon most of the commuter traffic was elsewhere, so he didn't get mired up in a huddle of intimidated drivers going thirty-five miles an hour; however, it was still closer to two-thirty than two by the time he parked his Jeep in the little parking lot next to Beech Spring Pond.
As abruptly as it had started, the rain stopped. Simon ducked down and scowled up at the gray sky through the windshield for a moment. When the rain didn't start up again right away he threw open the Jeep's door and slid out, heading for the pond, not bothering to avoid the shallow puddles that spotted the pavement here and there.
Dorothy Langridge, wearing a trenchcoat in deference to the weather, was already there on the bridge when Simon ducked under the low-hanging branches, staring out at the gray waters of the pond and working on the last of a cigarette. A furled umbrella leaned against the railing at her side, still dripping. The pond's surface ruffled in the constant wet breeze, making the forlorn-looking ducks in the distance bob up and down.
Simon crossed his arms on the bridge's handrail and joined Langridge in her study of the huddled ducks. "Langridge," he eventually said, once that got dull.
"Mr. Drake," Langridge said evenly, grinding out the dead cigarette butt on the sole of her shoe, where it hissed against the wet. She hadn't looked at him yet. "I'm assuming that you're heartily pissed at me right now. Do let me know if that's not the case."
"Wish I could," Simon said, turning his back on the ducks to lean against the railing and stare off into the dripping trees. "But, no, seems to me that I am pretty heartily pissed at you."
"Why am I not surprised," Langridge said. It wasn't a question. "Are you so pissed off that you won't bother listening if I attempt to explain? Because if you are, please do tell me. I'm not one for wasting my time."
"Yeah, you made that clear right from the start," Simon said. "You got an explanation, let's hear it."
"Well, first of all," said Langridge, "if you think I wanted to waste the favor you owed me on something that inane, Mr. Drake, you're even stupider than you look."
"Mm," Simon said, a little surprised to discover that he felt better already. "I mean, yeah?"
Langridge shook another cigarette out of the pack and lit it before continuing. "I fully intended to hoard that favor you owed me until I really needed it, Mr. Drake," she said, blowing smoke out in the general direction of the ducks. "If you'd like to picture me rubbing my hands together and cackling in evil glee, feel free, it's not like I can stop you."
"Funny how easy it is to picture that," said Simon. "So what happened to change your mind?"
Langridge snorted out her completely unamused laugh. "I told you that it was likely my office was bugged, Mr. Drake. Not two hours after I called you about the fateful email I was upstairs having it suggested to me that maybe I wanted to call in that favor you owed me on behalf of the Agency's greater interests, and..." She made an irritated little gesture with her lit cigarette. "Well."
Simon thought about it for a moment. "Yeah, I can buy that," he eventually said. "Tell you the truth I'd already figured something was up. I mean, it wasn't like that favor did you any favors, and I know you're not the altruistic type."
"I'm a selfish old bitch, it's true, and I like my job enough to want to keep it even if it means screwing with yours," Langridge said, flicking dull gray ash into the dull gray water. "For what it's worth, Mr. Drake, I am sorry."
The damp breeze rose and Simon turned his face into it, closing his eyes and letting it ruffle his hair back. "Yeah," he said. "Sucks, but what can you do?"
"Not much," Langridge said. "So, are we even?"
"We're even," Simon said, blowing out a breath. "I'm willing to call it a draw if you are."
"Well," said Langridge, falling back into her old familiar briskness. "I can't begin to tell you what a load that is off my mind, Mr. Drake. The idea of you being mad at me keeps me up at night biting my nails. So what comes next?"
"See, that's the thing, I don't know yet," Simon said. "Sounds like your bosses and mine have plans that don't so much include us. I'm supposed to meet with Upstairs at four. Guess I'll find out then if they're taking it away from me or not."
"Oh, that's the best part," Langridge said, the little twist to her lips giving a sarcastic edge to it. "The waiting."
"And having cases you're starting to take a real personal interest in get taken away from you," Simon added in agreement. "Did you hear that one of my guys got shot by this asshole?"
"He all right?" Langridge asked with a flicker of vague professional sympathy.
"Suffered massive trauma of the bulletproof vest," Simon said. "Actually, that reminds me."
"I hate to think what that could remind you of."
"Well, obviously our boy knows we're on to him now. I mean, he couldn't have missed it, we were real obvious," Simon said. "So, have you seen any mention of it on Karpol's email network yet?"
"Mr. Drake," Langridge said reprovingly. "If they had, do you really think I'd be standing here failing to tell you about it?"
"Well, yeah, maybe, if you felt like making me jump for it," Simon said.
Langridge's eyes narrowed in amusement. "... touche', Mr. Drake. But, still, the answer is no. No one's mentioned it."
"Huh," Simon said, thumping the heel of one sneaker against the wooden planks. "Have you gotten another one of those 'agent of purchase' emails?"
"Not yet," Langridge said, "and believe me, I am keeping an eye out, out of some sort of misplaced sense of slight guilt."
"Huh," Simon said again. He turned back around, leaning against the railing and squinting off at the ducks, feigning a nonchalance he was far from feeling at the moment. "See, a normal person would think that's just strange," he told the ducks, who didn't care or couldn't hear him. "Fishy. Wrong."
"Possibly," Langridge said, shrugging. "Or possibly it's too enormous a fiasco to trust to something like emailalthough, to be frank, they're generally cocky about it. And by 'cocky', I mean 'stupid and computer-illiterate'."
Simon slapped the palm of his hand on the wet railing. "Dotty, since you're being so cooperative, I'm going to make you a little wager."
"'Dotty'," Langridge said, her voice cold enough to make ice crystals spontaneously form in the air between them. "I assure you, Drake, that if you're looking to make me uncooperative again you've certainly found an efficient method."
Simon ducked his head slightly, trying not to grin. "Aw, don't be that way, Langridge, I thought you and I were pals again!"
"We were never pals, Mr. Drake." A second dead cigarette butt joined the first in Langridge's hard pack. "And if you call me 'Dotty' again, I assure you we never will be. Anyway. What is this wager of yours?"
"Well, actually, it kind of comes in two parts," Simon said. He couldn't believe how much he was enjoying this. "See, the first part is, I'm thinking that tonight or tomorrow you're going to catch one of those 'foreign goods' emails just like usual. No change."
"All right," Langridge said. "Why?"
"Because I have a theory," Simon said, and paused.
Langridge eyed him narrowly, then heaved out a sigh. "All right, Mr. Drake. I'll play your idiotic little game for a minute. Please do tell me about your theory."
"Why, Langridge, I thought you'd never ask," Simon said happily. "See, here's the thing. I've never actually met our boy face-to-face but you gotta believe me when I say that I know someone just like him."
"All right," Langridge said, making a little 'hurry up' gesture.
"And so our boy probably suffers from a little something I like to call 'way too much professional pride'," Simon concluded. "He's too proud of himself to ever, ever go running to his employers whimpering that he fucked up and nearly got caught because of it. So, since he came away from the crime scene carrying a box full of prototypes and a disc full of design specs, well, I'll bet you anything that he just handed them over calm as could be and didn't mention the part where he was stuck in the ceiling crying like a goddamned baby because the FBI was yelling at him."
"It's possible he's also too frightened of his employer to mention it," Langridge pointed out. "Viktor Karpol isn't precisely easygoing, Mr. Drake. He takes very poorly to being disappointed. And by 'takes very poorly to' I do, of course, mean 'feeds people to his dogs for'."
"Okay, granted, that could also be it," Simon said. "But I like my theory better. You know why?"
"Could you possibly stop drawing things out and just tell me?" Langridge asked.
"Nope. Sorry. But I'll tell you why: because hubris is delicious."
"Hubris?" Langridge raised both eyebrows. "My goodness, Mr. Drake, that's a smart-people word. Next you'll be telling me that you can read without moving your lips."
"I'll let you in on a secret," Simon said. "I can even walk and chew gum at the same time."
"Now you're just lying to try and impress me," Langridge said. "Go on."
"So our boy, our boy who's never failed them before, our boy who's built up a good reputation with his employers... he's going to hand those trusting employers a box full of fake bullets with FBI-issue tracking devices implanted in them," Simon said, "and a disc of 'design specs' that's really this ticking bomband he'll fail to mention that there was anything out of the ordinary about this theft at all."
"He's a dead man," Langridge concluded after a slight pause.
"Probably," Simon acknowledged. "Unless he figures out what he's giving them before he hands it over, in which case he may just have a day or two in which to disappear. Which he may do, given that we at the FBI are pretty sure his involvement with Karpol isn't entirely voluntary."
"He's still a dead man," Langridge said. "Karpol would never just let him go."
"Probably," Simon said again. "And in a week or two here Karpol's computer network may implode most spectacularly, so you may want to tell your guys with the hook-in to be careful their computers don't get caught in the blast radius."
For a long moment Langridge was silent, eyeing the side of Simon's face narrowly. Simon stared out over the lake and played innocent just as hard as he could. "Mr. Drake," she finally said. "What did you do?"
"Remember back like a minute ago when I said 'ticking bomb'?" Simon asked. "See, I wasn't kidding."
"Ah ha," Dorothy Langridge said. "While I must applaud your admittedly childish vicious streak, Mr. Drake, I feel obligated to point out that by blowing up Karpol's current computer network you'll be destroying our link into it and discommoding the CIA a fair bit."
"And, see, on Thursday I felt kind of guilty about that, but right now, after your bosses fucked me and my team up the ass with your 'favor', I can't say that I care at all," Simon concluded.
After a long moment Dorothy Langridge burst out laughing. It was a raspy sound. "I'll think of it as a vacation, Mr. Drake," she said, wiping her eyes.
"Langridge, you may feel free to think of it as whatever you want," Simon said. "Think of it as a heads-up, free and exclusive from me to you. I leave it up to your considerable discretion what you do with that information."
