Hit and Run (Pt.2)
Tyrrel lounged back on the bed and watched, through narrowed lids, as Harry moved carefully around her hotel room, unscrewing every light bulb. He completed his circuit at the window, where he pulled the heavy drapes to muffle the glow of the cityscape outside and plunged the room into darkness. Then he paused to orient himself.
From her vantage point on the bed, Tyrrel could still see him as a silhouette against the grayish rectangle of the window. "You want to tell me again why we're doing this?" she asked, in a conversational tone.
"Because you're being so stubborn." He made his way over to the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress. "If you would disappear for a while, Trumbull wouldn't have any way to find you and we wouldn't have to protect you."
"I wasn't complaining," she murmured. Harry grinned, showing a faint flash of white in the darkness. "And I wasn't talking about the guard detail. Why the blackout?"
"To give us an edge. Lou can't shoot us, if he can't see us."
She hefted the large anodized red maglite that lay on the bed beside her and asked, "And the flashlight?"
He grinned again. "Zap 'em in the face with that, and they won't be able to see for a week. If that doesn't work, use it like a nightstick. Doug learned that trick when he worked undercover as a bouncer."
"We just sit here, in the dark, till they show up to kill us, then I whack them with a flashlight?"
She felt, more than saw, Harry shrug. "I don't carry a gun anymore. It's the flashlight or your bare hands."
Tyrrel clutched the flashlight a little tighter. "I think I'll take the nightstick."
She sat in silence for a long moment, then ventured, "Tom carries a gun, doesn't he?"
"When is he supposed to get here?"
He chuckled at the dubious note in her voice. "Don't you trust me?"
"Yes, I do." She didn't sound exactly sure of that statement.
"Then relax. We don't need a gun." It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps Tyrrel wanted Hanson around for other reasons, so he offered, politely, "But I can call him and ask him to come now, if it will make you feel better."
"If you say we don't need him here, I believe you. And given the choice of who to sit in the dark with, I pick you."
"You're a strange one."
"Why? Because I like your company?" When he said nothing, she added, thoughtfully, "Of course, it would be nicer if I could see your face. It's odd holding a conversation in the dark, like this."
Harry laughed uncomfortably. "Now you know how I feel."
Sensing his sudden awkwardness, Tyrrel asked, quickly, "Did I say something wrong?"
"No. I'm sorry, I..." He broke off and let his gaze slide away from hers.
"I hit a nerve."
"Sort of...I guess." He gave that uneasy laugh again. "It's just that I've been thinking a lot about that, lately."
She waited for him to continue, and when he did not, prompted, "About seeing faces?"
"That's what I miss the most. Faces."
Tyrrel let his words sink in, let them both get used to the fact that he'd allowed some hint of his feelings to slip out. When she decided it was safe, she asked, very softly, "How long has it been?"
"That's all?" She tried to keep the amazement out of her voice, to avoid startling him into retreat. "Such a short time."
"It feels like forever."
"Will you tell me what happened?"
"The earthquake happened." He stared blankly at his own hands, where they lay on his lap, and murmured, "It's kind of funny, when you think about it. Of all the things that have happened to me in my life, all the people who've tried to stop me from doing what I had to do, it was an earthquake that finally got me."
"That's why they call them Acts of God."
Harry's answering smile flashed briefly in the darkness. "It wasn't God. It was a steam pipe." In an impersonal, matter-of-fact voice, he explained, "Doug, Judy and I were trapped under a collapsed building. I was climbing around in the wreckage, trying to get to Judy because she was hurt, and I slid headfirst down a pile of rubble. It was dark. I didn't see the pipe at the bottom."
Tyrrel gave a soft hiss of pain, as she realized what was coming.
"It blew up in my face." Harry laughed humorlessly. "They tell me I was lucky. I could have been scarred a lot worse. I could have been dead. And I have a very expensive pair of silicon eyes that the Police Department paid for, right before they fired me. So you see how lucky I am."
"Oh my God..."
The shock in her voice startled him. He turned a quizzical look on her and asked, "What's wrong? Did I gross you out?"
"That was you? The city's most notorious earthquake victim?"
"Oh, great! Don't tell me you read all that junk!" He buried his face in his hands and groaned, "I knew I should've moved to the mid-west!"
"Come on. It's not that bad."
