Part Two: Chapters 7-11

      "Man," Mike wailed, slapping on the turn signal and heeling over into the left lane at almost exactly the same time, "I get why we're doing this in person and all, but why's it gotta be me that does it?"

      Johnny, slumped in the passenger seat with his eyes half-shut, grunted in answer. Mike blew past the slow-moving luxury car and cut back into the right lane, sharply enough to make horns blare behind him. Gleefully he shot the car behind him the finger and then accelerated on out of there, exchanging one traffic jam for another. "And that's another thing," he said, slotting in behind an eighteen-wheeler and shifting about impatiently in his seat. "Why the fuck's lawyer lady gotta be in Fredericksburg, anyway? Why the fuck am I on 95? Why the fuck am I on 95 at ten in the morning? What did I do to deserve this shit?"

      Johnny grunted again, this time opening one eye long enough to glance in Mike's direction. "It's not about you," he pointed out.

      Mike deflated, patting one hand absently against the steering wheel in the same oddly syncopated rhythm that had been stuck in his head all morning. Six pats into the musical phrase he stopped long enough to smack the turn signal again, easing into a space in the right lane just barely bigger than his own car. This time there wasn't so much as a self-conscious high-pitched beep from the horns of the cars behind him, which only deflated him further. "I know that," he muttered. "Shit, I'm just complaining 'cause it makes me feel better."

      "Yeah," Johnny said, and shut his eyes again.

      "You know, you could do some bitching too, if you wanted," Mike pointed out. "Just to keep me entertained and all."

      "Nah," said Johnny. "Looking forward to this."

      "Whaaat?" Mike gaped at Johnny, although he kept his eyes half on the road while he did it. "What the hell are you looking forward to? This is gonna suck!"

      Johnny shrugged. "She's gonna tear a strip off you," he said, and now he was almost grinning around his ever-present toothpick. Mike could see it in his reflection in the windshield. "I like a good fight."

      Mike hunched his shoulders and glared at the car in front of them. "Aw, gee, thanks, Texas."

      "Sure," said Johnny.

      "I don't like her any more'n she likes me," Mike pointed out. "Maybe I'll tear a strip off her, huh?"

      Johnny flicked his chewed-up toothpick out of his mouth and stuck it into the car's ashtray. "Nah," he said when he was done. "You're gonna go in there blustering and she's gonna tear you down. Like she does."

      "Aw, man, thanks for the vote of confidence!" Mike scowled and leaned forward, digging around under his seat. "Fuck this. I'm gonna use the bubble light."

      "Yep," said Johnny.

      "Yep what?" Mike said suspiciously, rooting a blue bubble light out from under his seat and rolling his window halfway down.

      The roar of the wind and the other cars nearly stole Johnny's next sentence, but Mike still heard it. "Usin' the bubble light," Johnny said, pulling another toothpick out of his shirt pocket. "You're wired. She's gonna eat you for lunch."

      "Awww, man," Mike groaned, sticking the bubble light onto the roof of his car and hitting the switch. Cars in front of him dropped out of his way with alacrity and Mike goosed the car up to a comfortable eighty, but not even the sheer sense of power could entirely shake his sulky mood.

      Johnny tilted his head back, taking in the building. "Eh," he said dismissively.

      "Yeah, well, it's a dinky-shit little law firm, remember?" Mike asked, aiming a lazy kick at Johnny's ankle to get him moving. "C'mon, let's get this over with already."

      Johnny expressionlessly shifted his weight onto his other foot and kicked him back. Mike yowled. "Ow, goddammit, Texas, why you gotta wear the pointy boots?" he asked plaintively, grabbing his offended ankle in both hands and hopping around in a circle, nearly falling over. "That's cheating!"

      "'Cause they're shitkickin' boots," Johnny said, once again nearly grinning around his toothpick. "C'mon." And with no further ado he turned around and ambled up the sidewalk towards the building's entrance. Mike scowled and followed him, pointedly limping the first few steps, not that Johnny appeared to notice.

      The glass doors led into an anonymous and gray little lobby, with a faded red carpet leading to a bank of four elevators at one end. A black sign above the elevator call buttons listed the building's tenants: doctors and lawyers and insurance firms, mostly. Mike scanned the list. Fourth floor, Adams, Mackenzie, Procomo, Attorneys At Law. Also Dennis Wallerson, DDS and Four-Ex Title Services, Inc. "There we go," he said, and punched the call button. "... shit, I ought to make you do the talking, Texas. She doesn't have anything against you."

      "Springheel told you to do it," Johnny pointed out. "I heard."

      "Why me? I guess 'cause I'm all smooth or some shit." Mike preened a little, scanning the bank of elevators.

      "Maybe," said Johnny. "Or maybe Sandy wants to annoy the lawyer lady."

      Mike flailed his arms a little, nearly hitting Johnny, who swayed lazily back out of the way. "Man, why does everybody gotta go around tearin' me down all the time?" he asked.

      The elevator to their left dinged and slid open. "'Cause you need it," Johnny said, edging past Mike and into the elevator.

      "Pff," said Mike, following him.

      For just a moment Diana Fontaine's pretty snubnosed face remained blankly inquiring, displaying no sign of recognition whatsoever. Mike could tell the exact minute she placed the two of them: when her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisted up into a little grimace of distaste. She'd chewed off all her lipstick at some point that morning, Mike couldn't help but notice. He'd always sort of liked that worn-down look, even on chicks he didn't like. "Oh, this is just what I needed," she said, clapping one hand tiredly over her eyes. Her nailpolish was chipped, too. "This is just what I needed today."

      Mike flung his arms open wide and beamed her the biggest smile he could find. "Baby!" he announced, loudly enough to make her coworkers peek out of offices all around. The noise level in the office dropped audibly, like the building was holding its breath, all the better to hear what was going on. "Did you miss me?"

      "Ma'am," Johnny added with vaguely polite distaste.

      "Ooh, I'm sorry," Mike caroled. "D'you want me to shut the door? Guess it wouldn't do to make everybody else listen to our happy reunion!"

      "No," Diana snapped, letting her hand fall away from her eyes. Her little smile was cold. "You're a dangerously unstable man, Mr. Takemura. Some day you'll use your fists on the wrong person and end up in jail, but until that happy day, the least I can do is make sure that I have witnesses. Leave the door open."

      "Yeah, you haven't changed any," Mike said, letting his arms drop. "So! Three guesses why we're here, Princess Di!"

      "My name is Diana," Diana said. "You may call me Ms. Fontaine. If you must."

      "Hooooo," Mike half-sang, drawing it out. He glanced over at Johnny and grinned. "Miz Fontaine."

      Johnny shrugged and turned to look out the open office door, keeping a vague sort of watch. Mike turned back to Diana. "Aw, c'mon, Miz Fontaine, aren't you gonna guess why we're here?"

      "I haven't heard from him," Diana said coolly. She looked away from him, gazing at her computer monitor and hitting a few keys.

      "Ahh, she does know!" Mike loped over and dropped into one of the two visitor's chairs with a thud, propping his feet up on her desk. Diana rolled her eyes but didn't bother protesting. "How'd you know, Miz Fontaine?"

      "His parole officer called me when he missed their first scheduled meeting," Diana said. Her smile was tight and cold and rimmed with the faintest traces of brown lipstick. Mike was privately of the opinion that that was kinda hot, in a cold kinda way. "As I am still technically his attorney of record."

      "Ooh, only technically?" Mike said, craning around to try and get a look at her computer screen. Diana immediately slapped her hand against the side of the monitor and turned it away, glaring at him frostily. "That mean you're planning to ditch him as a client? Gosh, if you did, I could almost maybe not hate you!"

      "No," Diana said. "I'm not. Everyone in this country is entitled to fair representation, and that, sadly, includes you, Mr. Takemura. Tell me, why haven't you been fired yet?"

      That cut through the remains of his mocking good humor like a knife through butter, and Mike swung his legs down with a crash and leaned forward, bracing his palms on the edge of her desk. "'Cause I'm good at what I do," he said, plain and simple. "And it's gonna take more than some lawyered-up ice princess filing a trumped-up brutality complaint with the Bureau to get me fired."

      "It was not 'trumped-up'," Diana snapped, her voice thin. "I have photographs of the bruises left by your assault, Mr. Takemura. Would you like to see them? They're right here." One hand darted below her desk and yanked an unseen filing cabinet open with a rumble and a bang. Diana stopped and waited.