"How nice of you, Mr. Drake," Langridge said. "And here I didn't think to bring you anything" A phone that wasn't Simon's shrilled violently and Dorothy Langridge looked down at her hip with a scowl. Without bothering to excuse herself or apologize she stuck her hand into the depths of her trenchcoat and came out with a cellphone that might have been nice at some point before someone ran over it with a tank. After a quick glance at the cracked screen she flicked it open with her thumb. "Langridge," she snapped. "What part of 'I am not to be called from two until four unless something is on fire' did you not understand, Terry?"
Simon snickered and ambled off a step or two, aiming to give Langridge a sense of privacy. He stared off at the ducks, who looked just as wet and cold and miserable as they had fifteen minutes ago, and (because he wasn't born yesterday) listened in on Langridge's half of the conversation.
"Yes," Langridge said briskly, turning her back on Simon and putting her free hand over her ear. "Yes. YesTerry. Terry. Shut up. All right, now take a deep breathgoodnow, if I hear one more word out of your mouth that sounds like an excuse or an explanation of something I already know, you're fired." She paused. Simon hid a grin in his cupped hand.
"Terry," Langridge said warningly. Five seconds later Dorothy Langridge jerked bolt upright and made a little shocked sound that sounded like nothing so much as a hiccup. Simon blinked, his grin fading.
"When?" Langridge demanded, suddenly clutching her battered cell phone in both hands. "Do we know whothe cryptographer? Oh, I should havenever mind. Listen to me very closely, Terry. This is what you're going to do now." Letting go of her phone with one hand Langridge hunkered down, blindly fishing for her fat steel-sided briefcase and popping the locks. "Set it to full headers and send it to the first unused email address on my blue sheet. The blue sheet." Still fishing around blindly Langridge came up with a rectangular something zipped up in a black cloth pouch. "Once that's done I want you to wait exactly two minutes and then you are to go personally to Maculhy's office and raise the alarm," she said, tucking the pouch under her arm like a football. "Take a print-out with you. Do not call home. Do not call anyone. Do not tell anyone. Do not speak a word of this to anyone except Maculhy, tell him you've briefed me, and then you and the rest of the team do exactly what he says, do you understand me?"
Simon stood mutely a couple of steps away, barely breathing. Langridge glanced at him over her shoulder, then squeezed her eyes shut and made an exasperated sound. "Teresa Laurence, that had better not be crying that I am hearinggood. There is no crying in my division. Have you sent the email? Why not? Get on with it!" Without saying goodbye (or anything else at all) Langridge clapped her cellphone shut and stuffed it in the pocket of her trenchcoat, then slammed her briefcase shut. When she straightened up again she had the black pouch tucked under her arm and the briefcase in her other hand.
"What's up?" Simon asked, and then remembered whom he was talking to, and amended that to "Anything I need to know about?"
"Come with me, Mr. Drake," Langridge said briskly, already striding away, her heels thudding dully on the wet wood. Simon blinked after her, grabbed her abandoned umbrella, and followed.
Thirty feet or so from the end of the bridge a small grassy field opened up under the low gray sky. Wooden picnic tables dotted the grass here and there, sodden and uninviting; Dorothy Langridge strode up to the nearest one and dropped her briefcase on the bench. "Do you want the explanation or the summary first, Mr. Drake?" she asked, unzipping the black pouch and producing a dark gray laptop from it.
Simon considered it for half a second. "Give me the whole story in order," he said. "Otherwise I'm just going to have to ask a lot of questions and nobody wants that."
"Smart man," Langridge said, putting the pouch down on the wet tabletop and laying the laptop on top of it. She raised the lid, producing a wake-up sound. "As you may or may not have noticed, occasionally an email enters Karpol's network that's been encrypted."
A password prompt popped up on the screen and Simon automatically glanced away. "Yeah," Simon said, staring down at where the grass broke around the toe of his sneaker while Langridge typed something. "There were a couple of those in the printouts you gave me."
"As far as I know, we can't break the encryption that the cryptographer is using. Maybe our nerd squad could break it, or someone over at the NSA, but my orders have always been to file and ignore the encrypted emails." Langridge flicked up a stubby piece of plastic that had been hugging the side of the laptop, pointing one end at the sky. "And it's generally not a problem, Mr. Drake. Do you know why it's not a problem?"
Simon started to obligingly provide the "No, why?" but Langridge just kept on going, talking right over him even as she called up a window on her laptop and started picking options out of menus. "Because Karpol's people are largely computer illiterate, Mr. Drake," she said. "When the cryptographer's contact receives an encrypted email, he decrypts it with his key, produces a chunk of plain unprotected text, and then copies and pastes that plain text into another email, translates it into Russian, and sends it on to his contact. We also get a copy of that email, completely unencrypted. Our cryptographer is wasting his time. Fortunately, he doesn't know it."
"... if you weren't acting so spooked right now, that'd be hilarious," Simon said carefully.
"Oh, it is," Langridge said, tucking her trenchcoat in and sitting on it. The computer made a bunch of noise; Langridge abruptly looked away from it, staring at Simon with such intensity that he fell back half a step. "Mr. Drake, what I am about to very specifically not tell you will not make you happy."
Simon hesitated, then nodded. "Go for it," he said. "Break my heart."
"The cryptographer is American," Dorothy Langridge said. "In fact, he works for the FBI, although in what capacity we aren't certain."
For a moment it didn't really sink in, what that meant. Then Simon abruptly sat on the end of the bench next to Langridge, getting the seat of his jeans sopping wet and not really caring. "You're saying we've got a mole."
"Oh, you've got a mole, all right, not that you heard it from me," Langridge said. The laptop made some more noises, which Langridge ignored. "Karpol planted him about two years ago, as far as we know, and he's been busily funneling Karpol's network as much information as he can steal ever since. Not just classified information, either. Employee profiles, drug test results, HR disputes, background stuff, everything."
"You've known about this for two years?" Simon said numbly. "Two years?"
"Two years," Langridge confirmed, "and if you ask me some inane question about why the Agency never informed the Bureau, Mr. Drake, then you are an idiot."
"No," Simon said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Internal politics, leverage bullshit, need-to-know, I get it. Doesn't make me happy, but I get it."
"Plus we at the Agency have this silly idea that if the Bureau hasn't noticed their mole, it's their own fault for not paying attention," Langridge said, turning back to the laptop and popping up another window. Simon glanced away as she went through the password rigmarole again. "At any rate, that's all background, Mr. Drake."
Simon nodded. "So tell me what just happened."
"Your mole just sold me out," Langridge said. "Sent his contact in Karpol's organization an email giving them my name and a summary of what I've been doing for you recently."
"Shit," Simon said, startled despite himself. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Well, I'm forewarned," Langridge said guardedly. "Someone may try to kill me again, but that can be dealt with. I asked Terry to send me a copy of the email so that I can confirmah."
Simon glanced at the laptop and the new message that was sitting in Langridge's inbox. As soon as the email program stopped grinding Langridge shut down the modem again, folding away the stubby plastic antenna. "If all the cryptographer's told them is that I'm working with you and advising you, that's one thing. If he's told them about our ever-so-secret link into Karpol's network, that's quite another, and it means that we have a couple of field agents who need immediate extraction. Mac will handle that."
"Yeah, I can see that," Simon said. "Can I read over your shoulder or is that not kosher?"
"Not kosher, which you ought to know by now," Langridge said immediately. "I'll summarize."
"Fair enough." Simon turned halfway around, the seat of his jeans squelching unpleasantly, and stared off into the trees. Behind him Langridge rummaged around and lit a cigarette before turning back to the laptop.
After a painfully long interval Dorothy Langridge sighed behind him. "Well, Mr. Drake, I have some good news and some bad news. Which would you prefer first?"
"Are you kidding?" Simon asked. "Always give me the good news first. Softens me up."
"Your mole sold me out but doesn't mention our link into the network," Langridge said. "I'm still going to have to lay low for a bit and I may develop an acute case of being blown up, but all in all it could be a lot worse."
Simon blew out a breath he hadn't been aware of holding. "That is good news," he said, meaning it. "Okay, give me the bad news."
"I'm not the only person our cryptographer sold out," Langridge said. "Is this Jeremy Archer one of yours?"
Simon squeezed his eyes shut. "Consultant on the thief thing," he said tightly. "He's freelance."
"Hmph," said Langridge. "'Consultant'. I suppose that's one way of putting it. Well, whoever he is, you'd better warn him."
"I will," Simon said. "Is there any way I can see just the part about him? Can you do that?"
"I don't see why not. Give me a moment."
Behind Simon Langridge paused, the brief silence punctuated by familiar clicking and tapping sounds. Simon laced his hands together and stared down at them, not really seeing them. "Here," Langridge eventually said, and Simon turned around. She'd copied the lines into a text file. Simon read them. It didn't take long.
addition to Dorothy Langridge there's Jeremy Archer, aka James Crown,
"He's still got a copy of Archer's file?" Simon said. "Shit, that was supposed to have been deleted!"
"'Shit' is exactly the right word for it," Langridge said, shutting down her computer and closing it. Her lit cigarette poked straight up from between her first two fingers like a tiny smokestack.
Simon took a deep breath. "So," he said. "You're the expert. How much danger is Archer in? How much danger is my team in?"
"This Jeremy Archer could be in some trouble, especially if Karpol's pet thief chooses to pull something," said Langridge, flicking ashes into the wet grass. "I doubt there'll be teams of Cossacks out for his head or anything, but still, he's going to have to watch his step for a good long time. Karpol's fairly tenacious."
"Shit," Simon said again, bitterly. "At least he's got a lot of aliases to hide behind. And my team?"
"That's a stroke of luck, actually," Langridge said. "The email doesn't specifically mention you by name or codename. As far as I know Viktor Karpol doesn't know which FBI team is after his thief."
"That's something," Simon said.
