Outside, the storm raged, dumping solid sheets of rain on the flooded streets and splitting the night sky with huge, jagged forks of lightning. Any vehicle foolhardy enough to venture out in the deluge appeared to swim, rather than roll, over the invisible pavement. A lone pedestrian - bedraggled and miserable - huddled under the bus stop awning, with his feet tucked up under him on the bench to keep them out of the running stream beneath him.
Inside the small third-floor office, a pink-and-white checked blanket formed an island of light and color in the middle of a dark, empty space. A few candles, placed randomly between the beer bottles, poker chips and scattered cards, cast just enough light to reveal the faces of the five people seated around the blanket but did not penetrate the gloom outside the circle. As a result, the bare office seemed much larger and spookier than it really was, and the card game on the blanket much cozier. If the poker players heard the storm outside, they gave no sign. Their attention was riveted on the battle of nerves taking place between the two remaining combatants.
Harry Ioki lay stretched out on the floor, propped up on his elbows, with his cards masking the lower half of his face. His thumb moved over the raised markings on the corner of each card, while his eyes seemed to gaze intently at Doug Penhall over the top of his winning poker hand. He could hear Penhall shifting uncomfortably on the other side of the blanket, grunting and muttering as he tried to decide what to do. The others had fallen completely silent - a hushed, expectant silence. They were waiting for Penhall to call his bluff and break his winning streak, but they were doomed to disappointment.
Harry read the cards one more time, with a deft flick of his thumb, then he stacked them together and laid them face down on the blanket. Propping his chin in his hands, he looked enquiringly at his roommate-turned-pigeon.
"What's it gonna be, Doug?"
"Shut up and gimme a minute."
Harry shut his mouth with a snap. After a moment, he rolled over onto his back, folded his hands behind his head, and crossed his ankles, assuming a posture of total relaxation and indifference.
Penhall swore under his breath and groused, "We never should've taught 'im to play...never..."
Ioki grinned at the ceiling but said nothing. Poor Penhall was so easy to psych out! Not that he needed mental games to win tonight. Tonight, he was golden. He had the magic touch. And even if he lost every penny he'd accumulated over the last several hours, it wouldn't matter, because just being in this place with these people made the night perfect.
A crash of thunder made the walls shake, and to his right, Ioki heard Judy Hoffs stirring uncomfortably. Her lawn chair scraped against the hardwood floor, then her cane slid off her knee and landed with a clunk. She didn't like this kind of weather, he knew. It made her bad leg ache. But Judy being Judy, she had braved the storm anyway, to help him celebrate.
They had all come to celebrate - Tom Hanson, Ty Martin, Judy and even grouchy old Doug - because they were his friends, his partners and his family. They cared about him. Sometimes, he forgot how much. And no matter how loudly they griped about the weather, or the lack of heat, electricity and furniture in the office, they would not have missed this party for anything.
Harry abruptly rolled over and fixed his blank, smiling gaze on Doug. "Okay, Roomie, I got a deal for you."
"What?" Doug asked, sourly.
"In honor of Jump Street Investigations, and our first official day in business, I'll let you call without matching my bet."
"Don't do me any favors!"
"You want to go broke?"
"I wanna beat you, fair and square!"
"It's not gonna happen." Ioki picked up his cards, fanned them neatly, then laid them face-up on the blanket. "Read 'em and weep."
"Awwww, man!" Penhall groaned.
Hanson whistled appreciatively. Shaking his head in defeat, he threw his cards into the center pile and reached for his beer. "I should've known, when he only drew one card."
Beside him, Tyrrel Martin frowned down at Ioki's hand with all the discontent of a rational person who had just witnessed the triumph of chaos over logic. "He drew to an inside straight? Nobody draws to an inside straight."
"Harry does," Hanson said, "and he wins. We used to call it Beginner's Luck, but after four years of fleecing us every chance he gets, he doesn't qualify as a beginner anymore."
Ioki continued stacking chips, whistling happily between his teeth and ignoring his friends' comments, 'til Hoffs asked, "What are you going to do with our life savings, Harry? Buy another pair of designer sunglasses?"
"I figured I'd get the electricity turned on in here, so Hanson doesn't run into the furniture."
"What furniture?" Hanson retorted.
"I'll get around to that." Smiling brightly at them all, Ioki asked, "You guys want to play another hand? Maybe I'll win enough to buy Hanson a desk."
A chorus of groans and protests met his words. Harry laughed and resumed piling up his winnings, but suddenly, through the noisy chatter, he heard something that made him drop his chips and look up in surprise. After a moment's hesitation, he jumped to his feet and started for the door.
Penhall and Hanson promptly broke off their wrangling to demand, "Where are you going?"
"There's someone out in the hall."
Penhall, moving with unexpected speed, leapt up and grabbed Ioki's arm to halt him. "Stay put. I'll check it out."
Ioki heard the telltale sound of metal against leather, as Penhall drew his gun. "We're supposed to help people, not shoot them," he said.
A dull thud, as of something heavy hitting the floor, silenced them and turned all eyes on the door. Shaking off Penhall's grasp, Ioki crossed the room in a few swift strides. He jerked the door open, then hopped backward as a large, heavy object landed against his legs.
"Get back!" Penhall shouted, and this time, there was no arguing with the command in his voice.
Ioki stepped away from the open door, giving Penhall and Hanson room to crowd closer. "What is it?" he asked.
On cue, a tremendous crash of thunder shook the whole building. Everyone in the room tensed, waiting for the eerie music to cut in. Then Judy gave a snort of disbelief, shattering the mood, and said,
"Come on, that only happens in horror movies."
Ty joined the men and bent over the inert form on the floor. "It's a body, all right."
"He can't be dead," Harry insisted. "I heard him talking just a minute ago."
"No, he's not dead."
Harry crouched beside her, curious. "What's wrong with him?"
"It looks like he fainted. Doug, would you help me get him inside? We should try to warm him up, and if he doesn't come around pretty soon, we'll need to call for an ambulance."