      "Nah," Mike said, easing up a little. No sense getting thrown out just yet. "I remember. And only you could sit there and tell me he didn't deserve what he got, lady. That and more."

      "On the contrary." Diana slammed the filing cabinet shut again. "I managed to convince a jury of twelve upstanding citizens differently, Mr. Takemura. I'll thank you not to forget that."

      "Yeah," Mike said. "Yeah, Miz Fontaine. I'm not ever going to forget that. Trust me, I'm gonna remember that until my dyin' fuckin' day."

      One of Diana's eyebrows arched upwards, perfectly. She'd done it to that jury back then, Mike remembered. Every time he'd testified to anything. He'd hated it then and he hated it now, and it burned in his gut like fire. "Is that a threat, Mr. Takemura?" Diana Fontaine asked, folding her hands neatly on the desk in front of her.

      Over by the door, Johnny shifted and cleared his throat. Mike immediately sat back. "Nah," he said, just barely managing to sound offhand about it. "Just statin' a fact, Miz Fontaine."

      "Oh." Diana Fontaine managed to pack enough disdain into that one syllable to make it detonate like a chunk of ice thrown off a freeway overpass. "A fact. I see." She paused, cocked her head to the side, and flashed him that cold little smile again. "Is there anything else, Mr. Takemura?"

      Fuck, Mike thought in dismay. How would Simon handle this shit? "Have you heard from Cole Farraday since he was released on parole, Miz Fontaine?" he asked, trying to sound as neutral as possible.

      "I already told you, I haven't."

      "Yeah," said Mike, summoning Simon with all his strength. "But I thought I'd give you one last chance to stop lying to me."

      Diana's eyebrow twitched upwards again before she looked away, fiddling with the papers on her desk. "I'm not lying to you, Mr. Takemura," she said evenly. "If Colonel Farraday—"

      "Colonel Farraday," Mike said, and snorted.

      "If Colonel Farraday should get in touch with me, which seems unlikely at this point, you have my word that I will encourage him to turn himself in to the local authorities," Diana Fontaine said, still shuffling her papers. "I could not, in good conscience, encourage him to turn himself in to you. I have absolutely no desire to see my client's battered body turn up floating in the Atlantic."

      Mike turned around in his chair, looking back at Johnny. "Daaaaamn," he said, stinging at the burn. "Was that slander? Or libel? Or whatever it is?"

      "If you'd care to consult a lawyer on that matter, Mr. Takemura, I can give you the name of any number of attorneys who'd be glad to laugh in your face and charge you two hundred dollars for the consultation," Diana said. "Now, if there's nothing else?"

      "Yeah, there's something else." Mike stood up, slowly, unfolding to his full height before planting both of his hands on Diana's desk and looming towards her. Despite her self-possession Diana leaned back in her chair to get away from him, just a hint of nervousness sparking in her eyes. "Someone shot Simon in the gut two days ago," Mike said softly. "I'm not gonna say that I know for sure it was your client, 'cause Simon's still unconscious in the hospital, but you know what, I'm pretty sure, and I'm not gonna lie, that doesn't make me too happy."

      The faint spark of nervousness in Diana Fontaine's eyes bloomed and grew. "Step away from my desk immediately," she said, her imperious voice uneven. "I will call security."

      "If I find out it was your client who shot him, Miz Fontaine, you better hope that your precious 'local authorities' catch up to him before I do," Mike went on, not moving an inch. "And you know what? That's a threat. In case you were wonderin' or some shit."

      He was expecting her to be angry. Instead her face softened into uncertainty, the nervous glint in her eyes now full-fledged fear, and for a moment she stared up at him like she was about to dissolve into tears—then her face hardened again and she tore her eyes away from his, picking up the papers in front of her and tapping them briskly on the desk. "So noted," she said. "I'll be certain to inform the authorities of your threat should my client turn up dead. We're done here, Mr. Takemura. Get out of my office before I call security."

      Mike loomed for just a moment longer, then nodded. "Yeah, guess we're done for now." He straightened up and turned on his heel, beckoning to Johnny. "C'mon, Texas. You heard the lawyer."

      "Ma'am," Johnny said again, and ambled out of Diana's office. Mike followed him, not looking back, and slammed the door behind himself hard enough to make the glass window in it tremble.

      "She's lying," Johnny said, once they were a good forty feet down the hall.

      "Shit, I know that, Texas," Mike said in exasperation, throwing up his hands. He was walking so fast he was nearly running headlong down the hallway. "She can't lie worth shit, and you'd think a lawyer would be good at that, I dunno. Trouble is, what am I gonna do to make her own up? Beat the shit out of her?"

      "Never works like you'd think," said Johnny. "Hang on. Bathroom." Without another word he cut a sharp left and banged into one of the law firm's restrooms, leaving the door to flap on its hinges behind him.

      Mike heaved out a sigh and flopped against the wall opposite the men's room, stuffing his hands in his pockets and taking an incurious look up and down the long, dull hallway. For the moment he was the only person in it, although he could hear the beehive-like sounds of a whole passel of lawyers working and talking and typing to either side of him. He stared down at the industrial gray carpeting and kicked at it absently.

      A door to his left slammed open. Mike glanced that way, once, and then did a doubletake as Diana Fontaine stepped out of her office, her short blonde hair momentarily a halo in the sunlight above her white silk blouse. It was pretty enough that he momentarily forgot how mad he was at her. Momentarily.

      She glanced at him, once, then strode down the hallway toward him, her eyes resolutely elsewhere. Just to be contrary, he watched her approach. She swept past him and kept going, and Mike turned to watch her go, appreciating the view, if nothing else—without looking back at him she tossed a small folded piece of paper over her shoulder. It fluttered to the ground not five feet from him, and then she rounded a corner and was gone.

      Mike, slack-jawed, took a moment to process this before stepping over and picking up the note. It had been folded in quarters. He unfolded it with a flick of his thumb. 539-555-9182, it said, the numbers so hastily scrawled onto the tiny scrap of paper that they leaned to the right like they might fall over. any day—after 9pm—before 11pm.

      The last line had been damn near carved into the paper, like she'd been bearing down on the pen as hard as she could. PLEASE HELP ME.

      Johnny washed his hands, not really thinking about anything. Ran them both through the short brush of his crewcut, leaving the short hair in front standing up in little wet spikes. The cool water felt good on his scalp. He'd half-expected to have to pull Mike off the lady, especially towards the end. He was glad it hadn't come to that.

      Smacking his still-damp hands against his thighs, Johnny glanced at himself in the mirror. Yep. Still an ugly fuck. Just checking. His hands strayed up, checking both his gun and his cellphone, making minor readjustments to their respective clips until they rode at his belt just right again. Johnny nodded to himself, plucked at his shirt until the collar lay flat against the back of his neck, and left the bathroom.

      "Okay," he said, banging the door open. Mike, leaning against the wall, jerked his head up like he was startled or something, yanking his hands out of his pockets. It didn't make sense. Johnny digested this. Filed it away.

      "Shit, Texas," Mike said, his voice a little uneven and charged with manic energy. "Thought you'd drowned in there or something."

      "Yeah?" Johnny asked. "Why didn't you come check on me?"

      "Gross," said Mike, falling in behind him. "I don't wanna see your dick, man."

      Johnny patted his shirt pocket, then fished out another toothpick, wishing, as he always did, that it was a cigarette instead. Goddamn but he missed smoking sometimes. Especially after days like today. "Why's that?" he asked, poking the toothpick into his mouth and biting down on it, hard. The slight mint bite wasn't a menthol, but it'd do him. "Don't wanna confirm that I'm hung better'n you?"

      Behind him, Mike was silent for an interesting moment, then he whooped out a laugh. "Aw, shit, Texas, as if!" he cried, making lawyers poke their heads out again. Like prairie dogs. "Goddamn thing's probably as ugly and wrinkled as the rest of you!"

      "Maybe," Johnny acknowledged. "Why you so interested? You want some?"

      Mike made a gagging sound and caught up with him, nearly bounding along by his side. Johnny grinned around his toothpick and lengthened his stride to match.

