Part Seven: Chapters 40-49
Sandra, leaning against the conference table, gave in to her need to pinch the bridge of her nose and drive her headache back to bay. "So that's it," she said.
Mike paused, half-glancing over his shoulder. "I think so," he said. "Princess Di was still asleep when the Nate-man and I took off this morning, so we left her there with Nate's mom, who's kinda sorta totally adopted her. And hey, nobody blew up my place yet, bonus. I packed a bag and got back out just fine."
"I called the local precinct and got them to promise to keep an eye on my house," Nate added, tearing his eyes away from whatever Mike was doing. "I don't think it'll be safe forever but it should be okay for a little while."
"Okay," Sandra said. "We'll put our heads together this afternoon and try to figure out where to put her. I'd like to keep her kind of close by, just in case, but if she suddenly develops some kind of overwhelming urge to visit relatives in San Francisco I won't kick too hard."
"Heh, yeah," said Mike. He straightened up and gently shepherded the wooden chair under the desk. Sandra saw only a momentary flash of pink. "Yo, Nate-man, catch," Mike said, tossing a tube of superglue back over his shoulder; Nate fumbled it, of course, and had to lean over to pick it up off the floor.
Sandra nodded. "So I only have one question" Inside Simon's office, her cellphone rang. "and I'll get to it in a minute," she finished, wheeling around and going for her purse. Incoming Call: TEXAS, the screen read. She flipped her phone open, trying to ignore the low-key butterflies that the call woke up in her stomach. These days any variation in the routine put her on edge. "Johnny?"
"Yeah," said Johnny, talking loud over the background din. "Woke up to three flat tires. Had to call a tow, so I'm gonna be late."
"Three" Sandra closed her eyes. "Think Farraday had anything to do with it?"
"Nah. Well. Not direct. Picked up a bunch of nails and barbed wire" he said something closer to bobwire, actually "last night. Probably the mud's all that held 'em together this long."
"Okay. Want me to send someone to get you?"
Johnny snorted in her ear. "We got any cars to spare?"
"I guess we are running kind of low," said Sandra. "I'll think of something. Are you at home, still?"
"Yeah." Someone spoke in the background and Johnny covered the mouthpiece of his phone and said something in answer before returning. "Anyway, they're done winching. Gotta go. Send somebody if you want, or I'll grab a cab."
"I'll send someone," Sandra promised. "Take care."
"Yeah," said Johnny, and hung up without saying goodbye.
Sandra folded her phone back into her purse and went back out into the main room, taking up her post by the conference table once more. "That was Johnny," she said, probably unnecessarily. "Seems that his truck had three flat tires this morning"
Mike whooped, cutting her off there. "Aw, man!" he said, delighted. "I gotta pay him back for those, because it was totally, totally worth it."
"Yeah, that'd probably be good," Sandra said. Her headache was coming back. "At any rate. Take the van and go pick him up at his place, will you?" Quickly, before Mike could leave, she held up a hand. "After you answer something for me."
"Whassat?" Mike said, filching the van keys off their hook.
"Last night," Sandra said. "You gave Diana Fontaine your cell phone and told her to call Johnny."
Sandra sighed. "Mike, why didn't you just tell her to call 911?"
Mike's grin curdled and went petulant. "Oh, yeah, Farraday's holed up in perfect cover with a hunting rifle, I really want to give him a whole gang of clueless patrol cops to pick off"
"Farraday doesn't kill people."
"Farraday didn't kill people," Mike said testily. "Who the fuck knows what he's capable of now?"
"While it's possible you have a point," said Sandra, now getting a little testy herself, "I think the fact that he only shot Simon with a .22 and then managed to hit nothing but your car last night is some pretty strong evidence that three years in prison didn't change him that much."
"Yeah, okay, maybe so," Mike said. "Maybe not. My point is, I don't fucking know. My other point is, neither do you." Sandra blinked, taken aback. Mike flapped a scabbed-up hand at the air in front of him. "He put a fucking round into the driver's seat like not even a second after I left it, okay? Here's the thing: you weren't there. I was. He was trying to kill me, Sandy, least right at first, and he didn't only 'cause I'm awesome like that."
"All right," Sandra started to say after a startled pause, but Mike, now wound up, rode right over her: "And okay, maybe it was kind of a pride thing, you know? 'Oh, hey, I'm a big bad FBI agent, wah wah come rescue my helpless ass, Mister Local Cop', yeah, that'd have been loads of fun to live down afterwards, even if Farraday didn't shoot a whole bunch of them."
Sandra gaped at him. "A pride thing?" she said, flabbergasted.
"You know what? No." Mike flung up his hands, stomping back towards Rich's lair, then spinning on his heel and stalking back towards her, too exercised to hold still. "It's not a pride thing. That's just a fuckin' excuse. You know why I got her to call Johnny? 'Cause he was the first person I thought of, and I trust him, yo. I knew if anybody was going to get me and Miz Fontaine out of there, it was Texas. Swear to God I didn't even think about 911 until you said it just now."
Sandra held up both hands. "Okay. Okay, I'll buy that, it makes sense, calm down"
"Fuck calming down!" Mike said, aggrieved. He thumped his chest once, like punctuation. "Shit, Sandy, I fucked up, I get it, I'm really sorry about that, but could you not talk down to me like I'm some kind of retard now? I don't fucking well appreciate it! Fact is I did my job last night, even if I needed Texas' help to do it, and no one got hurt but my carmy carand three of Texas' tires, and fuck me, I think that's maybe a job well done! And you know what? Templar would have said so!"
And before Sandra could even draw breath to answer those charges, Mike shouldered past her and banged out the door, keys in hand. The saferoom door slammed shut behind him with an echoing, hollow boom, and someone on Team Hall bellowed angrily a moment later, the actual words too muffled to make out. "Uh," said Nate, his voice tiny.
"Yeah," said Sandra, putting a hand over her eyes. "That could have gone better."
The door clicked and swung slowly open, and Dave poked his head into the room. "Um," he said. "Good morning."
Sandra let her hand drop. "Morning, Mr. Brassoff."
Dave gave her a small and faltering smile, then edged into the room and carefully swung the door shut. At least he'd had the sense not to wear a suit today, although he looked kind of lost without it, like he wasn't entirely comfortable with dressing himself yet. "Mike nearly ran me down in the hallway," he said uncertainly.
"Yeah," said Sandra. "There was a thing."
Dave paused, glancing from Sandra to Nate and back, obviously waiting to see if someone would elaborate. It made Sandra feel even less like doing so, and she hadn't really thought that was possible. "Um," said Dave, once it was clear that neither of them was going to say anything else. "'scuse me." He stepped between them, heading for Rich's lair.
Nate immediately whipped around and got very interested in his computer. Sandra was at a loss to explain why until she heard Dave suck his breath in, and then she remembered how Mike had been fucking around in there this morning. She went over and peered over Dave's shoulder, trying to see what he was staring down at, and found herself entirely unsurprised. Mike had kind of a one-track sense of humor. "My," she said brightly, "that's a large penis, isn't it?"
Dave yelped and spun around, startled. Behind her Nate made a choking sound that was either embarrassment or amusement. Sandra was guessing both. Giving Dave a tight little smile she took one step to the side, putting a hand on the back of his chair and waggling it, making the ridiculously pink dildo glued to the seat wobble back and forth (almost realistically, she thought before she could stop herself). "Good thing you didn't sit down on it," she said. "We as a team are pretty darned sex-positive but there's sex-positive and then there's accidentally getting twelve inches of latex rubber stuck up your ass, you know? As in one does not necessarily preclude getting teased half to death about the other?"
"Silicone," said Nate. "It's probably silicone."
"I do not even want to know how you know that," Sandra said, not looking at him.
"Um. The internet?"
"I said I didn't want to know. Buuuut, that would have been my first guess." Sandra finally looked back at Dave, who was apparently too mortified even to blush: he was a pale and cheesy white, instead, like the shock of actually seeing a penis that wasn't his own had made him go all faint. "But hey, count your blessings," she said. "Not only did you not sit on it, Mike wasn't even here to appreciate your reaction. If you're quick you can get rid of it before he comes back."
"Aah," said Dave, glancing helplessly from her to his chair ornament and back. His fingers twitched at his sides.
Sandra rolled her eyes. Men. "Look," she said. "Touching it will not make you gay, okay? Look, here" and pushing around him she grabbed the thing around its middle. "Girthy," she said appreciatively, just to see if Nate would actually faint (he didn't, although he made an entertaining choking noise) and then she gave it a tentative pull, wiggling it back and forth. Either the twee little suction cup on the end or the half a tube of superglue held it fast, though, and she didn't really get anywhere. "You might not want to watch this," she said, sliding her feet a little farther apart.
"Watch what?" Dave said, horrified and fascinated, his eyes already as wide as saucers.
"Not what you're thinking, you pervert," said Sandra, now actually enjoying this. Beside her Dave started to babble out some kind of frantic, apologetic denial, but Sandra didn't bother to listen; instead she shifted her grip slightly, bared her teeth, and wrenched the dildo free of the chair's seat with a horrible rubbery ripping sound. Dave made a sound like a balloon squeaking and shut up. Sandra was pretty sure he wasn't breathing, either, and she'd lay even odds that he'd spontaneously developed some kind of erectile dysfunction.
"Huh," said Sandra, tossing the damaged dildo into the air and catching it again. "You know, contrary to rumor I've never actually emasculated anything with my bare hands before." She held it up and studied the shredded remains of the suction cup and the long rip that spiraled up along the length of the thing, its outer skin now hanging loose like the aftermath of a particularly terrible industrial accident. "Surprisingly fulfilling," she said, and dropped the dildo into the trash can by Rich's smaller desk. "You'll have to get the rest of the suction cup off yourself." She turned and headed back into Simon's office, feeling pretty good.
"I-I have no idea if that was hot or terrifying," she heard Dave say, his voice awed and hushed.
"She heard that, you know," said Nate. Dave made a little terrified noise and shut up, suddenly concentrating very hard on scraping the last of the suction cup and the superglue off the seat of his chair. Five minutes later he tiptoed out the door, gingerly carrying the trash can held away from his body, like the contents were volatile.
By the time Mike and Johnny got back Dave was once again seated in front of one of Rich's computers, pretending very hard that nothing at all had happened. (He had switched out his own damaged and presumably penis-cootie-infested chair for Mike's, a fairly canny move which both surprised Sandra and vaguely impressed her. If only he'd thought to do it before she'd yanked the dildo off.) Mike made a disappointed noise.
"Mike?" Sandra called. "Can I talk to you for a second?"
"Yeah," Mike called back. "Hang on." There was a bit of banging around and then Mike appeared in the doorway, van keys still dangling from his hand. He looked just like he always did, except that he was staring at a point vaguely to her left instead of at her face. Or at her breasts, which Sandra had to admit was more of a Mike thing to do. "Sup?"
"I wanted to apologize for earlier," Sandra said without any preamble. "I handled that badly. So: I'm sorry."
Now he looked directly at her. His boggled look made her kind of want to smack him. Dammit, was it that unusual that she wanted to apologize for something? "S'okay," he finally said. "I know you're kinda under a lot of pressure and all"
"Don't," Sandra said. "Don't make excuses for me. I fucked up, that's all. Okay?"
"Uh, okay," Mike said, ducking his head. "I probably shouldn't have blown up like that, though."
Sandra nodded. "No, probably not, but I get why, so it's okay. Forgiveness all 'round? We coo', as Simon would say?"
"Yeah, we coo'," said Mike, looking vastly relieved. "Are we meeting?"
"Not yet." Sandra prodded at Simon's computer and woke it up. "We'll meet this afternoon, keep Simon in the loop."
"Okay. Anything else?"
"Not at the moment," said Sandra. A devilish little impulse made her add, "Go sit down and get to work."
"Yeah, I need to call the Virginia highway patrol" Mike vanished from the doorway. A moment later, Sandra heard him pull out his chair and thump down in it, and she had to bite her lower lip to keep from laughing.
Sandra (who'd been contemplating running down to the machines and feeding the large hungry gremlin in her stomach) looked up. Mike was back in the doorway. "What?"
Mike knocked his knuckles on the doorframe and blew out a breath. "I'm gonna take the van back out to Truslow and meet up with the highway patrol, okay? We're gonna go in together and check out the remains of the barn, see what we can find."
"Good idea," said Sandra. "Take Texas with you, just in case." She raised her voice. "Texas?"
"On it," said Johnny. His chair screeched back.
Mike looked relieved. "Awesome, I was just about to ask if you minded."
"Try and be back by one, if you can," Sandra said. "And if there's any trouble, call me pronto, okay?"
"Will do, semi-boss." Mike tossed off an awkward jazz-hands-y salute.
Johnny appeared in the doorway next to him, as an afterthought grinding a knuckle into Mike's side. Mike yelped. "Gotta go use the men's," Johnny said. "Pull the van around. Meet you at the side."
"Right!" said Mike, smacking the top of Johnny's head and zipping off. The saferoom door thumped closed behind him.
Instead of following, Johnny looked back at Sandra, running an absent hand back over the spikes of his crewcut. "About Miz Fontaine," he said, keeping his voice quiet.
Sandra's hackles all rose. "Yes?" she said.
Johnny looked over his shoulder, then back at her. "Something's not right there," he said. "Story doesn't add up right."
"Not sure." Johnny shrugged. "It's just... not right. Don't think Honda sees it, either. Think she's kinda got him fuddled up."
"Bitch," Sandra said, tapping her nails on Simon's desk. "How sure are you?"
Johnny hesitated. His eyes slid away from hers for a moment, then returned. "Not a hundred percent," he admitted. "Gut feeling, mostly. I'll think on it."
"Okay," Sandra said, the pit of her stomach squirming uncomfortably. Suddenly she wasn't hungry any more. "I guess we better get Diana Fontaine out of Nate's house pronto, then."
feel better," Johnny admitted, his face creasing up into a vague and worried
Mike's car was long gone by the time they got there, Johnny noted, hauled away by the road crew to wherever. Well, not entirely gone. Mike's tires had left deep dirty gouges in the gravel shoulder, and little cubes of safety glass sparkled like diamonds along a stretch of road almost twenty feet long. It wasn't the first thing an onlooker tended to notice, though. In fact, the two uniformed state policemen that were waiting for them had their backs entirely turned on the traces of Mike's car and were staring up at the hill opposite.