Penhall grunted agreement, then caught the unconscious man under the arms and lifted him easily. Together, he and Dr. Martin carried their visitor into the room and laid him down by the wall. Penhall began peeling him out of his sodden coat, none too gently, while Ty checked him over for injuries. By now all of them, with the exception of Hoffs who chose to stay in her sideline seat, were gathered around to watch.
"I need a dry coat, or a blanket," Ty said.
Harry promptly got up to fetch his overcoat, which was draped over a pile of cardboard boxes under the window. As he returned with the garment, he heard Hanson comment, in amazement,
"He's wearing a bow tie... and argyle socks! Jeez, who dressed this guy?"
Penhall laughed humorlessly. "Probably his mother."
"Nope. He's got a wedding ring."
"Who would marry this pencil-neck?"
"Somebody who likes argyle."
Harry handed the coat to Ty, then knelt beside Doug and suggested, "Check him for ID."
"I was just gonna do that," Penhall grumped, bringing a grin to Ioki's face. After a quick, thorough search of the man's overcoat, Penhall sat back on his heels and announced, "Well, he isn't armed, but he's got a mighty thick envelope in his breast pocket. And this." He held up a brown leather wallet with the letters 'P. T.' stamped in gold on one corner. "That's a wallet, for those of you who can't see what's right in front of your face," he added, giving Ioki a nudge in the ribs for good measure.
"I figured. Quit being a jerk and tell us his name."
"Phineas Q. Tench. According to this, he's 37, and he lives at 1556 Primrose Lane."
"Primrose Lane?" Hanson echoed. "Is there really such a street?"
"Huh. Betcha he drives a Buick."
"Hey!" Ioki protested, "I drive a Buick!"
Penhall chuckled wickedly. "You're a little behind the times, Iok." Holding the wallet next to the nearest candle, he began flipping rapidly through its contents. "He's got the usual plastic, some bills - all facing the same way, in order, and folded perfectly - and a couple of pictures of a blonde lady. Not bad...kinda looks like a '40s movie star with that hair..."
At that moment, Phineas Q. Tench stirred and moaned. Ty bent swiftly over him, calling, "Mr. Tench? Can you hear me?"
Pale, rather myopic blue eyes fluttered open to stare in bemusement at the woman's face above him. Mr. Tench gave a strangled gasp and lurched upright, narrowly missing a collision with Ty on the way up. Three pairs of hands reached out to steady him, but he shied away from all of them, retreating against the wall and pulling Ioki's coat around him like a shield.
"Wh-where am I? What d-do you w-want?" Then he realized that the coat wrapped around him was not his own, and he gave a gasp of horror.
"We're just trying to help," Ty assured him. "You passed out on our doorstep."
"B-but this... but..." He lifted an unsteady hand to push the round, wire-rimmed glasses up his nose and shoved the strange coat away. As he gazed around at the circle of faces confronting him, his lower lip began to tremble. "I, ummm, I have to go."
"Are you hurt?" Ty asked. When she lifted her hand toward him, he edged away from her and made a move to stand.
Penhall clamped a hand on his shoulder to hold him still. "Take it easy, man. You were out cold for a couple of minutes, at least. Better let the doc check you out."
"I don't need a doctor! I'm f-fine! Please... I'm sorry I disturbed you... I didn't mean..." His gaze fell on the coat in Doug's hands. His voice sharpened with panic. "That's mine! What are you doing with my coat?"
"We were just trying to get you dried off. Here you go, buddy." He handed Mr. Tench the coat and watched, curious, as he fumbled hastily through the pockets. "Looking for something?"
Tench shoved a hand into the breast pocket, where the fat envelope resided, and the tension visibly drained out of him. "N-no. My wallet, that's all."
"It's still there... along with everything else," Penhall said, pointedly. After a slight pause, during which Tench stared nervously at them, Penhall added, "Are you in some kinda trouble, Mr. Tench?"
"No, no trouble! I really have to go home, now. My wife will be wondering... she'll be so worried..."
"If you need some help, you came to the right place. I'm a cop."
"P-police?!" Tench's eyes opened impossibly wider. "I don't need the police! I was just out for a walk and there was... well, there was someone f-following... but that's all right, now. He didn't see me c-come in here. He... Oh!" Tench abruptly clamped his jaw shut and bit down hard on his lower lip.
"Who was following you?" Harry asked. When Tench did not answer, he urged, "We can help, if you'll tell us what's wrong."
"Nothing! No one! I have to go!" Tench scrambled to his feet and backed toward the door with his overcoat clutched to his chest. "Thank you... very nice of you... appreciate the offer, but it's really not necessary..." Then, with a ghastly, convulsive smile, he was gone.
In the silence that followed his exit, they heard his rapid footsteps moving down the hallway toward the elevator. Hanson waited until the sound had died away, then he neatly summed up what all of them were thinking.
"That was weird."
Ioki gazed blankly at the door, his face thoughtful. When he remained motionless and silent, the others turned to stare at him, and those who knew him best felt the stirrings of deep foreboding. It was Hanson who spoke up first.
"I know that look, Iokage, and I don't like it."
"He's about to do something really, really stupid," Penhall said.
"He's about to get us into trouble."
"He's about to piss me off."
At that, Ioki turned to smile at the two glowering men. "Aren't you the least bit curious?"
"NO!" Penhall bellowed.
"I am." Ioki ignored his friend's temper, all his attention focused on the mystery of Phineas Q. Tench and his late-night wanderings. He could not forget the fear in the man's voice as he ran for the door, or the sensation of Tench's limp body falling against his legs. When people passed out on his doorstep, he felt responsible for them. "I think Mr. Tench needs our help."
"Mr. Tench doesn't want our help. He said he doesn't need the cops, remember?"
"Tom and I aren't cops. Remember?" Doug ground his teeth audibly, while Harry turned to his partner and continued, "He sounded awfully scared, to me. And not because his wife would be mad that he stayed out late."
Tom said, "Can't argue with that, but it doesn't give us the right to mess around in his business. He isn't our client."
"Right," Doug stated, flatly. "Keep your nose out of it."