      After five or so manic minutes in the car, Mike's usually neverending stream of babble slowly tapered off to nothing. He just drove, slouched down in the driver's seat with one elbow jutting out of the window, scowling at the traffic in front of them. Johnny noted this, thought about it for a while, and then said, "What?"

      "What?" Mike echoed, blinking like he'd just woken up. Johnny waited, patiently. Sure enough, after a moment Mike made a frustrated little gesture. "Nothing. Not sure. Still chasin' my thoughts. I don't want to talk about it just yet, in case I jinx it, you know?"

      Johnny grunted—yeah, he knew—and then settled down to consider the morning, turning Mike's conversation with the lady over in his mind. It'd gone just about as well as he thought anyone could expect, in his opinion, although probably he should have stepped in before the end. Still, now they knew that Farraday had been in touch with his lawyer, who for some reason or other didn't want to admit it. Interesting.

      "Hey," Mike said, nudging Johnny out of his thoughts. Johnny looked over at him. Mike hesitated, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel, and then said, "... don't tell Springheel, okay?"

      Johnny was quiet for a long moment, not really liking that. It didn't bode well. Finally, he settled on grunting again, figuring that Mike was welcome to take it however he wanted.

      "While I was waiting for you," Mike said, fishing around in his shirt pocket, "Princess Di came out of her office and went parading past me, right? So right as she goes past she throws this over her shoulder. Check it out." He pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and passed it over.

      Johnny unfolded it. Read it. Ran his thumb over the sharply indented letters of the last line. Turned the note over to study the indentations from that side. Very interesting. "Huh," he said. "You gonna call?"

      "I don't know," Mike said, making a little frustrated gesture. "I mean, on the one hand, I am just curious as fuck now. But... shit, what if she's just jerking me around here? What if I call and she turns around and nails me for harassment or some shit?"

      Johnny ran his thumb over the paper again and thought about it. "Oughta tell Springheel," he finally said. "Get some boss clearance on it."

      Mike wrinkled his nose and held out a hand for the scrap of paper. Johnny passed it over and watched as Mike stuffed it back into his shirt pocket. "I dunno," Mike said. "I mean, Princess Di hates my guts, man, it's gotta be a trap, right?"

      Johnny shrugged. "Maybe." He was definitely not liking this trend now.

      "Damn right it's a trap," Mike said, hunching his shoulders. "Bitch hates me personal."

      "Still oughta tell Springheel," Johnny said. He'd chewed all the mint out of his toothpick, and he gave it one last ruminative gnawing before putting it in the ashtray. His mouth tasted vaguely of plywood now. It wasn't unpleasant.


      "She's boss while Simon's out."

      "Yeah, but..." Absently Mike slid the car into the left lane, in his distraction handling the car with unconscious grace. "Maybe she's got enough shit to deal with right now, huh? I think I'm gonna think on it for a little before I tell her."

      And Johnny liked that least of all, so he waited a good five seconds before shrugging and settling back into his seat. "Your funeral."

      "Yeah," Mike said absently.

      Johnny could tell Mike wasn't listening any more, so he shut his eyes against the noonday sun and fished out another toothpick. "We gonna eat?" he asked, biting into the wood, tasting mint, wanting a cigarette so goddamn bad.

      "... shit, yeah, I'm starving," Mike said, perking right up. "You wanna hit a drivethrough or wait until we get back into town?"

      Johnny made a face. "Back into town."

      And it wasn't until after they'd had their lunch and gotten back into the car that Mike abruptly said, "Hey, Texas?"

      Johnny grunted inquiringly, getting his seatbelt on. He suspected that he knew what was coming.

      Mike proved him right not a moment later. "You think Princess Di might really be in danger or some shit?" Mike looked torn. "I mean, she's his lawyer and she likes him all personal, you know, why's he gonna hurt her?"

      "... you crazy?" Johnny squinted at Mike. "You work law and still gotta ask me that?"

      "Yeah, I know how it is," Mike said, slapping one hand against the steering wheel. "Not him, though. He's not just some drunk asshole punchin' up on his babymama, Texas! Likes himself too much control for that kind of domestic abuse shit."

      Johnny considered that, eventually conceding that Mike had a point. "Yeah," he finally said. "Guy's a real squirrel, though."

      "Yeah," Mike said. He nearly moaned it. "Yeah, he is. Shit. Shit! What if I don't call and he messes her up or something? I'd totally feel like shit for, uh, a minute? Maybe?"

      Johnny shrugged. He didn't have a ready answer for that.

      "Goddammit, why's Simon got to be all malingering?" Mike said, jutting out his lower jaw petulantly and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. "Shit, he'd be all over this."

      "Oughta tell Springheel," Johnny reiterated. "She'd be all over it too."

      "Yeah," Mike said. He sounded uncertain, though. "Guess I oughta." His hand strayed to his shirt pocket, the paper inside crackling faintly as he touched it. For just a moment he was quiet, plucking at the fabric of his shirt; then, with a snort, he let his hands drop to the steering wheel. "Fuck it," he said dismissively, and started the car.

      Nate sat in front of his computer, staring dully at the monitor and tapping the right arrow key. Onscreen, photographic images flickered by; he barely paid attention, save to listlessly mark any that showed the white or silver bulk of recreational vehicles. It was dull, boring, repetitive work, and wouldn't get much more interesting even after he'd finished marking the images and started comparing them.

      Almost against his will his eyes stole left, surreptitiously studying the three hooded computers that sat powered off and useless in Rich's old lair. Not for the first time Nate felt a flare of useless anger directed at his old friend, his ex-friend, his—God, what a poor turn of phrase—his former 'partner in crime'. All the old case files from their first encounter with Farraday were somewhere on those three computers (assuming they had not been among the erased files). All the old border-crossing photos, just like these, only those had already been searched, winnowed, cross-indexed, and filed according to Rich's anal-retentive schematics. Everything that Rich had done three years ago Nate was having to painstakingly redo, from scratch, because Rich's old files (or what was left of them) were locked soundly behind a barricade of Rich's own paranoid build. And it was a barricade that Nate was no closer to broaching, even now, almost seven months later.

      Nate's cheeks flushed red with anger, and just as quickly flushed red with embarrassment. He didn't like being angry at people. It made him uncomfortable. Flicking his eyes away from Rich's lair he settled back down with the photos, marking another white bulk with a tap of the space bar.

      "How's it going?" Sandra said behind him, and Nate yelped and jerked in his chair. Sandra yelped a little herself, startled by his startlement. "... sorry."

      Nate, still pink, glanced over his shoulder at Sandra. "It's going," he said, scooting his chair back into place. "I should be done with these by the end of the day, and I can move on to traffic tickets tomorrow."

      Sandra nodded. "Sounds good." She patted him on the shoulder, two quick, light, hesitant pats, and moved away, heading back into Simon's office.

      Nate watched her go for a second or two before turning back to his monitor. Sandra's question had distracted him from his momentary anger at Rich, which was good in one way and bad in another. It was good, because being angry at Rich would get him nowhere and accomplish him nothing, and it would only make the job of redoing all of Rich's old work over again even harder if he was doing it and burning with resentment at the same time.

      It was bad because now that he didn't have that anger to distract him, he'd gone back to being terrified.

      One of Nate's hands stole up to knot in the collar of his heavy white turtleneck sweater. Somehow he'd managed to completely block out the knowledge of Farraday's impending parole hearings, and even hearing that Farraday had won parole hadn't really scared him. Hearing that Farraday had jumped parole, though, that had given him a nasty little shock, and then he'd somehow dealt with it and moved on and spent two weeks not giving it a thought. And then someone had shot Simon in the building's own parking lot and left Nate paralyzed with terror.

      It was ridiculous, really, he tried to tell himself. Farraday was just one little tinpot dictatorial psychopath, and in his four years with the Bureau Nate had dealt with so much worse—someone had tried to blow him up with a satellite once, for God's sake. Farraday didn't even compare with that. For one thing, satellites were somehow... classier. Cooler. More like an action movie than a slasher film.

      Of course, the guy trying to blow him up with a satellite had been pretty impartial about it. And as much as Nate tried to tell himself that Farraday had also been impartial—had simply seized an opportunity as he saw it, without caring who that opportunity was—he'd never really believed it.

      Sandra's voice drifted out of Simon's office, muted enough by the distance that it didn't make him jump this time. "Hey, Nate?"