"Holy crap," Mike said reverently, pulling the van over the shoulder. He crossed his arms on the steering wheel and leaned forward to get a better view. Johnny chewed on his toothpick and silently allowed how he might be feeling pretty goddamned manly right about now, yep, thanks.
The dull greeny-brown of the hillside had been torn to shit, pretty much. Looked like a junior-sized tornado had hit it. Johnny's tires had ripped out huge chunks of sod everywhere they'd hit, leaving big patches of the hillside bald and raw; the barbed-wire fence was busted in two places, just like Johnny remembered, and what was left of the fence had been yanked towards the crash sites, fenceposts leaning drunkenly inwards. From here, the barn itself was just half a shattered roof peeking crookedly up above what was left of the tall grass.
Johnny glanced over and noted how the two state police had left off looking at the carnage and were now looking at the van. "C'mon," he said, elbowing Mike in the side. Mike reflexively knocked Johnny's arm away, not taking his eyes off the barn for a second. Johnny considered that for a moment, then smacked the back of Mike's head.
Mike's forehead came within a couple of inches of hitting the steering wheel. "Ow!" he said, finally looking away from the barn in order to give Johnny a wounded look. "What was that for?"
"You gonna sit in the van all day?" Johnny punched the door handle and slid out.
"Shit, man, don't be bitchslappin' me in front of the po-po," Mike said grumpily.
Johnny paused, one foot on the gravel shoulder, one still in the van. "'Po-po'?" he asked, trying to figure out if he'd heard that right.
"Aw, you know. The po-lice," Mike clarified, opening his own door. Johnny didn't so much know, but he shrugged and let it go.
The state police (or whatever it was Mike wanted to call them) silently watched the two of them approach. The older one was leaning against the side of their patrol car, arms crossed over his chest; the younger one had straightened up, at least, but hadn't bothered to take off his shades. Johnny steeled himself, noticing as he did that Mike's usual swagger had toned itself down a notch. Good. Least they were both on the same wavelength here.
"Mornin'," Johnny said, once they got within speaking distance. He flicked his ID folder out of his jeans pocket and held it up for a second before folding it away again, formalities all seen to.
After a stiff moment, the younger one nodded. "Hey," he said, and then turned to look at the hillside again. "Christ, look at this mess."
"Pretty sweet, isn't it?" Mike said cheerfully. "I mean, that is one fucking dead barn up there. It has passed on. It is no more. It has ceased to be."
The older trooper didn't shift a muscle, but the younger one twitched like he sort of wanted to smile. Still, in the end, it was the older one who spoke, if reluctantly. "I'm Parker. That's Haynes. Captain tells me you've got a crime scene you want an escort for." Me, Johnny noticed. Not us. Me.
Johnnywho could see what was coming next so clearly that he could almost taste itnevertheless decided he ought to be diplomatic and let Parker have his little fun. "Yep," he said.
"Well, what a coincidence," said Parker, right on cue, finally deigning to heave himself upright. "Looks to me like we've got a crime scene right here."
"Yep," Johnny said again. Dismissing Officer Parker for the moment, he looked down long enough to pop the safety strap off his holster. Mike stuck his hand into his jacket and did the samenow they had everybody's attention. "Think our screwball's long gone," Johnny said, once that was done. "Still, can't be sure. Figured we could use some backup on this, keep your captain in the loop in the bargain."
Haynes nodded, slowly. Parker glanced at him, disgusted, then grunted. "So we're goin' up there."
"Yep." Johnny fell silent, waiting.
Eventually, Officer Parker got fed up enough to fill the silence. They always did. "So what are we supposed to be looking for?"
Johnny shrugged. "Casings, mostly. Blood, if there is any. Our squirrel's backtrail would be nice, as would anything he dropped. You know the drill as well's I do: bag'n'tag it now, figure out what it is later."
"Guy fired off enough shells to carpet that fuckin' barn with casings," Mike said beside him. "He can't have carried them all off."
"And if he is still up there..." Johnny paused and dug himself out a toothpick. "Guy's a psycho," he said around the pick. "He's up there, he's gonna either hide or shoot."
"Shit," said Parker, glaring up at the roofline of the collapsed barn. "I get all the good assignments."
Johnny gnawed on his toothpick reflectively, tasted wood. "Yeah? Think it's because of your winning personality?"
Mike sniggered. Parker scowled at Johnny and hitched up his gunbelt, heading for one of the holes in the fence. "Let's just get this over with," he said.
"Couldn't agree more," Johnny said, heading for the other.
The hill felt a hell of a lot steeper when Johnny was on foot, which didn't surprise him a bit. Even sticking closely to the shallow gouges that had been left by his tires he had to shift to all fours a couple of times, getting his hands dirty in the process. Mike and Officer Haynes climbed to either side of him, Mike occasionally pausing to mutter in awe at the sheer scope of the damageyeah, Johnny was feeling pretty damned manlyand Officer Parker stuck stubbornly to the other side of the hill and managed to dump himself on his face once when a rock shifted under his foot, which didn't precisely make him cheerier.
Still, soon enough Johnny had reached the crest of the hill, and he went the last ten feet at a careful pace, hand resting on the butt of his gun. Beyond the barn the hill opened up in a gentle, sweeping curve of land, dotted in the distance with grazing cows. The treeline stretched away to both sides, thickening on the left into a small, dark stand of trees that receded into the distance like a second fence.
The barn itself was a splintered pile of warped gray wood. If it had ever been painted, the paint had long since flaked away; long bloody rust stains wept away from the heads of the exposed nails. "Man," Mike said, whistling in appreciation. "Farraday's lucky the barn didn't fall on him out of sheer fuckin' exhaustion."
Johnny grunted, taking a long stroll around the barn. The two state troopers poked desultorily at the ruin, then spread out and studied the area; despite Officer Parker's almost visible animosity they both had their hands on their guns, as well, proving that some people could indeed be taught. There had been enormous double doors on the front side of the barn at one point. One of them was still there. Well. Sort of. "Bet he came and went that way," Johnny said, pointing at the thickening treeline on the left.
"Yeah," said Mike, squatting by the remains of the wall that had faced the road. "Shit, this wall's more hole than wood. He had his pick of places to shoot from."
"Wonder if he's still in there," Johnny said, kicking at a stray plank.
Mike yelped out a laugh, making both state troopers twitch and glance in his direction. "Shit, that'd be too easy, Texas! Farraday ain't no Wicked Witch of the East, you know what I'm sayin'?"
"Yeah. No call for his shoes, neither." Johnny eyed a chunk of the roof that had pulled halfway free in the collapse. "Let's try and move this bit."
"You think?" Mike jogged up beside him and gave the boards a critical once-over. "Yeah, I think we can flip it, if we try. You wanna go left or right with it?"
"Left," said Johnny. He straightened up and waved at the troopers, who headed in his direction, Haynes a little faster than Parker. "We're gonna flip this bit over," he said once they were close enough to hear him. "Back us up in case he comes boiling out."
Haynes barked out a laugh. "Shit," he said, shaking his head as he moved behind them. Parker, still lagging behind, snorted.
Johnny and Mike hunkered down and grabbed the edge of the roof, Johnny nearly perforating his palm with a stray nail. "Shit," he said, shifting his grip. "On three."
"Three," Mike said cheerfully, and they both braced their feet and heaved. The roof resisted for a few moments, still attached up near the top, but in the end the rotten wood gave and the roof panel splintered and flipped over with a boom that kicked up dust in all directions. Johnny fell back a step, raising an arm against the expanding cloud.
Once the dust cloud had died down (and Farraday had not come charging out) Mike grabbed an exposed strut and took a giant step into the remains of the barn, glancing back and forth. After a moment he squatted down. "Casings," he reported, pulling a bag and a pen out of the inside of his jacket. "Not seeing any blood, though."
"Yeah," Johnny said, ambling a few steps to the left and peering into the tiny tent-like cavity that was just barely being preserved by the roof beams. There wasn't anything in there that he could see, not even any abandoned equipment. And definitely no Farraday, which Johnny was inclined to be of two minds about. "Bet he took off the moment the truck hit the fence. Maybe before."
Behind Johnny, Officer Haynes said, "Huh." Johnny twisted around to look at him, shifting his toothpick. After a couple of seconds Haynes looked away, jerking his head at the mangled slope. "I thought your screwball did all that."
"Nah," said Johnny. "That was me."
Haynes blinked. After a long moment, he whistled, long and low. Mike hooted. "Shit," Mike said a moment later, stuffing the evidence bag back inside his jacket. "I forgot to bring a fuckin' flashlight. Any of you guys have one?"
"I can run grab one," Johnny offered.
"Shit, here," said Haynes, pulling a massive black flashlight from his belt. He waved it at Mike, then lobbed it in a gentle arc; the flashlight flew end-over-end over the remains of the barn wall. Parker snorted again. He might have had the twin to Haynes' flashlight stuck in his belt, but he hadn't made a move towards it.
Mike stuck up a hand and caught it, the heavy metal flashlight slapping into his palm with an audible thud. Mike hissed, tossed the flashlight into his other hand, and shook the sting out. "Goddamn," he said. "You sure are hung better than me in the flashlight department."
"Maybe a couple other departments, too," Haynes said, shrugging. "I hear a lotta things about the feebs."
"Yeah?" said Mike, thumbing on the flashlight and investigating the little cave. "How about the bit where we're all in our suits 'n' ties come to steal your hard work and treat you like short-bus retards? You hear that one?"
Haynes grinned and looked away. "Every goddamn day."
"'Cause I ain't that kinda feeb, case you were wondering." Mike shucked out of his jacket and hung it on an exposed nail, rolling his shoulders to resettle his shoulder rig. "I'm the kind those guys fuckin' hate." Dropping into a crouch, Mike shuffled under the remains of the barn's roof; Johnny lost sight of all but the beam of the flashlight and Mike's white t-shirt pretty quickly. It made him a little uneasy, so he ambled a step or two closer. He could grab that same strut, swing in and give Mike a hand, but for some reason he didn't feel like putting any extra stress on the wood while Mike was under half a ton of it. His hand fell reflexively to his gun again, palm against the warm metal.
Turned out to be for nothing, though. After a couple of minutes Mike duck-walked back out again, backing out from under the roof. "Nothin'," he said. "More casings and a whole bunch of bird crap." He straightened up. His knees cracked. For half a second Johnny thought it was rotten wood splintering.
"Gettin' old," Johnny noted.
"Yeah, you wanna drop your pants, I'll show you old," Mike said happily, fetching his jacket again before grabbing the exposed strut and vaulting back out. The wood groaned precipitously under his weight, but the roof didn't fall the rest of the way in, just yet.
"Yeah?" Johnny said, relieved that this all seemed to be over, and with no unpleasant surprises. "Why you so eager to get me naked, anyway?"
Getting back down the hill proved to be even more interesting than getting up it had been. In the end Johnny gave up on any pretense of dignity he might have had and went the last thirty feet sliding on his butt like a kid, throwing up a cloud of dust in his wake. Mike, being Mike, just ran pell-mell down the hill, cannoned out through the hole in the fence, and reeled halfway across Truslow before his momentum ran back out; it was just dumb good luck that he didn't get smeared by a passing car, but then, Mike had always had a surplus of dumb good luck. The troopers picked their way back down with care, not so much wanting to get dirt (or more dirt) on their uniforms.
"Appreciate the help," Johnny said, once they were all safely back by the patrol car. "Either of you know who owns that barn?"
Officer Haynes shrugged. "No clue. Looked pretty abandoned to me."
Johnny nodded. That was definitely what he was hoping, anyway. "Yeah. Well. Some irate farmer calls you, point him to me."
"Will do," said Haynes. Parker just snorted and threw himself in the patrol car, revving the engine impatiently; Haynes blinked, raised a hand in a hurried wave, and ran to get in before his partner could take off without him. The wheels spun, kicking up gravel in a dirty wave that broke over Johnny's shins as the patrol car roared off. He figured he wouldn't give Parker the satisfaction of seeing him jump back, even if flying gravel did kinda sting like fuck. Behind him, Mike yelped.
Johnny watched the patrol car recede in the distance, chewing thoughtfully on his toothpick. "Maaaan," Mike wailed. "Why the suits gotta ruin it for the rest of us, Texas?"
Johnny grunted. The germ of an idea had just struck him, and he had no real patience with Mike's chatter right about now. "You got your phone on you?"
"Huh?" Mike's hand automatically flew to his waist. "Yeah?"
Johnny nodded, checking up and down Truslow before jogging across the street. Gravel and safety glass crunched under his heels. "Your car was right about here, right?"
Mike loped after him. "Yeah, right about..." He came to a halt by a particularly generous scattering of glass. "Think this used to be my passenger-side window," he announced, not without some pride, kicking at the little blue-green cubes.
"And Miz Fontaine was huddled up by the front tire, right?" said Johnny, easing past Mike and measuring off another three feet, stopping where one of the black-dirt gouges abruptly ended. "'Bout here."
"Yeah," said Mike. "What's up?"
Johnny looked off into the woods, just past a rusty barbed-wire fence exactly like the one he'd decimated. "Got an idea," he said, shucking off his own jacket. "Wait here."
"Aw, c'mon, Texas, 'sup," Mike wailed after him, but Johnny was already navigating the ditch and didn't bother answering. He gave the barbed-wire fence an experimental tug, just in case it was going to be rusty enough to give without a fight. It wasn't. Johnny resigned himself to tearing up the lining and draped his jacket over the topmost strand of wire, grabbing the protective layer of leather in both hands and vaulting over the fence.
Mike leaped over the ditch and met him by the fence. Johnny looked back at him. "You said Miz Fontaine called you on her cell, right? So her number's in your call history?"
"Right" The light dawned and Mike scrabbled for his phone. "Hope it didn't break when she slung it away," he said, squinting at his phone as he navigated its menu system. There was a lot of beeping. "I heard it hit something."
"Worth a try," said Johnny, already pacing off into the trees. "Course, she mighta had it on vibrate, too."