"If something rolls across my desk later that changes that, I'll try and keep you informed." Langridge picked up her laptop and slid it back into the black pouch, zipping it up. "But you must understand that I have no idea what's going to happen in the next few weeks and I may be impossible to get hold of."
"Yeah," Simon said. "Yeah. I can imagine. Christ, what a fuckup."
Langridge slapped the black pouch, shaking off as much of the rainwater as she could before sliding it back into her briefcase. "And now, Mr. Drake, I really must run."
"Yeah, I guess you'd better," said Simon, standing up. Wet denim clung uncomfortably to his thighs and he shifted, resisting the urge to tug at his jeans. "Unless you really object, I'll bring Upstairs in on this. He'd know better than I would who'd have access to that information and I think I can trust him to keep it quiet."
"What you do with that intelligence, Mr. Drake, is entirely up to you," said Langridge, sliding off the bench and standing up.
Simon hunched his shoulders awkwardly before sticking out a hand. "Good luck," he said.
Langridge looked down at his hand for a long moment before switching her briefcase into her other hand and taking it. "Thank you," she said, squeezing Simon's hand once. "I'm afraid I'll need it." And with no further ado she picked up her umbrella and strode off.
Picking at the wet seat of his jeans Simon watched her go until she disappeared into the trees. Half a hundred thoughts churned in his mindthe need to inform Upstairs pronto, pointless worry for his team, a stab of nerves on behalf of Langridge, of all peoplebut the thought he kept coming back to was shit, Jeremy, I fucked up.
To get to Upstairs' office, Simon had to, unsurprisingly, go upstairs. The only real difference between the first floor, where his own office was, and the second, where Upstairs had his suite, was the carpeting; while the first floor was (wisely) covered in industrial vinyl tile, the second floor had comparatively lavish dull grayish-brown office carpeting. Somehow, it was enough. When Simon edged open the door to the second floor and could no longer hear his own footfalls booming dully against the walls around him, it was almost as if he'd walked off the street and into a holy place of some sort. It was damned near intimidating. He'd never liked that.
He shook it off and headed down to the far end of the hallway, slowing just before he rounded the corner. The door to Upstairs' inner sanctum stood just a couple of inches ajar, invitingly, and his boss' secretary was distracted, frowning intently at her computer and occasionally murmuring a terse "Mm-hmm." into her headset's microphone. Simon slowed further, trying to place his feet as lightly as possible, and actually managed to sneak almost all the way past her before she caught her microphone in one hand and said, "Simon."
Simon rolled to an unwilling halt and grinned sheepishly. "Crap, busted," he said, wandering up behind her and dropping his hands on her shoulders. "Dammit, Danielle, every time. Why can't I ever sneak past you?"
Danielle pulled the headset down to rest around her neck and tilted her head back so that she could look up at him. "Because I'm actually good at my job," she said reprovingly. "Rub."
Obligingly, Simon squeezed her shoulders, making her eyelids flutter. "I know I'm a little early, but is he busy right now?" he asked. "It's, uh, kind of important."
"Ooh. Now don't stop." Danielle sighed, leaning back into the impromptu backrub. "He's not in with anyone but he said he had some things to do... if you rub my shoulders for a few more minutes maybe I'll be nice and check with him for you."
"You do that," Simon said, giving her shoulders one last encouraging squeeze before abruptly vaulting the far end of her desk and whipping into Upstairs' office. She'd just barely started to squawk in outrage by the time Simon pulled the office door shut and cut her off.
From the far end of the office someone sighed, the sound full of gravel. "Simon," he said in resignation. "I keep a secretary for a reason, you know."
"Yeah, because she's pretty," Simon said, resisting the momentary and ridiculous urge to genuflect in the presence. "I'm sorry to bust in on you like this, sir, but, uh, it's pretty damned important."
It was a wrung-out but fairly reassured Simon who finally stumbled out to his Jeep close to two hours later, relieved to have dumped the problem of their mole on broader shoulders than his own. Somewhere inside that long low quiet building behind him the leak was now being handled, and by people who were far more qualified to deal with it than he was.
However, he wasn't entirely free and clear, not yet. For one thing he couldn't quite stop worrying about his team's safety, a useless, fruitless, conspiracy-theory-level nagging in the back of his mind. For another, the mole was no longer his problem but Jeremy, and Jeremy's safety, most assuredly still was. At least his jeans had had time to dry; in this whole mess that was just about the only problem that was likely to solve itself, and it had.
He drove home on autopilot, wondering how he was going to do this. By the time he got there, he still didn't know. "Hey, I'm home," he called (probably unnecessarily) as he shut the apartment door behind himself, locking it and putting on the chain as a sop to his current low-level paranoia.
The faint creak and thump from the direction of his bedroom was immediate and somewhat reassuring. Somebody was still alive in his apartment. "Welcome home and other such overly-domestic greetings," Jeremy said from the doorway to the hall a moment later.
"Yeah, well" Simon turned around, face-first into the waiting distraction "Christ, you're not dressed yet? It's six-thirty in the evening, Archer!"
Jeremy looked down inquiringly, picking at a fold of his borrowed (stolen) pajama pants. "Well, no, obviously not," he said, looking back up with a lazy smile on his face. "I'm quite showered and clean, I assure you. I just thought that there was a very good chance that you might want to take my clothes off again before dinner, and why make it any more difficult than it has to be?"
Simon laughed weakly, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Oh, damn, I wish."
"You wish? What, did you have some sort of other pressing engagement?" Jeremy laughed a little himself and padded into the main room, heading for Simon. "If so I assure you that I can be quick"
Simon caught Jeremy's shoulders before the thief could get too close, holding him at arm's length. His skin was warm and dry, inviting after the cold, wet day outside; despite everything Simon couldn't resist rubbing his thumb over one of Jeremy's collarbones, making Jeremy's eyes drift half-closed. "We gotta talk," he said with vague regret.
"Oh, talk," Jeremy said, reaching up to wrap his hand about one of Simon's wrists. "So talk. I'm listening."
"Yeah, I" Simon said, and stopped, pushing lightly at Jeremy's shoulder. "Maybe you ought to go get dressed."
Jeremy arched an eyebrow. "Oh, dear. One of those sorts of talks."
Simon blew out a breath. "Yeah, kinda," he said. "Just... go get dressed, okay? I can't do this with you all, all, uh, like that."
"Now you're frightening me," Jeremy said, although he didn't sound frightened. Curious, sure, and flirtatious, pretty much constantly, but not frightened. Still, he obligingly stepped away and headed back into the bedroom. Simon watched him go.
By the time Jeremy reappeared, fully dressed as requested and fiddling with one of his cuffs, Simon had claimed the couch and taken a few deep breaths, trying to decide where to start. Not having come to any sort of decision yet, Simon stalled by waving a hand at the armchair. "Sit."
"Oh, dear. Not only is it the sort of conversation I have to be fully dressed for, it's the sort I have to sit for?" Jeremy asked, folding himself neatly into the armchair and crossing his legs. "Now I am frightened. And, just for the record, I'm afraid I'm absolutely terrible at 'just being friends'."
"What?" Simon said, blinking, already thrown off his stride. Then he got it and snorted out a laugh despite himself. "Oh, Christ, no, it's not that. If I was going to 'break up' with you" helpless not to, Simon provided the airquotes "I would not be nearly so considerate of your feelings. So."
"As always, you have a point," Jeremy said pleasantly, folding his hands over his upraised knee. "So."
"Uh." Simon rubbed a hand down his face again. "Jesus, where to start."
"The beginning is usually perfectly acceptable," Jeremy said.
"Right, but, see, it's complicated enough that I don't know where the beginning is," Simon said.
"Mm." Still, Jeremy had always been perceptive, and even now Simon could see the flirtatiousness fading along with Jeremy's little smile. "Then you could summarize."
"Yeah," Simon said. "Yeah, I guess. ...Christ, I don't want to do this."
"Simon," Jeremy prompted, now almost completely serious.
"Yeah," Simon said again, and shut his eyes, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Karpol's got a mole inside the FBI," he said, with no further preamble. "Earlier today Karpol's spy leaked him your name and info."
Suddenly Jeremy was so silent that Simon had to crack an eye open to make sure he was still there. He was, sitting stock-still in the armchair, apparently not breathing. Simon shut his eyes again. "You and Langridge both," he said. "Karpol knows you're both working with us now. Langridge is in a fuckload of danger and I don't think you're safe either."
The long pause that followed this statement gave Simon plenty of time to feel like shit. "I see," Jeremy finally said, quietly.
Simon slithered down, letting his head fall back against the couch cushions. "It gets worse," he told the ceiling. "As near as I can tell he sent along a copy of your file. You know. The one you asked us to delete."
"Ah," said Jeremy, very quietly.
"No, see, it got deleted, I was not fucking with you," Simon said quickly. "Swear. I had Rich go into the database and make sure and everything. It was gone by the end of August. All that's left is this little note that says to get in touch with me if you're suspected of something."
Jeremy was silent.
"So the mole must have had an old backup copy, or something, I don't knowshit." Simon thumped his fist against his thigh. "This is my fucking fault, if I hadn't brought you in on this"
"That isn't important right now," Jeremy broke in, his voice cool and composed. "Tell me what Karpol knows about me."
"Yeah," Simon said, propping his feet up on the coffee table and sprawling out. "What name are you under at the Old Line?"
"Thomas Angobrind," Jeremy said.
"You'll have to dump it," said Simon. "He's got that alias. And the James Crown one."
Jeremy winced and looked away. "Damn," he said quietly. "I liked those two."
"Yeah," Simon said awkwardly. "What others do you have handy?"
Jeremy pressed his lips together, thinking. "Edward Plunkett," he finally said. "Although I don't much like to use that one. I was being too clever by half when I picked it."
"No, that one was in the file," Simon said. "What's so clever about it?"
Jeremy's smile ghosted on and off. "Ask one of your techs," he said. "Hm. Henry Nottingly-Smythe?"