      "Yeah," Nate said, not bothering to look around. Pictures flicked by onscreen.

      "Do me a favor?"

      "What's that?"

      "Before you leave tonight, go down to the firing range and put in one of your five hours for the month. Okay?"

      He could hear the concern in Sandra's voice and it made him duck his head a little. "I'd been planning to," he said, truthfully. "I did an hour yesterday, too."

      Behind him, Sandra was quiet, absorbing this. Nate knew how pitiful it was, really. Usually Simon had to chaff, poke, or outright nag him into doing his required five hours of target practice a month; now here he was, doing it without being prompted, sheerly out of fear. It wasn't that he didn't like the firing range, technically. He was somewhat awed by his constantly armed state, and shooting paper targets was absorbing enough, once he managed to make himself go down and get started. It was just that there were always better or more pressing things to do than put in an hour of target practice, and it wasn't like he was often in the line of fire... it wasn't like he'd ever actually shot anyone.

      Yeah. It wasn't like he'd ever actually shot anyone.

      His eyes drifted to Rich's lair again. Used to be that he and Rich would go down there together and get it over with, an hour at a time. Rich was a way better shot than he was—always had been—and it had been humbling, if impressive, to watch his friend scowl at the paper target and then irritably pump fourteen bullets into the two inmost circles on the human outline, emptying his clip. Of course, this was a memory that had been pretty well tarnished by Rich trying to shoot Simon, but it was still part of his memory, and he still sort of liked that memory, even if it made him a little angry now.

      All his good nostalgia was tainted by anger these days, and that, ironically enough, made him angrier at Rich. Rich had been so selfish, and ultimately, that's why Nate was here, looking at these photographs instead of using Rich's old, excellent algorithms: because Rich had been selfish, and now he was dead.

      "Okay," Sandra finally said. Her voice had left 'concerned' and gone somewhere into 'outright pity'. It made Nate flush red with shame. He supposed he sort of deserved that pity, but it didn't do much to make him feel better. He hunched forward over the keys and waited until he was sure she was done talking to him.

      He'd gone through and marked a few hundred more photographs before he heard the thudding of approaching feet from out in the hallway and Mike's whooping hyena-like laugh, and it knocked him out of his bout of self-pity if only out of self-preservation. He sat up and briskly rubbed his cheeks to make sure the flush was gone, then went back to his photos with a new determination.

      The saferoom door boomed open. "Man," Mike proclaimed to the world at large, "if that lawyer lady ain't a world-class bitch."

      "Any luck?" Nate asked, genuinely curious. He'd never met the lady in question, but he'd heard Mike talk about her. Well, possibly 'rant about her' would be more precise.

      "Well, depends what you mean by 'luck', Specs," Mike said, wandering over to the conference table and dropping into a chair. Sandra poked her head out of Simon's office to listen. "On the one hand, she said that she hasn't heard from him since he broke parole."

      "On the other hand," Johnny put in, "she's lyin'."

      "Is she," Sandra said. It wasn't a question. Her voice was kind of... purring. It made Nate uncomfortable in weird ways.

      "She sure is," Mike said. "Lyin' like a fuckin' rug. Man, you would think a lawyer would be better at that shit, you know?"

      "Mm-hmm," said Sandra. "Still, she's not that much of a lawyer." She bit her thumbnail for a second, considering. "Maybe we ought to ask the Fredericksburg police to drive by her house a little more often, huh?"

      "Yeah," Mike said comfortably. "That sounds like a peachy-keen idea to me, bosslady."

      Sandra nodded. "I'll give Upstairs a call here in a minute, bring him up to date on things. Anything else I need to know?"

      Mike considered the question for a moment or two. "I'm hung like a horse?" he finally volunteered, beaming, and Nate's cheeks went a little red. Johnny, who'd been watching Mike, looked away with a snort.

      "Like a My Little Pony, maybe," Sandra said dismissively, making Mike hoot. "Right. Keep it down, I'm calling Upstairs." She vanished back into the depths of Simon's office. Nate turned back to his computer.

      "Border-crossing photos?" Johnny asked.

      "Yeah," Nate said with a little laugh. "Boring. Makes me wish I'd spent a little more time trying to tunnel into Rich's old files."

      "Yeah," Johnny said, turning around to eye Rich's lair speculatively. "Sucks."

      "Totally," Nate said. "Gotta be done, though."

      Johnny considered Rich's computers for a minute, then looked back at Nate. "Gonna hit the range before I go home tonight," he said. "Wanna come with?"

      Nate ducked his head. "I was gonna," he said. "I went yesterday, too."

      Johnny was silent, studying Nate through his slitted eyes. His offer didn't have quite the same quality of pity that Sandra's request had, but it still made Nate feel kind of small and ashamed, how they all felt the need to look after him all the time. Like he was the team's pet or something, and for real, not just as part of the old 'mascot' joke.

      Johnny turned on one heel and slapped his knuckles lightly against the back of Mike's head. "You wanna come with, too?"

      "Shit, wild horses couldn't keep me away," Mike proclaimed, punching blindly back over his shoulder and managing to hit Johnny's hip a glancing blow. "I am gonna mentally put Princess Di's face on every single damned target, swear to God."

      "Yeah," Johnny said. "Me, I'm going squirrel-huntin'." That made Mike laugh, for no reason that Nate could discern. "Whenever you're done with that," Johnny told Nate, ambling down to take his own seat. "No hurry."

      "Another hour or two," Nate said absently, going back to the photos. Flick. Flick. Flick.

      From inside Simon's office, Sandra said, "What?" Her voice was sharp and incredulous, and it made Nate glance over his shoulder. "No, sir," Sandra said, now actually breathless with shock. Mike sat up. "Sir, that's not—that's really not a—" and then Sandra fell abruptly silent, although Nate could still hear her breathing, fast and hard and angry, from all the way across the room. "Sir, I don't recommend—"

      Nate turned around in his chair, cocking an arm over the back of it, all the better to hear what was going on. "No, sir," Sandra said, her voice heavy with bitter resignation. "No, sir. No," and Nate belatedly realized that all three of them were staring at the empty doorway to Simon's office like hypnotized chickens.

      Between one thing and another, it was just not shaping up to be her day. Week. Whatever.

      Thwarted yet again, Sandra sat back in Simon's chair and scowled at his computer, as if that would help matters at all. She wasn't exactly surprised that it required a password to access it; what surprised her was that Simon hadn't ignored Rich's near-constant infuriated rants on the matter and written his password down somewhere. (Simon's rather casual observance of computer security measures usually ended precisely where his own convenience began. No surprise there, Sandra thought. Simon's observance of most laws, rules, and social conventions tended to be on the casual side, interpreted for his convenience.)

      It was always possible that he kept said password on a slip of paper in his wallet, in which case Sandra was out of luck until she got to the hospital this evening. Sandra sighed, kicked Simon's chair around, and started yanking the broken drawers open again, just in case she'd missed something. She was in the middle of squeezing files to the backs of their drawers when she heard Mike yowl in exaggerated pain out in the hall, announcing that the boys were done down at the firing range. Letting the files expand back into their natural spaces Sandra sat up and fetched her phone off its belt clip, checking the display on the cover. After seven already. It was funny how the days that actually were the longest always vanished before she noticed.

      The door in the main room slammed open and the three of them blew in on a wave of noise, like they always did. Sandra stifled something that was half a smile and half a sigh and raised her voice. "Hey, Specs?"

      "Oop, 'scuse me," she heard Nate say. He sounded almost cheerful, out of breath but happy; the sound made Sandra smile for real, although it didn't last long. Nate being cheerful again was a welcome return to normality. A moment later he popped up in the empty doorway, blinking at her owlishly. "What's up?"

      Sandra reached out and tapped the password screen with one finger, her nail ticking crisply against the glass. "Can you do anything about this?"

      Nate trotted in and leaned across Simon's desk, then sucked in a little breath. "Ooh," he said dubiously. Most of that near-cheer was gone, just like that, and Sandra felt the momentary urge to kick herself. "I doubt it," Nate finally admitted, rounding the desk (trailing a wave of sharp cordite stink in his wake) to look over Sandra's shoulder. "Not without the password. Rich set up all our security precautions..." He trailed off there. He didn't say it—this time—but Sandra could still supply the next part: and Rich was a lot better at that stuff than I am.