"Aw, yeah, Miz Fontaine's a vibrator sorta gal" Mike broke off there. They could both hear it, faint but clear, one of those obnoxious trilling ringtones. Johnny dashed into the trees, after itright? left? Shit, where was itthe ringtone cut off in the middle of a trill. "Fuckin' voice mail!" Mike shouted from behind Johnny. "Hang on, calling again!"
Johnny stopped where he was and turned in a circle, leaving his eyes slightly unfocused. She couldn't have thrown it much farther than thisthe phone trilled again. Johnny hesitated, then broke left, the sound getting louder and loudersomething white winked at him from halfway under a pile of leaves and he angled towards it. "Again?" Mike yelled.
"Got it!" Johnny yelled back, then hunkered down and brushed the wet leaves away. The phone was in two pieces, its battery cover hanging free, and the screen was cracked and darkbut here it was. Johnny dug an evidence bag out of his back pocket, turned it inside out, and used it like a mitten to pick up the phone, loose battery cover, stray leaves, and all. Nodding to himself he turned the bag right-side out again, sealing the phone away.
"I'll be damned," Mike said happily as Johnny broke from the treeline and headed for the fence again. "That was good thinkin', Texas, I wouldn'ta thought of that in a million years."
"Yeah, I know," Johnny said comfortably, sticking the bag in his teeth and hopping the fence again. He untangled his jacket from the barbed wire with as much patience as he could muster, but it still came loose with a couple of ripping sounds. Johnny sighed and put it back on. "Guess now we'll find out if it really is bugged, huh?"
"Awwww," said Mike, smacking Johnny's shoulder companionably. "You got Nate a present."
Johnny snickered. "Ain't a dozen roses, but it'll do him."
"Somebody ought to do him, anywayyou know what?" Mike said. "I'm thinkin' lunch."
left and right and then jogged back across to the van, the bag containing
Diana Fontaine's damaged cellphone dangling from his hand. "Yeah?" he said.
"Just don't tell Sandy," Simon said, for the third time.
Behind him, Jeremy sighed, running his keycard through the reader and making the door beep. "I have no intention of telling her," he said, also for the third time. "You might try to trust me on this, Simon."
Simon snorted and dropped it for long enough to wrestle with the door. It came open a bit more easily than it had yesterday, he was pleased to note. He got a little better every day; all this sleep had to be good for something. At this rate, he'd be almost back up to speed in a week, maybe two. Almost. "I can't believe I told you," he shot over his shoulder as an afterthought. "I don't know what I was thinking."
Jeremy reached forward over Simon's shoulder and pulled the door the rest of the way open. Simon aimed a grumpy, desultory elbow in his general direction, which hurt, but also not quite as badly as it had yesterday. Progress, progress. "I believe you were thinking that you had to bitch to someone before you exploded," said Jeremy. "And I happened to be closest, damn the luck."
"Guess that's about the size of it," Simon said, easing himself into the building. "And, I mean, it's not like it's some life-threatening complication. It's an annoyance. Sandy doesn't need to hear about an, an annoyance."
"Adhesions are slightly more than an annoyance, I'd say," said Jeremy. He followed Simon in, the door closing behind him. "But, in any case, it's between you and your physician. Your health is, ultimately, your own concern," he said, finishing on a thoroughly hypocritical note.
Simon stopped right where he was. "Yeah? That's why you guys aren't letting me have coffee or drive my own truck or come back to work?"
"Oh, well, that's entirely different," said Jeremy. "That isn't a question of your health. It's a question of your welfare."
"Christ, can you split those hairs any further?" Simon said, aggrieved. "I hear there's particle physicists that can't do it any neater."
"Oh, I'm certain that I could," Jeremy said cheerfully. Simon grunted in annoyance and stalked off down the hall, his arms stiffly by his sides. Jeremy followed him, only darting ahead at the last moment to pull the heavy saferoom door open and bow Simon in; Simon flipped him off on general principles, which didn't put a dent in Jeremy's good cheer but did make Simon feel a little better.
He knew something was wrongor at least uppretty much immediately. Half a second of breathless silence was not generally part of his team's modus operandi. Suspicious, Simon stopped in the doorway (forcing Jeremy to ease past him) and said, "Okay. What?"
"We'll bring you up to speed here in a sec, Templar," Sandra said briskly. "How'd your doctor's appointment go?"
"None of your goddamned business," said Simon, "and you know exactly where you can stick that 'in a sec' stuff. I'm thinking now is good."
Sandra hesitated, then sighed and waved a hand at his chair. Simon dropped into it, which, unfortunately, still hurt like hell no matter how much he had or had not healed up since yesterday. Gritting his teeth, he waited for the flare of pain to subside again. "Tell me if I need to go," Jeremy murmured, but he went ahead and took his usual place next to Simon as if he were confident that Sandra wasn't going to be pitching him out.
And she didn't. After only a quick glance in Jeremy's direction, Sandra looked back at Simon. "Good news first, or bad news?"
"You know better than that," Simon said reprovingly. "Always give me the good news first. It's better to get me good and softened up." Jeremy might or might not have made a little amused sound at that; Simon was definitely, totally not paying attention.
"Farraday's still in the area," Sandra said without further preamble.
Simon blinked. "That's good news? Christ. If that's what passes for good news with you, maybe I need a pain pill before you hit me up with the bad."
"And none of us are dead," Sandra added.
"Well, okay, yes, that does count as good news," Simon said carefully, "but, uh, one, I knew that just by coming into a full room, and two, that's almost always true by default. Hell, I wake up every morning taking it for granted that we're all still alive. Also that my hair hasn't started falling out yet."
Sandra's eyes strayed up a few inches. Struck by a sudden attack of paranoia Simon ran one hand over his hair, prompting a couple of snickers from the far end of the table. Other than the muted laughter, though, everyone was oddly quiet, watching the two of them. Mike was jittering in his seat, which was normal, but without running off at the mouth, which wasn't. "I'm starting to see why you guys hate it so much when I try to keep you in suspense," Simon said, letting his hand drop.
"Good," said Sandra. "Mike? You want to tell him, or shall I?"
Mike shot bolt upright in his seat like someone had just jabbed him in the ass. "Ooh, you're gonna let me tell him? Fuckin' sweet!"
"So tell him," said Sandra, gesturing grandly from Mike to Simon and back. "I don't know that I could do the story justice, plus you'd be interrupting me all the time anyway."
"That? That is totally true," Mike said happily. "So! Okay okay okay"
"and so Nate's got the phone now and he's going to take it apart this afternoon," Mike finished with a flourish, finally ceasing to bounce around in his seat now that the story was out.
Nate nodded, holding up the plastic bag. Wet black leaves stuck to the phone and the bag itself, steaming up the sides of the bag and leaving a thin puddle of condensation in the bottom. "If there's a bug, it should still be in there. I mean, sure, the battery cover came off, but something like that isn't going to just fall out without leaving some kind of trace of itself. Unless it's CIA-issue or something, in which case we have way worse problems."
"Good," Simon said, slapping the table, so charged up that he didn't even hurt any more. Finally, something to be doing. "Jesus Christ, you guys are awesome even without me. I might as well retire and take up fishing."
"Ha!" said Sandra.
"Texas, some pissed-off farmer starts hassling you, send 'em to me. Uh. To Sandra," Simon said, shaking his head. "The quarterly budget stretches to cover Archer" Jeremy, invoked, shifted in his seat and glanced in Simon's direction "I think it can probably buy us one abandoned barn and a couple of bags of grass seed. Also, Christ, videotape that shit next time."
"It was fuckin' awesome," Mike said reverently. "I mean, goddamn, I think I came in my shorts or something."
"Don't videotape that part," Simon added. "So where's Princess Di now? Still at Nate's?"
"For the time being," said Nate. "I called Mom at lunch. She said everything's fine, the police have been by several times, Ms. Fontaine's up and about and seems functional."
"Okay. Okay, good." Simon chewed on his thumbnail, thinking. "However, I'm thinking we need to get her out of there pronto."
"Uh, yeah," Nate said, ducking his head. "Yeah, I'd kinda... yeah."
"I want to keep her close by, though," Simon said. "Get her a hotel room or something. Uncle Sam can spring for it. I'm gonna be honest with you guys: if Farraday wants her that bad, I'm thinking she's got 'bait' written all over her pretty little bleached-blond head."
"If she didn't set Mike up," Johnny added.
"If she didn't set Mike up," Simon agreed. "Hell, maybe even if she did. I'm guessing the interior of her phone will give us an idea of where her loyalties really lie, though. Specs, I'm thinking I want you on that right now."
"Soon as we're done meeting," said Nate. He glanced sideways at the new guy, who'd apparently learned a whole bunch of lessons yesterday and was being as unobtrusive as it was possible for a red-headed six-footer to be. "I'll have to help you with Rich's stuff later."
"Um," the new guy said, blinking. "That's fine."
"Okay." Simon clapped his hands. An echo of pain twanged from his ribs, but it was nothing he couldn't ignore. "Okay. Mike, I want you to find a place to put Princess Di, and then go put her there. Don't let her go to stay with friends, no matter how much she wants to. I don't want to put some poor civilian in the line of Farraday's fire. Try to get something with middling security: if we do go the 'bait' route, I want Farraday to feel reasonably secure about walking in, but I want something that we can box up if necessary. Get me?"
"Got you," said Mike, fidgeting with his pen.
"And for Christ's sake be careful," Simon said. "Maybe stay in Nate's guest room for a couple days. In fact, do that. I'd feel better if you two had each other's backs for a while. Nate? You okay with that?"
"Yeah, definitely," Nate said in obvious relief.
Simon nodded. "In fact, all of you be careful. It doesn't matter whether this attack of Farraday's was aimed at Diana Fontaine or at Mike, it still proves that he's out there and pissy. Any of you so much as get the heebie-jeebies, go stay with someone else on the team or rent a hotel room of your own. The budget will cover it."
"We did put a few extra security measures in place," Sandra said, pointedly.
Simon reined himself in with an effort, but Christ, it felt so good to be back in charge that he couldn't quite stop trampling over her authority. "Which was good thinking on your part, Spring. I want you guys to keep doing all that. Don't relax. I get the sinking feeling that things are going to speed up now."
"Do you..." Nate's voice tapered off. He looked down at his clasped hands. "Do you think I ought to get Mom out of the house for a while? I could send her to stay with one of my aunts..."
Simon thought about it. "I don't know," he finally said. "I think that's your call. You know what Farraday's like: he's not going to attack some old lady just because he feels like it. He's not the type to feel like it. He'd need a pretty good reason. Right now, I can't think of what that'd be. Still, if you'd be more comfortable..."
Nate nodded. "I'll think about it," he said, his voice faltering.
"Do that," Simon said. "But for now, get me some answers out of that phone. Spring? Anything to add?"
Sandra spread her hands, looking resigned. "I think you've covered it," she said. "Only I think I want Johnny to go with Mike when they move Diana Fontaine. Just in case."
"Good idea," Simon said, snapping his fingers. "You're the man, Spring. And I mean that."
After a few more minutes, the meeting broke up. The room came back to life: Nate vanished into the supply closet and started banging around, the new guy slunk back into Rich's lair, and Sandra went back into Simon's office.
Simon blew out a breath and slumped back in his chair, prodding gingerly at his chest and hissing. A quick glance to the side caught Jeremy watching him do it. Simon shook his head. "I'm okay," he said. "Swear."
"Rather thought you were," said Jeremy, flashing him one of those quick little smiles.
A smallish tidal wave of motion from his left jerked Simon's attention back that way: Mike slid into Sandra's chair, looking oddly hunted. "Boss?"
"Yeah," said Simon, not bothering to sit back up.
Mike looked uncomfortable. "I'm totally not gonna argue against evidence or nothin', but..." He hesitated, fiddling with his pen. "I just wanna get it on the record that my gut says that Ms. Fontaine may not be fuckin' with us, 'kay?"
Simon considered this. "Guess you'd know best out of all of us," he finally said.
"I mean, she's still totally a bitch and all," Mike said, trying out a little laugh, "but... boss, you weren't there. She was fuckin' terrified."
"Yeah, well, getting shot at is scary, period." Simon caught his breath and scooted himself back upright, hissing. "It's on the record, okay? But all the same let's wait and see what Nate's got to say."
"Yeah, okay," said Mike, ducking his head.
Sandra reappeared. "You never said how your appointment went," she said.
"Uh, yeah, that was kind of on purpose," Simon said, gingerly propping one arm up on the back of his chair and looking past Mike at Sandra. "All you need to know is that I'm healing up fine. Getting better all the time. Anything else is between my doctor and me," he finished, blatantly stealing Jeremy's line and translating it into the American. Behind him, Jeremy made a little amused sound.
"Oh," said Sandra. "Archer, what did the doctor say?"
"I'm sure I don't know in any case," Jeremy said. "I spent the duration of his appointment sitting in a truly horrible waiting room hiding behind a magazine and hoping I didn't contract anything vile. I'm perfectly willing to look after him but I needs must draw the line somewhere."
Sandra was quiet for a moment, giving Jeremy the fish-eye over Simon's shoulder. Finally she sighed and shrugged, conceding the point. "You swear you're okay?" she asked Simon. "No complications?"
"Nothing you need to know about," Simon said.
"Oh. So there are complications."
"None of your business."
"Asshole," Sandra said fondly.
"You know it," said Simon. "Look, there is a bullet hole in my chest, a certain amount of shit is going to go down between now and my eventual full recovery. I'm going to be just fine. Seriously. It's under control."
Sandra eyed him narrowly for a long moment before visibly giving up. "Fine, be that way. You're still not coming back to work full-time until I say so."
"And now I guess we both know where we stand," Simon said. "Mexican standoff."
shit is racist and I for one am totally offended and shit," Mike said,
waggling his pen accusingly at Simon's face. "Anyway, it's more like a
Chinese fire-drill around here right now."
After a bit of thought he'd decided to make the laptop his guinea pig. According to Nate this Rich person had copied everything off his laptop onto his larger computer every day or two, so even if Dave's experiments ended up erasing it completely nothing much would actually be lost. At least, that was the theory. It was kind of a nerve-wracking theory, really, but Dave was about eighty-five percent sure that Nate wasn't lying to him. Well. About this, anyway.