Simon blinked. "You're fucking kidding me. Nottingly-Smythe?"
"I know, I know, it's horrible," Jeremy said, waving a hand. "But it's just the sort of ridiculous surname that Americans expect Britons to have, and I find that living up, or I suppose down, to the expectations of the unworldly has certain... advantages. Does he have that one?"
"We didn't have it, anyway," Simon said. "So he didn't get it from us."
"Then it'll do until I can arrange for a new one," Jeremy said decisively. "And there's nothing in my hotel room that I can't abandon, so I'll leave it and check out tonight."
"Oh, yeah, leave some poor maid to get blown up in your stead," Simon said. "But yeah. Walk away. I'll get a friendly bomb squad to go over your room once you're on the record as having checked out."
"Mm," Jeremy said, flicking his smile on and off again. "The idea of having lead-suited agents rooting about in my unmentionables is... thrilling, to say the least."
"Yeah," Simon said, glancing at Jeremy. "Least I don't usually wear a lead suit to do it."
After a long moment he was rewarded with another thin slice of smile, but it didn't last long. "So, realistically, as an expert, how much danger do you think I'm in?" Jeremy asked.
"As an expert, I have no fucking idea," Simon said. "Langridge seems to think he's pretty damned tenacious, but he's only actually tried to kill her once before this and she's a way bigger thorn in his side than you are. I think it's probably one of those things where he'll only take a swipe at you if the opportunity presents itself, but if he does go for you it'll be nasty."
"That isn't so bad," Jeremy said thoughtfully, settling back in his chair. "I'm not unused to a certain background level of danger, you understand. If it's just a matter of not giving him an opportunity"
"Well," Simon said.
Jeremy tilted his head to the side. "Well what?" he prompted, after a moment.
"I think he may not be your primary problem," Simon said. "If Karpol goes to our little friend and asks him about you"
Jeremy went a little gray, his hands tightening on his knee. "Oh dear," he said, his voice ever so slightly unsteady.
"Yeah. And hell, Karpol may take a whack at you just to keep his pet thief safe and working. And if our boy then gives him the loaded goods from Annadale and pulls a disappearing act, Karpol may swipe at you in hopes of getting to him. I don't know." Simon abruptly threw both hands up in defeat. "I don't know a goddamned thing any more. It's chaos. Everything's fucked to shit. Upstairs has good people working to stem the leak right now, for all the good that'll do us."
"Mm," Jeremy said, and fell silent again. Simon shut his eyes and let his head fall back again, his hands dropping back down onto the couch to lie there curled half-open like dead leaves. He was wrung out. All he wanted right now was clean pants, food, and sleep, in that order, but it'd be a while before he got to any of that... "Do you have any idea at all who Karpol's mole is?" Jeremy asked suddenly, disrupting Simon's peevish train of thought.
"Christ, I have no idea," Simon said tiredly. "I mean, it's not like I ran through the halls yelling about how I bought myself a pet thief or anything, but any number of people knew that you and Langridge were working with mehell, there's some chick down in Accounting who cuts your immense paychecks, if it comes to that. Upstairs has a way better grasp on the flow and availability of information in the department than I do. I just do what I'm told."
"Somehow I doubt that," Jeremy said dryly, and then paused again.
Something about the silence nagged at Simon, and after a few seconds of it he opened his eyes and straightened back up. "What?" he asked.
Jeremy blinked. "What what?"
"You're thinking something," Simon said, almost accusatorially. "You're never quiet like that unless you're up to something."
"Goodness, I wasn't aware that I was so easy to read," Jeremy said, not quite smiling. "My, my, Simon. Is there anything you can't do?"
"Yeah, apparently I can't make you stop joking around and tell me what you're thinking," Simon said. "C'mon. Out with it."
"Well, if you're certain," Jeremy said. He paused again, shifting around in the armchair, getting comfortable. "You see, it's the timing that bothers me."
"What about it?" Simon asked.
"Well," Jeremy said. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you said that my FBI file was deleted by the end of August, correct?"
"Yeah?" Simon said, making a little 'c'mon, hurry up' gesture.
"So it's been almost seven months since that file was available, which means that whoever your mole is, he's been sitting on a copy of that file for at least that long without sending it."
"And both this mysterious Langridge and I have been working with you for... about a week and a half now."
"So... why?" Jeremy asked, shifting a little, wriggling his shoulders deeply into one corner of the armchair and crossing his arms. "Why now? Why would someone know enough to save a copy of my file before it was deleted and yet not send it along immediately? And even assuming it was because my file had no particular bearing on Karpol's organization, once I became a direct threat to Karpol, wouldn't his spy send my file along immediately, not nine days later?"
"Maybe he didn't find out about your being here until today?" Simon pointed out. "I mean, shit, half the time I don't even know what the hell Team Hall is up to and they're right next door."
"You raise a good point," Jeremy said slowly. "But it still doesn't explain why he was sitting on the file for all those months without sending it."
"Maybe you weren't important until you started working for us," Simon said, and shrugged. "Maybe he'd already sent it once and just sent it again to be sure."
"Possibly," Jeremy said, but he sounded unconvinced. "So, all right, let's look at it from a different angle, shall we? Who knew that my file was about to be purged from the computers?"
Simon thought about it, blowing out a breath. "Well, me and my team, obviously. And Upstairs, since I had to ask him. Anyone else Upstairs might have had to ask for permission or notify. Probably a couple of people over in Art Theft. And whoever Upstairs assigned to actually do the deleting. But it really doesn't matter. We don't know how old the mole's copy of the file was. Hell, for all I know he grabbed it two years ago and just never sent it."
But Jeremy was already shaking his head. "James Crown was created new for the Morning Star job," he said. "So that's last May. And Thomas AngobrindSimon, Thomas Angobrind didn't exist until July."
"July?" Simon asked.
Jeremy nodded. "I was preparing to go to ground in case you were still hunting for me," he said. "Thomas Angobrind is new, but I tested him out on a quick pickup job in Scotland a few days before I came to see you in Augustactually, it's a bit unnerving that Art Theft spotted him and associated him with me that quickly."
"Well, remember, they were just mad as all hell at missing their golden chance at you," Simon said, with a vague stab of pride in Art Theft, of all goddamned things. "I bet they were watching for signs of your reappearance like, uh, really incompetent hawks."
"But, really, that proves my point, in a way," Jeremy said. "The mole somehow managed to acquire a copy of my file that was probably less than two weeks old, possibly just days before it was deleted, which sounds to me as if he knew it was about to go. And then... not only did he keep it around for months, he simply sat on it."
"All right," Simon said. "Fine. But I don't see what that proves."
Jeremy made a little frustrated gesture. "It doesn't prove anything. This isn't a court of law. I'm just pointing out that it's odd."
"Yeah," Simon said, acknowledging the point. "Okay, I'll grant you that, it's odd. So?"
"So, sending it now has the feeling of... a reaction," Jeremy said slowly, his arms tightening across his chest. "Almost personal. As if someone was so angry about our recent failure that he used his connection to Karpol to indirectly strike out at the people he blamed for it: me, for coming up with the plan that failed so spectacularly, and this Langridge, for calling in her favor and forcing you to let the thief get away."
Simon stared at Jeremy like he'd grown a second head, thoroughly unsettled now. "Christ, that's some world-class paranoia right there."
"Is it?" Jeremy asked. "It may be. In my line of work, paranoia is just another indispensable tool."
"Pluswait. Wait." Simon shook his head. "No, okay, it doesn't work anyway. If somebody's angry at you personally because your plan didn't work, that means they knew the plan was yours in the first place. So this crackpot theory of yours only works if the mole is actually on my team, and that... you know there's no way in hell any of my guys'd do something like that."
He paused, waiting for Jeremy to nod, acknowledge the clear idiocy of this, and move on. Instead, Jeremy was silent, his eyes watchful. The hairs on the back of Simon's neck prickled. "No way in hell," he repeated, more forcefully.
The strained silence that followed was surely only a second long, but it felt like forever. Finally, Jeremy closed his eyes, making himself look tired. "Are you quite certain?"
"Whoa," Simon immediately said, holding up a hand in warning. "I think you want to stop right now, Archer."
One corner of Jeremy's mouth tugged upwards in a sad half-smile. "I can't," he said, his voice resigned. "You asked me what I was thinking, after all."
"I think you want to stop right now, Archer, and you can take that as an order if you want," Simon said, leaning on the words, the first muted flare of anger starting to burn along his spine. "Trust me, you don't want to say whatever it is you're about to say. Some shit I am not prepared to forgive you for, ever."
Once again Jeremy seemed to ripple in front of Simon, his muscles tensing, his shoulders squaring. "What do you think I'm about to say?" he asked quietly.
"I think you're going to make some kind of harebrained accusation," Simon said. "And believe me, you don't have the goddamned right."
"Because I'm a criminal?" Jeremy asked, and there, finally, was the little tic in his upper eyelid, twitching away.
"That," Simon acknowledged tightly, "and also because you have no fucking clue what you're talking about. Shit, you've been here, what, nine days? These guys have lived in my back pocket for four years, Archer"
"And of course," Jeremy said, the sudden bitterness in his voice almost shocking, "no one on your handpicked ever-so-special team could ever do wrong, as far as you're concerned. And who am I to make accusations, I'm completely untrustworthy and always have been, I would just be doing it out of malice, even if my accusations should turn out to be true"
"Shut up," Simon said warningly. One of his hands was knotted into a fist so tight that his knuckles were starting to hurt. "Last warning, Archer. Whatever you're scheming, I don't want to"
"it's Rich," Jeremy snapped, and there it was, out, unforgivable, ridiculous, apocalyptic in its impact. Simon lost the ability to breathe momentarily. "Your Specs Two is the mole"
"Shut up!" Simon bellowed, lunging half-upright before he managed to get hold of himself. He wanted nothing more than to smash in that spiteful lying bastard face and it was only through sheer force of will that he twisted aside and drove his fist down against the coffee table instead, hard enough to make the cheap wood crack slightly. The coffee mug he'd abandoned there this morning, a lifetime ago, jumped and shuddered. "Jesus fucking Christ!"