      Sandra sighed and let Simon's computer shut itself down. "Never mind," she said. "Simon wakes up, I'll beat it out of him."

      "Are you sure he didn't write it down somewhere?" Nate asked. "I mean, this is Simon we're talking about..."

      Sandra bit down on her instinctive sarcastic response. "Yeah, that was my first thought, too. But if he did, I can't find it. And I've looked. Believe me."

      "Oh." Nate shrank back and stood up, automatically backing off a couple of feet.

      "Don't worry about it," Sandra said. "I can get the password from Simon later. It's not of critical importance."

      Nate bit his lower lip, but he nodded. "Okay."

      Sandra kicked the bent desk drawers shut, one after another. "How'd the shooting go?"

      "I'm still terrible," Nate said with a little uncertain smile.

      "He's lying," Mike yelled from the other room. "He's mediocre."

      The little pause that followed this announcement ended abruptly with a thud and a yelp of pain. "He's decent," Johnny said tersely.

      "Ow, yeah, decent, that's what I meant, Texas, dammit."

      Sandra glanced out the open door, then rolled her eyes at Nate. He apparently hadn't been expecting it, because he ducked his head and stifled a little laugh behind one hand. "Got the border-crossing crap done?" Sandra asked.

      "Yeah," Nate said. "I want to at least dump the traffic ticket stuff into a single database before I go home. It shouldn't take more than half an hour or so..."

      "Sounds good." Sandra linked her fingers and stretched her arms up above her head, making her sweater ride up and her knuckles all crack. It felt good. It also made Nate go a little pink and look away, really fast. "Make sure someone walks you out, okay? If the rest of us are gone, call security."

      Nate nodded, still staring blindly out the doorway. "I'll just, uh, go get started," he said, and scooted out of Simon's office just about as fast as he could go.

      Barely ten minutes later, Sandra's cell phone rang. Sandra, who'd been checking the underside of Simon's keyboard on the off-chance that his password was written there, dropped the keyboard with a plasticky crash and grabbed her phone off its clip, flicking it open. "Sandra," she said tersely.

      "Ms. Leone? This is Dr. Vacek, down at the hospital?"

      All of a sudden the rest of the team might as well have been a hundred miles away. Sandra had ears for nothing but the phone. "Yes, doctor," she said, suddenly a touch breathless. "What can I do for you?" Simon's dead! some small and traitorous part of her mind wailed, and Sandra gritted her teeth against the irrational idea and how momentarily plausible it seemed.

      "I, ah, I just wanted to let you know that Mr. Drake has regained consciousness."

      Sandra clutched at the edge of Simon's desk, suddenly lightheaded with relief, that little voice banished into the void. In her ear the doctor was still speaking, her voice diffident. "And he's..." Dr. Vacek paused. Sandra, who could easily supply the rest of that sentence, found herself wryly amused when the doctor settled for the diplomatic "... asking for you."

      "I'll just bet he is," Sandra said, shoving Simon's chair back and leaping to her feet. "Tell him I'm on my way and to quit his bitching because no one cares." Dr. Vacek was surprised into a faint snort of laughter at that, and Sandra couldn't help but laugh a little herself, rounding the corner of Simon's desk at a trot. "Tell him fifteen minutes. And don't let him near anything he could theoretically throw, all right?"

      Dr. Vacek said something else, but Sandra barely heard it, already slapping her phone shut. She burst into the main room only to discover it silent and tense with anticipation, all three of her teammates staring at her and waiting for the official word. "Simon's awake," she announced.

      The tension burst like a popped balloon. Mike flung both hands into the air and bellowed a heartfelt war cry, and Nate slumped over the back of his chair like his spine had just dissolved, laughing a breathless and embarrassed laugh; the corner of Johnny's mouth crooked up in half a grin, which was almost as demonstrative, for Johnny. Sandra pushed past Mike and swept up her purse, whipping it around herself and onto her shoulder. "I'm going to the hospital," she said, shoving back past Mike and heading for the door, her heels beating a sharp tattoo on the bare floor. "Finish up what you're doing and go home, and remember, no one is to go into the parking lot alone."

      "Wait!" Mike cried, slapping his own laptop shut and shoving his chair back. "Dammit, Sandy, wait up, I'll walk you out!"

      "Catch up," Sandra said, throwing the words back over her shoulder, and she slammed out of the saferoom door before he could formulate a response.

      She hit the hospital not ten minutes later, her stride so long and ferocious she was almost running. Weaving determinedly around the human obstacles littering her path, Sandra found the elevator and hit the 'Up' button with the heel of her hand, tapping her foot in her impatience. The elevator took forever to arrive, and she had to wait for a man in a wheelchair and his nurse to vacate it once it did come, but fifteen seconds later she was riding to the sixth floor, her hand knotted tightly around the strap of her purse.

      Dr. Vacek was waiting for her at the nurse's station. Sandra checked her stride only reluctantly. "How is he?"

      "As well as can be expected," Dr. Vacek said guardedly, tapping her clipboard against the palm of her other hand. "He's weak but coherent, and can probably answer your questions now. Please keep it short, and try not to excite him unduly, all right?"

      Sandra abruptly found herself very glad that Mike wasn't here, because she could hear his reaction to that request very clearly in her mind. "I'll try," she said instead. "I'm sure he's managed to excite himself a little anyway."

      Dr. Vacek smiled slightly. "He is a bit... agitated."

      "That's one word for it," Sandra said, rolling her eyes. "I'm afraid that he's just going to be like that until he manages to bully someone into letting him check himself out of the hospital. Simon doesn't take well to being sidelined."

      Dr. Vacek's smile thinned and set. "We shall see," she said. "If he gets out of the hospital by Monday, he's lucky. He was in good physical shape before the shooting, so he's recovering well, but don't let him get his hopes up."

      "Ha. As if I could prevent Simon from doing anything," Sandra said sourly. "Can I go see him now?"

      "Go ahead," said the doctor, yielding. "Good luck."

      "I'll need it," Sandra said over her shoulder, already moving away.

      "There you are," Simon said, pretty much the instant the door swung shut behind Sandra. He sounded weak and peevish, but he was awake and indignant and, once again, Simon. More or less. "Took you long enough. Christ, I thought you'd gotten run over by a train or something."

      Sandra stopped in the doorway and put her hands on her hips, surveying the human wreckage in the bed. Frankly, he looked terrible. The top half of the bed had been raised enough to prop him up, or he would certainly have been flat on his back bitching at the ceiling; he was a ghastly cheesy white in color, and his lips were cracked and pale, and his hair lay oddly flat and dull against his skull. There were still tubes stuck in his nose, and probably elsewhere, and an IV in his arm. All in all, he was the most beautiful thing Sandra had seen in days. "Good to see you too, boss," she said, relieved to discover that her voice was behaving itself.

      "Fuck a whole bunch of pleasantries," Simon said, and coughed weakly, and went taut all over for a second before relaxing again. "Jesus, that hurts. Anyway. Get over here."

      "Yeah, you're feeling better," Sandra said cheerfully, the lunatic urge to burst out laughing for sheer joy welling up in her throat. She swallowed it back and found the chair, dragging it over to Simon's bedside. "For the record, boss, if I find out you've been harassing the doctors, I'm gonna come yank out your catheter."

      "Stop reminding me about the tube up my dick, crazy bitch." Simon flapped his hand weakly at the half-empty glass of water on the tray next to the bed. "And give me that, will you?"

      Sandra obligingly refilled the glass from the pitcher and handed it over, nudging the straw around until it pointed at Simon. "We don't have long," she said. "So I—"

      Simon promptly interrupted her, resting the glass of water on his chest. "First thing I want to know: is everyone else okay?"

      Sandra stopped, and realigned her mental processes, and started over. "Everyone's fine," she said. "We put a whole bunch of extra precautions into place, and Upstairs put a different team on the North thing so we'd be free to deal with this instead. Boss, before we get into that..."

      "What?" Simon said irritably, taking another sip of his water. "Jesus, they took North away from us? We were this close!"

      "I've been running on the assumption that it was Farraday who shot you, but I don't know that," Sandra said, ignoring that last part for now. "You're the only one who saw the guy's face. Was it Farraday?"