"Oh, yeah? You try being a famous victim and see how you like it! I never blamed the Department for what happened. I never gave one interview or even talked to a lawyer. I would've turned down the settlement check, except that I needed something to pay the rent with. But after all those years I spent on the Force, doing my job, trying to make a difference in people's lives, all I'm remembered for is getting buried in a stupid building and bankrupting the city."
"How did you end up getting all that money from the city, if you never took them to court?"
"We were adopted by all the fanatics who wanted to blame someone for the quake damage. They picked on us, because we were city employees - decorated cops - who were injured on city property. Hoffs...well, I love Judy, and I respect her, but I don't always agree with what she does. And this one almost killed our friendship."
"She spoke out against the city?"
He nodded. "She claimed that the city was negligent. She said the Department had put all our lives at risk by making us work in an unsafe building. Here she was, a Detective with a couple of Citations, sitting in her wheelchair, looking gorgeous and brave and angry. The city didn't stand a chance."
"And she used you as leverage."
Harry didn't answer, but Tyrrel could feel the hurt and resentment seething just under his controlled exterior. He obviously had not come to terms with what his partner had done to him. Nor had he forgiven her. Now that she had made the connection in her mind, Tyrrel could vividly remember the news stories about the church collapse and the wounded officers. She recalled seeing Detective Hoffs in live interviews, full of righteous indignation and very real pain, talking about her partner's shattered career and blighted life. Somehow, she could not reconcile the rather pathetic figure painted by Hoffs for the media with the very capable young man sitting beside her right now.
"I'm sure she only wanted to help," Tyrrel murmured.
"Of course. Everybody just wants to help. And you know why I need all that help, don't you? Because I'm so...lucky."
"Who would be stupid enough to tell you that?"
"Oh." A beat, then, "That explains a lot."
"It's their favorite lie. Right up there with 'Trust me. It's going to be fine.'" He paused, staring grimly at the wall, then continued, "I've always been lucky that way. I got out of Vietnam alive, when my family died on the beach in front of me. I became a cop when no one wanted a Vietnamese national on the Force, and managed to save my job when they found out that I'd lied about who I am. I came back from the dead, kicked a drug habit the doctors gave me, and survived being buried under a building. In the process, I lost my self-respect, my job and my sight. But I'm not dead. And I didn't actually blow my face off, so I can still go out in public without embarrassing my friends, as long as I don't trip over anything."
"And you wear self-pity so well," she commented, blandly.
Harry broke out in a sheepish grin. "Yeah, it's a hobby of mine."
With the mood lightened by her sally, she returned to the fascinating process of digging out the truth about Harry Ioki. "Is that why you hate doctors?" she asked.
He sighed heavily, but when he finally spoke, the bitter edge had left his voice. "They never save the important things. They can't even stop the pain, without making it worse. Then they expect me to be grateful, to feel lucky, when it seems like everything is being taken away, a little at a time. I don't hate doctors. I just...can't stand any more of their luck."
After a beat, Tyrrel said, "You know, of course, that none of it is really the fault of the doctors."
"I wouldn't bet on it. If an earthquake can level the city, just to spite a negligent Police Department, then it can do it to spite a bunch of arrogant doctors, too."
"That's an interesting philosophy. Plate Tectonics as moral commentary."
"Karma at work."
She laughed and shook her head. "Then what have you been doing to earn all this bad karma?"
"My karma is fine. I'm the lucky one, remember? I got half the city's money, and I got to be the gun pointed at the Mayor's head. After everything Mayor Davis did to the Jump Street program, it was a pleasure making him sweat."
"So there were compensations for being a Celebrity Victim?"
"One or two."
"Where do the doctors fit into your karmic scheme? They didn't suffer in the quake."
"I haven't quite figured that out, but I will. I never met a doctor yet who wasn't to blame for something."
"How about me?"
"You ran me over with your car."
"But, as you have so repeatedly pointed out, I didn't hurt you."
He gave an injured sniff. "What about my wounded dignity?"
Tyrrel burst out laughing. "How can I wound something you don't have?"
As if to prove the truth of her words, Harry stuck his tongue out at her, casting her into fresh fits of laughter.
"Maybe I'll tell everyone you ran me over and make you lose your medical license," he taunted.
"Then could we be friends?"
On a sudden, insane impulse, Tyrrel leaned forward and kissed him. It was a light, undemanding gesture, one he could easily avoid if he chose. Even as she did it, she knew that she had just crossed a line she could not uncross, and she wondered why she had forced the issue. Maybe it was the mischief in his voice, when he teased her. Or maybe it was his adorable, stubborn, maddening refusal to see her obvious attraction to him. He might be blind, but he was a long way from stupid, and she didn't for a moment believe that he had misunderstood her intentions.
