Beginner's Luck (Pt.2)
The next night...
A chill breeze stirred the bits of loose paper in the alley, wafting the scent of rotting garbage and cat pee through the air and carrying the promise of yet more rain. From his post beside the dumpster, Phinny had a clear view of the alley and the street beyond, with the reassuring silhouette of Hanson's Mustang parked halfway down the block. He could feel a small lump beneath his collarbone, where a microphone nestled under his coat lapel, and it gave him a shot of Dutch courage. Nothing could hurt him with Tom and Harry ready to leap to his defense. In fact, if the rain would only hold off for awhile, he might actually enjoy his midnight adventure.
Phinny shoved his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and tried to hunch his shoulders in the proper sullen, dangerous manner. He wished he had a cigarette. Too bad Gloria didn't like him to smoke. A lit cigarette dangling from his lips might do much to counteract the effect of his skimpy, colorless hair, rimless glasses, and natty bow tie. He knew he'd never summon a steely glint to his eyes. And he knew that the bow tie and argyle socks - laid out for him with such loving care by his wife every morning - would never strike fear into the hearts of the lawless. But the overcoat was a nice touch, and a cigarette would only enhance the effect. Next time, he'd...
Next time? What was he thinking? The whole point of tonight's escapade was to ensure that there would not be a next time!
Romantic tendencies aside, Phinny was no fool, and he knew he didn't belong here. Not in this situation, and not in this demilitarized zone that passed for a neighborhood. People like him died in alleys like this.
Swallowing the sick fear that rose in his throat, he muttered, "Are you listening, guys? I hope so. I'm really cold, and I'm really scared."
Of course, they couldn't answer him, but he felt a renewed sense of confidence, anyway. He could still hear Hanson's voice telling him, calmly, "Just do the deal and walk away. We'll be with you the whole time."
Part of Phinny - the part that got a foolish thrill out of dressing up like a gangster to meet desperate characters in dark alleys - wished that he could stick around to see what Hanson and Ioki had planned for his mysterious contact. They would not tell him anything, except that they intended to find out what part the man played in Shumacher's operation. To Phinny's imaginative way of thinking, this meant guns, threats, black eyes, pistol-whippings... all the stuff of Sam Spade movies, with a healthy dose of the Spanish Inquisition thrown in for flavor. He got a delicious, horrified thrill when he thought about it.
The slosh of feet through the puddles on the sidewalk jerked Phinny out of his reverie and made his stomach lurch with fear. He withdrew behind the dumpster, biting his lip to still its trembling. The footsteps drew closer, while Phinny cowered into the heavy shadows and stared fixedly at the mouth of the alley.
In the Mustang, Hanson peered through his binoculars at the ragged figure approaching the alley. It was a man of indeterminate age, with lank blond hair and sunken cheeks. He wore jeans, boots, multiple t-shirts and a fatigues jacket, all of them well beyond their prime, and he carried a bundle of brown paper under one arm.
"He's on foot," Hanson muttered to his partner.
"Can't tell." The man turned into the alley and halted. "Here we go."
Phinny swallowed painfully, squared his narrow shoulders, and stepped out of his hiding place. The ragged man stared at him with dull, disinterested eyes, then he moved forward to meet him. By mutual agreement, they stopped with two or three feet still between them. Neither of them seemed to know what to do next, though they had been through this same routine just two nights before.
After an awkward moment, the ragged man coughed and hawked up a mouthful of sludge, which he spat on the pavement. "Got it?" he rasped out.
Phinny pulled a very flat envelope from his pocket and offered it to the other man. At the same time, he held out his empty hand for the package. The man snatched the envelope and made it disappear into his layers of clothing, then he thrust the package at Phinny. Before Phinny could think of anything to say, the man was gone again.
Phinny shoved the package into his coat and started toward his car at a near run. As he came out of the alley, he saw two familiar figures slipping through the shadows on the opposite side of the street. He felt a brief, insane desire to follow them, but it passed before he could act on it. Tom had been adamant that he get himself and the money safely away. With a small sigh of regret for the demise of yet another romantic impulse, Phinny climbed behind the wheel of his Pacer and drove off.
Hanson and Ioki moved swiftly and silently down the street, keeping the ragged man in sight and hugging the walls of the decaying tenements on their right. The man walked quickly, casting glances over his shoulder almost constantly, forcing them to lunge for cover in sunken doorways and behind cars. The rain was falling again, fitfully. Their footsteps sounded excruciatingly loud to Harry, and he winced more than once when one of them splashed through a deep puddle.
Three blocks from the alley, the ragged man ducked around a corner. Hanson and Ioki followed, but when they reached the corner, the side street was empty. Hanson cursed softly under his breath and drew his gun.
"We need him alive," Harry reminded him in a whisper.
"Only if we're alive, too," Tom whispered back. "C'mon."
They set off down the sidewalk again, staying in the thick shadows thrown by the tall buildings. Halfway down the block, Hanson muttered, "He must have spotted us and gone to ground."
Ioki waved him to silence, his face intent as he listened to something that he could barely detect over the sound of the rain. Taking his partner's cue, Hanson also listened. After a moment, Ioki pointed to the other side of the street, and Hanson nodded. He could hear it too - the metallic clatter of someone climbing a chain link fence. He led the way across the street at a dead run.
They charged into the space between two buildings, just in time to spot their quarry perched on top of a fence at the back of the alley. Hanson raised his gun and shouted, "Hold it!"
The ragged man turned to stare at them, his face unreadable.
"Get down, slowly," Hanson ordered.
The man remained frozen for a beat, then he obediently swung one leg back over the fence. In the next instant, an earsplitting crack echoed through the alley, and the ragged man pitched forward to land, sprawled on his face, in a puddle.
Hanson and Ioki reacted instinctively, flinging themselves to the ground as more shots rang out. Hanson spotted some garbage cans to his left, the only possible cover in reach. He grabbed a fistful of Ioki's coat and gave it a tug to get him moving in the right direction, then both men scrambled for the dubious protection of the metal cans. They collapsed behind them, gasping for breath, but a line of bullets stitched holes in the wall just above their heads, and they flattened themselves to the pavement in a futile attempt to avoid the deadly fire.
"That's a rifle!" Ioki shouted, over the deafening reports.
"And it's coming from the roof!" Hanson shouted back.
"What the hell's going on?!"
"I don't know, but they killed the guy we wanted alive."
"Great. Now what?"
Hanson lifted his head and peered across the pitted asphalt to where the ragged man lay. His eyes narrowed in determination. "Hang on, Iok. I'll be right back."
But Hanson was gone, crawling flat to the ground, headed for the ragged man. He reached his goal and heaved the body over onto its back, before the shooter figured out what he was doing and opened fire. A couple of rounds plowed into the dead man, while others took chunks out of the pavement around him. Hanson dug his hand inside the ragged man's coat, fishing around until his fingers touched the envelope. The minute he had it in his grasp, he pulled his feet under him and threw himself backward in a truly spectacular dive that carried him all the way to the wall. More bullets followed. He crashed to the ground behind a fallen trash can and turned a triumphant grin on Ioki.
"I got it!"
"What are you talking about?!" Ioki hissed, furiously. "Are you nuts?!"
"I got the envelope! It's what we came for, isn't it?"
Ioki stared at him, for an appalled, disbelieving moment, then he groaned and said, "Better open it now, while we're still breathing!"
Awkwardly, from his huddled position, Hanson tore the envelope open. The rain instantly began to turn the sheet of paper inside to pulp, so he crawled headfirst into the trash can to protect it. Then he pulled out his cigarette lighter and flicked it on.
"It's a list," he called to his friend. "Addresses, with what looks like amounts next to them. This has to be a list of the next shipments! Places where the buyers can find the goods! This guy must have been a middle man of some kind..."
"Very astute of you," an unfamiliar voice said. Tom froze at the touch of a gun muzzle between his shoulder blades. "Come out of there, nice and slow, and no one has to get hurt."