Ducking his head Dave finished plugging the laptop into one of his borrowed computers. There were five computers crammed in here now (which didn't leave all that much room for Dave, which was kind of the story of his life right now). In addition to the three that he was trying to break into, there was the one that was doing nothing but entering words, meaningful strings of numbers, system commands in half a dozen programming languages, and anything else that took Dave's fancy into the stubborn unlabeled text box on the smaller computer and then rebooting it every time it shut down (it tried to connect to the internet every time, probably to send an alert somewhere, which was currently about number three on Dave's list of Things To Track Down), and this one, which he intended to use like a defibrillator. There'd been one process running on this computer when it died, after all.
If it had been so important to this guy that the computer be erased, the process ought to take any chance it could get to reassert itself, which would leave Dave with a laptop that was slowly deleting its contents and overwriting them with some kind of noise. In theory, not good. In practice, Dave was betting that sooner or later, the overwrite process would start feeding on the guy's elaborate homebrew security systems. Once those were broken or gone, what remained of the laptop would be wide open.
Of course, if this guy was as good as they said, then the security systems would be the last thing to go before the OS itself. That was where the interrupts came into play. Dave had spent most of the morning (and a few of the small hours the night before) cobbling together a crude patch that ought to give the overwrite program a serious case of the hiccups. And every time the process hiccuped, there was a slim chance that Dave's program could jab in and extract a burning chunk of code, or half a file, or a handful of text: anything that it retrieved could potentially be analyzed and turned against the security systems on the other two machines. Of course, it would probably kill the laptop in the process, but unlike the desktop machines, the laptop was an acceptable loss. In theory. This was the kind of theorizing that made Dave's stomach hurt.
Dave paused and took a swig of his half-cold coffee, barely tasting it. Behind him the smaller computer whirred, spun down, spun back up, and whirred again. And all around him, people were talking normally. They were ignoring him, true, but having them behave like he wasn't here beat having them sit there silently resenting his existence. By a long shot. He was almost happy, or at least distracted. He put his mug back down.
The spare laptop battery sat waiting in the canvas bag full of tricks that he'd talked out of IT. Flipping the laptop over Dave carefully slid the battery halfway into its socket and rested the outer edge on the lip of the battery case. He put his palm on the battery and the fingers of his other hand on the space bar of the borrowed computer's keyboard, closed his eyes, said a silent prayer, and pushed them both down.
The battery clicked home. The laptop made a momentary startled whirring sound before the other computer jabbed it with his interrupt-query one-two punch, interrupting the startup. Affronted, the laptop hitched. Dave flipped the laptop over and thumbed open the screen, hitting it with another interrupt-query even as he didthe laptop gave him not a single empty text-entry box but an unlabeled inching progress bar, leaving Dave limp with relief. Not too limp to send another interrupt-query, though. The laptop hitched and spat a few lines of nonsense at him before the progress bar reappeared. The borrowed computer dutifully noted down the nonsense. Fired with excitementit was working!Dave hit the space bar again.
Everything else faded into the background. He supposed he could have written a script to administer the interrupts for him, but he had no idea what to expect and wanted to be fully in control, just in case. Dave, eyes riveted to the monitor, hit the space bar. The laptop hoicked up both a few lines of nonsense and a few lines of something that looked like code. The borrowed computer swallowed them.
It was working, thank God. Dave's world narrowed to the monitor and the space bar and the little whirring grinding sounds. He shifted in his seat and got comfortable, only vaguely noticing that the mousepad was damp under his left wrist.
A few seconds later there was a soft whoomph and a flicker of orangish light, neither thing really attracting Dave's attention. The last interrupt-query had spat out half a page of lightly corrupted English text, text with familiar names in it, and Dave was so enthralled by this proof that his crude hammer and chisel was, in fact, working that he had no time to spare for anything else. His left arm went a little warm. Hey, some tiny part of Dave's consciousness thought, mousepad's on fire, and without taking his eyes off the monitor Dave picked up his half-empty coffee mug and dumped it onto the flames.
A billowing cloud of coffee- and burnt-rubber-scented steam belched up from beside him. Absently Dave shuffled the keyboard out of the way of the spreading puddle and hit the space bar again, completely deaf to the sudden lack of talking going on around him. Someone whistled, long and low; the sound just barely penetrated his concentration. Dave held up a finger. "I can't stop this process right now," he said, jabbing the space bar again. "I'll be with you in a second."
a pause. "Sure," someone said. Dave let his hand drop and fell back into
rapt communion with his machines, as an afterthought nudging the charred
remains of the mousepad off into the trash.
After a moment Nate shook his head and tore his eyes away from Rich's lair, now that the spectacle was over. Smoke was still eddying furtively around on the ceiling, though, and the room stank like burning tires and scorched coffee. "Whoa," Nate breathed. "Hardcore."
"Not bad," Johnny allowed, leaning back in his chair and poking his lighter back into his jeans pocket. "Stinks like hell, though."
"Yeah, itoh crap!" Nate bounded out of his chair, grabbing an empty folder off the table. "Mike, get the windows!"
"Huh?" Mike said, blinking.
"The smoke detector," Nate said urgently, wedging himself in behind the unresponsive Dave and whipping the folder back and forth over Dave's head, forcing the smoke back and away from the detector on the wall. Dave just hunched his shoulders slightly and went on poking the space bar. "If we set off the alarms again Upstairs said he was going to fine us, remember?"
"Oh, crap!" Mike vaulted from his chair and jumped onto the table, fumbling for the lock that held the nearest narrow casement window closed. After a moment of fighting with it it screeched free and Mike was able to punch the window open, letting in a swirl of damp October air to mitigate the smoke.
"Shit," Johnny said, sounding vaguely sheepish. "Forgot all about that."
"Um, you know what, I'm going to have to revise the ground rules here," Sandra said, standing in the doorway and watching the commotion. "No physical harm, and no fire."
Johnny ran a hand back over his hair. "Yeah. Uh. Sorry. No more fire. Out of lighter fluid anyway."
Snickering, Mike stopped fighting with the second window long enough to aim a lazy kick at Johnny's head. Johnny ducked under it and reflexively punched Mike's foot away; Mike, thrown off-balance, went reeling off the side of the table and crashed to the floor with a ground-shaking thud, knocking chairs everywhere. "Fuck!" he wailed, from somewhere.
"... you all right?" Johnny asked. Mike didn't answer. Johnny's face creased up in a frown and he levered himself about halfway out of his chair, peering over the far edge of the table. Mike's hand immediately shot out from under the table and grabbed Johnny's ankle; Johnny had just enough time to grunt in surprise before Mike jerked him under the table. Johnny vanished, his butt hitting his chair on the way down and sending it clattering back to bang against the far wall, next to Nate. The table jumped several inches to the left. Nate's carefully laid-out tools went everywhere.
"Careful!" Nate yelped, dropping the folder on Dave's head and throwing himself at the table. "The phone!"
"Hey!" Sandra snapped, lunging for the table herself. Dropping into a crouch she reached under the table and made a blind grab, hauling a laughing Mike out by the back of his t-shirt a second later. "Now is the time when you chill!" she yelled in his face, shaking him a little for good measure.
"Okay, okay!" Mike said, still laughing, holding up both of his scabby hands to ward her off. "In my defense, he totally started it that time."
"Yes, all right, that's true, except for the part where you tried to kick him in the head," Sandra said. She let go of his t-shirt and flexed her fingers. "Still, he may have started it, but you kept it going, and nearly knocked Diana Fontaine's cell phone off the table to boot."
The smile faded from Mike's face pretty quickly. "Ooh, crap," he said, abashed. "Sorry about that. Is it okay?"
"I think so," Nate said, scrambling around picking up his fallen tools. Johnny was still under the table, but he seemed to be conscious and breathing, so Nate left him alone. "You just kind of made a mess."
"Shit. Sorry. You need help?"
Nate stood up, his hands full. "It's okay, I got it."
"Fuck, my head," Johnny said from under the table. Mike opened his mouth to respond to that and Sandra slapped him across the back of the head so fast he didn't get a single word out. Mike shut his mouth and looked injured. Johnny pulled himself out, one hand cupped around the back of his head. "Think I hit it on my chair."
"You okay?" Sandra asked.
"Think so." Johnny pulled his hand away from the back of his head and looked at it, then shrugged. "Not bleedin', anyway."
They all went quiet. In the background, Dave's space bar clicked monotonously on. "I'm glad Simon wasn't here to see that," Sandra finally said, sighing. "Although I guess it'd have made him feel right at home."
"Huh," said Nate, watching Dave, who was so far in the zone that the ruckus didn't seem to have registered at all. It gave him an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach. After a moment he went back over and picked up the fallen folder, fanning desultorily at the remains of the smoke as an excuse to peer over Dave's shoulder. "Huh," he said again, watching the code snippets flicker by.
"Huh?" said Dave, momentarily emerging. "I can't stop right now"
"it's okay," said Nate. "Keep going."
By the time Simon got back from HR with Jeremy in tow, Nate had the wet phone in pieces, all the different bits laid out in a neat grid on a large sheet of plastic. Simon took one look at the ongoing dissection and dropped into his seat without a word, waving Sandra to silence as she poked her head out of his office.
"It's okay," Nate said, gingerly peeling a wet leaf off the phone's back and then having to shake it off his gloved fingers. "I'm not concentrating all that hard."
"Oh, good," said Simon. "So what's the word?"
Nate blew out a breath. "Well, frankly, I'd be more comfortable if I had another phone of this model to compare it to. I've been comparing it to some hobbyist tech sheets I found on the net" he waved a hand at his computer "and that's good, but not perfect."
"We can spring for one if we have to," Simon said immediately, just like Nate had known he would. "Have you got any kind of preliminary assessment at all?"
Nate took a deep breath. "There's no bug in here," he said. All around him the room went still, and he hastened to add, "But see this?" Picking up the smallest tweezers from his little pile of tools, he pinched up that stupid little gold wire that had been bugging him for half an hour and looked back at Simon. "This wire leads from the earpiece to nowhere, and it leads to nowhere along the back of the case. Seems I was wrong. If there was some kind of listening device attached to this, then it could have fallen out when she threw the phone and it hit the tree or whatever. That's why I want another phone like this to compare it to"
"we'll get you one," said Simon. "What's the model number?"
"because if the other phone doesn't have the wire, then Farraday put this wire here and her phone was bugged," Nate said, borne on his momentum and also not wanting to get to the next part.
"Specs," Simon said, his voice going all patient and coaxing. "What's the model number?"
Nate went a little red and nudged his glasses up with the back of his wrist. "That's the other problem," he said unwillingly.
"Oh, Christ, I hate other problems," Simon said, flopping back in his chair. "What's up?"
"This phone's at least three years old." Nate picked the phone's plastic back up and turned it over, running his thumb over the worn faceplate. The raised logo caught at the latex of his gloves. "I know that because that's when the manufacturer stopped making them. I can probably get one off eBay no problem, but it'll take days to get here and might have been tampered with itself."
"Crap," said Simon. "Any chance that one of the stores in the area might have one stuck away in a back room somewhere?"
Nate blew out a breath. "Three years old? It's not likely. Not impossible, I guess."
Simon thought furiously for a moment, scowling off into midair over Nate's shoulder. "Okay," he finally said. "Here's what I want us to do. Nate, go see if you can get one online. Tell the guy you'll pay for overnight shipping, whatever, just get that started so that we definitely have one en route. In the meantime, I'll start calling around and see if I can find a store in the metro area that still happens to have one. If we end up paying for two, well, they're old cellphones, I think we can afford it."
"I get to browse eBay from work?" Nate said. "I love my job!" He started stripping off his gloves, throwing up a cloud of powder around himself. "I'm going to leave this stuff all spread out to dry," he said, rubbing his dusty fingers together absently. "Once it's dry we can send it down to the lab and get it all fingerprintedif we find Farraday's prints on the phone's guts, that'll basically tell me the same thing."
"Awesome, although unfortunately the asshole isn't usually that stupid," Simon said. He fumbled gingerly around at his belt, wincing a bit, and eventually pulled out his phone. "I'll start making these calls and then delegate it to the Danger Twins once they get back. Spring, get me the yellow pages. Archer, you maybe want to be of some use and help?"
Jeremy blinked. "Excuse me?"
"Help?" Simon said patiently. "You know, give aid, render assistance, try not to be totally useless for once in your little English life?"
"Let me get this straight," said Jeremy, clasping his hands on the table and raising an eyebrow at Simon. "You want me to ring up various mobile phone shops under your aegis, identify myself as an FBI agentwhich, I might add, is a felonyand ask them to kindly search their storerooms for three-year-old phones?"
"Well, yeah. You got a problem with that?"
"On the contrary," said Jeremy, producing his own phone like a magic trick, "I wouldn't miss this opportunity for the world."
As was generally the case, it only took a few moments of negotiating with eBay (and another five minutes of waiting impatiently for the search results to load) for Nate to find what he was looking for. Hundreds of what he was looking for. Of course, out of all those entries, all but three were scammers, knockoffs, overseas dealers, or people selling off their old, used, broken phones, which made it pretty easy to narrow his choices down.
"Found one," he said over his shoulder. "It's got a Buy It Now and it's supposedly mint in box, but it's one of those big-ass high-volume dealers" Simon glanced up and shot Nate a thumbs-up, then put a finger over his lips. Nate obligingly shut up and bought the phone.
The saferoom door boomed open. Nate jumped and twisted around in his chair just as Mike came bombing in. "Miz Fontaine's all safe and sound" Mike started to say, then noticed Simon on the phone and strangled himself back to a low mumble. "and I dropped Johnny off at the car place," he finished sheepishly.
Simon held up a hand like a traffic cop. "I see. Well, thank you anyway," he said into his phone. Mike caught the saferoom door and guiltily eased it closed behind him as Simon folded his phone away. "Mike! My man!" said Simon, turning about halfway around in his chair and jerking to an abrupt halt before he was quite done. "Oh, boy," he went on, now slightly breathless, "am I ever glad to see you."
"Aw, fuck," Mike immediately said. "What kind of awful shit do you want me to do now?"