In the split second it took him to react, she alternately kicked herself for being so rash and wished that she'd had the nerve to do it sooner. Then he clasped her shoulders and gently pushed her away. Tyrrel obediently sat back, but she very pointedly did not withdraw any farther than the pressure of his hands required.
He squeezed her shoulders once, in silent apology, and let go of her. "I don't think that's a good idea."
He gave her an odd look that she had trouble translating in the darkness. "Aren't I allowed to say no?"
"I'm sorry. That was rude of me." She folded her hands in her lap, now firmly in her own air space and out of his. "But I don't apologize for the kiss."
"I don't want an apology, and I don't want to talk about it. I just want to stick to business."
"This was never about business, at least, not for me."
He sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly, shielding himself from her sharp gaze. "It's about keeping you alive, 'til we get rid of Trumbull."
"You go back to being a doctor, I go back to my ducks, and everybody's happy."
"Hm. We'll see."
Harry did not have time to respond to her cryptic remark, because at that precise moment, the door crashed back on its hinges and Tyrrel let out a piercing scream.
*** *** ***
Penhall speared the last chunk of pork on his chopstick and crammed it in his mouth. The paper container flew over his shoulder to join the growing pile of trash on the back seat. Hanson followed its trajectory with grim eyes, but he carefully made no comment. He knew that Penhall was baiting him, trying to get a rise out of him to break the sullen silence in the car, and he didn't want to give him the satisfaction. More to the point, he didn't want to have the conversation they both knew was coming.
Turning back to the crack house on the far side of the street, he pretended to take an interest in the view of the front door. Beside him, Penhall mopped his mouth on his sleeve, then checked his watch. Nine o'clock, and he hadn't called Harry to tell him he'd be late. With a sigh, he picked up a fortune cookie, still in its cellophane wrapper, and crushed it against his forehead. When he opened the wrapper to pour the cookie dust into his mouth, half of it scattered across his lap and the car's upholstery. Hanson sighed.
"You got something to say?" Penhall asked.
"Where were you all day?"
"Without checking in once, all afternoon?"
Hanson finally reacted. Turning smoldering eyes on the other man, he snapped, "Maybe I'm picking up your bad habits!"
Penhall allowed himself a tiny, smug smile, knowing that he had pierced Hanson's armor and gotten him talking. "I'm your partner, remember? I know what's going on with all our cases, and I know you weren't working today."
"I was helping out a friend," Hanson said, through tightly clenched teeth.
"Oh, yeah, that'll go down real well with Fuller."
"Don't push me, Doug. You really don't want to know any more than that."
"Why not?" Penhall demanded, genuine hurt in his voice. "Because I'm so irresponsible and unprofessional that you had to rat on me to our commanding officer?"
"Save it! I know you spent the day hiding from me, so you wouldn't have to face me after what you told Fuller!"
"You won't believe this, but I told Fuller that stuff to help you."
"You're right. I don't believe it."
"It's true. I'm worried about you."
"You mean, you don't trust me."
"I never said that. Not to Fuller, not to anyone."
"But you told him I was screwing up, and you cut me out of this new case..."
"There's no new case. Not an official one, anyway." Tom stared into his partner's eyes, reading the pain and betrayal there, and couldn't keep the words back. "I was doing a favor for Ioki."
Doug's eyes widened. "What kind of favor?"
"You'll have to ask him."
"I'm asking you." Hanson looked away, and Penhall grabbed his arm in a vice grip, demanding his attention. "What have you gotten Harry mixed up in?"
Hanson pointedly removed his arm from the other man's grip and retorted, "I haven't done anything except help out a friend. If you want to know more than that, you ask the man in charge."
"In charge of what?" Doug's voice took on a distinct edge of panic. "It's something bad. It's gotta be something bad, or you'd just tell me, straight out, instead of jerking me around like this. Harry's in some kind of trouble, isn't he?"
Tom opened his mouth to protest, then realized that he couldn't, in all honesty, argue with that statement.
Doug saw his hesitation and groaned, "Oh, man! How could you do this to him? Hasn't he been through enough?!"
For a long moment, Tom could only stare at his partner in open-mouthed amazement, then he recovered his voice and said, with surprising calm, "I'm worried about you, Penhall. You're my partner and my best friend. I love you like a brother. I trust you with my life. But you're coming unglued, man."