Tom wriggled backward on his elbows, until he could twist around to face the voice without cracking his head on the trash can. He saw a very large man with a rifle in one hand and an automatic pistol in the other. The rifle pointed directly at Tom's nose, while the automatic rested against Ioki's right temple. Ioki looked sheepish.
"Let me guess," Tom said. "Fender."
The man grinned. "Right the first time."
*** *** ***
Hanson and Ioki sat in Shumacher's large, elegant study, perched uncomfortably on a pair of ladder-backed chairs, their hands tied behind their backs and their ankles trussed. Their gracious surroundings made them feel remarkably bedraggled. The contents of their pockets lay strewn on the desk in front of them, and their coats hung on a rack by the door. Behind them, on a sofa, sat Fender. He was reading a newspaper and apparently ignoring them. The only sound in the room was the rustle of his paper, as he turned the pages.
Hanson shifted his position and tried to ease the ache in his shoulders. They had been sitting here for some time, getting colder and stiffer by the minute, waiting for Shumacher to make an appearance. But so far, they had only Fender for company. Hanson was getting restless.
Ioki suddenly leaned over to murmur, in a voice low enough to mask his words from Fender, "What do you think, Tom? Are we in trouble?"
"I don't know. My gut instinct tells me we're dead meat. But if Shumacher wanted to kill us, why did he bring us here?"
"Mmm." Harry frowned thoughtfully at the floor, turning over all the details of the night that made no sense to him, looking for some kind of explanation. "He wants something from us, but what? We don't have anything he can use. Hanson, I'm really confused."
"Me, too. Why do you think he had Fender shoot that guy?"
"That's easy. Because he didn't trust him to keep his mouth shut, once we caught him. The part I don't get is how the guy in the alley fits into the rest of the operation. He had a list of addresses, right? The next delivery list?"
"Yeah. Had to be." Tom fell quiet for a long minute, thinking hard, then he offered, "Try this on for size, Iokage. Alley Guy is the middle man. It's his job to keep the local drug dealers in touch with the source and make sure the Boss gets his cut. So, he gets the list from Phinny, which tells him where the next shipments will go, and he sends his dealers - or goes himself - to each store to buy the drugs."
"Where does he get the money?"
"From the profits on the last batch. The dealers buy the stuff from the shopkeepers, who pass the money on to Phinny, when he makes his courier run. Then the dealers sell the drugs on the street for a huge profit and give Alley Guy a percentage. He keeps his cut and gives the rest to Phinny, when he picks up the next list." Tom paused, then demanded, "What do you think?"
"It fits, but it's awfully complicated. Why would the dealers be willing to pay Alley Guy a cut?"
"They've got a guaranteed source, probably a low wholesale price on the drugs, and someone above them in the hierarchy to rat on, if they get caught and need to bargain down their sentence."
"Like a union. I get it. The dealers and Alley Guy have it pretty easy, for their line of work, and Shumacher gets paid from both ends of the pipeline. Everybody's happy."
"Except the shopkeepers, who have been intimidated into acting as narcotics wholesalers."
From the sofa, Fender spoke up. "They get their cut, too. Mr. Shumacher always pays his employees well."
Tom twisted around to stare at him, but Fender still had his paper up in front of his face. "They're not employees. They're victims."
"That's your point of view." He shook out the paper, folded it neatly, and smiled into Tom's smoldering eyes. "You boys are good. I didn't expect you to put it together that quickly."
At that moment, the door opened, and Leo Shumacher escorted Phinny Tench into the room. Tom couldn't quite suppress a groan at the sight of Phinny's pale, sweating, terrified face. Harry looked over at him in alarm.
"What is it?"
"I'm s-sorry, guys!" Phinny stammered, as Shumacher handed him over to Fender and strolled around his desk. "They were w-waiting for me at home."
Fender planted Phinny in a chair to Tom's right and tied him securely. Then he stood between Tom and Harry, holding his automatic in one hand and stroking it against his cheek, looking down at his captives as though picturing bullets slamming into their frail bodies and thoroughly enjoying the image.
Phinny leaned over to whisper to Tom, "Mr. Shumacher knew all ab-bout you. I swear I didn't tell him who you are, b-but he knew!"
"It's okay," Tom whispered back.
"I j-just hope I didn't say the wrong things..."
Shumacher folded his tall, slender frame into the desk chair, sat back, and clasped his hands over his midriff. Casting a questioning glance up at Fender, he asked, "Well?"
"Our friends here have worked everything out, very nicely. Bright boys, the pair of 'em."
"Excellent. That will save time." His smiling gaze shifted to Tom and Harry. "So let's get down to business, gentlemen. I'm going to ask you some questions. The answers you give me will determine whether you live or die."
Phinny moaned in abject misery. Tom gave him an encouraging smile. "Don't worry, Phinny. They won't kill you."
"You sound awfully sure of yourself, Mr. Hanson," Shumacher purred.
Tom shrugged. "If you kill him, who will you set up to take the fall for you? Phinny's the one man you need alive - at least until you're ready to sell him down the river."
"Phinny may be useful, but he is most definitely not irreplaceable. I will admit that I'd rather not kill him. Finding a replacement would be time consuming. But make no mistake, Mr. Hanson! He is only useful to me as long as he cooperates, and the moment he ceases to be useful, he becomes a liability. You know how I take care of liabilities."
"Alley Guy," Harry interjected, succinctly.
"Exactly." Shumacher smiled paternally at the trembling Phinny. "But we've already talked about all this, haven't we? Phinny understands the situation."
"Y-yes, Sir," Phinny whispered.
"Now, as for you gentlemen..."
"I think we're liabilities," Harry muttered, in an aside to Tom.
"Speak for yourself, Boss Man," Tom muttered back. "I'm useful and decorative."
"You won't be either one, after he blows your head off."
Shumacher chuckled richly. "No, no, not in the house. Think what that would do to the carpets." When both men gave him pained looks, he said more seriously, "This is your chance to be useful... and to remain decorative."
"How?" Tom demanded, suspiciously.
"Answers, gentlemen, give me answers. When did Phinny hire you? What did he tell you? What have you told the police?"
Tom and Harry exchanged a glance, then Harry answered, calmly, "Phinny didn't hire us. The only thing he told us was not to get involved. And we haven't contacted the police."
Shumacher stared intently at him, his face no longer pleasant and his smile conspicuously absent. After a moment's tense silence, he snapped, "I don't believe you."
Harry shrugged. "It's the truth."
"Private Investigators don't work unless someone pays them. If Tench didn't hire you, who did?"
"Then why did you investigate me?"
"And how did you know where to start?"
"We followed Phinny. It wasn't his fault. He tried to get us to leave it alone, but we didn't listen."
Shumacher's eyes narrowed dangerously. "One more chance, Mr. Ioki. Think carefully, before you answer. Why was your friend, the police officer, questioning my people in Chinatown?"
Harry kept his face carefully blank. "I don't know anything about that."
"There are always cops in Chinatown. It's a rough neighborhood."
Shumacher pushed himself slowly to his feet, his face tight with anger, but Hanson saw something lurking in his eyes that didn't fit - something remarkably like satisfaction. "That was the wrong answer, my friend. I don't think you realize just how wrong, but you'll see the light before I'm done."
"In a manner of speaking," Harry deadpanned.
Shumacher's jaw hardened, as he clenched his teeth. "Fender," he snapped, "our guests need some place private to think, and to discuss their options. Maybe Phinny can explain things to them - open their eyes a bit. In a manner of speaking."
Fender grinned wolfishly. "Yes, sir."
"Make sure they won't be disturbed."
Holstering his gun, Fender produced a large knife from his pocket. He cut the ropes around the prisoners' ankles and dragged them, one by one, to their feet. As he herded them into a ragged line by the door and produced a coil of rope to lash them together, Shumacher approached. He was smiling again, in a way that made Hanson highly nervous.