"You get to call a bunch of cell phone places!" Simon said, still gruesomely cheerful. He tapped the phone book that was laying open halfway between himself and Jeremy. "We've done up to here. I want you to finish off the section."
"Do I have to stop?" Jeremy asked, putting his hand over the mouthpiece of his phone. "I'm rather enjoying myself."
Simon snorted. "Yeah, you can stop now," he said. "Sorry to ruin your fun and all that, but, you know, there's that thing where Mike is a real FBI agent and has the actual authority to make these requests, whereas you? You are just racking up the offenses over there."
"Ah, well, so much for that enjoyable abuse of borrowed power," said Jeremy equably. "I'll stop after this one."
Simon turned back to Mike. "We're looking for another one of those," he said, pointing over his shoulder to where Nate had left Diana Fontaine's cell phone in pieces. "Nobody's had 'em for three years, but there's a chance that there might be one lurking about in the back room of one of these places, so call 'em and ask. And don't touch that one or jostle the table or you're fired. Okay?"
"Will do," said Mike, jogging around past Simon and thumping down in his own chair. Jeremy pushed the phone book at him.
"If worst comes to worst we could probably flash our credentials and get one out of the manufacturer," Nate said tentatively. "If they haven't all been destroyed, that is."
"Yeah, maybe," said Simon, tapping his fingers on the table. "Thing is, we'd have to negotiate with half the damned company before we found somebody who actually knew where they were, they'd still have to ship it to us, and they'd send us the wrong thing out of, of sheer boneheadedness."
"And we'd probably have to get a court order to get the actual design specs out of them, even if they're three years out of date," Nate said gloomily. "I hate tech companies."
"Can't imagine why, Specs," Simon said.
"Ah, well," said Jeremy beside him, and it startled Nate for a moment before he realized that Jeremy was speaking into his phone. "Thank you for your time." He hung up and made his phone vanish, sighing. "Do you know, only two people seemed even remotely suspicious of a man with my accent claiming to be with the FBI? And not a single one thought to actually challenge the assertion or ask for proof. Personally I find it disheartening, but I must admit that as a thief I find it very encouraging."
"Yeah, well, don't let it encourage you the wrong way," Simon said. He sank back in his chair, putting a hand over his heart. "Oof."
Jeremy studied him. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Simon said, flapping an irritable hand in Jeremy's direction. He didn't quite look fine, but he looked okay. Okayish. "I'll make it until five, in any case. Then we'll go." He looked over at Nate. "Think that thing's dry yet?"
"Oh! Oh, yeah, probably," said Nate, pushing himself out of his chair. "I'll bag it back up and run it down to the lab, which will... probably not even glance at it until next week."
"Tomorrow. Tell them tomorrow or I'm coming down there and bleeding on them." Simon rubbed his chest absently. "And I am a pro bleeder. I bleed like a champ. I've had practice."
"Okay," Nate said, already distracted by his search for a clean evidence bag. There ought to have been hundreds in his supply closet; he knew there were hundreds of them in here, but they'd been buried under other things over the years and it was always a struggle to find one. Kind of like fishing in the box of cereal for your cheap plastic prize. Nate finally found a small box of them wedged uncomfortably behind one of Rich's old dead printers and dug it out with a minimum of fuss, only dropping one piddly little box of case screwdrivers on his foot. Nate took three bags and fetched another pair of latex gloves while he was at it.
Pulling on the gloves he divided the dissected cell phone into three piles: one for the bits he wanted the lab to fingerprint, one for the assorted bits that weren't likely to hold prints, and one for the actual memory chip, which could probably be salvaged and copied onto Diana's new phone, whenever she got one. It could also be copied onto Nate's hard drive, which he intended to do just as soon as he got a moment to steal Rich's cable-tribble. Just in case.
With that thought clearly in mind he picked up the first bag, turned to go and nearly jumped out of his skin: Dave had emerged silently from his programmer's trance at some point and was now staring wide-eyed at him. Nate had almost forgotten he was there at all. "Did Mr. Story ever post to Usenet?" Dave asked, with no preamble.
"Yeah," croaked Nate, blinking. He cleared his throat. "Yeah, all the time. There were a couple of messageboards he liked to go to, too. I told IT."
Dave nodded. "Do you know the email addresses he usually used?"
"Maybe?" Nate scuffed at his hair with one hand, which turned out to be a really bad idea, since he was still wearing the gloves. He winced and started peeling those off. "I know a few of them. I think IT got court orders to have them all opened and forwarded, though."
"That's good," said Dave, his pale eyes unfocusing. "What happened to his home computers?"
"IT has them," Nate said. He shifted from one foot to the other, a little unnerved by all this sudden attention. "They'd all already erased themselves by the time IT got there. He must have started the process remotely."
"Okay," said Dave, glancing around. "What happened to his old work computers when he replaced them?"
"He took them home, usually." Nate sighed. "I guess he destroyed them there, or something. There are a couple of broken peripherals in the supply closet, printers and stuff"
Dave's eyes abruptly slammed back into focus. "He didn't throw those away?"
Nate couldn't help it. He laughed. "Rich? Oh, man, Rich never threw a machine away unless it had caught on fire or something. Sometimes not even then. We used to fix and rebuild stuff all the time."
Dave. "Okay. Thanks." Those weird pale eyes flicked down and away, ending
the half-interrogation and undoing Nate's paralysis. Nate frowned, then
shook his head and picked his way to the door, evidence bag in hand.
Four new tires, a new headlight, and a quick wash later, Johnny's truck was officially pronounced hideous but borderline road-safe. Johnny ransomed it and headed back to work, kind of enjoying how the shiny new scratches on the hood added a whole new dimension of ugly to the truck. It wouldn't last. The rust would catch up to the exposed metal sooner or later. But for right now it felt kind of like being awarded a medal or something, and Johnny couldn't say he minded that at all.
Eleven bent and rusty nails rattled around in the ashtray, fresh from his old tires. Johnny was of a mind to leave them there, in case he needed a conversation piece. Wasn't like he used the ashtray for anything else these days.
He waved his ID at the parking gate and rolled in, then parked around back. For a moment he just sat there, hands on the steering wheel, scanning the parking lothe found himself looking for Mike's car and snorted at himselfthen finally let himself out and headed for the building, pretty sure that Farraday wasn't lurking around. Man would have to be crazy. Well, all right, Farraday was pretty fucking crazy, but Johnny felt like that was beside the point. As Mike would put it, Farraday was crazy, but he wasn't crazy crazy.
Farraday's sanity notwithstanding, Johnny made it into the building without any hassle. The saferoom door opened just as he reached for it, and he nearly collided with the new guy, who was on his way out; the new guy yelped and fell back, both arms twitching up to protect his face. Nervous fellow, except when he wasn't. "Pardon me!" he said, edging out and into the hallway, his eyes still wide. "I'll get out of your way, I'm sorry!" And off he went, striding so fast down the hall that he was almost running. It made him look like an infuriated stork. Johnny watched him go, bemused, then let himself in.
Most everybody else was there when he got back to the room, although Nate was off somewhere, which meant that Farraday hadn't broken cover in the last hour. That they knew about, anyway. Mike, on the phone, raised a hand and mouthed a soundless "Hey". Johnny nodded back and sat down.
Simon shifted stiffly in his chair, eventually getting himself turned around to face Johnny. "So," he said, slowly, like he was savoring the words. "Three flat tires."
"Nah, all four," Johnny said. "Last one went flat when they hosed the mud off it. Plus a dead headlight and a bunch of scratches."
"Daaaaamn," said Simon.
"Got eleven nails in the ashtray," Johnny said. "Think someone's gonna want 'em back?"
"I don't know. Do you think they're gonna need those nails to put their barn back together?"
"Take more than that," said Johnny. "Someone really did a number on that barn."
"Yeah, so I hear." Simon paused, then shook his head and snorted out a laugh. "Christ, Texas."
Johnny grinned around his toothpick, feeling pretty good. "Worked, didn't it?"
"Yeah, guess so," Simon said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "I were you, I'd send Honda the bill."
"What?" Mike said, blinking up at them. "What? Oh. Yeah, I'll pay you backyeah?" he said into his phone, startled back into his other conversation. "Oh. Oh. Okay. I appreciate your checking for me. Thanks anyway." With a sigh Mike pulled his phone away from his ear and hung it up. "Man, boss, ain't no one got one of these phones."
"Yeah," Simon said. "How many more places have you got left to call?"
"Two more." Mike stretched his arms up above his head and groaned a little, then collapsed back into his chair like all his strings were cut. "But for serious, Texas, how much was it? I'll write you a check."
"Eh, make it three hundred, we'll call it even," said Johnny, shutting his eyes. "Havin' that story to tell oughta cover the rest."
"Shit, yeah. I'll pay you back when the insurance company coughs up, how's that?"
Johnny considered this. "Works. Assuming I don't die of old age first."
"Yeah, well, that's always a possibility, what with you being ninety and all," said Mike, punching another number into his phone. Johnny lazily kicked at him under the table; he missed, but he figured he'd made his point. Mike beamed at him and ostentatiously scooted his chair back a few inches. "Gimme a sec here."
"So Diana Fontaine's all settled in?" Simon asked Johnny. Mike's voice dropped to a low background hum.
"Yeah." Johnny cracked an eye open. "Nate's mom got her up a couple of changes of clothes this morning, so she's good. We've got her down at a Vantage, kinda midrange." Meditatively he chewed on his toothpick, splintering it in his teeth. "Box of a building, four ways in 'less he wants to break a window or hit the roof."
Simon nodded. "Good. That'll make it easy to keep Farraday out."
"Or box him in," Johnny said, flicking his used toothpick into the trashcan behind him.
"Or box him in," Simon agreed. He shuffled around in his chair and groaned under his breath. "Christ. Every police department in a hundred miles of here is looking for this asshole, we've chased down everybody he used to hang with, we've got people watching every border crossing between here and, and North Dakota, and nothing. Not a goddamned thing. Where the hell is he? If something doesn't break by Friday I swear I'm going to start waving Diana Fontaine around like a goddamned red flag."
"That what they call 'being proactive'?" Johnny asked.
"No, that's what they call 'being pretty fucking callous'," Simon said. "Still, if she set Mike up..." He trailed off there and shrugged. Johnny shrugged back.
"I'm still not convinced she did," Mike put in, his hand over the mouthpiece of his phone. He was frowning. "Still, shit, if her phone wasn't bugged, guess she had to have, right?"
"Right," said Simon. "From what you've told us, she's the one who steered you to Truslow. There could be any number of reasons for that, but one possibility is that she knew he was there and she drove you straight into him."
"Which would just be fuckin' cold," said Mike, shaking his head. He pulled his hand off the mouthpiece. "Yes? No? Well, thanks for checking." He hung up. "Still, either way, at least she's out of Nate's house."
"Christ, yeah," Simon said. "I mean, I get why you took her there and all, but the last goddamned thing I want is for Farraday to have a reason to hit up Nate again" He broke off there and went all still, his eyes flicking right.
Whoops, Johnny thought. "He knows," he said, at the same moment that Jeremy said, "I've heard."
Simon jerked in his seat. "What?" His forehead wrinkled and one of his hands crept up and pressed against his chest. "Who told you? Christ, that's none of your business, that was a total dick move on somebody's part"
"Actually, Nate told me himself," Jeremy said, folding his hands around his mug.
Simon went quiet, chewing on the inside of his cheek and eyeing Jeremy narrowly. Jeremy, expressionless, sat there and waited him out. The staring contest went on for a second or two too long, then Simon heaved out a breath and lost, shaking his head. "Okay, so you know. Long as Nate told you himself, guess I can't make too big a deal over it, right?"
"That's what I'd been hoping, yes," Jeremy said, his tight little smile coming and going so fast that Johnny almost missed it. On the other side of the table Mike took a belated breath and turned back to the phone book, tapping in the last number.
Simon let his hand drop. "So how much did Nate tell you? He can't have told you the whole rest of the story. He wasn't there for most of it. Uh. Obviously."
"He, ah..." Jeremy paused. His expression went guarded again. "The last thing he mentioned was waking up in the hospital."
"So he stopped there?" Simon asked. "Didn't tell you about Amanda and Carole Winston or anything?" Jeremy shook his head. Simon heaved out a breath and relaxed. "Well, Christ, we can't just leave it there, with us looking like bumbling idiots and all. Now you have to hear the rest of the story or I don't know how I'll sleep at night, knowing that you think we're stupid."
Jeremy's smile flickered again. It looked more real this time. "Oh, I'd say that I had an opinion on your team's respective intelligences or lack thereof long before I'd had a chance to hear the story, Simon."
Simon's face snapped back into its sour-mouthed glare. From the other side of the table Mike fought down a snicker. "Yeah?" Johnny said, unable to let that one go past. "So which one of us is the stupid one, Archer?"
The look Jeremy gave him was nothing short of pained. "I am, if I even consider answering that."
"Anyway," Simon said. "Texas, you want to tell this part, since it was you that fielded the call and all?"
Johnny thought about protesting thathe wasn't much of a storytellerbut a glance in Simon's direction confirmed that Simon was sweating a bit and starting to slump in his chair. "Guess I can," Johnny said. "Jump in if I skip something."
Simon waved a hand and settled down further in his chair, like he was melting. "Will do."
Johnny paused and shut his eyes, getting his thoughts in order. Blindly he groped around in his shirt pocket, producing another toothpick; he gave it a meditative gnawing, flooding his mouth with the taste of mint. "Nate's all laid up in a hospital in Allentown, right."
"Fucking cut to shit," Mike put in from across the table. "what? No, ma'am, I'm sorry, I wasn't talking to you"
really hurt all that bad," said Johnny. "Cut up, yeah, but
pretty shallow. Flesh wounds." Jeremy nodded, watching him. Johnny shifted
uncomfortably, but plunged on. "Anyway. We're all at the hospital, his
doc tells us that he's mostly out of danger, and
moved on, murmuring his exhausted condolences. Johnny watched him go; once he rounded a corner, Johnny kicked his bootheel against the shiny hospital flooring, listening to the dull boom of its echo with half an ear. "I'm staying."