At that, Ty got up from her seat on the floor and said, hesitantly, as though aware that her input might not be appreciated, "And what if Mr. Tench ends up hurt? Or dead? If you guys had listened to me when I said that I didn't need help, I'd be at the bottom of the river, and Laurence Trumbull would be free."
Doug let out an explosive curse and clutched at his own head as though afraid that it might fly apart under the pressure of his frustration. "You guys have lost it! You've gone totally Outer Limits! And you," he rounded on Ty with fire in his eyes, "have caused enough trouble for one lifetime! Just keep out of it!"
Tom spoke in a low, firm tone that deflated Doug's anger instantly. "Don't talk to her that way. She's as much a part of this decision as I am."
"Okay, fine! But if anyone's gonna investigate Tench, it's gonna be me."
"This isn't a police matter," Harry reminded him. "Not yet, anyway."
"And if we do this right, it may not ever be," Tom added.
"You're buying into this, huh?" Doug growled. "You're gonna help Iok..."
"What? Do his job?"
"It isn't his job! This dude didn't hire you, he didn't pay you, and he doesn't want your help!"
Tom shrugged. "So this one's a freebie."
"You knew we were going to do this, Doug," Harry said. "That's what the agency is all about. You knew it had to happen."
"Yeah, I knew. I just wasn't ready for it to happen so soon, that's all."
"You promised you'd try to accept it."
"I am. I will. But if you think I'm gonna let you - any of you - walk into a meat grinder, you got another think coming. The minute I decide there's a reason to involve the cops, I will. And remember this, Iok. You aren't my boss, so you can't stop me from doing what I think is right!"
Harry smiled widely at him. "Thanks, Doug. Okay, the first thing we need to do is find out if Mr. Tench has a police record. Then we need to check out his house, find out where he works, get whatever we can on his wife..."
From her seat beside the blanket, Judy gave a soft chuckle and remarked, under cover of the conversation, "Score one for Harry."
Ty was the only one who heard her. She raised an eyebrow, making Judy chuckle again, then turned to watch the three men. "Does he always get his way?"
"The new and improved H.T. Ioki does. The old one used to let Hanson and Penhall walk all over him."
"I have trouble picturing that."
"Well, you didn't know him in his pre-quake days. Come on over to my place for a horror movie marathon, and I'll tell you all kinds of stories."
Ty looked startled at her offer. Hoffs and Penhall had always kept her at a careful distance - a polite distance in Judy's case, and a belligerent one in Doug's - so the last thing she expected was an invitation like this. "You like horror movies?"
"Only the cheesy ones, where every time a door opens, a body falls through it."
"Me, too." She hesitated, then grinned and nodded. "Okay, it's a deal. I'll bring the popcorn and beer."
"Great!" Hoffs climbed awkwardly to her feet, with some help from Ty, then limped over to where the boys stood with their heads together. "Douglas! If you're finished plotting the overthrow of the Free World, I'd like to go home!"
The strategy session broke off abruptly. Penhall turned to Hoffs and clasped her arm affectionately.
"Tired, broke and ready to blow this joint. Good night, guys. Congratulations on your first day in business, and on finding a mystery to solve. But let's save the next party 'til you have some decent chairs, huh?"
Harry planted a kiss on her cheek. "Thanks for coming, Jude."
"I wouldn't have missed it, sweetie. Not that you'd let me." Throwing a wink at Ty, she slipped her hand through Doug's arm. "Don't stay out too late! Big Brother Dougie will worry!"
Harry shut the office door behind them, then closed his eyes and tilted his head back, taking a deep, satisfied breath. When he let the air out of his lungs on a long sigh, Tom asked,
"You okay, Iokage?"
"Better than okay." The eyes he fixed on Hanson sparkled with anticipation in the flickering light of the candles. "Can you believe this is really happening, Tom? That we have a case?"
"No one's exactly hired us."
"I don't need money. I need to work."
Hanson chuckled. "That's no way to run a business, Boss." When Ioki pulled a grimace at him, he laughed again and hooked his elbow around Ioki's neck to give his head a playful shake. "The incurable White Knight. We'll save Mr. Tench, in spite of himself."
*** *** ***
For the first time in more than forty-eight hours, it had stopped raining. The two men seated in the blue Mustang, parked at the curb of a quiet residential street, were enjoying the unexpected sunshine along with a breakfast of coffee and pastries. Not that rain would have bothered them on this particular morning. They were too happy to be out and about, working together, doing what they loved to do, to let a little precipitation dampen their spirits.
Hanson sank his teeth into a cream cheese danish, while his eyes strayed over the front of the modest, Tudor-style house on the far side of the street. It looked like every other house in the neighborhood, except for the ceramic gnomes in the garden, but this one held a special interest for him. It was the home of a certain Phineas Q. Tench and his wife, Gloria. As he watched the house and munched his breakfast, Hanson reflected that having an ex-partner and best friend in the Police Department would work to his advantage in the P.I. business. It had taken Penhall only an hour to come up with all of Tench's vital statistics.
Beside him, Ioki lounged back in the seat and propped one booted foot on the dashboard.
"That's not a foot stool," Hanson remarked, dryly.
"I'll relax when you quit scuffing up my dashboard. You've been picking up Penhall's bad habits."
Ioki laughed and lowered his foot to the floor. "Penhall's reformed. He's become a total neat freak."
"Really?" Hanson shifted his gaze from the house to his partner's face, his eyebrows raised. "How'd you manage that?"
"Tripped over anything he left on the floor."
"Guilt is a great motivator."
"Doug's a good guy. He tries hard."
Hanson nodded. After a slight pause, he said, "So, you guys are getting along better?"
"Yeah, as long as nobody mentions Ty."
"Huh. I'd have thought you two would see eye to eye on that subject. You both treat her like Public Enemy #1."
"I don't... Do I?"
"No, Doug does that. You just pretend she doesn't exist. I've been meaning to talk you about that, Iokage. How come you won't give her a break? It's not like she's trying to move in and take over your life, or anything. She just wants to help us out with the agency and be a good friend."
"If you like her so much, you give her a break."
"I'm not the problem."