"Lovely! I had no idea they'd be so perfect."
"All our ducks in a row, huh?" Fender said.
"Exactly. Go on, get them out of here. I don't want to waste any of this marvelous rain."
Fender tied his last knot and started them moving with a tug on Phinny's arm. The three prisoners left the study, to the sound of Shumacher's soft laughter. As the door swung shut behind them, Harry leaned close to Tom and whispered,
"What's going on? Why aren't we dead?"
"I don't like this."
"You and me, both. But there's nothing we can do now except wait."
Harry shuddered and fell quiet, his mind turning over Shumacher's cryptic statements, while he followed in Tom's wake.
They exited the house through a side door, trudging through the mud behind the garage in a ragged line. Fender dragged Tench on the end of a rope tether, with Hanson tied to Tench and Ioki to Hanson. In an unexpectedly gracious gesture, Fender had cut the original bonds on Ioki's wrists and retied them in front of him, so he could hold onto Hanson's arm for guidance. But between the darkness, the solid sheets of rain falling, and the hair hanging in his eyes, Hanson could not see the ground in front of him, and they made difficult progress, at best.
They stumbled and skidded down a slope covered with weeds, gravel and gluey mud. At the bottom, they found a narrow gully with a few inches of running water in it. Fender led them along the gully to where the water drained through a rusted grating, set into a large rectangle of concrete in the dirt. A few paces downstream of the grate was a manhole cover.
Fender ordered them to sit down beside the grate, then he lashed the end of Phinny's tether around one of its thick bars. Hanson eyed the knot dubiously, wondering how long it would take him to work it loose, with his hands tied behind him and his fingers numb with cold and lack of circulation. Fender seemed to read his thoughts easily, and laughed.
"You aren't gonna be there long enough to untie it, but go on. Give it your best shot."
Still chuckling, he strode over to the manhole cover, grasped the heavy iron ring in the center of it, and heaved it to one side. All three prisoners heard the echoing rush of moving water coming from inside. Fender crossed back to the three men and drew both his knife and his gun.
"You're first," he said, placing the muzzle of the automatic against Harry's temple. "You get to go down with the ship, Captain. Be a hero."
Harry said nothing, as Fender cut the rope that tied him to Tom and dragged him to his feet. He did not have any oxygen to spare on quips or retorts. He was too busy trying to steady his breathing and control the sudden rush of adrenaline through his system. For Harry, this sensation was both familiar and horrifying - the cold tingle of recognition at the moment you know you're going to die. He had felt it often enough that he almost expected it. But he never got used to it. Never.
Fender's obnoxiously cheerful voice hailed him, as his hand on Harry's bound wrists guided him to a crouch beside the open manhole. "In you go, pal." Harry cast him one look, and Fender must have seen the stark fear in his face, because he added, "Just jump. It's not deep."
Harry closed his eyes and jumped, before his instinct for self-preservation could stop him. He fell for several feet and landed with a splash in chest-deep water. His feet came down on a slippery, curved surface, and he stumbled as he tried to catch his balance. Then the current caught him. With a startled cry, he pitched forward and the water closed over his head. He had time for only a brief flash of panic, then a gargantuan arm hooked around his waist and hauled him back to his feet.
"Current's not usually this strong," Fender commented casually, as he plunked Harry down on a rough, sloping shelf against one wall. "It's been raining a lot."
"Where are we?" Harry gasped, still shaking from his near miss.
Fender once again cut the rope around Ioki's wrists and retied them. This time, they were bound behind him and lashed to a narrow metal pipe attached to the wall, just above the shelf. Then, with a hearty farewell, he clambered out of the manhole, leaving Harry alone.
Harry sat in the freezing, filthy water and tried to feel lucky that he hadn't been shot in the back of the head, or drowned when he lost his footing. But it was hard to remember how lucky he was, with the water lapping up around his chin and his hands anchored to the wall in the neighborhood of his tailbone. Just as an experiment, he tried to stand up, to get his head a bit higher above the water, but he couldn't even reach the floor of the culvert with his feet. When he pulled one foot up onto the shelf and levered himself upward, he managed to gain about two inches, but he nearly dislocated his shoulders doing it, and after only a few seconds, his boot heel skidded out from under him and landed him back where he'd started. It looked as though his only option was to be rescued before the water rose much higher.
A few minutes later, the murmur of voices and a double splash announced the arrival of Fender and Hanson. Warned by Ioki's slip, Fender went through the hole ahead of Hanson and steadied him on landing, so he did not suffer a similar ducking - not that it mattered much. Hanson was already soaked to the skin by sitting in the pouring rain, waiting his turn. When Tom was seated a couple of feet to Harry's right, closer to the manhole, and tied to the pipe, Fender disappeared again.
Phinny came last, in such a state of nervous collapse that Fender practically had to push him through the hole. He floundered about in the water, calling out for his friends, stuttering so badly that they could hardly understand him. Finally, Fender managed to drag him to his seat on the shelf, almost directly under the manhole.
"All right and tight," Fender announced with satisfaction, as he stepped back to survey the results of his efforts. He chuckled. "Mr. S. was right. You guys are perfect for this."
Still chuckling, he climbed out of the manhole. They all heard the grinding of metal on concrete, then a resounding clang. Tom and Phinny flinched, as the circle of night sky above them turned to pitch black, and Phinny whimpered.
"Take it easy, Phinny," Tom said.
"It's d-d-dark," Phinny whispered.
Harry laughed humorlessly. "You'll get used to it. I'd worry more about the water."
"It's gonna have to rain a hell of a lot, before the water is a problem." As he spoke, Tom tried to readjust his position on the shelf, sending a fairly large wave downstream. It smacked Harry square in the face.
Harry spat out a mouthful of water and retorted, sourly, "Oh, yeah?"
"It's barely up to my shoulders..."
"Tom, you're four inches taller than me."
For a stunned moment, Tom could only stare at the black patch where he knew his partner to be, as the import of Harry's words soaked into his brain. Then he twisted around to find Phinny, almost shouting in his fresh alarm, "How tall are you, Phinny?!"
"Six feet. Maybe a little t-taller."
"That son of a bitch. That's what Shumacher meant about us being perfect - perfect graduated heights... Hey, wait a minute! How come your voice is coming from way up there?"
"Way up wh-where?"
"How high is the water on you?" Tom demanded.
"The m-middle of m-my chest."
Turning back to Harry, Tom said, "He must be on a step. Fender put him up higher than us, so the water couldn't reach him. My God, Harry, I know what Shumacher wants! He wants us to scare Phinny into cooperating!"
"By dying in front of him, one at a time. He wants us to drown."
*** *** ***
Ty handed Judy a large bowl of popcorn, then plopped down on the floor beside her. Both women sat with their backs to the couch and their legs stretched out in front of them, surrounded by a litter of empty beer bottles, video tape boxes, napkins and junk food. They were well into their third movie and their second six-pack, and any restraint between them had long since vanished.
Ty watched the action unfold on the television screen, her face screwed up in a grimace of disgust, 'til a blood-curdling shriek announced the demise of another hapless victim. "Ooohhh, yuck!"
"I knew that kid in the baseball jersey was going to get it before the end," Judy said.
"Darwin in action. He was too stupid to live."
They both laughed and reached for another handful of popcorn. In the companionable silence that followed, Ty's face grew increasingly thoughtful. Her eyes were fixed on the screen, but her attention was obviously elsewhere.
Abruptly, she turned to Hoffs and asked, "Does Penhall know you're consorting with The Enemy?"
Judy flushed slightly and laughed. "No. What he doesn't know won't give him fits." Then her face and voice sobered. "Try not to take what Penhall says too personally."
"The man hates me, and I'm not supposed to take it personally?"
"He doesn't hate you, Ty. He's afraid of you."
"Why would Doug Penhall be afraid of me?"