"Hell you are," said Simon, rubbing a hand over his drawn face for about the fiftieth time that hour. He'd managed to wash up at some point but there were still little flecks of blood caught under his fingernails. Johnny didn't feel too much like pointing that out. "Go back to the motel with the others and get some sleep. I'll stay. It's my job."
"Yeah," said Johnny. "It's your job. I'm still staying."
Simon pulled his hand away from his face and gave Johnny a long, hard, suspicious stare, and Johnny lifted his chin and braced for impact. "You have something you want to say?" Simon finally said, anger bubbling so close to the surface of his calm that Johnny could almost taste it. "Go ahead and say it."
"Nah," Johnny said, shaking his head and breaking that eye contact before it could get any worse. "I don't. Nothing I could say you don't already know for yourself." He paused, waiting to see if Simon was going to blow up; Simon didn't, just continued to watch him. Johnny took a deep breath and planted both feet, prompting another wave of echoes up and down the empty hallway. "Not about fault right now. It's about responsibility. I'm staying."
Finally Simon nodded and looked away. He looked about fifty years older all of a sudden. "Suit yourself. Go tell Honda to take the others to the motel. Bring some coffee when you come back."
"Yeah," said Johnny, and turned to go, and paused. "It's not your fault," he said over his shoulder. "It's mine." He left before Simon could say anything else.
The rest of the night dragged by, and Johnny and Simon spent it on a padded bench outside the ICU. Simon kicked his feet out into the hallway and let his head thump back against the wall, staring blindly at the ceiling; Johnny laced his hands together in the space between his knees and stared down at them, running his thumbs idly over the hard knots of his knuckles.
They didn't talk about it, not for a while. They sat there and thought their own thoughts and watched the occasional person in scrubs go by, and it wasn't until nearly four in the morning that Simon shifted, scratched at the stubble on his cheek, and said, "It's not your fault, Texas."
"Yeah, it is," said Johnny. His voice sounded rough, like he hadn't used it in a year. "I'm the one forgot to make sure the sliding door was locked."
"I'm the one who left him there," Simon said. His hand dropped back into his lap. "If we'd kept him with us he'd have been fine."
Neither of them said what Johnny's mind had been shying away from all this time: that maybe, possibly there was a little blame left over for Nate, too. Johnny wasn't about to throw blame at Nate along with everything else; he figured that Nate had paid the check for everybody in any case. So he shook his head a little and said, "Well, mostly I figure it's Farraday's fault."
Simon snorted. "Yeah, you can say that again."
Johnny looked back down at his knuckles. "I'm gonna kill him," he said, trying on the thought for size. He wasn't sure he liked it, but he thought he liked saying it just fine. "I get a clear shot and a chance"
"No, you're not," said Simon, interrupting him. The denial had the flat sound of an order about it. "I mean, if he doesn't give us a choice, yeah, we'll take him down, and I for one will not be too heartbroken about it. But we're not a goddamned vigilante squad, Texas. We're the law, and we're going to take this fucker down by the book."
"Yeah?" But Johnny's heart wasn't in ithadn't ever really been. "You still be able to say that if Nate was dead?"
Simon was quiet for so long that Johnny almost thought he'd gone to sleep. "No," Simon finally said, sounding just as old as he looked.
"Some folks just need killing," Johnny offered.
"Some folks do," Simon agreed. "But we're not going to be the ones to do it."
Johnny thought about it. "Yeah," he said, eventually. "Guess I'm all emotional at the moment."
"I always thought your emotions were going to get the better of you some day, Texas," said Simon, and Johnny could not for the life of him tell if Simon was joking or not.
They moved Nate out of the ICU just as the sun was rising. He was pale and unconscious, but alive; three lines of blue plastic knots marched like ants from the loose neckline of his hospital gown to about halfway up his throat. His glasses were gone. Their loss made him look small and broken. Johnny hadn't even thought to look for them in the confusion; maybe after this was all over but the shouting, he and Mike could go back, see if they couldn't find Nate's glasses.
Two orderlies rolled Nate's giant plastic hospital bed down the hallwayit was like something out of a science fiction movie, and Johnny made a note of that, intending to tell Nate laterand a nurse padded along beside it guiding the IV pole. Johnny and Simon, after quick stricken glances at the unconscious Nate, fell into step on the other side. Johnny kept his eyes on the floor.
They put Nate in a regular room and hooked him up to a bunch of machines. "I'm not going to try to make you leave," the nurse said, her voice somewhere between kind and severe. "But what he needs now is rest. Keep it quiet."
"Yeah," said Simon. He was standing by the side of Nate's bed with his hands on the rail; he hadn't looked at her once. "Thanks. We'll be good."
The nurse nodded, glanced at Johnny, and left. Johnny turned on his heel, taking in the room: it wasn't much to look at, but there was a visitor's chair and a padded bench set just under the window. Outside the sky was just beginning to turn purple. Johnny dropped heavily onto the bench. Simon stayed where he was.
Mike showed up at seven with coffee, doughnuts, and news. One of the three had him jittering nervously in place, and he more or less dragged Simon and Johnny back out into the hallway. "Oh, fuck, Templar," he said, a little too loudly. A nurse glared at him and he folded, hunching his shoulders and pitching his voice lower. "The state police called half an hour agoTemplar, Farraday burned the fucking apartment complex down!"
Simon jerked like he'd been slapped, his eyes going wide. "What? Burned it down?"
"All three buildings," Mike confirmed, pushing a styrofoam cup of coffee into Johnny's hands. "That's no fucking accident. Least I guess it was himwho else woulda done it?"
"Jesus Christ," said Simon.
Johnny swayed a little but caught himself. He was just about all in, and the glance that Simon shot him said that he wasn't hiding it well. "Man's a sore loser," he said, shaking his head. The coffee was terrible. He drank it down anyway.
"No," Simon said. His lips were a thin line. "There was something there he didn't want us to find."
"Little of both, maybe," said Johnny. "Cover his tracks and flip us off all at once."
"Yeah," said Simon. "Yeah. Jesus, this fucker's taunting us." His hands flexed impotently at his sides.
Mike glanced past Simon at the door. "He wake up at all?" Mike asked in a hushed little voice, jerking his head towards the door like there was some doubt about who he was talking about.
Simon turned halfway around, following Mike's glance. "Not yet," he said heavily. It was his turn to sway on his feet and Simon grabbed his temples, tenting a hand over his eyes. "Christ."
"C'mon, let's go back in, it'd totally suck if he woke up and no one was there," said Mike. His eyes flickered nervously to Simon and away and then he pushed past, letting himself into Nate's hospital room. Simon let his hand drop and followed, nearly sleepwalking; Johnny threw back the last of his coffee, flipped the empty cup into a nearby trashcan, and brought up the rear.
It hadn't changed much since they left. Nate still lay like a stitched-up rag doll in the sci-fi bed, arms by his sides, palms up like a benediction. Mike huddled at the foot of the bed like he was trying to make himself small, wincing. "Fuck," he whispered, his voice all thick. "Fucking awful."
"Yeah," Simon said, his voice so matter-of-fact that it was kind of awful itself. "It is that."
Mike glanced back and forth. "Where are his glasses?"
"Don't know," Johnny said. "He didn't have 'em. Guess Farraday took 'em."
In retrospect, it was exactly the wrong thing to say, although Johnny wouldn't know it for hours yet. Mike's eyes shot open wide and then narrowed again. "Like a fucking trophy?"
"Dunno," Johnny said again. "Maybe he just threw 'em somewhere..." He trailed off there. Mike's eyes had glazed over, and he'd turned to look at Nate again. He wasn't listening any more. Johnny shut up.
There was a knock on the door, feather-light, and then Sandra let herself in. "Hey," she said under her breath. Her eyes darted to Nate and away.
"Hey yourself," said Simon. "Rich here too?"
Sandra shook her head. "He's still back at the motel."
"Fucked up," Mike said in sepulchral awe. "That was a fuckin' scene"
"Mike," Sandra said. There was an edge to her voice that made Mike shut up, and fast.
Simon straightened up, frowning. "What?" he said, alerted by Sandra's tone. "What happened to Rich?"
"He..." Sandra stopped and sighed. "He's taking it pretty hard. You know how it is, those two are pretty close."
Simon exhaled, long and loud, and let himself deflate, hunkering down until he could rest his forehead against the plastic side of Nate's bed. "Oh, Christ. I didn't even think about how Rich would take it." After a silent moment, he lifted his head and let it fall again. Thump.
After a worried glance in Simon's direction, Sandra shut her eyes. "I eventually made him take one of my Ambien," she said. "He was out like a light when we left."
"Yeah," said Simon. He lifted his head and let it fall against the side of the bed again. Thump. "Good idea. Jesus, poor Rich."
"Simon, stop that," Sandra said, her voice helpless and pleading. It didn't sound like her, and it made Johnny uncomfortable. "You're not helping anything"
"Wh," Nate muttered, and just like that he had everybody's attention. Simon shot to his feet so fast that he stumbled forward against the side of Nate's bed and got a railing in his stomach for his troubles. "Whuh," Nate croaked, and his eyes flickered halfway open, unfocused and small.
"Hey, there you are," said Simon, managing to force some cheer into his voice. Of course, his voice also shook, but you couldn't have everything. "I was beginning to think you'd sleep all day, you lazyass."
Nate tried to smile and one hand groped up from the bed. Simon took Nate's hand in both of his; a little frown creased Nate's forehead and he twitched his hand out of Simon's grip and started patting blindly around. He swallowed and licked his lips. "Glasses?"
Simon closed his eyes like he was in pain. "Don't have 'em, I'm afraid," he said. "We, uh, didn't have time to look for them."
Nate let his hand drop. "Oh," he said, closing his eyes.
"You're gonna be fine," Simon said, reaching down to pick up that hand again. This time Nate let him have it. "The doctor says you aren't actually hurt all that bad."
"S'what..." Nate swallowed again. "... Farraday p... promised."
He couldn't have electrified the room more if he'd used actual current, which wasn't beyond him, normally. The four of them traded shocked glances, then Simon hunkered down by Nate's side again. "Nate, can you tell me what he said to you?"
Nate's forehead creased again, and he coughed twice, little raspy sounds. Sandra eased herself around behind Simon and picked up the glass on the tray table. "Have some water," she said softly, and she leaned past Simon's shoulder and guided the straw to Nate's lips.
Once he'd drunk his fill, Nate sighed and ran his tongue over his lips again. "He said... he hurt me because he needed to make you all leave."
"What?" Simon said, pretty much purely out of denial as far as Johnny could tell.
"He fi... figured that if I was hurt you'd have to... take me to a hospital," Nate explained. "So you'd leave." His entire face closed up in a wince. "He... he apologized. First."
Mike abruptly whipped around and punched the nearest wall, leaving a dent in the plaster. His upper lip lifted, baring his teeth. "Fuck," he growled under his breath, lightly thumping his knuckles against the broken place on the wall again.
"Jesus," Simon breathed, apparently in agreement. He absently patted Nate's hand and then put it back down on the bed with exaggerated care, like Nate was made of glass or something. "Get some more rest," Simon said. "Someone will stay with you while you sleep, okay?"
"Okay," Nate said. His voice was already distant. His face smoothed out as he drifted back off.
Simon rested his forehead against the side of Nate's bed again, closing his eyes. "I'm done in," he abruptly said, his voice rough, like it hurt to admit it. "I wanted to be here when he woke up, but I can't stay awake much longer."
"Yeah," said Johnny, figuring it was okay to say so now. "Me neither."
"We'll stay with him," Sandra said, her voice regaining that businesslike edge. Beside her Mike nodded, rubbing his bruised knuckles. "Actually, I'll stay with him. Mike, why don't you take them back to the motel? I don't think either of them are in any condition to drive."
"I'm coming back," Mike said stubbornly. "Once I drop them off, I'm totally coming back."
Sandra nodded, closing her eyes. "I'd hoped you would."
Mike opened his mouth, like he was either going to protest further or say something inappropriate, then closed it again and nodded. "Let's go," Simon said, shoving himself back to his feet with a grunt.
Mike let them off in front of their rooms. They stood there for long enough to watch Mike pull back into traffic, then Simon glanced in Johnny's direction, his face drawn and set. "I'm gonna go crash in Nate and Rich's room," he said with no preamble. "I don't want Rich to be alone when he wakes up."
Johnny nodded, relaxing fractionally. "Good idea."
Simon fumbled at his belt, pulling his cell phone off. "Here," he said, pushing it into Johnny's hands. "I don't want it to wake Rich. You get to play secretary and field my calls. Doesn't that sound fucking awesome?" By the end of this little speech his voice was strident, almost angry; then he wobbled on his feet again, squeezing his eyes shut. "Oh, Jesus," he said in a much weaker voice.
"Yeah, I can do that," Johnny said carefully, clipping Simon's cell phone onto his belt next to his own. "I'll come knock if it's important."
"Yeah," Simon echoed weakly. "Christ, sleep now, my heart's starting to beat funny."
Johnny lifted his hand to squeeze Simon's shoulder, then hesitated. Simon, catching the gesture out of the corner of his eye, moved to complete it, slapping his hand into Johnny's own. His other hand came up and for a moment he held Johnny's hand clapped in both of his, like a promise. "Get some sleep," he said, dropping Johnny's hand again.
Johnny nodded, letting his hand fall to his side. "Be a pleasure." Leaving Simon where he was Johnny dragged his ass to the room he'd been sharing with Mike, silently grateful for those heavy light-eating motel curtains. It took everything he had left to strip out of his boots and jeans before he fell face-first onto the bed, and he fell asleep so quickly that it was more like passing out.
For a miracle he got almost six hours of sleep, deep and dark as the grave, before Simon's phone shrilled from the floor beside the bed and jerked him awake. Johnny fumbled it off his discarded belt and sat up, flicking it open. It threw its miniscule light against the wall. "Yeah," he said, his voice a gravel pit.
"This is the DC switchboard," a businesslike female voice informed him. "I have an outside call for Simon Drake; I am transferring it now. Please hold."
"Yeah," Johnny said again, blinking and scratching his chest, but the clicking on the line told him that the operator hadn't waited for his acknowledgment before starting the transfer. It clicked twice more and then Johnny could hear breathing on the line. "Hello?" he said.