      Simon was quiet for a moment, curling his lip at his water glass. "Yeah," he finally said. "Guy had his face covered and a watch cap on, but it was him. I'd recognize those fucking eyes anywhere, and there was a little bit of bleached hair all—" He coughed again and tensed up until the little coughing fit was over. "Wouldn't want to testify to it in a court of law," he said when he was done, breathless and drawn, "but... yeah."

      Sandra heaved out a deep breath. "Okay," she said. "That means that everything we've done in the last three days hasn't been for nothing. Always good."

      "Tell me what you've done," Simon commanded.

      "I've been chasing down all the old aliases that Farraday and his harem used to use, putting out BOLOs, keeping an eye on incident reports, coordinating. Boss crap. Nate's trying to reconstruct all the stuff that Rich did during the first Farraday case," Sandra said. "He's still working on that. I sent Mike and Johnny down to brace Diana Fontaine, just in case—"

      "Bitch," Simon muttered, fumbling the half-empty glass back onto the tray.

      Sandra stumbled momentarily before she realized Simon wasn't referring to her. "—and they say that she claims not to have heard from Farraday, but that she's lying."

      "Bitch," Simon repeated, this time with an undertone of venomous glee. "Send the Fredericksburg police around to keep an eye on her place."

      "Already done," Sandra said.

      Simon's acknowledging nod came just a beat too slowly. "Good," he said. "Tell me what else." Sandra hesitated, remembering Dr. Vacek's admonition not to let Simon get too excited. Simon caught on to her hesitation and poked her weakly in the shoulder. "Tell me what else," he repeated, making himself cough and tense again.

      "... you have to promise not to get worked up," Sandra said, already knowing that it was going to do no good, but wanting to observe the formalities. "The doctor told me not to let you get too excited."

      "I won't get worked up," Simon said irritably.

      "You swear?" Sandra said, and put a hand on his shoulder, just in case.

      "I swear!" Simon said, getting a little worked up already.

      Sandra sighed and came out with it: "Upstairs is assigning us a replacement for Rich."

      "What?" Despite the healing bullet wound in his chest and Sandra's restraining hand on his shoulder, Simon managed to bolt up off the bed a few inches; he went from nearly white to completely white and flopped back, gasping. "Ow, fuck," Simon said, wheezing and patting his chest with trembling fingers. "He can't... he can't do that!"

      "Apparently he disagrees with you," Sandra said heavily. "Said a lot of things about how you've been putting this off for nearly six months now, and how we can't afford to be two team members down, especially now, so he's just going to pick the best-looking applicant out of that pile of applications you've been ignoring and assign him to us for you."

      Simon stared at her in mute, baffled fury, one clawed hand trembling in midair. Finally, with a wave of his arms that was probably supposed to be grand and instead came out weak and floppy, Simon said, "Fuck."

      "Yeah," Sandra said in agreement, squeezing Simon's shoulder. "I don't like it either. For one thing, this is a bad time."

      "And for another, that's my job," Simon said. "It's my team. Part of our original agreement was that I got to pick my own team members—Christ! Tell him fine, we'll accept this guy as an interim measure, but once I'm back on my feet I'm replacing him with someone more appropriate. Get me?" Once upon a time it would have been an impassioned speech; now it was thick and choked and it dropped to a painful whisper at the end.

      "Hey, you don't have to convince me, I tried to talk him out of it," said Sandra. "I'll tell him, for all the good it'll do." She pinched her lips together and surveyed Simon. "You look like shit," she judged. "I think that's everything I needed to know. You should do some more drugs and get some sleep."

      "It can wait another five minutes," Simon mumbled, gingerly patting his chest again. His eyes were half-shut, his eyelids rolling open and shut at random. "I drug myself to sleep when I'm this pissed off and I'll have nightmares."

      "Guess so," Sandra said. She stopped there and just looked at him for a moment.

      Simon eventually noticed, rolling his head towards her. "What?" he muttered, trying to sound snappish.

      Gingerly Sandra extended an arm across Simon's shoulders, gripping his upper arm and giving him a half-assed hug. Shutting her eyes resulted in mild vertigo and she let her head fall forward onto Simon's shoulder, which was disturbingly clammy and damp under the faded hospital gown. "I'm so fucking glad you're still alive, boss," she said, trying and failing to keep the tremble out of her voice.

      Eventually Simon worked his free arm around her and awkwardly patted her back, returning the half-hug. "Yeah," he said. He sounded exhausted. "Me too. I think."

      Sandra left her head down for a moment longer. The temptation to just stay that way was enormous... "Oh!" she said, her head flying back up. "Your password! I needed your password!"

      "Pass—" Realization dawned. "In my wallet," Simon croaked, flapping a hand at the little closet. "Behind my driver's license. Steal my money and I cut you."

      "How'd I know you wrote it down somewhere?" Sandra said, disentangling herself and strenuously resisting the urge to kiss Simon's forehead. "Rich would try to kill you all over again. I'll get it. You get some sleep."

      "Yeah." Simon ran one shaking hand up along the line of his IV to the button. "Christ."

      Sandra strode out of the hospital with her hand on the butt of her gun, just in case, feeling better than she had in days and just daring Farraday to show his ugly face. Farraday prudently declined to do so, and she made it to her car without incident.

      Throwing herself behind the wheel Sandra hit the button to lock all the doors and backed her car out of the space, putting it in drive before fishing her cellphone out from under her sweater. She dialed one-handed, one eye on the glowing screen of her phone.

      "Answering service," a pleasant female voice said in her ear.

      "Yeah, this is Sandra Leone, I'm calling for Jeremy Archer," Sandra said, negotiating the last turn and guiding her car into the line at the exit. "Please tell him to call me as soon as possible."

      "Yes, ma'am. At the same number?"

      "What? Yes, that's fine." The car ahead of her pulled up at the little guardhouse, and Sandra groped for her purse. "Thank you," she said distractedly, folding her phone closed.

      She'd barely gotten out onto the road before the phone rang again. Sandra plucked it out of her lap and thumbed it open. "Sandra."

      "Sandra," Jeremy said, noncommittally pleasant and English as ever. "You rang?"

      "Simon's awake," Sandra said with no preamble. "Weak and pissed off at the universe, but he seems to be recovering."

      There was a brief, taut pause and then Jeremy sighed out a relieved breath in her ear. "That's good to hear," he said, his voice warming. "Have you any idea when he'll be discharged?"

      "Doctor was hinting Monday, but knowing Simon, I think he'll finagle it by Saturday, the idiot," Sandra said.

      "That soon?" Jeremy said, startled.

      "It's Simon." Sandra slowed and made a right, edging into traffic. "Have you ever known Simon to take no for an answer?"

      After a moment, Jeremy laughed. "Ah, yes. I take your point. Thank you for letting me know—"

      "I need you to do something for me," Sandra said, cutting him off.

      Another pause, even more loaded than the last. "Anything," said Jeremy.

      Mike let the restroom door swing shut as soon as he caught sight of Sandra approaching. She walked within five feet of his hiding place, assuming you could call a men's room a hiding place; personally, Mike thought it was kind of cheating, but he'd never been above taking the easy way out. Besides, you never knew when you might need to go all of a sudden, right?

      He slouched against the wall until he could no longer hear the sharp click of her heels echoing down the hallway. One of the hospital elevators dinged in the distance. Mike stared at the wall and counted off twenty seconds, one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, all the while picturing the elevator doors opening and closing. The guy in scrubs finished up at the urinal and went to wash his hands, glancing suspiciously at Mike every now and then. Mike beamed at him and waggled his fingers. The guy coughed and studiously ignored him after that.

      Just to be safe (and just to be an ass to Mr. Scrubs) Mike counted off an extra ten seconds, then swung out of the restroom and headed up the hall. No need to ask which room had Simon in it: it had to be the room with Jazz sitting in a chair in front of it. That was kind of a dead giveaway, in Mike's expert opinion.

      "Hey, Jazz," Mike said, rolling to a halt. "How's tricks?"

      "Hey, Mike!" Jazz beamed at him, her round face splitting into a smile. "You just missed Sandy. I mean just missed her. You could probably catch her in the lobby, you wanted to."

      "Nah, I'm not here for her," Mike said, hooking a thumb at Simon's door. "Doc says he gets only one visitor at a time." At least, he hoped so, since he had no actual intention of talking to Simon's doctors, but he thought it sounded plausible.