"Because you're in love with Harry." At Ty's startled look, she added, "And Harry could very easily fall in love with you."
"Don't bet on it."
Judy chuckled. "Trust me, Doug wouldn't waste the energy being nasty to you, if he weren't scared to death that you're going to take his little brother away from him. As far as he's concerned, you're the most dangerous thing to threaten Harry since the Vietcong."
"Huh. I guess I'm not supposed to take that personally, either."
"In his own, twisted way, he's paying you a compliment."
"By comparing me to a guerilla army?"
"By admitting just how deadly you are." Ty threw her a look of utter disbelief, and Judy chuckled again. "Face it, Ty, you're beautiful, you're intelligent, you're successful and you're crazy enough about Harry to stick around, no matter how hard he pushes you away. That's a pretty deadly combination."
Ty gave a snort of disgust. "Yeah, except that Harry doesn't care what I look like, won't listen to a word I say, and despises me for my job. I can stick around 'til I die of old age, but all it'll get me is more rejection. The fact that I do stick around doesn't say much for my common sense. Or my self esteem."
She ended on such a bitter note, and with so much frustrated sorrow in her face, that Judy couldn't help but comfort her. Putting a gentle hand on Ty's arm, she said, earnestly, "Please, don't give up so soon."
"I don't like making an idiot of myself, Judy."
"You're not. Trust me on this."
Ty mulled that over, a frown gathering on her brow.
"Be patient with him, Ty," Judy murmured. "He isn't trying to hurt you, just to protect himself. Give him a little time to believe that you're real and trust that you'll stay. That's hard for Harry."
"Because nothing he loves ever lasts. He's lost it all, one way or another, and the closer he gets to admitting that you're exactly what he wants, the more certain he becomes that you won't hang around. The only way you'll ever get him to trust you is to wait him out."
She fell quiet and watched Ty intently, letting the other woman digest her words at her own pace. After a few minutes of silence, she added, softly, "I've seen this happen before. I know all the symptoms. He did it to me right after the earthquake, and I remember how much it hurt to have my partner shut me out like that. But it passed, and he came back, just like I knew he would."
"What if I wait, and he learns to trust me, and he still doesn't give a damn about me?"
"Then you know it's for real, and you walk away with your dignity intact."
"As easy as that?"
"No. It's never as easy as that." Judy gave her an understanding smile. "You've got it bad, haven't you?"
Ty's face twisted in a painful grimace. "Does it get any worse than this?"
Judy laughed, in spite of the sympathetic pain in her eyes. "Yeah! You could be in love with Tom Hanson! Talk about commitment phobic..."
"Harry's always trying to push me at Tom. It's like he assumes I'm going to end up with Tom, sooner or later, no matter what I say to the contrary."
"It figures." At Ty's questioning look, she explained, "That's just Harry's particular form of damage - his way of hurrying the inevitable. He's always felt a little overshadowed by Tom and always figured that any woman who meets them both will automatically choose Tom over him. I don't get it - I think they're both adorable jerks and wouldn't have either one on a bet - but that's how Harry feels."
Ty shook her head in disgust, and Judy laughed again.
"They aren't an easy bunch to deal with, are they?"
"They're certified loonies!" Ty exclaimed. "If I had the sense God gave a telephone pole, I'd turn and run!"
Before Judy could respond to this, a sudden, frantic pounding on the door interrupted them. Judy shot a startled look at Ty, then at her watch. "It's after two! Who could...?"
The banging resumed, and they both heard a familiar voice bellow, "Jude! It's me! Open up!"
Hoffs started to climb to her feet, but Ty motioned her back. "I'll get it."
"He sounds upset. Are you sure you want to deal with him in this mood?"
"Jude! Open up!!"
Ty abruptly swung the door open to expose Doug Penhall, standing on the stoop with his fist raised to knock again. He stared at her for a silent moment, his mouth open in shock, then he let his hand drop to his side and stepped quickly past her. His face tightened into a closed mask, and he kept his eyes on Hoffs as he moved into the room.
Judy struggled to her feet and limped toward him. "What's wrong?"
"Hanson and Ioki are missing."
"They were on a case tonight, weren't they? Following Phinny to some kind of cash exchange?"
"Yes, but that was at midnight, and they still haven't checked in anywhere."
"There was a shooting, Jude. In an alley a few blocks from the exchange. And the dead body matches Phinny's description of his contact."
"Oh, no. Oh, Doug, what are you going to do?"
"Look for them. I've got Clavo asleep in the car. Will you watch him for me?"
"Thanks, Beautiful. You're the best."
As he started for the door, Ty stepped forward and said, evenly, "I'm coming with you."
He halted abruptly. His burning glare fixed on her for a moment, then dropped to his feet. "This is Police business."
"No it's not. It's a personal mission to find your friends. Well, they're my friends too, Doug, and my colleagues. I'm going to help you find them."
"Take her, Doug," Judy urged.
After a long, tense silence, he nodded shortly and turned for the door again. "I'll get the kid."
Five minutes later, Doug and Ty climbed into his truck and pulled away from the curb. Ty stared out the windshield at the solid sheets of rain falling, wondering if Tom and Harry were stuck somewhere - maybe injured, maybe worse - in this appalling storm. She shuddered slightly.
"Where do we start?" she asked.
"The only place we have. Shumacher."
*** *** ***
Harry leaned his head back against the wall and tried to ease the ache from his shoulders. He had to tilt his head up sharply to keep his nose and mouth out of the rising water, and every twitch from Tom or Phinny created a wave that sent him under for a couple of dreadful seconds. Each time, he felt a flash of terror that the water would not recede and the quick gulp of air he'd gotten before the wave hit would be his last. Then the wave would pass, he'd feel cold air against his face and hear the wail of Phinny's voice again, endlessly pining for Gloria.
His lungs ached, his head felt as though it had a railroad spike through it, and every muscle in his body burned with exhaustion. If the rising water didn't kill him, the strain of fighting it would. Harry could not remember a time when he'd felt so desperate and miserable. Or so sure that he was going to die.
"I c-can't leave my Gloria now," Phinny moaned, for about the tenth time in an hour. "She depends on me so m-much. And there are so many things we talked about doing... things I p-promised her, that I never g-gave her... My poor Gloria! You know, Tom..."
Phinny leaned toward Tom, as he spoke, sending a strong ripple downstream. Tom got a mouthful of water, and Harry went completely under. Warned by Tom's spluttering, Harry had time to fill his lungs with air, so he told himself that he had nothing to worry about, that the wave would pass easily, before his lungs started to hurt...
But the water didn't recede. Harry tried counting the seconds to calm his panic, until he realized that it had been almost a minute, and he had not surfaced again. Fear surged through him, and he began to fight against the bite of the ropes that held him. The harder he strained, the faster he burned the precious oxygen in his lungs, but his body refused to hear reason. He had to reach the surface! He had to find air!
Pulling both feet onto the step in front of him, he dug his heels into the concrete and shoved himself upward with all his strength. The ropes sank into his wrists, his shoulders flared with pain, his heels started to slip, and then he was clear! He spat out a mouthful of water and sucked air into his lungs, gasping in combined pain and relief. At that moment, if he'd still had the ability to cry, he would gladly have burst into tears.
Beside him, Tom called anxiously, "Iokage? Are you all right?"
"No! God, Tom! Make it stop raining!" His heel slipped, almost ducking him under before he could recover, and he gave a wordless cry. When Tom started to lean closer, Harry shouted in raw panic, "Don't move!" Tom froze, and Harry struggled clear of the tiny wake he'd made to gasp, "Every time you move, I go under!"
Harry could hear the desperation in Tom's voice, but it didn't make him feel any better. "Just hold still, please..."
To their right, both men heard Phinny begin to sob, "This is all my fault! All my fault! You're going to die, and I'm never going to see G-gloria again... My Gloria! My poor Gloria!"