Ioki turned his blank, direct gaze on Hanson and said, earnestly, "You really like her, don't you?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then, what are you waiting for?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you like her and she likes you - or she would quick enough, if you'd work on her a little - and you said yourself that she's a knock-out. So what's holding you back?"
Hanson stared at him in patent disbelief for a moment, then shook his head disgustedly. "You really are the limit."
"It's a fair question."
"It's ridiculous. And typical. Listen, Iok, I'm gonna give you a word of advice about that lady."
"I don't need any..."
"Sooner or later," Hanson continued, ignoring his interruption, "she's going to get sick of the way you treat her, and she's going to give you exactly what you deserve. You keep throwing her at other men, and she'll take one of them, after she drop-kicks you out the nearest window. So I advise you to think long and hard about what you're doing, and be damned sure that's what you want, before you use up all your chances and end up with n..."
"Hey," Ioki blurted out, cutting him off, "what's that?"
Hanson bit back an angry retort, as he caught the grind of a garage door opener. Whirling around to face the house, he saw a car's taillights glowing from inside Tench's garage. "Somebody's coming out."
"Is it Tench?"
"Hang on." Hanson pulled the binoculars out of his glove compartment and focused them on the car, as it eased slowly down the driveway. "Yeah, it's him." A low chuckle escaped him. "I don't believe it. He drives a Pacer!"
"A Pacer. A moon car! I didn't know any of those things were still on the road." As he pulled away from the curb, he added, "At least he'll be easy to follow."
They trailed behind the odd little car for mile after sedate mile. Tench drove exactly as Hanson would expect, slowly and carefully, and Tom found it difficult to stay far enough behind him not to be spotted. Ten minutes into the drive, Ioki heard a familiar but unexpected sound - the chime of a bell on the handlebar of a bicycle rickshaw - and he turned to look at Hanson in surprise.
"Are we in Chinatown?"
"But Tench works downtown. What's he doing here?"
At that moment, the Pacer signaled politely and pulled over to the curb. "I guess we're gonna find out," Hanson said.
He found a parking space of his own and cut the engine, then he rolled down the window and leaned out to get a clear view of Tench's car. He watched Phineas Tench climb out of the car, lock it, and pull on a pair of leather gloves. The man was dressed much as he had been the night before, except that his colorless hair was neatly parted, his overcoat dry, and his bow tie sticking jauntily out to either side of his chin. Then he slid on a pair of dark glasses and propped an unlit cigarette between his lips, shooting furtive looks up and down the street as he did so. Tom smothered a laugh. He looked like a cross between a scared rabbit and a junior John Gotti.
"What's he doing?" Harry asked.
"Crossing the street. Looks like he's going into a souvenir shop..."
While Tom kept up a low-voiced commentary, Mr. Tench slipped into the shop and reappeared a few minutes later with an envelope in his hand. He pocketed it and started down the sidewalk, trying to look cool and dangerous but only managing to look skittish. After entering three more businesses on the block, he returned to his car, drove for a mile down the main street, then parked again and repeated his performance.
By the third stop, Hanson was getting restless. "He's a courier. He's running numbers or collecting protection money or something like that. We shouldn't be helping this guy, Harry, we should be arresting him."
"Tench isn't a criminal."
"If you could see what he's doing right now, you wouldn't say that."
"C'mon, Hanson. You were laughing at him a minute ago."
Hanson watched, a thoughtful frown darkening his face, as Tench sidled out of yet another store and stuffed yet another envelope into his pocket. "Then what's he doing?"
Ioki shrugged. "Working for someone."
"That doesn't make him any less of a criminal."
"It does if he's being forced into it. Or if he's being used as a patsy. Would you trust a guy in a bow tie and argyle socks to really run numbers for you?"
"Hmmm." Tench was fumbling with a slip of paper he'd taken from his breast pocket, gnawing on his cigarette in his nervousness, and shooting furtive looks over the top of his shades. "He isn't exactly cool under pressure."
"Maybe he's a criminal mastermind," Tom mused, "and the bow tie is a disguise."
"Yeah. And that fainting thing last night was all part of his master plan."
"Softening us up..."
"...so he can move in for the kill."
They exchanged a look, then burst out laughing.
After a moment of hilarity, Tom recovered his equilibrium and said, "Okay, so what is Tench up to? And who's pulling his strings?"
"Let's ask him."
"He didn't tell us last night. What makes you think he will, now?"
"I'll charm it out of him."
Tom rolled his eyes and groaned. "Definitely spending too much time with Penhall!"
But once Ioki had explained his plan, Hanson agreed that it had possibilities. Following his partner's instructions, he drove down the street until he was half a block ahead of Tench's current position. Then he pulled over to the curb and got out. Ioki climbed out of the passenger door and met him on the sidewalk, now wearing his sunglasses and holding his cane. And he had managed, by some trick Hanson had not yet mastered, to drop fifty IQ points from his expression.
He smiled sweetly at Hanson and asked, "Do I look non-threatening?"
"Like you couldn't tie your own shoes," Tom assured him.
"Cool." He grinned wickedly at his friend, ruining the illusion of helplessness, and said, "Let's go, before we lose him."
Tom caught Harry's arm and guided him quickly up to the front of the nearest store. Both men stepped into the recessed doorway, and Tom leaned out to watch their quarry approach. For a moment, he was afraid that Tench would choose this building as his next target, but just as he was getting ready to suggest that they shift their ground, Tench turned into a store two doors down.
"Okay, go," he whispered. "Second door; looks like a small market. Produce bins right outside. Don't run into them!"
Harry shot him a disapproving look over his glasses, as he slipped past. "Please. Give me some credit."
Tom chuckled. "Sorry."
When Harry stepped through the door of the market, he heard two voices speaking clearly on his right. One was definitely Tench, and he sounded stressed. The other belonged to a woman - probably an old woman - and she was babbling in Chinese. Harry paused for a moment, getting his bearings, and heard Tench say,
"I'm here for the envelope." He repeated the word very slowly, as though breaking it into precise syllables could make it any more intelligible to the old woman. "En-ve-lope."