"Finally," the woman on the other end said, her voice a grating mix of relief and petulance. "God, I've been shunted from place to place for an hour now, don't any of you assholes know what you're doing?"
Johnny shut his eyes and ran a hand down his face, nearly lacerating himself on two days' worth of stubble. "Ma'am, what's this about?"
"What's this" She broke off there, outraged. "They didn't even tell you? God!"
"Afraid not." Johnny scratched his knee, vaguely aware of the long laddered scar under his fingertips, a souvenir of his patrol days. "Appreciate it if you'd bring me up to speed."
"It's about the Colonel!" she said. "God, what elseColonel Farraday!"
Johnny's hand stilled. "Yes'm," he said. "I can help you with that."
"Fucking finally," the woman said, and it wasn't relief Johnny was hearing in her voice so much as it was relish: this was a woman who was hoping she got some people in trouble. "I called 911, and they shunted me to the local police, and they made me tell the story like fifty times and sent me around and around in their system and finally told me to call the FBI, and I did, and they sent me to another FBI number, and they connected me to you, and it's about time!"
Too tired for this shit, Johnny thought. "Ma'am," he said, "please, who are you, and what do you have for me?"
"God, I'm so sick of telling this story," she said petulantly. "Anyway. My name's Amanda."
Johnny cracked an eye open. Amanda? As in Amanda Winston? Goddamn. He swung his legs off the side of the bed and stood up. "Yes'm. What can I do for you?"
"I think my daughter's still with the Colonel," Amanda said, and Johnny's hand stilled in midair two inches from his jeans. "She hasn't come home yet, anyway."
"Your daughter," Johnny prompted, grabbing his jeans.
"Uh huh." For a woman whose daughter was missing, Amanda Winston didn't sound too worried. "Carole. She's sixteen."
"Sixteen," Johnny repeated, switching his phone to his other ear. It made him feel both sick and anticipatory: abducting a minor was a hell of a club to beat Farraday with, once they caught him. "Ma'am, did the police say anything about putting out an AMBER Alert?"
Amanda's voice went sullen. "I told them to," she said. "They said that based on my story, she didn't qualify."
Johnny grunted. "Ma'am, what did you tell them?"
"I didn't want to leave Carole at home alone," Amanda said, suddenly trying to make out like she wasn't at fault at all. "So I took her with me when I went to see him. The rat-bastard likes her, you know. Probably better than he likes me, fucking men. He's always telling her how smart she is, you know, he feeds her all his bullshit ideas and she just eats that shit up..." Amanda Winston prattled on in his ear, spilling her litany of petty complaints, and Johnny listened to them with half an ear as he struggled back into his clothes. Something about the conversation was making him nauseous, and it hit him while he was doing up his belt: this wasn't about her daughter's welfare, not exactly. Amanda Winston was only turning Farraday in because she was jealous.
"So he's not gonna hurt her," Johnny said, when he could.
"Hurt her," Amanda said, and she snorted in disbelief. "He's not gonna do anything to her that she hasn't been asking for all along."
Johnny swallowed his nausea and stomped into his boots, one, then the other. "Ma'am, I need you to tell me everything you can think of that might be helpful, now. Do you know what he's driving?"
"Maybe? I guess? I don't know which one he took."
"Can you list 'em for me?"
Sullen now that the spotlight had fallen off her, Amanda Winston heaved out a put-upon sigh. "I don't know models or anything. He always has a couple of RVs, but they're always different. And there was a light blue car, just a normal car, kind of square. Four doors and a trunk. Anyway, there were always cars around, he could have just taken someone else's."
Well, that was slightly more helpful than getting poked in the eye with a stick. "Yes'm," Johnny said, letting it drop. "Do you happen to know where he might be going?"
"Yes," she said, exasperated. Johnny froze. Just like that? It was going to be this easy after all? "That's why I called. I want you to go out there and break up their little fucking party! And tell her to get her ass back home!"
Johnny squeezed his eyes shut. "In that case, ma'am, I'd really appreciate it if you told me where he is."
Less than a minute after Amanda Winston hung up in a huff Johnny was pounding on the door to Rich's room. It was Rich that jerked the door open, his face a cheesy white in color and his eyes still swollen. Simon was thrashing his way upright in the bed behind him, still tangled in the sheets but wide awake. "What?" Rich said, a panicky undertone to his voice. "What happened? Is it Nate?"
"It's Farraday," Johnny said shortly, pushing into the room past Rich and shouldering the door closed. A pair of jeans that looked way too large for either Rich or Nate lay on the floor; Johnny swept them up and threw them at Simon, who caught them. "Amanda Winston called. Farraday's got her daughter, she's pissed, and she gave up his secondary hideout."
"Fucking yes," Simon snarled, bounding out of the bed and into his jeans in what was damned near the same motion. "Rich, put your shoes on and call a cab, you're going to go sit with Nate. Johnny, call Sandra, tell her to throw Mike in the van and come get us pronto. Tell her that Rich is coming. Where are we going?"
"Massena, New York, or thereabouts," said Johnny. Behind him Rich fumbled for the room phone and the yellow pages.
"Where? Fuck it, it doesn't matter. It's near a border, isn't it?"
"Yep. Near the Canadian border."
"That's Farraday all over," said Simon, jamming his feet into his sneakers. "There an AMBER alert?"
"No," said Johnny. "You want there to be?"
"No," Simon said. "He's already holed up, bet you anything, and probably keeping an ear on the police band. If we put out an AMBER alert he's going to know we're on to him. Let's go surprise our little friend, huh?"
"Plan," said Johnny. He looked down long enough to pull his phone off his belt and got a good whiff of his pits in the bargain. He wrinkled his nose. "Shit, I stink."
too. We can shower once Farraday's on the correct side of the bars," said
Simon. "If Farraday is offended by our manly odor that's just
too fuckin' bad for him,'" Johnny said, staring off at nothing.
"I said that?" said Simon, blinking.
"Yep." Johnny snorted out a laugh and looked down at the table.
Sandra smiled a little, leaning in the doorway to Simon's office and ignoring the beeping computer behind her. Hearing the story again, as awful as it was, still beat sifting through the massive piles of police reportsin frustration she'd finally expanded her request to include every report that so much as mentioned a thin Caucasian perp with bleached-blond hair, and it was astonishing how many criminals in the region fit that description. Too many. So for the time being she was letting them pile up on the computer behind her unread. She had a sinking feeling that Farraday wasn't going to get caught that way in any case. It was too easy.
Johnny heaved out a breath and went on. "So Mike comes screeching up five minutes later and we pile in"
Jeremy reached over and laid his fingers on Johnny's wrist, and Johnny stopped, startled. "Someone's coming," said Jeremy.
Sandra glanced towards the door just as it opened and Dave blew in, with a bemused-looking Nate bobbing in his wake like a tugboat. Dave's eyes were wide and his jaw was setSandra was already starting to recognize that as a bad sign. Or a good sign. A sign that, for good or ill, Dave had gone temporarily around the bend once again. Dave spent a lot of time around that bend, actually. He stopped in the middle of the room with his shoulders squared and his head lowered bullishly. "Did you steal my wallet?" he demanded of Jeremy.
There was a pause, broken only when Mike started snickering. Jeremy sighed, slid halfway around in his chair, and fixed Dave with a long-suffering stare. "Do you happen to have the world's smallest Botticelli painting stored in it? Because otherwise, I assure you, I have less than no interest in the contents of your wallet."
"Well, it's gone," said Dave, scowling. "I know I had it this morning. And I can't think of any other thieves that I've been in contact with."
Jeremy put a hand over his eyes. "I did not steal your wallet, Mr. Brassoff, and I'll gladly submit to a search if you deem it necessary"
"there will be no searching," Simon said, his voice an ominous rumble. "Christ, for all you know it fell out of your pocket somewhere between here and wherever the hell you went. Why don't you go look in Rich's lair before you go haring off accusing people of things?" Dave jerked upright, his Adam's apple bobbing; after a moment he twitched off a little nod and stalked off into his corner, dropping to his knees and sticking his head under one of the two desks.
"As a pickpocket I'm barely passable in any case," Jeremy added, letting his hand fall. "It's really not my specialty. Well, any more."
"Yeah, tell that to Mercy Kane," Simon said.
Jeremy smiled faintly. "Well, yes, but I nearly had to knock the poor woman over to make sure she was sufficiently distracted. That's hardly the mark of a good pickpocket."
"Eh," Simon said, shrugging. "It worked, didn't it? Congratulations! That means you're adequate."
"Ah, I've spent so long aspiring to have you someday deem me adequate," Jeremy murmured. Simon coughed.
"It's not there," Dave reported, pushing himself back to his feet. Sandra didn't find his scowl all that threatening, personally, but she thought it was slightly more interesting than his usual whipped-puppy look. "And I retraced my steps all the way from here to IT when I noticed it was missing, and checked with the Lost and Found already. Someone stole it. That's the only answer I can think of." He directed his scowl at the back of Jeremy's head.
Jeremy sighed and pushed his chair back, standing up. "All right," he said, stripping off his jacket and holding it out towards Simon. "Simon, if you would?"
"No, I don't think I would, actually," Simon said, pushing it back towards Jeremy. "Christ, how stupid would you have to be to steal his wallet? A lot stupider than I, personally, know you are, that's how stupid. And even if you did completely lose your mind over the opportunity to steal twenty bucks and a, a Mastercard, if you're inviting us to search you, then you stashed it somewhere already. There's no fucking point to searching you."
"Except for fun!" Mike said brightly. Sandra firmly ignored him. So did Simon.
"Mm. Well, you have a point," Jeremy said pleasantly, sliding back into his jacket. "Although I suppose it would satisfy Mr. Brassoff's curiosity."
"Fuck a bunch of Mr. Brassoff's curiosity," Simon said, almost cheerfully.
"Yeah," said Mike, leaning back in his chair and sticking his hand inside his jacket. "Especially since I'm the one what stole his wallet." Mike pulled a plain brown leather wallet out of his jacket, waggled it in the direction of the boggled Dave, and then threw it onto the middle of the table. "Yeah," he said, completely pleased with himself, "that's one thing you gotta learn about being a real FBI agent, David-Brassoff-Dave's-Fine: if you keep jumping to the most obvious conclusions, it's gonna come back and bite you in the ass eventually."
Dave's jaw snapped shut with a little click and he lunged forward, snatching his wallet off the table and jamming it back into his back pocket. His face wasn't quite scarlet, but it was getting there. Sandra put a hand over her face and laughed a little. "As if you're one to talk, Mike."
Mike's self-satisfied grin faded. "Yeah, okay," he said sullenly. "C'mon, Sandy, you're totally peeing on my moment of triumph here."
"Mike's lecturing someone about jumping to conclusions," Sandra told Simon.
"I heard, I heard," said Simon. "I wasn't going to say anything. I didn't know where to start."
"Think next he's gonna give us a lesson in dealing with the press?" Johnny asked.
"Or maybe he could lead our next sexual-harassment seminar," Sandra said.
Mike brightened right up. "Oh, hey, yeah, sexual harassment is totally my forte or some shit! Right, sweetcheeks?" The little flicker of movement in Sandra's peripheral vision was all the warning she needed; quickly she shifted her weight onto her right foot and kicked out with her left, knocking Mike's groping hand away before it could land anywhere near her ass. Mike yowled, the kick spinning him halfway around in his chair to collide with the wall behind him. Sandra decided she wasn't sorry. "Ow ow ow ow ow," Mike said, sticking his bruised knuckles into his mouth and sucking on them.
"Judging by that little display, I'd say maybe it's not your forte after all," said Simon, shutting his eyes. "I'd say you need more practice, but I'm afraid you'd take it as a suggestion, and we really cannot afford to be another team member down due to Sandy beating you to a pulp right now." A perfectly normal thing for Simon to say, but by the end his voice was a little strained.
Sandra leaned over, checking Simon's face. He was pale and sweaty, with pink spots burning high on his cheeks. "I think it's time for you to think about heading home, boss," she said.
Simon flapped a hand at her. "Fifteen more minutes," he wheezed. "I want to hold out until five."
Leaning back into Simon's office Sandra checked the clock on his computer, noting also that the number of incident reports in her inbox was up over sixty again. "See, that'd be acceptable, except for the part where it's not quite four-thirty," she said.
Simon reluctantly cracked open an eye and checked his watch. "... shit."
"Go home," Sandra said gently. "You did better than you did yesterday."
Simon groused for a minute or two, which was no less than she was expecting, but eventually he pushed his chair back and started the laborious process of rolling out of it. "On one condition," he said tightly. "If anything goes downanythingI want you to call me, okay? Even if it's three in the morning. I'm tired of being out of the goddamned loop, especially now that things are starting to shake loose."
"I suppose that's fair," Sandra said cautiously, "but I don't want you to interpret being called with a status report as a license to go out and do something about it."
"Much as it pains me to say it" Simon finished straightening up and hissed out a long breath, hunched protectively forward over his chest "I won't. I'll leave the doing up to you guys. I just want to know, dammit."
Sandra nodded, although she didn't believe a word of it. "Then we have a deal."
Simon paused and eyed her warily. "You'll call."
"No matter when."
"No matter when," said Sandra. "Assuming I've been called, anyway, Mike."
"I said I was sorry," Mike said, scowling at Sandra over his mouthful of bruised knuckles.
You kids play nice," Simon said. He started for the door at a hobble; after
two or three steps his stride smoothed back out. "C'mon, Archer," he said
over his shoulder. "Take me home. I need drugs."
Switching the plastic bag to his other hand Mike rapped his knuckles against the door and waited. He didn't hear anything from the other side, but after a few seconds the pinpoint of light shining through the peephole cut off; he waggled his fingers at the peephole, beaming.
"Mike?" Diana Fontaine said from the other side of the door.
"Yep, it's me," Mike said, rocking back on his heels. He lifted the bag to shoulder height. "I brought dinner! It's like a date or something, except it's totally not, and also usually on dates you go to where the food is instead of having it come to you. Or so I hear, anyhow."