As Phinny's words dissolved into tears, Harry closed his eyes against his own panic and the secret, unwelcome thoughts that kept bubbling up through his layers of denial. Every time Phinny called out to his beloved Gloria, Harry remembered another woman's voice - a voice very different from Gloria's - and he felt a deep, frantic desire to hear that voice again before he died.
"Hang on, Iok!" Tom urged, when Harry fell silent. "Don't give up on me! Shumacher won't kill us this way. If he wanted us dead, he'd just shoot us. This has got to be a trick, to soften us up and make us talk. Any minute now, he'll open that manhole and pull us outta here!"
"You don't believe that."
"Okay, then Penhall will find us."
Harry made a choking sound, and said in a strange, dazed voice that Tom had never heard him use before, "This is terrible."
"I'm telling you, Penhall will find us! He's out there looking for us, right this second!"
"No... what I'm thinking. It's terrible, Tom. I can't believe I'm actually..."
"What? What's wrong?"
"Ty. Every time... every time Phinny says his wife's name, or you talk about Penhall, or I think about dying like this, I think about... her."
Tom gave a slightly hysterical laugh. "It's about time."
"Are you in l-love, Harry?" Phinny asked.
"No!" Water washed across Harry's face for a long, hideous moment.
When he surfaced again, he heard Phinny saying, "...think more about the pain you're causing her than your own pain, that's love. Just knowing that she'll be hurt by losing you is worse than any torture..."
"Please, Phinny!" A fresh wave surged over him, and Harry's words were cut off when his mouth filled with water. He spat it out and shouted, "Shut up!"
A third wave hit, and as he went under, Harry knew that he had reached the end of his luck. He worked his feet a little farther under him, pushed himself up another agonizing half inch, and found air again, but the panic did not recede with the water. He knew that the next breath, or the next, or the next would be the last.
"Tom! Say something!"
"I'm right here! What can I do, Iok?! Tell me what to do!"
"Talk to me... please! I don't like being alone."
"You're not alone, I promise! I wouldn't go anywhere, if I could! We're partners, right? Harry? Harry, answer me!" But Harry did not answer him. Tom listened for a moment, his stomach churning in horror, and he let out a sob of pure pain. He could not see anything, for which he was deeply grateful, but he could feel the water moving violently around him, as Ioki fought against the ropes that bound him, fought to reach the surface and breathe again. Tom strained toward the movement, desperate to reach his friend, even though he knew he could do nothing.
"Harry! Come back!" His shouts echoed uselessly through the culvert, bringing a whimper from Phinny but no other response. Water washed into Tom's mouth, a brief promise of things to come, and he collapsed back against the curved concrete wall, sobbing openly now. "Penhall!" he called, "Penhall!" Tilting back his head, he threw all his agony and fear into a single, raw scream for help. "Penhall!!!"
* * *
"Officer Penhall, of the Metro Police. Your, uh, doorman let us in." Penhall cast a sideways glance at the enormous, smirking Fender, then flipped his badge shut and turned his attention back to the man behind the desk.
"What can I do for you, Officer?" Shumacher asked, politely.
"We were in the neighborhood, looking for a couple of friends, and we saw the lights on. Figured a fine, upstanding pillar of the community, like yourself, wouldn't mind if we stopped in for a chat."
Shumacher eyed the two people standing so tensely across the desk from him, his manner still polite but distinctly wary. "Please, sit down and tell me what's on your mind."
Instead of taking him up on his offer, Penhall stepped up to the desk and held out a photo. "These are the two men I'm looking for. Have you seen either of them, Mr. Shumacher?"
Shumacher frowned down at a recent snapshot of Hanson and Ioki, standing with their arms across each other's shoulders, smiling. His face betrayed nothing but bland curiosity. Pointing to Ioki, he said, "This one looks familiar, but I can't remember where... Hmmm. The newspaper? Television?"
"Probably both," Penhall snapped, letting his irritation get the better of him. "What about the other one?"
"No. I don't know him." He held the photo out to Penhall.
In a burst of anger, Penhall leaned over the desk and smacked his hand down hard on the picture, pinning it to the blotter. "Look again, Mr. Shumacher. Look real close!"
As Shumacher's gaze dropped to the photo, Penhall's followed. From the corner of his eye, he saw a couple of objects lying innocently on the desk that drew his attention. He let his gaze slide over to them, trying not to alert Shumacher to his interest, and he stiffened. Right there, not a foot from Shumacher's right hand, was a key ring with a familiar leather tab on it. His hand shot out and grabbed the key ring, then he stepped back from the desk. With the same movement, he drew his gun.
"You!" he pointed the gun at Fender, "get over here beside the desk. And you keep your hands where I can see 'em!"
Shumacher folded his hands neatly on the desk, but Penhall could see the rage and chagrin growing in his face. He was staring at the key ring so fiercely that it seemed he would try to melt it with the heat of his gaze.
Ty stepped up beside Penhall. "What is it?"
He tossed her the key ring. "Recognize that?"
She glanced once at the old leather, with the initials T.H. stamped in it. "Hanson's."
"Yeah. They're here. And now I have legal grounds to search the premises." He thumbed back the hammer on his gun. "Any complaints, Mister Shumacher?"
"I'm a law-abiding citizen. If you have legal grounds for a search, then by all means, search."
"Thanks for your permission. Start with that goon, Doc. Make sure he's not carrying any surprises."
Ty quickly patted down Fender, being careful not to step between him and Penhall's gun. After she had relieved Fender of a gun, some bits of rope and a large knife, she repeated the process with Shumacher. He was not armed, but just for good measure, she took his keys. Then she searched the desk. In the top drawer, where Shumacher had obviously shoved them when he heard the doorbell, she found the contents of Hanson's and Ioki's pockets, including their wallets and Tom's gun.
At the sight of his friends' belongings, Penhall's anger came to a boil. "That was stupid, Mr. Shumacher," he snarled. "Very stupid. I expected better from a guy like you... Fortune 500 businessman, powerful drug kingpin... Didn't figure you for the sloppy type!"
"You must be mistaking me for someone else," Shumacher said, with an attempt at his usual cheerful ease.
"Sloppy and trite. Okay, here's a little hint for next time, doofus. When you kidnap somebody, don't leave his personal belongings in plain sight, and especially don't invite a police officer into your home. 'Cause see, if we find the evidence right under our noses, after we've been let in all nice and polite by the butler, we're allowed to look under the rugs and in the desk drawers. And most importantly, we're allowed to arrest your sorry ass!"
Penhall handed Ty his gun, so she could cover the suspects, then he snatched up the phone. Thirty seconds later, he hung up, wearing a hard smile.
"The cavalry is on its way. We've just gotta find a place to stash these two, until they get here. Someplace they can't get out of too fast."
"We're not going to wait for back-up?"
"Hell, no. We're gonna find Hanson and Ioki."
Penhall looked around the room, frowning. The only piece of furniture big enough to restrain a grown man was the sofa, so he dragged Shumacher out of his chair and over to it. "Sit down!" A practiced shove helped Shumacher on his way. "On the floor!"
Shumacher obeyed, and Penhall handcuffed both his wrists to the leg of the couch.
"Now, for your oversized buddy. C'mere, you."
Ty nudged Fender into motion with the barrel of the gun and followed Doug over to a closet. Doug grabbed his arm, ready to shove him inside, but Ty stopped Doug's movement with a hand on his arm.
"Wait. Look at his shoes and pant legs."
"Huh?" Doug bent over to examine Fender's clothing. When he straightened up, he had an eager gleam in his eye. "Been out in the rain tonight, man? You like playing in the mud?"
Fender grinned. "Just a little gardening."
With a hard shove and a muttered curse, he pitched Fender into the closet, slammed and locked the door, and wedged the knob with a chair. "That won't hold him for long, but it'll buy us some time. Come on. Let's find out what our goon friend was doing outside in the middle of a monsoon."