Despite the sudden outburst of violence, Jeremy didn't move. "What do you think he's been doing all those evenings when he tells you he's going to do something you don't want to know about?" he said sharply, slitting his eyes half-shut to quell the tic in his eyelid.
"Jesus Christ, that's his way of protecting me!" Simon snapped, slapping his own chest. "It gives me plausible deniability"
"in case he's caught doing something not quite legal?" Jeremy said, raising his voice to finish the sentence for him.
It was exactly what Simon had been about to say and for some reason that infuriated him more than anything else. "I knew it," he said, his voice dropping to a scornful snarl. "It's because he doesn't like you. You've never been able to stand it that he's too smart to fall for your goddamned phony act. He sees right through you and you hate it!"
Jeremy didn't deny it. "He has a backup copy of my file," he said instead, his voice calm but taut. He was so tense that he was quivering.
"Yeah?" Simon said, sneering the word as hard as he could just to grind it into Jeremy's face. "And how would you know that unless you'd been sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong, just like he's been accusing you of?"
Jeremy heaved out a short and choppy breath as if he didn't dare take a longer one. "Nate told me," he said, all in a rush.
It was enough to make Simon recoil slightly, his mouth hanging open, and Jeremy rushed forward into the silence, squeezing his eyes shut like it hurt. "That's what we heard him yelling about, that night in the motel. I asked. Nate used one of his computers to check his email, and he said my file was sitting there in the Recent Documents list, and then Rich caught him at his computer and had a hissyfit"
"SHUT UP!" Simon roared, and he grabbed that morning's empty coffee mug off the coffee table and rifled it at Jeremy's head with all his strength. Jeremy snatched the mug out of the air a split second before it could hit, but Simon had thrown it so hard that the sheer momentum of it slammed Jeremy's hand back into his forehead anyway, making him jerk backwards. "Don't you dare say another word," Simon hissed, his eyes gone to slits. His vision was red around the edges. "Don't you dare. Just get out."
Jeremy lowered his hands, slowly. A pinkening mark shone on his forehead where his knuckles had hit it. "I see," he said after a moment, strangled and breathless. With ridiculous, extreme care he put the mug back down on the coffee table and stood up, taking a quick step backwards to remove himself from grabbing range. "He's never liked me, it's true, but he doesn't want me around now because he was afraid the criminal was going to break into his computer and see something he shouldn't"
Simon's vision misted over entirely with red and he lunged around the tottering coffee table, grabbing for Jeremy, who took two more rapid steps backwards and just kept talking. "Even Nate says that he's been more vicious than usual lately, and it's because Rich is scared," Jeremy said, quick and panting now, groping behind himself for the doorknob. "But he was willing to give me a chance, probably out of respect for you, and then I blew it and it made him so angry that he sold me out..."
This time Simon's roar was completely inarticulate, drowning out the rest of Jeremy's staccato protest. Jeremy jerked backwards and blindly yanked the front door open, or tried to; it bounced off the engaged safety chain and slammed itself again. "Shit," he hissed.
"OUT!" Simon grabbed the mug again and whipped it at Jeremy's head. Jeremy ducked, dropping into a crouch, and the mug hit the front door and exploded, shards and chunks of pottery raining down on his back. With a flick of his fingers he disengaged the safety chain and yanked the door open, not so much running through it as diving through it, jerking it closed behind him.
For a few more seconds Simon stood taut and trembling in the middle of his living room, glaring at the front door and just daring it to open again. Prudently, Jeremy didn't return, not even for a last word. "Son of a bitch!" Simon finally exploded, flinging his arms out as if to invite the universe to look at how put-upon he was.
When he finally stalked over to the door to relock it (and kick viciously at the bits of pottery dotting the carpet), he couldn't resist looking through the peephole. Jeremy was gone. Unsurprisingly, Simon hadn't heard him go.
Simon rested his forehead against the cool wood of the front door and tried to catch his breath, mostly unsuccessfully. Without really paying attention to what he was doing he put the chain back on, hooking two fingers into the loop of the chain afterwards and letting his hand hang there. He caught himself thinking about how the locks couldn't keep Jeremy out but at least the chain would slow him down, and furiously banished the thought.
He had no idea how long he stood there just like that. His knuckles hurt, and for a minute or so he couldn't remember why; he couldn't think clearly about the last five minutes without enraging himself all over again. Eventually the dim memory of punching the coffee table resurfaced, and Simon lifted his hand, studying his reddened knuckles. His upper lip lifted in the ghost of a growl.
He shifted. The carpet crunched under his feet. He looked down. "Shit," he snarled under his breath, and swooped down, grabbing one of the larger chunks of the broken mug and promptly cutting his thumb slightly on it. He swore and whipped the offending piece of pottery against the wall. It shattered into even smaller pieces. Simon felt slightly better.
Eventually, once his thumb had stopped bleeding, he calmed down enough to finish picking bits of pottery out of the carpet. By the time he finished chucking every last bit of the broken mug viciously into the kitchen trashcan and carefully picking all the tiny chips of stoneware out of the carpet, he thought that maybe, just maybe, he was calm enough to take the next step. His face carefully set, Simon flicked through the white pages, restraining a stab of pure irrational anger when he flipped past the 'o's by mistake.
"Old Line Hotel," said the man on the other end of the phone. "Can I help you?"
"Yes," Simon said, his voice sounding remote to his own ears. "Has the man in 904 checked out yet? Thomas Angobrind?"
"I'm afraid so, sir," the desk clerk said immediately, without even having to stop and check. Simon could just see Jeremy tossing the clerk a hundred-dollar bill like it was nothing. "He checked out just a minute or so ago. I'm very sorry."
"Don't be," Simon snapped, and hung up without another word. Switching from his landline to his cellphone Simon hit a number on his speed dial, freeing himself to pace back and forth across the living room.
"FBI, Not Letting Shit Blow Up Division!" someone chirped in his ear, sounding entirely too happy about it for Simon's current tastes. "Also the Blowing Shit Up Division on alternate Thursdays! This is Tesseract, what can I do you for"
"Robin, it's Simon," Simon said, overriding him. His free hand snapped open and closed as he paced. "Who's catching?"
"Hey, Templar! Me, mostly. Link's around somewhere. What's up?"
"Got a maybe for you," Simon said. He heaved a deep breath and forced himself to start at least sounding normal again. "Old Line Hotel, suite 904. Frankly, you ask me, there's gonna be fuck-all there, but you know how people get when it's the rich folks getting blown up."
"Sure, they point and laugh," Robin said, but his latent professionalism took over. Simon could hear him scrawling something. "What am I walking into?"
"Some asshole who got on the wrong side of a Russian mobster, basically," said Simon, getting a bit of mean pleasure out of stressing the word 'asshole' until it broke. "Said mobster's got a history of blowing up people he doesn't like, but I don't think he's had time to get out there yet. Still, can't be sure."
"Gotcha," said Robin. "904?"
"Suite and everything," Simon confirmed. "Asshole's doing a runner, so he probably left his stuff behind when he checked out. Go ahead and toss it or bag it for the lab or whatever."
"Gotcha," Robin said again. "We'll head out there. Do they know we're coming?"
"Nope," said Simon.
"Awesome! I love going in cold. You should see the looks I get. You want a report when we're done?"
Simon thought about it. "If you turn up something ticking, call me when you're done. Otherwise just send a hard copy around to my inbox. I don't care enough for anything else."
"Will do!" Robin said happily, and then the phone cut off with a bang.
Simon slowly folded up his own phone and stuck it in his pocket, then abruptly wheeled around and grabbed his jacket off the back of the couch. No point in hanging around here stewing. "Fuck this," he announced to the world at large, shrugging into his jacket.
He nearly broke the forgotten chain off the door when he jerked it open.
Simon didn't wake up the next morning until nearly noon, and for a long time he didn't quite dare move or open his eyes. As long as he held perfectly still, any hangover that might be waiting for him wouldn't pounce. After about twenty minutes of lying very still his need to pee overtook his need to postpone his hangover, so Simon cringed in anticipation and rolled upright, leaving his eyes tightly shut.
After an uncertain moment or two his body responded with the vaguely uncomfortable sensation of almost a hangover, a slight sense of fragility that informed Simon very clearly that he'd had two beers too many but his body was going to let him off with a sour mouth and a warning this time. "Grf," Simon said eloquently, and then stumbled towards the bathroom.
One long shower and two aspirin later the almost-a-hangover had retreated, leaving Simon alone with a gray and nasty-looking March Saturday and, unexpectedly, almost nothing to do with it. Throwing on a t-shirt and a pair of clean jeans Simon wandered out into the main room, reflexively checking the front door first thing: the chain was still on, even if the wood around its base was a little splintered from Simon's own accident with it, and the chair that he only barely remembered shoving under the doorknob was still in place. Simon snorted grumpily at himself and pulled the chair free, carrying it back into the kitchen where it had come from and automatically turning on the coffeemaker on the way.
Leaving the coffeemaker to do its job, Simon grabbed the kitchen trashcan from under the sink and carried it out into the main room. The newly swaybacked coffee table was littered with his empty beer cans; Simon swept them all into the trashcan without counting them or allowing himself to think about them too much. Carrying the now-full trashcan back into the kitchen he eased the bag free and took it over to the kitchen window, shoving the window open and sticking his head out.
He was in luck. Some kind soul had neglected to close the dumpster lid again. Simon promptly dropped the bag out the kitchen window, directly down into the dumpster. "Two points," he muttered, then grabbed another bag from under the sink and went to get the rest of the trash cans in the apartment while his luck was holding out.