A stream of Chinese answered him. Harry moved up closer to the counter where Tench stood, and waited politely for either of them to notice him. Tench was having another go at explaining his errand.
"I was told you knew about the pick-up. I was told to get the envelope. Mr. Fender sent me."
The woman made a startled noise in her throat. "Fender? Say, Fender?"
"Yes, yes! Mr. Fender."
She started off again, her words flowing faster with every breath, but Tench seemed to have made some kind of breakthrough. Harry heard the rasp of fingers on heavy paper, as something exchanged hands, and Tench murmured a self-conscious 'thank you.' Then Tench turned to leave and almost stumbled over Harry.
"Oh! P-pardon me!"
Tench made a move to sidestep him, just as the woman demanded, "What you want?"
"Can you please tell me where the number 14 bus stops?" Harry asked, at his most polite.
The woman answered him in Chinese.
"I got on the wrong one," he explained, patiently, "and now I'm all turned around. Does the one on the corner go north or..." The woman cut him off with yet another stream of incomprehensible words. Harry gave her his best wide-eyed, baffled look and shook his head. "I'm sorry, I don't speak Chinese."
At that point, Phineas Tench's nobler impulses got the better of him, and he stepped in to help. "If you'd like, I can check the schedule posted at the corner stop."
Harry smiled in relief. "Thank you! I appreciate it. If you get on the wrong bus around here, you end up in... well, you don't want to go there."
There was an awkward pause, then Harry took pity on Tench and caught his upper arm in a firm, impersonal clasp. He gave Tench a nudge toward the door and asked, quietly, "Left or right?"
They walked down the sidewalk, neither man speaking, until they were a few doors down from the market and well away from the old woman's curious eyes. Then Harry said, "Extortion is a bad business, Mr. Tench."
Tench gave a start and came to an abrupt halt. "How did... How...?"
"What's a nice guy like you doing stealing money from people, anyway? And who's Fender?"
"Oh d-dear." He sounded so dejected that Harry had to choke back a laugh.
"Don't worry. I know you aren't a criminal."
"H-how do you know that?"
"I was a cop for a lot of years, and I met a lot of criminals." Harry heard the familiar rumble of the Mustang's engine, as Tom pulled up to the curb in front of them. "I know a nice guy when I meet one." He guided Tench toward the car, and the man made no attempt to break away.
"Have... have we met?" Tench asked, as he climbed into the car.
"You fainted in my office last night."
Harry could almost hear the light bulb click on over Tench's head. "Oh, no!"
Tom twisted around to face the two men seated behind him. "Hello, Mr. Tench."
Tench groaned in abject misery and buried his face in his hands. "They'll kill me! They'll k-kill m-me, or you'll send me to p-prison! Then they'll k-kill me!"
"We're not police officers," Tom said. "We won't send you to prison, unless we find out you're doing something illegal."
"But I am!" he wailed. "I am! I am! What you s-said about extortion... it's true, I'm s-stealing money from those p-poor p-p-people, and I should be l-locked up!"
"Why are you stealing, Mr. Tench?" Harry asked.
"They made me!"
"F-Fender. And Mr. Sh-sh-shu-" He struggled to articulate the name, but panic got the better of him, and his words dissolved into gulping sobs.
Harry watched him with his intent, blank gaze for a minute, then offered, "Mr. Shumacher? Your boss?"
Tench nodded. Hanson murmured, "That was a yes," to his partner.
Ioki's face hardened. "Great. Now we're in trouble. Let's go back to the office and talk about this."
"There are no chairs at the office," Hanson reminded him. "And no lights."
"Okay, my place, but you know what that means..."
* * *
"You are not getting mixed up with the likes of Leo Shumacher!" Penhall bellowed, as he paced furiously about the living room and glared at his roommate.
"We promised Phinny we'd get him out of this."
Penhall swiveled around to eye the little man huddled on his sofa with extreme distrust. Then he gestured toward the pile of identical, blank envelopes on the coffee table. "Your pal Phinny is the guy who's been shaking people down for cash. How d'you know he's telling you the truth? How d'you know it isn't Mr. Bow-tie, here, who's running this racket and Shumacher who's taking the fall for it?"
Ioki heaved a longsuffering sigh. "Don't be stupid, Doug. Nobody acts as his own courier."
"He does if he's trying to finger someone else as the boss."
"Why would I want to f-finger Mr. Shumacher?" Phinny asked.
"I don't know." Penhall leaned over him, glaring into his myopic blue eyes. "Why would you?"
"I've worked for Mr. Shumacher for thirteen years. He's always been a fair employer. Until this business with F-fender, I always thought Mr. Shumacher was a good man. And if I hadn't spoken to him in person, I wouldn't believe... couldn't have believed..." Phinny broke off in confusion and ducked his head to shield himself from Penhall's accusing gaze.
"You know for certain that Shumacher's behind this?" Hanson prompted, gently.
"Yes. He's the one who showed me the papers... the doctored books that implicate me. He threatened to turn them over to the Police and have me arrested, unless I do whatever Fender said. I'm the bookkeeper, so I'm in a perfect position to conceal illegal funds, and Mr. Shumacher is a respected businessman. Why would the Police believe me instead of the evidence in front of them?"
Penhall flopped down in a chair, still fixing Tench with a sour eye. "I ran a check on Shumacher. He's clean."
"Raymond Crane was clean, too," Ioki murmured.
Both Hanson and Penhall turned to stare at him, visibly shaken. For a long moment, neither of them could find their voices, then Penhall growled, "Don't even say that bastard's name."
"I was just making a point." When Penhall remained silent, he added, "Are you ready to stop yelling and listen?"
After a few false starts, Penhall managed to choke out, "I'm ready."
"Okay, Phinny, let's make sure we've got this right. Mr. Shumacher has fake records that make it look like you've been stashing money in his off-shore accounts?"
"Yes. He showed them to me. They're very good. If I hadn't known they were fakes, I would have believed they were the real thing."
"Why did he show them to you?"
"To force me to help with his illegal business. He said that he would keep the records secret, as long as I did what I was told."