Ty traipsed out of the study on his heels and stayed respectfully quiet as he worked. This was his specialty, not hers, and she was perfectly willing to leave it in his capable hands.
Penhall ignored the front door. He'd come in that way, and he had not noticed any dirt or dampness on the carpets. So Fender must have used another door - a door that would have muddy footprints leading away from it, since the man had not taken the time to change his shoes, much less steam clean the carpets. After a few frustrating minutes of searching, they picked up a trail of mud and half-dried puddles that led them straight to the side door in the servants' wing. It opened onto a swampy gravel path behind the garage. From the stoop, a confused mess of flooded footprints trailed away into the shadows.
Doug and Ty followed the trail with some difficulty. The pouring rain had turned the ground to soup, and most of the depressions in the mud had been washed away. But Fender was heavy enough, even if the others were not, to make very deep imprints. His steps could still be traced along the path and up to the top of a long, sloping hill.
Doug was standing at the top of the slope, trying to pick out the path Fender had taken, when he heard the distant wail of sirens. "Right on time."
Together, they slipped and slid down the hill, following the blurred signs of their friends' earlier passage. At the bottom, they hesitated, unable to find a path in the running stream. Then they heard it, eerie and terrifying in the storm-lashed darkness - a distant, muffled voice screaming Penhall's name. They exchanged one appalled look and broke into a run.
* * *
With that last, desperate cry, Tom felt as though he had completely spent himself. He could do nothing but sit there, crying in harsh, dry sobs and waiting for the water to rise that crucial inch that would take him where Harry had already gone. His partner was dead; his own life was over; what was there left to feel but despair?
The grind of metal on metal brought his eyes open with a start, and he wrenched his head up to see the manhole dragging slowly open above him. A flashlight beam glanced down into the hole, making his eyes hurt, but he did not flinch away. Someone was up there... someone who could...
"Tom?!" It was Penhall's voice, though Tom could not see a face beyond the dazzle of the light. "Tom!!"
"Doug, help us! Get down here, now!" he howled. "Ioki's drowning!"
Tom heard a muttered curse, then Ty's voice snapping, "Take the light!"
"Hurry!" Tom screamed, now thrashing and fighting in his frenzy to get them moving. "His hands are tied! He can't get his head up..."
A body dropped through the hole and landed with a splash that sent Tom deep underwater. He instinctively began to struggle, but then he felt someone moving through the water near him, and he calmed. When his head broke the surface again, he shook back his hair and opened his eyes to see the flashlight beam painting a bright circle on the water immediately to his left. And in that circle, staring up at him with flawless silicon eyes, his mouth open slightly and his face ghastly pale in the greenish light, was Harry Ioki.
Tom gave a strangled cry and flinched away. In the next second, the water heaved up again, and two heads broke the surface. For a sickening moment, Harry just floated in the circle of Ty's arms, motionless, his head dropped against her shoulder. No one spoke, as they all waited for Ty to say the impossible words - that Harry was dead. But suddenly, Harry took a deep, ragged breath and began to cough.
Doug muttered something that sounded suspiciously like a prayer. Tom broke out in a beatific grin, oblivious to the water that flooded his mouth. And Phinny cheered. Ty climbed up on the shelf, dragging Harry up with her, and supported his weight while he tried to get his feet under him. He felt completely limp and nerveless in her arms, and she could feel him trembling violently.
"Hey, Iok," Tom called, when he could get his mouth above the waterline, "you okay?"
"I don't know." Harry spoke without lifting his head from where it rested on Ty's shoulder. "Am I alive?"
"Then I guess I'm okay." He made an effort to stand on his own, reaching out to balance himself against the wall and straightening his sagging shoulders. But his knees promptly buckled, and he sank back down into the water. Ty caught him before his head went under, supporting him with an arm around his shoulders, while he knelt on the step, still shaking uncontrollably and breathing in ragged gasps. "Oh, God... I don't believe what just happened..."
"It's okay, Harry," Tom assured him. "I told you they'd come."
"I've never been so scared in my whole life."
"Me, too. But it's over. It's okay."
"Harry?" Ty clasped his shoulders firmly and said, "I have to cut Tom loose. The water's still rising. Are you going to be all right, if I let go of you for a minute?"
He nodded numbly. Ty gave him one piercing look, squeezed his shoulders reassuringly, and plunged beneath the surface. It took her nearly a minute to saw through Tom's bonds, then they both climbed up on the shelf, safely away from the rising water.
Tom took one look at his partner and said quietly to Ty, "Get Phinny out of here. I'll stay with Iok."
She nodded acceptance, moving promptly away to deal with Phinny and leaving Tom to handle Harry. Tom sloshed along the shelf until he reached Harry, then he dropped to a crouch in front of him. "Hey, Boss."
Harry looked up at him and tried to smile, but it came out wrong.
Tom hooked an arm around Harry's neck and pulled him into a fierce hug. "Can you believe it?" he murmured. "You did it again, Iokage. This must be some kind of world's record."
"Don't joke about it," Harry whispered, "and please don't tell me I'm lucky!"
"I won't. C'mon, let's get out of here."
Tom stayed very close to his partner, as they made their way to the manhole, not because Harry needed his support - he had recovered his balance and seemed quite steady on his feet - but because Tom needed reassurance. He could not shake off the dreadful image of Harry's dead face looking up at him from the water. That one would stick with him for a very long time, if he was any judge of nightmares.
Ty waited for them just under the manhole, and Doug hung head down above them, his arm extended. With a boost from Ty and a pull from Doug, Tom found himself standing on solid ground again in the middle of a downpour. Doug favored him with a searching look and a quick hug. Then he shrugged off his overcoat and handed it to his friend.
"Don't bother," Tom said, through chattering teeth. "I'm so wet I don't even feel the rain."
"Put it on, man. Warm up."
"Thanks, Doug." Tom pulled on the coat and met Doug's gaze directly for a long moment. "I knew you'd come."
An ironic half-smile tilted Doug's lips at the familiar words. "What are partners for?"
Before Tom could answer, he turned abruptly away and knelt beside the open manhole. Tom moved up beside him, intending to help him pull Ioki out, but Doug didn't need any help. He lifted Harry easily, in one swift motion, and stood him on his feet. Tom instinctively backed away from the pair, expecting Doug to go ballistic at any second and not wanting to get caught in the fireball. But to his surprise, Doug simply let go of Harry and stood there, with his hands hanging limply at his sides and his head down.
Harry reached out to clasp his arm. "Doug? Are you okay?"
A slight shudder went through Penhall's body, before he answered, roughly, "You scared me good, that time."
"I scared me." Doug gave a ragged laugh, as he gathered his smaller friend up in a crushing hug. Harry murmured into his shoulder, "You cut that one close, big brother."
"Sorry, man. I'll do better next time."
*** *** ***
Harry stared blankly at the door in front of him, his hands stuffed deep into his coat pockets, trying to work up the courage to knock. He knew he shouldn't be here. After spending nearly twenty-four hours shuffling between the police station, the hospital and Fuller's office, he should be at home, sleeping off his bone-deep exhaustion and forgetting about everything that had happened to him in the storm drain. But he had tried that and failed. His brain simply would not turn off and let him rest. So here he was, standing at Ty's door, preparing to launch himself into yet another disaster.
In a sudden burst of fatalistic courage, he pulled his right hand from his pocket and knocked firmly on the door. For a long minute, no one answered, and he felt a sickening combination of fear and relief churning in his stomach. Then the deadbolt flipped and the door swung open.
"Harry?" Ty sounded surprised, and not particularly pleased to see him. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Yes. I need to talk to you. May I come in?"
He waited until he heard the door sigh on its hinges again, then he stepped abruptly across the threshold, before he could change his mind and run in the opposite direction. His sudden move startled Ty, and she backed up so quickly that she nearly tripped over her own feet. Harry had only been in her apartment once before, so he did not have it mapped out in his head, but that didn't stop him from pacing between the entryway and living room, with reckless disregard for the wellbeing of her furniture. His long overcoat swung out behind him, showering raindrops over the polished floor, while his boots rapped out a quick staccato accompaniment to his racing pulse.