"Why? Because I won't let you hurt my family?"
"Doug, listen to yourself! Do you hear how crazy you sound? You just accused me of deliberately trying to hurt Harry. That's nuts! I haven't done anything to him! And what exactly is it you're afraid of? He's a grown man, for God's sake, not a mentally retarded five-year-old! I know you think of Judy and Harry as family, especially after what happened in the quake, but..."
"You shut up!" Penhall bellowed, his eyes going wild and his face bloodless. "That's none of your damned business, so don't even go there!"
"I just meant..."
"I don't have to explain myself to you!" He slammed the heel of his hand into the dashboard in a gesture of frustrated rage. "I don't have to apologize for caring about people! Just 'cause you live in some kinda vacuum, and you don't let anyone get close to you or love you or give a damn about you doesn't mean the rest of us have gotta live that way!"
Tom stared at him, shock and hurt warring in his eyes, but he said nothing to interrupt his tirade.
Doug hissed in an angry, tearful voice, "Harry is family. I used to think you were, too, but you don't even know what that means. If you did, you'd understand." Tears began to well up in Tom's eyes, but Doug did not seem to notice. "He's been through hell. He's earned the right to rest and be safe. I promised him that he would always be safe while I was around! I promised!"
"You kept your promise." Hanson's quiet, level voice cut through his hysteria and brought dead silence in its wake. After giving his partner a beat to register his words, he added, in that same calm tone, "Harry's fine. You're the one who's in trouble, Doug. You're the one who doesn't feel safe."
"That's what you think, huh?"
"I got news for you, Tommy. You don't know the first thing about how I feel. And you got no right to talk to me about Harry, 'cause you don't know what's going on with him any more than you know what's going on with me!"
"You're wrong. I know exactly what's going on with him, because he tells me. He tells me that you won't let him sneeze without screaming for the paramedics, and he's bored out of his mind from sitting around that apartment gathering dust."
"He's safe there," Doug muttered.
"He's bored! Do you know what we had for lunch today? Rocket Dogs! He was so damned happy to get out of the house and drive around and act like a real person for a change that he actually wanted to eat Rocket Dogs! Does that give you some kind of clue as to how crazy he's getting?"
"You gonna tell me that's what you guys did all day? Drive around and eat Rocket Dogs?"
Tom let out an explosive curse and reached for the ignition. "This is getting us nowhere." He cranked the engine and pumped the gas 'til the pistons howled.
"Hey, my lead is good!" Penhall shouted, over the roar of the engine.
"I'm not talking about the surveillance." With a fierce gesture, Hanson swung the car away from the curb and tore off down the street.
"Where are we going?"
"Back to the Shop. After that...it's none of your business."
Penhall let him drive in silence 'til they pulled into the alley behind the old print shop. Hanson parked in an empty space beside Penhall's truck and cut the engine. As he climbed out of the car, Penhall scrambled out the opposite door and stood, staring helplessly at him in a way that made it impossible for Hanson to stomp off as he had planned.
Penhall scuffed a toe in the gravel of the alley, his eyes hard and bright with tears. "I hate fighting with you. I hate what this is doing to us."
"Then try listening, instead of shouting, Doug. And if you can't hear what I'm saying, then try Fuller, or Ioki, or Hoffs! We all see the same things happening to you, and we all want to help. You've just got to let us."
"You can help. Tell me what's going on with Harry."
"Ask him yourself."
The tears began to flare with angry sparks, as they slid reluctantly down his cheeks. "I swear to God, Tom, if you let anything happen to him, I'll never forgive you."
Hanson shook his head and turned away, his shoulders slumped in defeat. He did not look back, as he crossed the alley, to see Penhall staring after him with a world of hurt in his face. He slipped into the building, and the door shut crisply behind him.
*** *** ***
Harry gave Tyrrel a quick shove to start her moving, then rolled the off the bed in the opposite direction. He heard the clunk of her body hitting the floor, followed immediately by the congested whine of a bullet fired through a silencer. The bullet thumped into the mattress, and a small gout of stuffing flew into the air.
"Shit. Turn on the lights," Jackie growled.
The click of a switch, then Lou called, "They don't work!"
That was all he needed. Pulling his feet under him, Harry sprang up and launched himself at the source of that voice. Hitting Lou was rather like running headfirst into a concrete wall, but at least he'd judged the location correctly. He slammed into the goon hard enough to make him stagger back a few steps, then he grabbed a fistful of hideous plaid sports jacket and buried his knee in Lou's stomach.