"And what did he tell you to do?"
"A couple of different things. The envelopes - I've done that three times, so far, in a different neighborhood each time - and the c-cash d-d-drop."
The listening men all detected the renewed fear in his voice, and all three eagerly sat forward in their chairs.
"Cash drop?" Tom asked.
"Yes. At night, in an alley..." He shuddered eloquently.
"Was that what you were doing last night?"
Tom and Doug exchanged a speaking look, while Harry chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip and frowned at the floor.
"What's Shumacher up to?" he mused, more to himself than to anyone listening.
"I don't know," Phinny answered, miserably. "I've never opened the envelopes to see what's inside. And at the cash drop, I just handed the other guy an envelope that felt like it was empty. Then he handed me one that had a bunch of money in it."
"Yeah, we saw that," Penhall said. He reached for one of the envelopes scattered on the table and held it up to the light. "Looks like bills in these, too, but not a whole lot. Unless they're all Thousands."
Phinny shuddered again. "I don't know how much they're paying, or for what. I've never threatened anyone. I wouldn't be part of anything like that!"
"No, you just rob 'em blind."
Phinny gave a doleful sniff, his eyes on the heap of envelopes. Suddenly, he jerked upright in his chair and gasped aloud. "Oh, dear! Oh, my! What t-time is it?!"
Penhall glanced at his watch. "Ten o'clock."
"I'm late! And I haven't made all the pick-ups yet!" He leapt to his feet and stood, staring helplessly around him, in the middle of the floor. "F-fender will be waiting. What will I tell him? What will I say?!"
Hanson stood up and began putting the envelopes into a neat stack. "Calm down. I'll take you back to your car, and you can finish your collection run."
"B-but I'm late. He'll never b-believe... never unders-stand... Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear."
"Tell him you had car trouble. He'll believe that, knowing what kind of car you drive."
Still murmuring reassuring noises to the panicked Phinny, Hanson stuffed all the envelopes into his overcoat and guided him firmly toward the door. Phinny paused on the threshold to call back, "Thank you for offering to help! I'm sorry I got you involved!"
"You didn't. We got ourselves involved," Harry said. "Don't worry, Phinny, we'll think of something."
As Hanson and Tench left, Penhall eyed his old friend with resigned disgust. He knew, from long experience, that there was no way to turn Ioki aside, once he had gotten started down a particular path, even if the path was strewn with landmines. Some people were simply too stubborn for their own good, and the only way to get through to them was to let them step on the damned mine.
"We'll think of something?" he repeated, dry mockery in his voice. "How come I get the feeling that you've already thought of something?"
"Not much of something, but it's a start."
Doug sighed again. "Spill it, man."
"I have a friend in Chinatown. Frank Wu."
"The guy who taught defense classes at the Academy, right?"
"That's him. He's got a Martial Arts school down there, right on the main drag. We probably drove past it today, when we were following Phinny."
"And you think Wu can tell us what Shumacher is up to, down there."
"It's worth a shot."
"Yeah, it is." Penhall heaved himself out of the chair and headed for the door. "C'mon. I'm driving."
Harry followed him out of the apartment and down the hallway to the elevator. "Shouldn't you be at the Shop?"
"Fuller thinks I'm doing legwork for my current case. He'll never know the difference."
Harry frowned at that, but he made no further protest, as they climbed into Doug's truck and drove away.
*** *** ***
The two men circled each other warily, their movements quick and graceful, their concentration complete. Nothing broke the silence of the room but the whisper of bare feet on thick, vinyl pads and the brush of cotton clothing on moving bodies. Without warning, one of them exploded into action, hands flying, and the other countered the blow instinctively. But the attacker had only used his hands as a feint. His foot came up under the defender's guard, staggering him with a blow to the ribs, then catching him in the head with another kick before he could recover his balance. The defender landed heavily on the floor and sat there, dazedly watching the little cartoon birds that chirped and swooped around his head.
Frank Wu danced away on the balls of his feet, his hands still poised in readiness, and grinned humorlessly down at his sparring partner. "Wanna try that again, Ace?"
Harry groaned in protest, but he obediently pushed himself to his feet. "That's the third time you've done that. Are you trying to crack my skull?"
"I'm trying to save your ass. This means, you pay attention."
"I was paying attention."
"Right. That's why you ended up on the floor. Let's do it again. And Harry..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Harry slipped into a campy Chinese accent to chirp, "This time, with feeeewing!"
Frank laughed and shook his head. "Don't joke about it, do it."
From his seat in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, Penhall watched them square off again and wondered how long this would go on. He found the fight fascinating, with all its contained power and elegance, but he couldn't help wincing every time Frank's foot connected with Harry's skull.
As they circled each other, getting ready for another exchange of blows, he muttered, "I thought we came here to talk."
The combatants closed with each other, their hands and feet a blur of motion. Then suddenly, with a loud "Ooof," Harry landed on the mat again. He lay there for a minute, looking stunned, while Frank shook his head and clicked his tongue reprovingly.
"I should've known better than to try to teach a flabby old couch potato like you anything."
"Who're you calling old?" Harry demanded. Pushing himself up onto his elbows, he added, maliciously, "I can hear your joints creaking, clear across the room."
"If you could hear me, how come you didn't hit me?
"I was trying to be nice. Didn't want to break anything."
"The day you can break my bones, little boy, I'll go buy myself an iron lung." He offered Harry a hand up and made a show of dusting him off and straightening his clothes.
"Cut that out." Harry gave him a shove, then ducked Frank's retaliatory punch.
"Hey, Iok!" Doug called, "if you're done with your dance lessons, can we get down to business?"
The two men crossed to where Doug sat, their bare feet silent on the mats, and Harry collapsed onto the bench beside him. Frank smiled down at Doug, with a glint in his eye that said he remembered his former student very well. Penhall swallowed nervously. He, too, remembered those classes vividly and all the unflattering nicknames they had tacked onto Frank Wu, "The Terminator" being the most polite one. His answering smile was a bit sheepish.
"What brings you boys to my side of the tracks? Besides Harry's dance lessons?" Frank asked.