"Harry..." she started, but he didn't let her get any farther.
"Okay, here's the problem," he said, in a voice as tense and overcharged as his face. "I didn't want anything to do with this. I didn't ask for it... tried to stop it... did everything I could to get out of it before it got this far!"
Ty shut the door a little too hard - her own nerves showing - and edged closer to him. He continued to pace and continued to water the floor in the process, seemingly unaware of her, though his words were obviously intended for her ears.
"I didn't even know it was happening, 'til last night. When we were shut up in that culvert with Phinny, and he kept going on about his wife, I just kept thinking stuff I... I shouldn't be thinking. Stuff I don't want to be thinking!"
"Harry, stop!" Ty cut in. "You're dripping all over everyth..."
At that precise moment, Harry ran smack into a small end table. He staggered back from it and crashed into the wall, to the sound of breaking glass. "What was that?"
"My $50,000 Ming vase, of course." At his stricken look, she relented and said, "I'm kidding. Don't worry about it. But please, stop careening around and give me that soggy coat!"
He obediently shrugged out of his overcoat and held it out to her.
"Thank you," she said, in a much softer tone. "Now sit down, before you break something important."
He shook his head and leaned back against the comforting solidity of the wall. Suddenly, under Ty's startled eyes, he let his knees collapse and slid down to sit on the floor, his face buried in his hands. He could feel Ty's confused, alarmed gaze on him, as she crouched in front of him. When she spoke, her voice was very close, very quiet, and full of concern. It made his chest hurt.
"Me. Everything. I can't do this, Ty."
He lifted his head to fix her with his oddly direct gaze. "It's some kind of game to you, isn't it? You and Hanson, plotting together to wear me down."
"Hanson and I never plotted anything together, except how to make your business a success."
"I've heard you guys. You act like I'm not there sometimes, like just because I can't see you I can't hear you, either, or don't notice what you're up to, but I do notice. I've heard you laughing..."
"Not at you."
"Tom brought you into the company for fun, didn't he? To get to me? I know you think it's a joke - make Harry squirm, watch him try to get away, watch him make a fool of himself when he can't..."
"What in God's name happened last night?" Ty murmured.
"You didn't care that it was my life you were screwing with," he went on, ignoring her interruption, "that I didn't want to play with you guys. You set me up, anyway, and you got my partner to help you. Well, now you've won. I give up. I'm not going to fight anymore."
"What are you talking about?!"
He gazed at her, unblinking, while his face went whiter and whiter, and his mouth tightened into a hard, determined line. Abruptly, he pushed himself away from the wall and reached to find her. His hands clasped her head and drew her toward him, giving neither one of them a chance to react before their lips met in a firm, inescapable kiss.
Ty made a choking sound deep in her throat, and lifted her hands as though to push him away, but then she froze, her open palms raised helplessly, hovering a few inches from his shoulders. Harry felt her moment of resistance and the wary stillness that followed. He felt it in the planes and muscles of her face - a face he had never seen and never touched but had pictured in his imagination a thousand times. Now, at last, he held that face between his hands and felt it gradually thaw to his touch.
As the rigidity drained from her body, as her lips softened against his, he felt an answering warmth in himself that he had not expected. Or maybe he had, and that was why he had avoided this moment for so long. She was so close, and suddenly so solid - no longer a disembodied voice haunting his thoughts, but a living, breathing creature, with strong cheekbones and hair that felt like velvet and a faint hospital smell about her that even her recent shower couldn't wash completely away. So much like the person he had imagined, and so totally different. So human. So real.
A sudden tremor of fear ran through him, and with a slight gasp, he pulled sharply away from her. Ty did not move. She still knelt with her hands raised in a gesture of helplessness, and though Harry couldn't see her, he could feel her bewilderment. Collapsing back against the wall, he covered his face with his hands and buried his fingers in his damp hair.
"Oh, God," he groaned, "I shouldn't have done that!"
"Then, why did you?"
He hesitated for a long moment, struggling to say the words that would explain - that would expose him once and for all. Finally, he lifted his head and said, "Because it's all I thought about, when I was waiting to die."
Ty sounded skeptical. "Kissing me?"
"Kissing you, hearing your voice again, being close to you... and how it would feel if I never got to do any of those things."
"So, that's why you stormed over here and yelled at me and insulted me and accused me of hurting you for fun." She shook her head in disgust. "You've been acting like a jerk."
"And you've been making me feel like a jerk, for caring about you."
"Now you want me to forget all that, just because you come in here, dripping and pacing and rambling on about having revelations in a storm drain?"
"Why should I?"
"Because I love you. Even if I am too messed up to enjoy it."
"You certainly are that!" She hesitated, then asked, a touch wistfully, "Do you mean it?"
Something perilously close to a smile lifted the corner of his mouth. "Yes."
Ty gave a soft laugh, and the threatened smile lit Harry's face in response. As she looked at him, trying to fathom what had inspired this change of heart, something inside her came unstuck. Her eyes filled with tears.
"Oh, Harry, please don't be toying with me! You can't say things like this to me, if you don't mean them!"
"I mean every word of it. I promise." He lifted his hand to her face again, then slid his fingers into the hair at the back of her neck. "But I meant the part about being messed up, too."
"I don't care. I don't care." She shook her head stubbornly, while tears trickled steadily down her cheeks. "You can be as neurotic as you want, just don't make me disappear again. I can't stand it when you pretend I'm not there."
"I'm sorry about that, Ty." He pulled her gently toward him, wrapping both arms around her and burying his face in her hair. "I shouldn't have done that to you," he murmured.
She took a ragged breath and gasped, "It's okay. It's what I get for falling for a head case... oh, God..." Another breath, and she began to cry in earnest, her entire body shaking with the force of her sobs.
"Shh. Don't cry." Harry held her very tightly, while she clung to him and wept into his shoulder. Her display of emotion startled him, but it also reassured him, in a weird kind of way. If she could break down like this, she couldn't be the ultra-cool, super-human machine she pretended to be. She must have been building up doubts and loneliness and pain for a long time, to be this scared of letting them go.
Even as he voiced this thought to himself, Harry felt something new touch him. Something warmer and gentler than any emotion he had ever connected with Ty before. Tenderness. She had always seemed so capable and invulnerable, as though the last thing she needed from anyone was tenderness. But for the first time, he felt as though he and Ty were, on some level, equals. Not the powerhouse doctor and her flavor-of-the-month infatuation. Not the Beauty and the Blind Man. Just two people who needed and wanted to be close to each other. Who needed a little understanding, a bit of forgiveness for their mistakes, and some simple human warmth. He could give her that. He might not have much more than that to offer, but if that's what she needed, she had come to the right man.
Suddenly, Harry didn't feel nearly so afraid.
Epilogue (three weeks later...)
Doug halted just outside the office door and gazed at the neat, gold letters painted on the glass. The third name on the list was shinier than the others, the paint still slightly wet, and the sight of it brought a smile to his face. It was just like Harry to get the name up before he came in today, so he'd feel like he belonged, right from the start. And it had worked. Doug's smile widened.
He pushed the door open, being careful not to smudge the letters of his own name, and peered inside. The office had changed drastically since that stormy night, when Phineas Tench had dropped into their lives. Harry's old furniture - the black leather sofa, chic graphite lamps and smoked-glass tables from his abandoned apartment - now stood in a comfortable group against one wall. In the opposite wall, two windows overlooked the street, with an old-fashioned coat rack set between them and the coffee maker steaming happily on a table beside it. And the tiny inner offices that opened off the back wall had been furnished to the diverse tastes of the men who occupied them - cluttered but orderly for Tom; stark and precise for Harry. A framed, matted copy of Harry's favorite Bruce Lee poster hung above the sofa - a thank you gift from Phinny, to replace the one that had gone down with the Chapel.