There was a pause, then the locks and chains on the other side of the door started to clatter as Diana undid them one by one. There was also a hefty rattle and thump that could only be a chair being removed from under the doorknob. Mike bit back a grin. Finally the door swung open a few inches and Diana Fontaine peered out, looking up and down the hallway before she stepped back far enough to let Mike push into the room. Almost as soon as he got past her she was doing up the locks again, her fingers fumbling nervously at the chain.
She looked pretty rough, Mike had to admit. Her aureole of blond hair was limp and shaggy and she wasn't wearing any makeup, making the bags under her eyes and the little lines at the corners that much more evident. Self-consciously she ran a hand through her hair, which didn't do it any favors. "I didn't get to go to the drugstore today," she said. "I suppose I could have gone, but I just felt so" She broke off there, making a little helpless gesture.
"Paranoid?" Mike said, putting the bag down on the little table at the front of the room.
"I suppose," Diana said listlessly, letting her hand drop again. "At least there's soap and shampoo here. At least I'm clean."
Mike pushed the sides of the bag down and started unpacking it, rapidly setting two places without thinking about it too much. "Maybe you can go tomorrow," he said. "You want, I can pop over at my lunch hour and take you, if it'd make you feel safer."
"I'd appreciate it," said Diana, crossing her arms nervously over her chest and watching him unpack the plastic boxes. "I-I mean, I know you must be... busy."
"Hoo boy, am I," Mike said. "Running around like a chicken with my fucking dick cut off, swear to God. C'mon, sit down, let's eat this crap before it gets any less edible."
She hesitated in front of the door for a moment longer. Finally, with an effort, she made herself put one foot in front of the other, dragging herself towards Mike and the little table; pulling out one of the chairs she sank into it, sitting on the very edge with her spine ramrod straight like she was planning to flee at any second. Truth be told, it was kind of unnerving. "You know," Mike said, flipping the lid off one of the boxes, "I'm not gonna tell you to relax because you totally have a reason to be all freaked right now, but I don't think the chair's gonna bite you and neither am I."
Diana ducked her head and edged back into the chair, not exactly relaxing but at least letting her shoulders fall some. For a minute or so she was quiet, nibbling on her lower lip and watching Mike unpack and serve. "... what are we having?" she finally asked, sounding more polite than actually interested.
"Fried baby," Mike said cheerfully. "I mean, you're a lawyer, I'm dangerously unstable, I figure it's something we can both enjoy, right?"
"That's not funny, Mr. Takemura," Diana said, aiming for 'prim' and coming off more like 'unhappy'.
Mike snickered and dug the paddle into the rice. "Actually we've got cold soba and stir-fried veggies," he said. "With maybe a little fried Japanese baby in there, I don't know, I don't so much keep track of where my meat comes from, you know?"
Diana ducked her head, her product-less hair spilling over her eyes in two big seventies-ish wings. "Still not funny," she said, brushing her hair back out of her face with the back of her hand.
"Yeah, well, the jokes are only gonna get worse from here, so you might as well give up and try to enjoy 'em," Mike said. "Buuuut, just to put your mind at ease, it's pork. Really. Pork. The kind that comes from pigs. Adult pigs, even, not baby pigs."
"All right," Diana said, clasping her hands in her lap. "It... it sounds good."
"Guess what? It probably is good." Mike tossed the empty rice box back into the bag and turned his attention to the noodles. "I mean, I'm not one of those fancy-ass Japanese chefs who charge a thousand bucks for the perfect bowl of soup, but I get by okay."
"... you made this?" Diana asked, frowning a little.
Mike made an irritated little gesture with the chopsticks in his hand, hitting himself in the eyebrow with a flying droplet of sauce. "Man, why does no one ever believe that I can cook?" he said peevishly, scrubbing the back of his hand across his face. "For serious, that's all I ever get from anybody: 'you cook?' I live alone, who else is gonna feed me, the Dinner Fairy?" He studied the little smear of sauce on the back of his hand, then sucked his knuckles clean and went back to serving.
"I, I'm sorry," Diana said, hunching her shoulders a little. "It... just didn't seem like something you'd do."
"'Cause I'm so tough and macho and all," Mike said, his good mood rebounding. "Yeah, that's totally true, I am the manliest individual what ever wielded a spatula, I can see how it might confuse and intimidate you."
"That's not precisely what I meant," said Diana, "but I suppose there's no changing your mind once it's made up."
"Nah, nah, no need to hide it, you totally want me now that you know I'm all sensitive yet manly and shit," Mike said cheerfully, dumping half the stir-fry on Diana's plate and scraping the rest onto his own. That done he threw himself into the other chair, dug two cans of beer out of the sack, and plunked them onto the table. "Ita-fuckin'-dakimasu."
"... what?" Diana said, blinking.
Mike pointed at her with his chopsticks. "Eat."
Diana picked up her own chopsticks and pressed the tips against the palm of her other hand, getting them settled in her fingers. "I, um." She picked up a miniscule bit of rice and ate it. "Are you, ah."
"Huh?" Mike popped a baby carrot into his mouth. "Am I what? Awesome? Charming? Well-hung? Yep, sure am."
"Are you Japanese," Diana said, cringing a little in white-girl embarrassment.
"Half," said Mike. "And yeah, it was my dad taught me how to cook and all, if that was going to be your next question."
Diana laughed a very little, gingerly selecting a bit of baby corn and nipping it off her chopsticks. "It was, actually. I just didn't know if asking would be... I don't know. Racist? Or something?"
Mike paused, prodding absently at the pile of soba on his plate. "Wait, wait, okay, now you're actually worried about offending me? Shit, if that's not some kinda progress I don't know what is."
Diana paused in her turn. "That is different, isn't it," she said. After a moment she rallied a little, squaring her shoulders. "I still think you're too... wild for the job you do," she said, and for a miracle her voice was almost firm. "I mean, I... I can't forget those pictures. But... well."
"You don't want to take potshots at my competence while you've got a mouthful of my home cookin', you mean?" Mike said.
All the firmness leaked out of Diana like she'd sprung a hole. "I suppose not," she said, becoming very interested in her food.
Mike shut his eyes and picked up his beer, popping it open. "Yeah, okay, suppose if all I had was Farraday's side of the story and those pictures, I'd think I was a crazy motherfucker myself. And hell, you wanna be honest, I did used to be some kind of discipline problem, but shit, this much I swear to you: I never beat on anybody like that before Farraday, and I haven't done it since, neither."
Diana Fontaine nodded down at her plate. Mike figured it was more to shut him up than to actually agree with him.
"I'm serious," Mike insisted, dropping as much of the attitude as he could. "Look, come on, I know what kind of party line being Farraday's lady lawyer requires you to toe, but spare me the 'allegedly's: I went a little crazy because I had been pushed pretty fucking far."
"I suppose so," she said listlessly, poking at her food.
"No, shit, there's no 'suppose so' about this!" Mike said, dropping his chopsticks onto the side of his plate. "Farraday carved one of my best friends up like a fucking Thanksgiving turkey!"
"I know that!" Diana said, her voice going a little shrill. Almost as quickly as the shrillness had come, it vanished. "I know that," she repeated, hunching up over her plate.
Mike reined himself in with an effort, picking up his chopsticks. "Go on, eat," he said tiredly. "Stir-fry gets pretty gross when it gets cold."
"It's good right now, though," she said, in a voice so tiny it was almost a whisper. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Mike said, chugging off half his beer. After a moment Diana's chopsticks started to move again.
The rest of dinner passed in an uncomfortable near-silence, which meant that at least it ended quickly. Almost before he knew it Mike found himself packing up the dirty dishes to take back to Nate's place, Diana watching him out of the corner of her eye.
"You gonna be okay?" Mike finally asked.
Diana nodded. "I think so," she said. "He... he doesn't know where I am, and the door has a deadbolt and chain..."
"You need anything, you call me," Mike said. "It's an emergency, you call 911. Every police officer in ten states is just itching to find this guy. I promise that if you call for help this building'll be a box full of cops in under a minute. Okay?"
"Okay," Diana said. She shoved the floppy wings of her hair out of her eyes again, her mouth twisting in momentary irritation.
"And I'll call before I come get you tomorrow," Mike promised. "I won't just show up and scare you. Don't know exactly when it'll be, though, as things do get a little hectic, you know? All's I can say is some time between, uh, eleven and two."
"That's fine," said Diana, nodding.
Mike tied off the top of the bag and picked it up. "I'll see you then," he said, which sounded kind of inane. "Try and get some sleep, okay? I can probably beg a couple of Ambien out of Sandy if you think you need 'em."
Diana looked away. "I'll try," she said. She took a hesitant half a step in his direction, one hand reaching towards himthen she stopped and pulled that hand back, letting it hover in front of her chest. "Uh. Good night, Mike."
"Night," Mike said. As an afterthought he reached out and awkwardly squeezed her shoulder. Diana Fontaine reached up and curled her hand about his wrist for a moment, and then they twitched their hands apart like the contact had stung. "It's gonna be okay," Mike promised, for lack of anything better to say.
"I hope so," Diana said dully, following him towards the door.
later Mike was out in the hall, staring at the uncommunicative wooden surface
of the closed door, listening to her do up the locks behind him. "Yeah,"
he muttered under his breath. "Yeah, I'm real smooth." The
doorknob rattled as Diana wedged the chair back under it; the little sound
jarred Mike out of his morose reverie and he jogged off towards the elevators,
the plastic bag shifting and clinking in his hand.
By the time Simon drifted out of his latest happy-drug-time coma, it was dark. The lights were already on in the parking lot outside, casting bars of orange and blue light over Simon's face and the far wallwhat time was it? Carefully he let his head fall to the side, squinting at his alarm clock. After eight. Crap, no wonder he was so hungry. As if on cue, his stomach muttered.
The remnants of his last pain pill were still fizzing around in his systemhe could feel the vaguely unpleasant bone-deep tingle in his limbs, sort of like a two-beer buzzand right now, as long as he lay perfectly still and didn't move anything below his neck, he didn't even hurt. It made kind of a nice change. Simon yawned. Then he winced. Okay, now he hurt.
Still, now that he was awake again, his body was starting to make its demands known, some of which were directly in opposition to the idea of lying completely still for the rest of his life. Carefully, moving slowly so as to avoid making the ache any worse than he had to, Simon brought his hand up and wiped his eyes. His cheek made a little scratchy sound under the palm of his hand and Simon meditatively rubbed at his stubble for a moment, not thinking about too much.
He let his head fall to the other side, taking stock. The light in the main room was on, spilling into the hallway and adding a dim yellowish glow to everything in Simon's room to compete with the light from outside. Simon yawned (and winced) again, then held his hand up in the light and studied it. He'd lost a little weight in the hospital, which wasn't surprising, and it made his knuckles look knobby. Simon scowled at his hand and let it fall.
A shadowy black figure appeared noiselessly in the doorway, blocking out most of the light. Simon blinked a little, then gave the figure half of a sleepy smile. "Hey," he said, his voice still thick. "I didn't even call you yet."
"I heard you shifting about," Jeremy said, resting his upraised arm comfortably on the doorframe. He was backlit in the doorway, his face shrouded in darkness and impossible to read. "How are you feeling?"
"Right now? Pretty good, actually," said Simon. He cleared his throat and swallowed, pushing himself back towards full consciousness. "I mean, I'm hungry and someone shot me in the chest, but all in all, I'm doing okay. Comparatively, anyway."
"Mm." Jeremy shifted. The leather of his jacket made a little slithery sound. "We can eat any time you like."
"See, that's the thing." Simon pushed his t-shirt up and scratched at his stomach. "I feel pretty good, but that's only because I'm not moving."
"Ah, I see." Jeremy was quiet for a moment. "I suppose I could bring you a tray," he finally said, sounding pretty dubious about the whole idea.
Simon coughed out a laugh, which hurt. "Oh, Christ, I ought to take you up on that just to enjoy the spectacle," he said. "You gonna make me fresh-squeezed orange juice, too?"
Jeremy made that little almost-a-laugh sound of his. "Well, Ms. Leone bought that bedtray and left it here, I suppose that we ought to at least make an attempt to pacify her by using it," he said. "Although I will admit that I probably make a singularly terrible maid. I don't even have a proper white apron, let alone one of those horrible frilly caps."
"Nah, I'll get up in a sec," Simon said, dismissing the mental image, as interesting as it was. "I just... wanna enjoy feeling okay for a moment."
"Mm. Shall I leave you to it, then?" Jeremy asked, not quite turning to go. There was just the faintest hint of amusement in his voice, now.
Nudged by the vaguest of impulses (and a hefty amount of bravado) Simon lifted his hand off his stomach and let it flop out across the mattress in Jeremy's general direction. "Or you could come here and enjoy it with me," he said, wiggling his fingers. "Seriously, I feel pretty good."
For a moment Jeremy was silent, considering him. "Ah," he finally said. "So, before I commit myself to any particular course of action, tell me, how well is 'pretty good'?"
Simon gave this question some honest consideration, then dismissed his actual conclusions and substituted a half-truth. "Well, I don't really feel athletic or anything, but I'm almost eighty-five percent sure I won't bleed to death as long as we're careful."
"I suppose I've faced worse odds," Jeremy said lazily, shifting. There, finally, was the little purring note that Simon had been listening for. Although he had barely moved, leaning in the doorway had somehow become lounging in the doorway; Jeremy's hand drifted up, over his hip, over his chest, and up to his hidden face, and Simon watched it go. "Aren't you going to ask me to be gentle with you?" Jeremy asked, running his hand back through his hair. "I've been wanting to have someone say that to me all my life."
"Well, I would, only there's the part where you're kind of a little guy, also British, also a giant faggot, and I may be crippled but I've still got my pride," Simon said. "Shut up and come take advantage of me before my pain pill wears off."
"You're such a romantic," Jeremy said, straightening up. His hand fell again and he slithered out of his t-shirt without a second thought, like a lizard shedding its skin. For just a moment his hair fell in his nearly-hidden eyes, then he flicked it back with a little jerk of his head and discarded his t-shirt on the floor. "Really, Simon, do try not to gush so. It's embarrassing."
"Yeah, yeah. You coming or what?"
"Oh, I'm sure I will, eventually," said Jeremy, closing the bedroom door behind him and casting them both into orange-barred darkness.