Doug countered with a question of his own. "Have you ever heard of a guy named Leo Shumacher?"
"Sure. He's a heavy-weight in this town. Entrepreneur, industrialist, philanthropist, all-around humanitarian. His taxes fund half the city's budget, last I heard."
"Have you ever done business with him?"
Frank's eyes narrowed suspiciously, and he pursed his lips. "Quit with the cop routine, Penhall. Tell me, straight out, what you want to know."
Harry said, "We think Shumacher is into something illegal, and at least part of his operation is here, in Chinatown."
Harry quickly explained what little they knew about Shumacher's activities, with Doug interjecting his own comments and Frank growing more and more thoughtful. When he had finished, Frank said,
"So, you want me to find out what this Fender dude is up to."
"No problem. I've been here long enough that I know most of my neighbors, and they've almost forgiven me for my connection to the Police Department." A wide smile split his face. "Leave it to The Terminator."
Doug turned a dull red, while Harry bounded happily to his feet.
"Thanks, Frank. Here's the phone number at my office." He handed Frank a business card, and the older man studied it with raised eyebrows. "You can reach me or Tom Hanson there, any time."
"Shouldn't take long," Frank said. As the two young men headed for the locker room, he called, "Catch you later, Ace! And keep your guard up!"
The door closed behind them, and Doug let his breath out in a relieved whistle. "That's the first time I've talked to Wu since a group of us cadets put... uhhhm... well..."
"Nothing. It was just a little prank. But I was never sure if he figured out who did it."
"He probably did. Lucky for you Frank has a sense of humor."
"Yeah, that's why he was trying to cave in your skull. For laughs."
"He's a good teacher, the best in the city. If he says I'm turning into a couch potato, he's right. Y'know, I used to be able to go a whole session with him and not let him through my guard once, but today, he flattened me. It was embarrassing."
"Is it possible... just remotely possible... that he flattened you because you couldn't see him? Or is that concept too farfetched for you to consider?"
"Of course that's why. But I still shouldn't have let him do it."
They reached the locker room, and Ioki quickly changed back into his street clothes, while they talked.
"I've been putting it off," he told Penhall, earnestly, "because I didn't want to think about how much work I had to do, but I've known since that run-in we had with Trumbull's goons that I needed to get back in training."
"You've had a few other things to worry about."
Harry shook his head emphatically. "That's not why. I was intimidated, and I didn't want to face being bad at something I always did so well, before."
When Doug broke off and sighed, Harry looked up at him in concern. "What is it?"
"Never mind. You'll just get ticked off at me, and I don't want to start another fight."
Harry flipped the leg of his blue jeans down over the top of his cowboy boot with a decisive gesture, then turned his direct gaze on Doug. "I won't get ticked off, I promise."
"All right. Don't you think that... well, that it's okay if there are some things you aren't so good at, now? Like, martial arts. Is being good at martial arts again worth the kind of abuse you took today?"
"Because, for a long time, until I became a cop, it was the only thing that I did well. The only thing that made me feel good about myself. When I was training, I felt relaxed, in control, strong. It isn't just about fighting, you know. It's about personal strength."
"I get that."
"Now, without it, I feel sort of numb, like part of me is turned off. And since I can't be a cop anymore..."
"What if you can't do this, either?"
The certainty in his voice surprised Doug. "Frank flattened you."
"This time, but I'll learn."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I learned to read again, didn't I? Anything would be easy compared to that."
"You got a point, there." After a pause, Doug asked, hesitantly, "Don't you ever get scared, Iok?"
"Yeah. Lots of times. But I'm not scared of hard work, and that's all this is."
"It scares me," Doug admitted, very quietly.
"I know." Harry regarded him with his eerily perfect silicon eyes, his face a touch wistful. "Try to think of it this way, Doug. Being blind just means that you have to learn to use your brain a different way. It's like if you decided to become a computer programmer or a... a pig farmer. You'd have to learn a bunch of new stuff, then practice until you got it right. Some of it's easy, some of it's hard, and some of it just, plain stinks..."
"Especially if you're a pig farmer."
"...but sooner or later, you get it right."
"And does that make it less scary?"
"Yes." Harry got to his feet and pulled on his leather jacket. "Come on, big brother. I have to find Hanson, and you have to get to work."
As they threaded their way through the lockers to the door, Doug commented, "You're getting philosophical in your old age, Iok."
"Nope, I was always like this. You just didn't listen before."
They exited to the sound of Doug's spluttered protests and Harry's laughter.
*** *** ***
The office, which had looked so dark and threatening by night, looked small, pleasant and a bit shabby by daylight. The building dated back to the '30s, with plaster walls, wooden framed windows, deco lighting fixtures and scuffed wooden floors. It had more character than class, but that didn't bother the two men in the corner suite - now that the lights and heat were turned on.
Hanson lay sprawled on the floor, playing solitaire with Ioki's deck of marked cards, a mug of fresh coffee at his elbow. In one of the tiny inner offices, Ioki sat on the window sill, listening to the hum of traffic on Jump Street, three floors below. They both looked completely relaxed and at home.
The ringing of the phone broke the comfortable silence and brought Ioki to his feet in surprise. Hanson reacted almost as quickly, jumping up and heading for the phone, which sat on a cardboard box under the window. Ioki paused in the doorway to listen, as Hanson lifted the receiver and said,
"Jump Street Investigations."
Both men grinned like idiots at the sound of that.
A pause, then Hanson said, "Sure, he's right here." Holding out the receiver toward his partner, he added, "Our first official phone call, and it's for you, Boss."
Harry took the phone, still grinning. "Hello?"
Frank Wu answered him. "Hiya, Ace. I've got some information for you."
Harry listened intently for a few minutes, not interrupting Frank's concise report, then he said, "Sounds like we need to get the Police in on this. Will they talk to a cop, if you vouch for him?"
"Maybe. Who'd you have in mind?"
"It's worth a try. Tell him to come see me, and we'll lean on the most likely ones together."
"Thanks, Frank. I owe you one."