      Apparently Jazz thought so too, because she waved at the door. "Go on, then, although if he's had his meds he's liable to be out cold."

      "Hey, I'll take that risk," Mike said. He gave Jazz an absent high-five and let himself into the semi-darkness of Simon's room.

      He was still standing in front of the closed door, blinking to let his eyes get used to the dimness, when Simon croaked, "Well, dammit, Sandy, make up your mind, either stay or go." Mike jerked and made a little noise. A vague white shape in the darkness shifted, the hospital bed creaking, and Simon sounded much more alert—and suspicious—when he said "... Sandy?"

      Belatedly Mike realized how he was, you know, lurking all ominous-like, and decided he should probably identify himself before Simon started yelling for Jazz or trying to shoot him or something. "Uh. No, boss, it's just me."

      "Mike," Simon said, flopping back down. He sounded exasperated, and exhausted, and kind of let down by the lack of action. "My man. Ordinarily I'd be glad as hell to see you, but—whatever you want, make it quick."

      "Right." Mike gingerly picked his way across to the chair, which he could just now barely see. "Uh. S'good to see you awake, boss..."

      "Yeah, yeah," said Simon, reaching out to thump Mike's shoulder weakly. "Enough with the small talk, I'm on some serious drugs here and liable to... conk at any minute. What's up?"

      Mike touched the breast pocket of his shirt, making the scrap of paper inside crinkle. "Uh, long story short, boss, went to see Diana Fontaine this morning—"

      "Bitch," said Simon.

      "Bitch," Mike agreed, and continued with his story.

      "—and I don't know what I should do," Mike finished, lacing his fingers together and squeezing until his fingertips throbbed.

      On the bed, Simon was silent, save for the low rasp of his breathing. Mike was just starting to wonder if Simon hadn't drifted off into a happy drug-time coma when Simon said, "Christ, Mike." His voice was fuzzy.

      "I know!" Mike said. "The bitch asks me for help—"

      "Not that," Simon said, interrupting. "Well, yes, that, that also deserves a 'Christ, Mike', but..." Simon stopped, wheezed in a breath, and went on. "Christ, Mike, why the fuck didn't you tell Sandy?"

      "Oh." Mike unlaced his fingers and laced them together again. "I don't know. I guess 'cause she's got enough to handle already?"

      "So you're just going to... to withhold what could possibly be, oh, I don't know, the first real break she's gotten on this case? Is that it?" Simon reached up and rubbed his face with a little sandpapery sound. "She's my second-in-command for a reason!"

      "Yeah, but—"

      "Fuck your 'but'," Simon said, probably mostly out of habit.

      Mike sniggered despite himself. "Quit gettin' me all hot and bothered when you can't do anything about it."

      Simon was silent.

      "... boss?" Mike said.

      "Uh. Sorry." Simon's voice was weaker now, starting to slur. "Just reminded me of this weird dream I had a couple of nights ago. Fucking drugs. Getting hard to think. Uh. Where was I?"

      "Chewing me out," Mike said.

      "Oh. Right. She can handle it, Mike." Simon paused, breathed, rallied. "And I don't like you making these... these little executive decisions about what you are and aren't going to... to tell the person you're reporting to. For... for obvious reasons."

      "Yeah," Mike said, abashed. "I, uh, I'll tell her tomorrow."

      "Do that," Simon said. It came out more like do dat. Rallying was apparently over. "S'an order. Christ. So tired. Fuck off."

      Mike obediently kicked his chair back and stood up. "Right, boss. Sorry, boss."

      "S'okay," Simon slurred. It came out sounding more like so gay, and Mike couldn't help but snicker. Simon didn't ask what was so funny or anything, just lay there quietly, and after a moment made a thick snoring sound. Mike picked his way to the door, vaguely unsettled.

      He drove himself home, deep in thought. It was shaping up to be a nice night and he drove with the windows cranked down, one hand on the wheel, one elbow cocked out over the door. Once home Mike pattered around opening the place up—he figured it'd take a better class of criminal than Farraday to get in through a third-story window without attracting some kind of attention—stripped down to his shorts and t-shirt, and nuked himself a frozen dinner, had it with a beer. It tasted like salty cardboard, but he wasn't motivated to make anything better tonight.

      It was close to nine when he finished eating and cleaning up after himself, not that he was paying any kind of attention to the time. The cool fall breeze occasionally rose, making the miniblinds shiver slightly, and Mike flicked off the lights and sprawled out in his favorite place on the floor, propping his feet up on the couch. Staring at the weird rosette patterns in the plaster on the ceiling always made him think better.

      Instead he found himself not really thinking about anything. He scratched his belly absently, his t-shirt rucking up on his wrist. Images flickered through his mind and didn't stick: Sandy, and how mad she was going to be at him tomorrow, and Simon all pale and weird and barely there in the hospital, and Sandy again just because, and Diana Fontaine's face when she passed him in the hallway, all set and tense... Mike sighed and shoved a hand through his hair and rolled to his feet, going off in search of his phone.

      "Fuckin' terrible idea," he told himself, flopping back down onto the carpet, phone in one hand, scrap of paper in the other. He glanced up at the clock on the DVD player, which told him it was 9:20. Good enough. He dialed the number on the paper by the light of his phone's screen, and put his phone to his ear, and waited.

      It barely rang once before someone grabbed it, the receiver clattering against something several times before someone—someone female—breathlessly said, "Hello?"

      "You better not make me regret this," Mike said, not bothering to be formal or anything.

      From the other end of the phone, silence. Then whoever it was—Mike thought it could be Diana Fontaine, but he wouldn't swear to it—said, "Thank you for calling."

      "Hey, what can I say, I'm a sucker for a sob story." Mike shut his eyes. "Or maybe I'm just curious. Hell, I got no clue which."

      "I need your help," the woman said without any further ado. "I'm sorry about this morning but you don't understand, he's crazy..."

      Mike barked out a startled laugh. "Wait, wait, shit, I don't understand he's crazy? Fuck, lady, I think you're the one that got that memo kind of late!"

      She was silent for a moment. "Crazier, then," she said, cool and precise, and for all that she was being most un-Diana-like in conceding his point, Mike was suddenly convinced that it was her. It was that goddamn cold lawyer voice that sold him on it. "He's not the same man he was when he went into prison, Mr. Takemura."

      "Yeah," Mike said with some relish. "For one thing, I bet his asshole's hanging a little looser."

      "Stop it," she said, her voice edgy. "Just... for God's sake, be serious. I'm asking for your help."

      "Sure," said Mike. The breeze picked up and ruffled his hair, and he stared at the ceiling and listened to the sound of traffic down below. "See, though, you haven't said why I should give it to you."

      "What? But... it's your job, isn't it?" She honestly sounded taken aback. "And you... you want to catch the Colonel, don't you?"

      "Well, shit, sure, I'd like that. Frankly, it gets me all kinds of hard just thinkin' about it. Buuuut..." Mike left it hanging there while he scratched his nose and got all comfy. "See, you're jerking me around. Right now, you are jerking me around, and it's not like I can't tell, 'cause I am a master of jerking people around."

      "What... what do you mean?" Faintly.

      "You sound like you're reading from a goddamn script is what I mean," Mike said. "Shit, everything you've said up until now sounds like you copied it down from some mystery novel somewhere."

      She was silent.

      "See, I don't like you," Mike told the silence, not rubbing it in, just getting it out there. "And I don't have reason one to trust you. Hell, I almost didn't call you at all because I thought this was some kind of sneaky lawyer-type trap of yours, see? And shit, as far as I'm concerned you've already got one strike against you, so before I can actually find it in my noble fuckin' heart to do anything for you, you're going to have to make me believe you. So."

      "... so," she echoed, whispering it. Mike figured he kinda liked that.

      "Where are you?" Mike asked. "Right now. What's this number you gave me?"

      "It..." She stopped and swallowed. When she started again, her voice was stronger. "It's a pay phone. Outside a gas station a couple of miles from my house. I... it's one of those pay phones that's mounted low, so that you can use it from your car. I'm sitting in my car."

      "Okay," Mike said. "You realize I can check that shit easy as anything."

      "I realize that," she said. "Are you going to?"

      "Depends." Mike switched his phone to the other ear. "What's your name?"

      "What? You know my name."