Tom, Harry and Judy were collected around the couch, discussing something in low voices. Judy sat on one arm of the sofa, while the two men bent over a large package that was propped on its seat. They did not hear Doug come in, until he cleared his throat and let the door shut behind him with a slight crash. Then all three turned in his direction.
"Hey, guys! Sorry I'm late."
Tom sauntered over to him with an assumption of disinterested ease, but Doug could see the gleam of excitement in his eyes. "Starting off on the wrong foot, Penhall? Better watch it. Your new boss is a real..."
"Shut up, Hanson," Ioki said, mildly. "How'd it go with Fuller?"
Penhall shrugged and smiled a touch sadly. "He was cool. I think he saw this coming a long time ago..."
"We all did," Hanson muttered.
"...and he understands. So, no hard feelings. The crappy part was all the red tape downtown - you know the routine."
"Yes, we do," Hanson and Ioki chorused, while Hoffs laughed aloud.
"But I got everything taken care of, picked up my P.I. license from City Hall," he waved an official-looking envelope triumphantly over his head, "and here I am, ready to go. I even got my name on the door."
Ioki grinned happily. "You noticed. How's it look?"
Penhall's eyes narrowed mischievously. "Great, except... they spelled it wrong."
A look of horror filled Harry's face. "They did not!" Turning to Hanson, he demanded, "Did they?"
"'Fraid so, Boss. I tried to tell 'em, but they said they had it written out by the owner of the company, and they couldn't change it on the word of a lowly empl..."
"Cut it out," Hoffs interjected, her voice bubbling with combined laughter and exasperation. "That's not funny. The name is fine, Harry. They spelled it right, it looks great, and these two jerks need a personality transplant."
"Okay, okay," Penhall grumbled, "maybe I was kidding. But seriously, Iok, thanks. It makes me feel... welcome."
Hanson clapped him companionably on the shoulder and murmured, "You are. Hey, this is home, now."
"Almost." Ioki gestured for them to join him at the sofa, then pointed at the long, rectangular package sitting on it. "First, we've got to find the right place for this."
Doug moved up beside him and eyed the object curiously. "Whatcha got there?"
"It's our sign. Tom picked it up this morning."
"Oh, man!" Doug swiftly crouched in front of the sofa and worked his fingers under the top layer of bubble-wrap. With a few good tugs, he split the plastic and peeled back the thick cocoon. "Oh, man," he repeated.
Harry knelt beside him and, shoving aside the last of the wrappings, ran one hand reverently over the smooth surface.
Doug gave a low whistle. "It's official. We're a real, live business, with our own sign and everything!"
Harry turned sparkling eyes on him and asked, "Is it beautiful? Is it right?"
"It's right," Doug answered, emphatically.
From behind them, Tom chuckled, "It's upside down."
"I'm not going to fall for that one twice," Harry said, dryly. "Tell me the truth, Doug. How does it look?"
Tom and Doug both stepped back to get the full effect of the graceful, metallic letters in their faintly Art Deco frame. After a moment, during which Harry gazed anxiously at him, Doug said, "It's perfect. That's the truth. But Iok, you are gonna have to turn it over."
Harry opened his mouth to deliver a blistering retort, but before he could speak, they were interrupted by the sound of booted feet on the wooden floor. He shut his mouth with a snap and turned to the door, just as Ty came breezing in, calling, "Hey, guys! What's up?" She halted just inside the door to exclaim, "Ooooh! The sign!"
Harry rose slowly to his feet at her entrance. Old habits of defensiveness kept his face neutral as he nodded a greeting to her, but underneath the mask, he was grinning happily. This day had lacked only one thing to make it perfect, and that one thing had just walked through the door. He wished they were alone, so he could put his arms around her, kiss her, and tell her how glad he was to see her. Instead, he asked, in a perfectly bland and pleasant voice, "Do you like it?"
"I love it! But it's upside down."
The scowl descended on Harry's face again. "It is not. Hanson told you to say that."
Ty's eyebrows shot up, and she exchanged a laughing glance with Judy. "Right. Sorry. I keep telling myself I'm not going to plot with Hanson, and I keep backsliding. So, when's the official hanging?"
"Depends on who's getting hung," Penhall quipped. "Or is it hanged?"
"People are hanged; beef is hung."
Harry gave them both an exasperated look. "Where did we put the hammer and nails, Tom?"
Hanson promptly went in search of the necessary tools, while Harry, Doug and Judy began a spirited discussion of how to place the sign properly on the wall. Then Hanson appeared, hammer in hand, to add his two cents.
Ty listened to them for a moment, then asked, "Did you guys read the newspaper this morning?"
Doug broke off his argument with Judy and turned around to stare at her. "Uh-uh. Why?"
"The jury came back last night. They convicted Shumacher on all counts, and the judge is expected to give him the maximum sentence."
"That's no big surprise."
"No, but you should read the article anyway. Front page, banner headline, and it mentions our Senior Partners by name." She grinned at Harry's startled expression. "It credits Tom and Harry with exposing Shumacher's illegal activities, providing the crucial evidence to make the case, and delivering the testimony that convicted him. It even mentions the Trumbull business. I'm telling you, once the public reads that article, you'll be famous."
A wide smile spread over Doug's face. "Cool! Just like The Untouchables!"
"No, no, no," Tom protested, shaking his head, "no more mobsters! I vote we stick to nice, easy divorce cases - take a few pictures, catch some guy with his pants down - nothing dangerous."
"Oh, boy, that sounds exciting."
"Aren't you the one who's been trying to convince us that this job is too hazardous?"
Doug struck a virtuous pose, one hand on his heart and his chin lifted regally. "I've turned over a new leaf."
Tom snorted in disbelief, but Harry chimed in, "It's true. He hasn't nagged me once, since that night at Shumacher's. He even signed up for some martial arts training with me, at Frank's school."
"With Terminator Wu?" Tom looked genuinely impressed at that. "You're a better man than I, Doug Penhall."
Penhall's attitude shifted from lofty to smug. "We already knew that."
"Come on, guys," Harry urged, "I want to get this sign up."
"Yeah, so the next client who comes through the door, wanting us to bring down a mobster, knows he's in the right place," Doug chortled.
Doug and Harry crossed to the sofa and lifted the large sign between them. As they carried it over to the wall, encouraged by Tom's heckling, Judy suddenly called out, "Wait! Guys! I want a picture of you with the sign, before you put it up. The Jump Street Investigations team, together at last."
"If we each hold a corner of the sign..."
"But we've got to turn it over."
"Wait, Penhall! You're stepping on my foot!"
"Okay... Go back..."
The three men broke out in a babble of jokes and questions, jockeying to get themselves in position for the picture, while Hoffs rummaged in her large purse for her camera. By the time she located it, they had placed themselves in the open doorway, with the sign in front of them. Harry stood in the middle holding the sign, flanked by Tom and Doug, all three of them wearing goofy grins and trying not to break down laughing.
Judy eyed them for a minute, then said, "You really do need to turn that sign over!"
"The sign is perfect," Harry insisted. "Stop trying to mess with my head and take the picture!"
"Come on, Iok, let us turn it over," Hanson pleaded.
"Hey, who's the boss around here?" He glared fiercely at Hanson, but the pure mischief lurking in his eyes gave him away. "I am, and I say it's perfect the way it is. If you don't agree, you can go look for a new job!"
"Gee, I guess that put me in my place. Take the picture, Jude."
From her vantage point behind Hoffs, Ty was laughing uncontrollably.
Judy obediently lifted the camera to her eye and gazed through it at the image she was about to immortalize. Her three best friends in the whole world - her family - standing proudly in their new home, holding a sign that read "Jump Street Investigations." Upside down. With a small, delighted laugh, she snapped the picture.
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