After taking out the trash via the kitchen window trash chute, washing the few dishes in the sink and sticking them in the dishwasher, and running a load of laundry down to the laundry room, Simon caught himself grudgingly contemplating whether or not to run the vacuum cleaner around, assuming he could find it, and immediately decided that no matter how bored he was, or how little he had to do, turning into a frustrated housewife was not the answer to his problems. Next he'd be dusting or something. Instead he poured himself another cup of coffee and flung himself onto the couch, pulling out his cell phone.
"FBI, Bomb Squad Division."
"Link?" Simon said. "That you? Shit, weren't you catching last night? Why are you still there?"
"I like it here," Link said. "Better Internet connection than I got at home."
"Crazy man," Simon said. "Anyway. Tesseract there too, by some miracle?"
"Robin's always here," Link said. "Hang on. I'll go find him." The phone banged down on some wooden surface, making Simon wince.
He had time to drink about half his coffee, listening absently to the background noises of Bomb Squad's dispatch room, before someone breathlessly swept up the phone. "Simon!" Robin said. "Oh, man, you gotta send me on false alarms like that one more often."
"Yeah?" Simon asked. "Why's that?"
"Guy left all his stuff just like you said he was gonna," Robin said happily, "and goddamn if he's not just my size and a classy dresser to boot. You oughta see me. I look like the world's smallest leather daddy. Pretty sweet!"
Simon winced hard at the mental image, not precisely the one that Robin had meant to evoke. "Long as you're not wearing his underwear, Robin," he said, balancing his mug on his stomach so that he could rub his temples. "I mean, there's profiting off the misfortunes of the criminal class and then there's just gross."
"Aw, no way," Robin said. "I'm not gonna wear some other guy's used underwear. ... which is kind of a pity because it was nice stuff."
"Yeah," Simon said, and then blinked his eyes open and realized what he'd said. "So I take it there wasn't a bomb?" he asked, as quickly and as casually as he could.
"Nah, place was completely clean," Robin said. As far as Simon could tell, his little slip hadn't even registered. "I even confiscated all the stuff in the mini-bar just in case it was poisoned or something."
"Thorough!" Simon said in appreciation.
"Hey, I am good at my job!" Robin said proudly. "Anyway. Report ought to be waiting in your inbox already."
"My man," Simon said. "Thanks, Robin. Go the hell home."
"What for?" Robin asked. "Link's punched a hole in the firewall big enough for us to play World of Warcraft through. I may never go home again."
"Christ, you're all a bunch of nerds over there," Simon said. "I'm gonna hang up before I find out if it's contagious. Catch you later."
"Later!" Robin said cheerfully. Simon heard someone whoop in the background before he hung up. Shaking his head he finished off his coffee and conscientiously carried the mug back into the kitchen before running down to switch his laundry over.
One way or another the afternoon passed, if slowly. Simon never quite succumbed to the vacuum cleaner, although it was a close thing; a stray brush of memory spurred him into washing his sheets, though, erasing the last few signs of Jeremy's temporary inhabitance. Finally, some time after six, Simon finished remaking his bed, stared sourly out the window at the wet darkness, said "Fuck it," and grabbed his jacket again.
The parking lot outside the FBI complex was almost completely deserted. A few cars huddled near the main entrancethere were always a few people around to keep the building going, even on Saturday nights, the poor bastardsbut there wasn't a single car near the side entrance. The first few drops of rain were already splatting occasionally onto his windshield as he threw the Jeep into park and shut it off, and Simon had to run for the concrete overhang to beat the latest explosion of rain. He almost made it.
Scruffing his fingers through his damp hair Simon swiped his ID card through the reader and let himself in, his footsteps echoing hollowly down the empty hallway and booming back to him. He already felt better. Get a couple of hours of work done and he wouldn't feel like he'd wasted the entire day.
Robin's report, in a manila folder, sat in the Team Templar inbox along with an armload of other paper crap. Simon swept the entire load up and jammed his key into the door, kicking it open to reveal all the lights onRich jumped and made a strangling yelping noise as the door boomed open, and Simon yelped right along with him and went reeling backwards, nearly falling on his ass in the middle of the hallway.
"Christ, Two, you scared the hell out of me!" Simon said, clutching at his chest. "I wasn't expecting anyone to be here!"
Rich scowled bitterly and flapped a hand at his monitor. "I need to keep a watch out for that viral disk, remember?" he said. "Some idiot could put it in a drive at any time, and if it gets out of control..."
"Ahhh," Simon said, edging in and letting the door slam behind him. "I get you. Don't let me stop you."
Rich grunted a little and turned back to his computer, squinting nearsightedly at the screen. Simon carefully carried his armload of paper into his own office and dumped it on his desk, then went back out and got the coffeemaker going. Rain pattered ceaselessly against the saferoom's high, narrow casement windows, a soft thrum of background white noise.
While Simon waited for his coffee he sorted through the stack, filing most of it in the trash can without a second thought. Robin's report he put aside for later. He was deep in the middle of scrawling his signature on the usual sign-and-send-on's when the coffeemaker beeped and shut itself down; grabbing his mug off the desk Simon went back out into the main room and filled it. "You want coffee while I'm up?" he asked over his shoulder.
Rich grunted. Simon assumed that meant 'no' and wandered back into his office. After finishing up with the stuff he was supposed to sign he took a cursory glance through Robin's utterly boring summary of the bomb that wasn't, then booted up his own computer and sent Upstairs a progress report. Not that there was much to reportnot that there was much Simon cared to report, anywaybut he figured it couldn't hurt to be conscientious, not as long as he was here on a Saturday night anyway.
Grabbing his empty mug in one hand and the signed papers in the other, Simon loped out to put the papers in the outbox before fetching himself another cup of coffee, then steeled himself and wandered over to Rich's lair, kicking over a chair and dropping into it. "Christ," he said genially, blowing on his coffee. "Is this rain ever going to let up, and other such weather-related small talk?"
Rich grunted again. Simon, long used to this, sprawled out and waited patiently. After a minute or so Rich finished doing whatever the hell he was currently doing and sat back, scowling at a progress bar crawling across his screen. "We had a power flicker an hour ago," he reported, thoroughly irritated. "I keep telling you I need a decent fucking backup power supply. They're not that expensive."
"Yeah, yeah," Simon said, mentally bracing for impact. "Tell you what: we've blown our budget for this fiscal quarter pretty damned thoroughly, but if you remind me in April we'll spring for one. Okay?"
"I'm holding you to that," Rich said. "I mean it. This is fucking ridiculous. You'd think the fucking FBI would have backup power generators in the basement or something."
"Want me to suggest it to Upstairs?" Simon asked. "'Cause I will. Don't think I won't."
Rich snorted. "What does he fucking care?"
"Ho-kay," Simon said, holding up both hands in surrender. The gesture was somewhat marred by the coffee mug still in one hand. "Since you're currently using the word 'fucking' as some kind of, of punctuation mark, I can tell that you're still royally pissed off at me, 'cause I'm perceptive like that. You wanna blow up at me now or later?"
Rich scowled at him, then subsided. "I'm fine," he muttered, turning his attention back to his keyboard.
"Bullshit," Simon said. "I've known you for, what, seven years now? Eight? Don't even try to tell me I don't know when you're angry."
"Fine," Rich told his keyboard, then jerked his head up towards Simon and repeated, "Fine." with such vehemence that Simon twitched back away from him. "So I'm angry!" Rich snapped, shoving his glasses up with the heel of his hand. "Why the fuck shouldn't I be? I told you and I told you that I didn't trust that... that thief, and no, you couldn't listen to me for one fucking second, could you? You left him alone in the saferoom after you promised you wouldn't"
"I apologized for that," Simon noted pleasantly under the tirade.
Rich didn't acknowledge it, just plowed right on, his face getting redder and redder. "you took his advice over mine, you let the rest of the team adopt him like a puppy after you told them not to, and then you fucking put him in charge? Well, look what that got you. This guy who turns out to be his brother, almost, just so happens to slip right through our fingers thanks to Archer's cunning plan. What a fucking coincidence. Texas got shot because you just had to trust the fucking criminal." The last few words were delivered in a venomous hiss.
Once it was overonce Rich was reducing to puffing and glaringSimon heaved a deep and unsteady breath and rubbed a hand down his face. "Okay," he said softly, marshaling his wits. "Okay."
Rich snorted in infuriated disbelief and hunched up over his keyboard, scowling blisteringly down at his own hands. "I think the fact that you're fucking him has seriously affected your judgment," he muttered.
Simon froze, his half-formed response falling right out of his brain. A wave of useless adrenalin slammed into him and turned his muscles to stone and static. "What?" he managed to say after a moment, although he could barely hear himself over the roaring in his ears.
"You heard me," Rich snapped, not looking up. "And I heard you. In the fucking mat room. I'm so fucking glad I never go in there, because that's disgusting."
Simon shuddered, an abrupt full-body shiver that dispelled some of that horrible adrenalin-fueled paralysis. "Oh, Christ," he said weakly.
"If it's the others you're worried about, don't," Rich said scornfully. "I didn't tell anyone. How the hell could I?"
Simon squeezed his eyes shut. "I knew that was a bad idea," he said. His voice was unsteady.
"Didn't seem to stop you," Rich said.
"No, I guess not," Simon said, grabbing for a thin thread of control and somehow catching it. "Christ. I'm sorry, Rich."
"Yeah, I bet you are," Rich said. "I'm pretty fucking sorry myself."
"No, goddammit, I mean it," Simon insisted. "I'm not just sorry you caught me, okay? I'm sorry it happened. It shouldn't have. I know betterI should know better, anywayand I did it anyway. But you can trust me when I say it won't ever happen again."
"See, that's the problem," Rich said. The red was beginning to fade from his face now, but he still wouldn't look up at Simon. "I am sick and tired of Archer getting away with murder and then being told that it won't happen again. So it won't happen again! So what? It happened once, and that's bad enough! A whole lot of different bad things happening once is worse than one bad thing happening again and again. And I'm sick of it. I'm sick of him."