      Mike bit back a laugh. "No, come on, I'm totally serious," he said. "What's your name?"

      "... Diana Fontaine." She swallowed again. "He calls me Dia." She pronounced it Dee-a. Mike shut his eyes. "I used to think it was pretty," Diana Fontaine said, and made a queer strangled sobbing sound in Mike's ear.

      "Aw, fuck, here come the waterworks," Mike said, mostly but not entirely unconcerned. "That shit doesn't work on me, you know."

      "It's not a trih-hick," Diana sobbed, her voice thick. "Fuh-huck you."

      Mike couldn't help but grin, just a little. "Aw, man, did the ice princess actually just lose her temper?"

      Another sob. "Suh-sorry."

      Mike didn't say anything, just listened to her snuffle and wheeze on the other end of the line. After a fairly short time she got herself back under control. "I'm sorry," she said again, sounding more collected.

      "Hey, no skin off my dick," Mike said.

      "You're a vulgar man, Mr. Takemura." She sounded like she was trying to sound disdainful, but as far as Mike could tell, it wasn't working for her right now.

      "Fuck yeah I am, and would you quit calling me that? Mr. Takemura's my, uh, my dad. If we're going to be friends you might as well call me 'Mike'."

      "Friends," Diana said with a ladylike little sniff. "That doesn't seem likely."

      "Yeah, it doesn't. Hey, mind if I call you 'Dia'? It is kind of pretty."

      She choked a little. "Yes I do mind!" she exclaimed, all one infuriated exclamation. "You have no right..." She broke off, abruptly.

      "Sounds like you're of two minds about this whole 'help me' thing," Mike concluded into the silence. "Still got feelings for the squirrel, huh?"

      "... yes," she admitted. "It's hard to... to forget what he used to be like..."

      "Yeah, it is," Mike said. "Trust me."

      "... but he's crazy now," she said, looping doggedly back to that. "I'm sitting at a pay phone because I'm afraid he's... bugged my house, or something, and that just sounds stupid and paranoid and I hate it! I hate sounding like a, a bad movie! I hate having to ask you for help! I hate that he's forced me into this!" She broke off again, this time breathing hard, and gritted out, "... sorry."

      "Naw, naw, don't be sorry," Mike told her. "See, that there? Is the kind of honesty I was looking for. I really don't give a fuck what you think of me, long as you don't lie to me. Okay?"

      "I hate you," Diana Fontaine said crisply. Mike burst out laughing. "No," she said, raising her voice to be heard over him, "I really do, I hate you, I don't know why I thought this was a good idea—"

      "It's not that!" Mike said, when he could. "Shit, lady, I tell you not to lie to me and right away you're all 'I hate you', and that's sure as hell honest!"

      "I'm so glad you're amused," she said, as coolly as she could. Mike rubbed a hand over his face and made himself stop snickering. "... I really am afraid he's bugged my phones," Diana went on. "I don't know how to check, but I know he's had access to my home phone and cell phone, and it's not hard to... to imagine that he got into my office somehow."

      "It's possible," Mike said, as diplomatically as he could. "He never was that kind of squirrel before, but there's no ruling it out, I guess."

      "I know how it sounds," Diana said despairingly. "It sounds like paranoia to me, and I'm the one who keeps thinking it. He just... he likes to tell me that he always knows what I'm thinking... it's really believable..."

      "Yeah, well, there's that thing where he's psychotic, remember?"

      "I suppose. So... will you help me?"

      Mike closed his eyes again and broke for a different part of the field. "If I hadn't called tonight, how many nights would you have spent parked by that phone?"

      "... what?"

      "Hey, none of that, you heard me."

      "I... I want to say that I'd have waited as many nights as it took, but... I suppose I'd have given up on you after about... four or five."

      Mike grunted. "Well, shit, I guess that's fair."

      "Will you help me," Diana said, not making it a question this time.

      "Guess it depends on what you want me to do," said Mike. "I mean, shit, if you're lookin' for a white knight? Wrong on both counts."

      She was quiet for a moment. "I don't know," she finally said. "He drops by my house sometimes, but I never know when, or how long he's going to stay, or anything..."

      "Do you know where he goes when he isn't there?" Mike asked.


      "And I bet you don't want me to come and camp out in your house until he comes by, either."

      "Oh God no," Diana said. Mike could sort of picture the shudder.

      "And you probably don't want me to call Witness Protection, not that they'd do much for you. Oh no, a mean nasty man whose only crime is breaking parole on a charge of smuggling a whole lot of cigarettes without tax stamps on them, oh no."

      "I have a life!" she cried, startling him. "I'm not going to let him scare me away from my life!"

      "But you're scared," Mike said.

      She swallowed. "... yes."

      "Okay, so... now I know that. Tell you what. I'll give you my cell number, how's that? And if you think of something I can do for you, call me."

      "All right," Diana Fontaine said, hopeless and beaten. "I just... I don't want him to know that I had anything to do with it. I don't want him to know. He scares me."

      "And you know what, he should, too." Mike gave her his cell number and listened to the faint scratch as she wrote it down. "Tell you what, I'll run your story by Sandy tomorrow, see if she has any ideas on what we can do for you—"

      "No!" Diana cried, sounding honestly terrified. "Oh, God, you can't!"

      Mike frowned and rolled up onto one elbow. "Why not?"

      "I refuse to participate in an official investigation!" Her voice was spiraling into panic. "I refuse! I won't! I'm still his attorney of record—attorney-client privilege prevents—if you try and use this phone call against me I'll deny everything and—and file a harassment charge against you!"

      "Jesus fucking Christ, lady," Mike said, now thoroughly taken aback. "I'm with the fucking FBI, that's about as official as you get! Maybe you should have thought of that before you started throwing notes, huh?"

      "I know that!" It was almost a scream, and then she went quiet, gasping. "I know that," she said again. "I just thought... I guess I thought that you were..."

      "You thought I was a loose fuckin' cannon," Mike said. The silence from the other end of the line proved it nicely, he thought. "You thought that just since I lost my temper that one time that I'd be willing to bend other rules just for you."

      "... I suppose that's it." Very soft now, breaking. "I just... I'm just so scared. Mike."

      "Oh, don't even give me that shit," Mike said, just as disgusted with himself as he was with her. "You can't flirt me into this, Diana."

      "Oh, God, what am I doing?" Diana said, very softly, and swallowed another sob. "This wuh-was a bad idea..."

      Mike rolled his eyes and flopped back out on the carpet. "Okay, look," he said briskly. "I am going to tell Sandy, okay? No buts. But I swear to you we're not all flashing lights and sirens and shit. Seriously, we will keep your stuff on the down low."

      "Please don't," Diana said. Mike was confused until she added, "Please don't tell her. Not yet. Just... give me... forty-eight hours. Okay? Please?"


      "To give me time to... to decide what I want you to do," Diana said. "I'll call you. I will. If you haven't heard from me by Saturday night, you can tell whoever you want."

      Mike snorted. "I hate to bust your bubble, lady, but we work Saturdays, so you're not getting a free day and a half by hitting up the weekend."

      "I'm not working an angle!" For a moment she sounded outraged, which was better than sounding hopeless. "For God's sake, help me!"

      "You know what, fuck this," Mike said, sitting up and crossing his legs. "You figure out what you want from me, you call me, but you can't just jerk me around like this and expect me to hop! You think I'm some kind of crazy fistfightin' baby-rapist, yo, I get that. Well, I and mine are also the fuckin' professionals, and I'll thank you to give me and mine a little fuckin' credit for knowin' how to do our damned jobs."

      "Nobody said you weren't," Diana said dully.

      "You asked me for help and now you're gonna have to trust me," Mike said. "Argument over. Call me tomorrow night and I'll tell you what's going down."

      "I don't know if I—"

      "Don't give me that shit. You said you were planning to sit in front of that phone for four or five days, well, looks like you already got the time budgeted."

      "All right." Now she sounded truly beaten, enough to make Mike feel a pang of guilt. "I'll call."

      "Awesome. I just love it when two people get on the same wavelength or whatever it is the new age twits say. G'night, Miz Fontaine."

      "Goodbye," Diana Fontaine said, and the phone rattled in Mike's ear briefly before it cut off.

      Mike stared at his dead phone for a long moment and then slowly folded it away. "Well, shit," he said to no one in particular.