When Harry hung up, Tom pounced on him for details. "So? Did he get the goods on Shumacher?"
"He's selling narcotics."
Tom sighed. "Drugs? Is that all? I was hoping we'd get a more inventive group of felons, now that we've graduated high school."
"Well, he's pretty inventive about how he does it. He gets Fender to force the businesses to accept drug shipments, along with their regular deliveries - food, laundry, crappy Chinese souvenirs, whatever. They get warned about a shipment, and the next morning, it's on the truck. That same day, a buyer shows up at each store with just the right amount of money and takes the whole lot. Then the shop owner passes the money to the courier the next day.
"It's pretty slick, actually. The only person who touches the money is the courier, and the operation is spread out over whole neighborhoods, so one bust will barely touch it."
"How does Shumacher fit in?"
"He owns the outside companies that are carrying the drugs in their trucks. In fact, Frank gets his laundry from one of Shumacher's companies. He figures that Shumacher knows he used to work for the Department and knew better than to approach him, otherwise he'd be on the delivery route."
"Hm. That explains the envelopes, but I still don't get the cash drops. Where's that money coming from?"
"Maybe Phinny can help us figure it out."
* * *
Hanson and Ioki hurried up to the front door of Phinny's house, hunched against the pouring rain. They stepped onto the porch, out of the deluge, and paused to shake the water from their coats. Behind them, a row of garden gnomes stared longingly toward the dry haven of the porch, up to their little red knees in mud.
Hanson finger-combed his wet hair back from his face and rang the doorbell. A moment later, the door opened to reveal an attractive woman with a distinctly 1940s look to her crimped blonde hair and curvaceous figure. Her eyes were red from crying. They shifted nervously from Tom to Harry and back again.
"Can I help you?"
"How do you do, Mrs. Tench? I'm Tom Hanson. This is Harry Ioki. We're friends of Phinny's."
"He's not here. He's still at work." Her tone was polite enough, but her expression was full of suspicion. She obviously did not believe that these two young men were any kind of friends to her husband.
"May we come in and wait? It's very important, and, well, it's kind of wet out here."
The winsome appeal in his smiling eyes shattered the woman's defenses. She smiled back, tremulously, and stepped aside to let them in. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude."
"We understand. It's better not to trust people too easily, at a time like this."
"How did you...?" She bit her lip and shot him a panicked look. Again, his kind, solemn gaze reassured her. "You really are Phinny's friends?"
"Then come in, please, and make yourselves at home."
She led the way into the living room. Tom followed behind her, and Harry behind him with a hand on Tom's shoulder. As he stepped into the room, Harry felt his leg brush a small table, and he winced at the sound of tinkling glass. He should have known. With a garden full of gnomes, they must also have a house full of nasty, small, breakable things, like ceramic cherubs or antique tea cups.
He drew closer to Tom, suddenly wary of his environment, and murmured, "Sorry about that."
"That's quite all right," Mrs. Tench answered, in her fluttery voice. "I really shouldn't leave that table there, but I like to have my glass angels where I can admire them."
Harry shuddered and quickly sat down in the nearest chair. He could hear Tom trying not to laugh, but he didn't find anything funny about this situation. Give him a goon with a gun, any day, over a house full of glass angels!
Mrs. Tench bustled about, hiding her doubts behind the veneer of the perfect hostess. She provided them with tea - in delicate china cups - and some homemade poppy seed bread. Then she began murmuring about relieving them of their wet coats before they caught their death of cold. Tom nipped that one in the bud by suggesting that she sit down and talk to them.
Two minutes later, Gloria was pouring out her deepest fears to the kind, young strangers who said they wanted to rescue her Phinny. Tom's gentle suggestion that she let them help demolished the last of her reserve and brought on a veritable flood of tears. They finally calmed her enough to get the gist of her worries. She knew that Phinny was in terrible, terrible trouble, but he nobly refused unburden himself to his wife. Of course, he was only trying to protect her. There could be no other explanation for his silence. But his chivalry was misplaced, when her only thought was how to save her dearest husband from whatever hideous fate threatened him!
Tom and Harry had to listen to a great deal of this, while they tried to soothe her, and they were infinitely relieved to hear a car pull up outside. When Phinny came bustling into the room, he found his wife weeping into a lace handkerchief, with Tom patting her shoulder consolingly and Harry offering her a cup of tea. Both men looked frazzled.
"Harry! T-Tom! I'm so glad to s-see you!"
Gloria leapt to her feet and scurried over to her husband. "Oh, Phinny! I hope I didn't do anything wrong! They seemed so nice, and they said they wanted to help you..."
Phinny impressed the two younger men with his aplomb and dispatch in dealing with his wife. It took him only moments to calm her and send her into the kitchen, her face now wearing a brave smile, so he could speak to them freely. He looked harassed and frightened to Tom, and it seemed to have nothing to do with Gloria.
He turned wide, awestruck eyes on his new friends and said in a stage whisper, "How d-did you know?!"
"Know what?" Harry asked.
"About the drop!"
Both men surged to their feet in excitement, but Harry halted his movement at the last minute and sat down again, looking uneasy. As if to underline his precarious situation, the act of pulling his coat closer around him brushed it against the tea cups on the table and made them clink ominously.
Phinny noticed his odd behavior and asked, "What's the m-matter?" A glance around the room answered his question for him, and he continued in a prosaic tone that they had never heard him use before, "Oh, did you knock over the angels? Don't worry, she has hundreds of them."
Harry chuckled, his nervousness evaporating. "Tell us about the drop, Phinny."
"Fender told me, today. I d-don't think he b-believed me about the c-c-car. He was very angry." Phinny swallowed nervously. "I think m-maybe he doesn't trust me anymore."
"I'd be surprised if he ever did trust you," Tom said. "That's not how this kind of deal works. When is the next cash drop?"
"Perfect!" Tom and Harry grinned at each other, their eyes alight with shared anticipation.
"This... this is a good thing?" Phinny ventured.
"It's just what we need," Harry assured him.
Phinny stood in the middle of the room, beaming, his fear forgotten in the satisfaction he took from making his friends happy.