"You're not the only one," Simon said. "Archer won't be coming back. He's tried my patience for the last time. He's out."
Finally Rich subsided, glancing at Simon briefly. "Yeah?"
"Swear," Simon said firmly. "We won't ever be working with him again. He's not worth this kind of shit."
Rich looked back down at his hands. After a minute, he nodded. "Okay," he said hesitantly. "Are you, uh..."
"No," Simon said immediately. "That's over. He's out of everything."
"Because, I mean, it's not a problem..." Rich stopped, scowled, and fidgeted in his chair. "I mean, it is, but because of him..."
Simon held up a hand and Rich subsided, more or less gratefully. "Tell you what," Simon said. "Let's pretend that we've stuttered through this already and you've managed to convey that you're not homophobic, really, you just hate that it's Archer. Was Archer. And, uh, having it thrown in your face. Is that it?"
Rich went a bit red again, but after a moment, he nodded. "Don't care what you do as long as I don't have to deal with it," he muttered.
Simon waited a beat, then nodded back. "Okay. I promise that I'll keep my personal life and my personal dick strictly off the job from now on. We good?"
Rich heaved a deep breath. "I think so."
"Good," Simon said, and relaxed back into his chair. "Thanks for handling this so well, Rich." He was able to say it with only a minimum of irony.
Rich grunted and turned his attention to his computer again, making it kick up another progress bar, which he scowled at. "You're lucky it wasn't Nate," he said abruptly. "You'd have found his dead body on the floor with blood leaking out of his ears."
Caught almost completely off-guard, Simon choked on a mouthful of his coffee. "Oh, Christ," he said, wiping coffee off his chin. "Or it could have been Mike, who'd have been obligated to pretend he wanted to join in..."
Rich managed to gag, groan and snort out a laugh all at the same time, all of which combined to form a frightening choking sound. "Oh, fuck, that's gross," he said when he could reliably talk again. "Conversation over. Forever."
"Yeah," said Simon. "I promised, didn't I? Only, see, you started it."
"That'll teach me," Rich said. His computer made a soft clicking sound and asked for a password and Rich turned back to it, his frowning attention soon locked entirely on the monitor and no longer on Simon at all.
Simon relaxed and went back to his coffee, closing his eyes and listening to the rain. The staccato sound of Rich's typing was almost lulling, in its rattling way, and Simon might have dozed off except for the occasional muttered profanity leaking out from behind Rich's gritted teeth. With an effort, he blinked his eyes open again. "Soon as I'm done with this," he said, gesturing vaguely in Rich's direction with his mug, "I ought to get back to work."
"Yeah," Rich said distractedly, eyes locked on a running column of gibberish. "What's up, anyway? Just paperwork?"
"Well, yeah, that's part of it, isn't it always?" Simon said. "Crap really piled up when we were in Ohio, and as little as I actually care, well, since I'm here anyway..."
Rich grunted. The gibberish petered out in a cascade of random numbers. "Fuckers," he muttered, pulling up a search window and typing what appeared to be another string of random numbers into it. "Can't keep me out." Either the search or the incantation produced another progress bar, which Rich immediately scowled at, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest. Thunder rumbled lazily outside.
It was all so normal and peaceful and, well, Rich. Simon shut his eyes against a momentary upswell of relief; things were back to normal. That storm, at least, had passed. "Hey, I've got a question," Simon said.
"Uh?" Rich said vaguely.
"How well are those things protected?" Simon asked, waving a hand in the general direction of Rich's computers. "I mean, how easy would it be for someone to break into your system and walk off with the team files?"
"Fucking impossible," Rich said immediately. "There's no way. I am so much better at this shit than anyone within a hundred miles of hereI pwn. You have no clue."
"That I don't," Simon admitted cheerfully. "I don't even know what the hell you mean by 'pone'. You sure?"
"Of course I'm fucking well sure," Rich said, sounding irritable. "It's my job to be sure. What's up with this?"
Simon tilted his head down and lowered his voice. "Keep it to yourselfconfidential as hellbut someone in the building's been funneling FBI files and shit to Viktor Karpol, and fuck, if Karpol found out what we'd been up to..."
Suddenly he had Rich's full attention, and then some. "What?" Rich squawked, and the sheer shock in his voice convinced Simon beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jeremy was full of shit. Nobody who was guilty could sound that damned surprised. "Holy fuck. What?"
"He's got a mole inside the building," Simon confirmed. "As long as you've been careful with your files then we're good, but... Christ."
"Yeah," Rich said with a shaky little laugh. "Oh, fuck. I, uh. Hang on, I think I'm going to re-encrypt everything. Just in case." Without waiting for Simon to say anything else Rich spun around to his larger computer and woke it up, bringing up a password window.
"Good idea," Simon said, watching Rich work. "I mean, Upstairs has people on the spy's trail already, but it can't hurt." The larger computer's monitor went entirely black save for a large progress bar; Simon sipped his half-cold coffee and watched the bar inch upwards, feeling better already.
Rich spun back around, kicked open the drawer at his side, and fished out a gold CD, which he stuck into the drive of his smaller computer. "How'd they find out?" he asked. Windows popped up on the monitor, four or five of them, and Rich started switching madly between them, scanning them.
"What's that?" Simon asked instead, gesturing with his mug.
"Uh?" Rich said. "Oh. Making sure no one's accessed any of the computers in here recently. Activity logs. That kind of crap."
"Gotcha, not that I have any clue what you just said," Simon said. "Anyway, turns out the CIA's known about this mole of ours for two years now and, you know, never bothered to tell us. Well, until now."
"Fucking spooks," Rich said, typing on his smaller computer with one hand and flipping open his laptop with the other. "Fucking politics. So what changed their minds now?"
"Our mole ratted out Langridge for working with us," Simon said, watching this sudden flurry of activity with bemused interest. The monitor on the smaller computer went black and popped up a progress bar, just like the bigger one, and Rich turned his attention to the laptop, balanced precariously on the corner of his desk. "Guess that was personal enough for them, huh?"
Rich snorted. "Guess so," he said. The laptop made a soft protesting sound and then started grinding. "Let me finish this and I'll go lock down Nate's computer," he added, waving a hand at it. "I can do yours, too, if you want."
"Probably safest," Simon said. "Do it. Leave Nate a note so he doesn't freak."
"Right," said Rich. "This is going to take a while, so if you want to go finish up whatever you were doing on your computer..."
"When I finish my coffee," Simon said, settling down in his chair to watch the show. Rich was flipping between his computers quickly, trying to keep an eye on all three at once while rooting around in the open drawer at the same time; Simon smiled a little and shut his eyes. "You know," he said, cupping his mug in both hands and laughing a little at the sheer absurdity of it, "as long as we're sharing and all that crap, Archer had this crackpot fucking theory that you of all people were Karpol's mole..." Just saying it aloud made him stop laughing, abruptly, because it really wasn't funny. To cover the sudden awkward silence he tossed off the last of his coffee, now cool and oily-tasting. He opened his mouth to add what total bullshit, right?but he never got to say it.
It was a small but horribly familiar little ratchety sound. Simon froze, his animal hindbrain recognizing and reacting to the danger before his conscious mind recognized the sound. His eyes popped open and he found himself looking straight down the barrel of Rich's gun, pointed unwaveringly at his face; Rich himself hunched over the gun protectively, his eyes glittering and angry behind the sheen of his glasses. "See, that's what I'm talking about," he said bitterly, as Simon slowly put his hands up. "If you didn't listen to Archer instead of me all the time you wouldn't make me have to do this!"
"Two," Simon said numbly, and then he stopped. Adrenalin coursed madly through his bloodstream, looking for an outlet and not finding one. It was Rich who had the gun on himthe sheer insanity of the situation had him as frozen and hypnotized as a deer in the headlights, even the highly trained voice in the back of his mind unable to break his paralysis. Everything else was secondary to the black, dead eye of the gun. He couldn't think about anything else.
"Don't move," Rich snapped, not taking his eyes off Simon for a second as he eased his chair back and stood up. "You're just going to stay right there and not move." Still not looking away he took two steps backwards, backing out of his lair, away from Simon.
"I'm not moving," Simon said, forcing his voice to be as low and calm and reassuring as he could. It was difficult. "See?"
Rich jerked his chin down, once, still glaring at Simon over the rims of his glasses. "You're going to sit right there," he said. "I'm leaving. Don't try and stop medon't come after me."
"I'm not moving," Simon said again. His fingers flexed slightly in the air beside his head and he had to force them to be still. "Rich..."
"Shut up," Rich said, nearly snarled. He was still backing away, placing one foot very carefully behind the other, moving slowlyhis elbow bumped into the door and he reached blindly back to push the handle down, taking a step forward to pull the door open. "Stay the fuck in here. If I see this door open before I get outside"
"I won't move," Simon said, and then he lost it, briefly. "Christ, Rich!"
"Shut up!" Rich said again, and this time it wasn't a snarl but damned near a wail, and Simon flinched, expecting a shot to accompany it. "And just fucking stay there!" He backed out the door, his gun hand the last thing to leave; Simon caught one last glint of fluorescent light sheening off Rich's glasses before Rich dropped the door handle and ran. The saferoom door began to swing to under its own weight, Rich's rapid footsteps clattering away.
Unmindful of anything else Simon shot to his feet and lunged for the doorthen stopped short and turned around, a dreadful certainty growing in his mind. Three computers still sat there, their screens identical: black, except for a single window with a slowly creeping unlabeled progress bar...
"Shit," Simon snarled, and grabbing the lip of Rich's desk in both hands he slung himself halfway underneath it, kicking out blindly at the power cords snaking into the walls. The force of his kick wrenched the metal prongs to one side before the bent and useless plugs ripped loose with a momentary flash of white light; two of the three computers made ominous snapping sounds and spun to a halt, their monitors crackling faintly in the silence that followed.
Simon whipped around and flipped the grinding laptop over, slamming the palm of his hand across the laptop's battery catch. The laptop made a warning sound; ignoring it he grabbed the laptop and brought it down against the edge of Rich's desk as sharply as he could. The laptop's battery popped out and skittered across the floor. The laptop popped loudly like a firecracker but shut down.
Dropping the dead laptop on Rich's chair Simon pivoted and bolted for the door.
He yanked the saferoom door open and burst out into the hall, unmindful of the danger. The hallway was empty, the door at the far end still swinging slowly closed. Simon swore and dashed for it, slamming bodily into the bar handle and forcing it inward, shouldering the affronted door open, overbalancing and reeling out into the night.
It was like running into a wall. The rain struck him like a physical assault, the roar of its fall the only thing he could hear. He was soaked to the bone in seconds; somewhere deep in the back of his mind he was conscious of the cold. He shielded his eyes with one hand and frantically scanned the parking lot, empty except for his own trucka second glance confirmed that his Jeep was listing visibly to one side, one of the front tires burst and deflating. "Shit," he said again, and spun on his heel, running for the back parking lot.
Rain beat against him, heavy and implacable, and great sprays of water fountained up around him as he plowed through puddles, looking left and right, squinting against the rain and darkness. A flash of white caught his eye and he ran after it without stopping to think. "Rich!" he yelled, his voice lost in the tumult of the rain. "Goddammit, Rich!"
The white thing didn't stop, or slow, or turn around. By squinting Simon could just barely make it out to be Rich's shirt, standing out like a beacon in the rain-swept darkness. Simon bared his teeth in an involuntary grimace and ran after it, sucking in great lungfuls of air and trusting to the length of his legs to close the distance between them.
Slowly but surely he drew closer, his mind empty of everything but the need to catch up, to catch Rich. Christ, it had been Rich all along... Rich's form evolved out of the rain, his white shirt nearly transparent and sticking to his skin, his gray pants so wet they looked black, his face almost as white as his shirt.
"Rich!" Simon bellowed again. Rich whipped around and skidded to a stop in the same movement, jabbing his gun out at Simon. Simon jerked to a halt fifteen feet away and threw his hands out, showing that they were empty. "Christ, Rich, stop!"
"What the fuck are you doing?" Rich cried, his voice a thin and panicky wail that pierced through the storm's percussion. The muzzle of his gun wavered slightly as he gasped for breath, his chest heavingRich made a high whining sound and grabbed his wrist with his other hand, steadying the gun.
"Just stop!" Simon yelled, leaving his hands out. "You don't have to do this!"
"It's too late to stop!" Rich shrieked. Simon could hear the mounting hysteria.
"It's not too late! We can deal with this!" Simon said desperately. Despite himself, he fell back a step. "Jesus, Rich, do you think shooting me is going to make your problem better? If you kill me, then it's really too late! They'll never stop looking for you then!"
"I know that!" Rich was screaming now, shivering in great wracking shudders; even using both hands he couldn't quite hold his gun steady, its muzzle tracking around in a little aimless and wobbling circle. "That's why I told you to stay in the fucking saferoom!"
Simon swallowed and got hold of himself. The wobbling gun terrified him in a way that the steady one hadn't. "Okay," he said, fighting desperately to sound calm. As slowly as he dared he raised his hands, showing Rich his palms. "Okay," he said again. "Just... calm down. Talk to me. Tell me what happened. Why'd you do it?"
Rich whooped in a huge breath, still shivering. The muzzle of his gun steadied, still aimed at Simon's face. "It doesn't matter," he said, and despite everything he laughed, a jagged hysterical arpeggio of sound. "Oh, fuck, what the fuck does it matter now? It's too late!"
"It matters to me," Simon said, now completely unnerved. "Please. Goddammit, you're my oldest friend, I want to know what happened! I know you wouldn't do this forfor money!"
Rich's face screwed up into a grimace. "I got fucking well tricked, all right?" he cried, defiance warring with despair in his voice. "Fuck, it was so stupid, I let some guy on a messageboard bait me into posting a confidential memo just to prove that I could crack it..."
"And then he told you he'd turn you in if you didn't keep sending him stuff?" Simon shut his eyes for a fraction of a second.
"He was Russianit was already treasonous, don't you get it?" Rich's voice rose to a wavering, cracking high note. "I thought he worked for Microsoft!"
A helpless whoop of pained laughter lodged under Simon's breastbone and he had to fight against it with everything he had. It wasn't funnynothing about this was funnyhe wanted to howl anyway. "Why didn't you come to me?" he asked instead, choking on it. The pent-up hysterical laughter was making it hard to breathe. "Christ, Rich, if you'd come to me"
"And admit it?" Rich's voice was incredulous. "Don't give me that shit! I was already looking at prison"
"How is this better?" Simon jerked his head to the side, clearing his wet hair out of his eyes. Rich's gun tracked the little movement, his knuckle whitening as his finger tightened on the trigger. Simon froze so quickly that his chin was still lifted, baring his throat. "How is this better?" he asked again, more softly. Rich's finger relaxed on the trigger and Simon let his head drop again, slowly. "Funneling them everything you could get your hands on for two years"
"Fuck you," Rich snarled. "I gave them as little as I could get away with. Two years I spent walking a tightrope... two years of this... you don't have any fucking idea!"
"I guess not," Simon said. The wind picked up, whipping the rain sideways across their faces. "Rich," he said, fighting to sound calm. He flexed his fingers, hands open and empty, and waited until Rich stopped twitching quite so hard. "Look, come on, we'll handle it, okay? It'll be okay. Just put the gun down..."
"Don't give me that," Rich spat, tilting his head down so that he could watch Simon over the rims of his useless rain-spattered glasses. His own hair clung to his forehead in stringy brown clumps. "You of all fucking people ought to know that it's not going to be okay. There's no coming back from this."
"Like hell there's not," Simon said. As carefully as he could he shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet. "We'll tell Upstairs you came to me about it of your own volition, okay? Shit, after how long we've known each other, don't you think I'd do that much for you?" Rich started to say something but Simon ran right over him as calmly and reasonably as he could, trying to get the rest out. "Come on, Rich. So you fucked up. Turn yourself in and I'll go to bat for you, I'll make it as easy as I canyeah, there'll be prison involved, I'm not gonna lie to you, but if you stop this now and cooperate we can get you in some country club somewhere, you'll be out in five"
"I'll be dead in a month!" Rich howled, scrubbing his wet hair back from his forehead with his free hand. "Fuck, don't you get it? It's Karpolif I 'cooperate' with you he'll have me killed! They told me so!"
Simon squeezed his eyes shut against a surge of frustrated anger at being checked. "Yeah. Yeah, of course I get it. Both Langridge and Archer are running for their lives right now, how could I not get it?"
"Fuck them!" Rich flailed at the air with his free hand. "They fucked us overI don't care! Let him kill them and good riddance!"
"Jesus fucking Christ, Rich, no one fucked us over!" Simon yelled, losing his temper entirely, for a moment even forgetting the gun. "The only person who's fucked me over here is you!"
Rich's head snapped back in shock. Simon realized what he was doing and choked to a stop. The thought oh fuck, I'm mouthing off to the guy with the gun pinballed crazily through his mind and vanished. Then: "Yeah," Rich said, almost normally, his voice barely carrying over the blowing rain. "Yeah. I guess I did."
"Rich..." Simon said, wishing he could take it back.
"I'm sorry it's got to end like this," Rich said, and now the normal voice was empty, eerie, quiet. "But you can't help me. I can't count on your 'protection', not against him. I'm going now. Don't try and stop me."
"Rich," Simon said despairingly, "I have to."
"I know," Rich said, his voice still empty. "I don't want to hurt you. But I will. There's only one chance I can get out of this alive and I intend to take it."
"One chance," Simon repeated, lowering his hands a few unobtrusive inches. "You never gave me a goddamned chance to help you, Two."
"You couldn't help me," Rich said, with a flash of his usual irritation. It was so Rich of him that it raised a lump in Simon's throat. "No one could have helped me. So I did what I had to."
"Yeah, I guess you did," Simon said. His hands dropped another inch and he gently shifted his weight to his right foot. "I guess you did," he said again, and narrowed his eyes against the rain, and gave up, and let it come. "You fucking coward."
Rich sucked in a shocked breath and pulled the trigger.
But Simon was already diving asidethe bullet went so close by his ear that he could feel the pull of it on his skinhe hit the wet pavement in a great splash, grabbing for the gun holstered at the small of his back, kicking one foot around in an arc that threw a wave of water up and out to confuse Rich's aimanother shot, another bullet whining off the pavement as it ricocheted and somehow didn't hit himhe rolled to his knees, leaped to his feet, was up, movingthe wind shifted direction and shoved at his back, flinging rain into Rich's face, and Simon heard a third popping shot and saw the muzzle flash before the muzzle of his own, larger gun tracked across a moving blur of white and instinct and training kicked in hard and Simon pulled the trigger
Half of Rich's face exploded outward, vanishing in a spray of blood, bone and brain matter. He had just enough time to look shocked before he died.
The bullet's impact threw him one way and his own momentum threw him another. Arms and legs flailing limply, Rich, or what was left of him, went tumbling wildly like a flung rag doll into one of the puddles by the back fence. The remains of his glasses spun crazily through the air, catching the sparse light as they went, one earpiece and one lens and one tangled mess of bloody wire. Simon saw the lunatic flashing arc of their flight but he lost them in the downpour before they hit the ground.
For a long moment Simon stood frozen, his gun still out, trained unmoving on nothing at all. First his arms fell, to let the gun point at the ground; then his fingers relaxed and his gun tumbled out to hit the pavement at his feet; and then his legs gave out, dropping him abruptly to his knees. "Christ, Rich," he whispered, even as the back door nearest them blew open and men with guns burst out. They were yelling something at him, but he wasn't listening.
Simon slowly put his hands up again, deaf to everything except the roar of the rain.