The goon let out a grunt of pain but otherwise ignored the blow. He caught Ioki's wrist and broke the smaller man's grip on his clothing with childish ease. Then he wrenched on the arm, trying to twist it up behind Ioki's back.
"I got the little bastard!" Lou shouted to his cohort. "Ice her!"
Harry dodged away before Lou could immobilize him, but he couldn't afford to pull free of the other man's grasp and lose him in the confusion. He heard another pistol shot, then the tinkle of breaking glass. Tyrrel gave a small choke of terror, and Lou laughed.
"Hurry up, man! Shoot the bitch!"
Now Harry was starting to get mad. Using Lou's outstretched arm for balance, he spun around and lashed out at Jackie with a vicious kick. His booted foot struck the mobster's forearm and sent his gun spinning from numb fingers. Jackie swore furiously, dropped to his knees, and started fumbling for his weapon in the weak light from the open door. Harry landed one more solid kick to his ribcage before Lou gave a tremendous heave on his arm and flung him away from the shaken Jackie.
Tyrrel, who was still huddled beside the bed, anticipating a bullet between the eyes, suddenly remembered the flashlight in her hands. Jackie crouched just a few feet away, his head turned in her direction and away from the lit doorway, in perfect position. Pointing the light directly into his eyes, she thumbed the switch.
A dazzling beam of light stabbed through the darkness, bringing a gasping curse from Jackie. Tyrrel had her own eyes tightly closed, so she could not see his reaction, but she heard the surprised pain in his voice and knew she'd aimed accurately. She switched the light off again and opened her eyes to see Jackie's bulk silhouetted against the doorway, hunched over, with both hands clutched to his face. Her features hardened in unaccustomed rage. Gripping the flashlight in both hands, she brought it down on his skull with a soggy, satisfying crunch. Jackie slumped to the floor.
All this had taken no more than a handful of seconds, but in that time, the scuffle between Lou and Harry had escalated into all-out war. Lou could not move with anything close to Ioki's speed or agility, but he was not hampered by an inability to locate his opponent, and he could absorb an incredible amount of abuse. So far, Harry had escaped any direct assault from the behemoth. That fact alone gave him the upper hand. But Lou seemingly didn't care how much or how hard the smaller man hit him, as long as he eventually got in one good shot.
Tyrrel watched Harry rock Lou back on his heels with a blow to the head, watched Lou shake it off in the next heartbeat only to wade in swinging, and decided that this situation called for superior firepower. She felt around on the floor until she located Jackie's gun, then she got to her feet, thumbed back the hammer, and pointed the weapon at Lou.
"Don't make me shoot!" she yelled, a bit unsteadily.
Harry glanced over at her in surprise, and his moment of distraction gave Lou the opening he'd been waiting for. One ham-sized fist connected with Harry's face in a beautiful right cross, sending him flying several feet before he landed in a heap at the foot of the bed. Tyrrel shouted something, but Harry couldn't hear her through the ringing in his ears.
Lou turned from the man lying crumpled up on the floor to the woman pointing a gun at his chest and grinned wolfishly. "Your turn, Doc."
Tyrrel tried to come up with a stinging retort that would cow the behemoth into submission, but none came to mind. So she opted for the direct approach, instead, and pulled the trigger. The bullet came nowhere near Lou - she hadn't intended to shoot him and made damned sure she wasn't aiming at him - but the report wiped the smile from his face. He glared dangerously at her, his fists clenching and unclenching as he envisioned crushing her skull with his bare hands, but the gun was once again pointed at his chest, and the woman holding it did not look particularly frightened of using it.
"You don't wanna shoot me," he informed her.
"No, but I will anyway."
As she spoke, Tyrrel caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She ruthlessly controlled the impulse to look, knowing that a glance from her would tip off Lou, and she had already caused enough trouble with her untimely distractions. Fixing a burning glare on the goon, she shouted, "It's the only way to stop you from killing me, and I don't want to die tonight! I'm having way too much fun!"
"You are one crazy broad," Lou informed her. Then Harry's boot heel slammed into his head, and he dropped like a sack of cement.
Quiet descended on the room. Harry stood over Lou's inert form and prodded it once with his toe. Satisfied that the goon had no immediate plans to wake up, he let his legs give out and sat down on the floor with an ungraceful thud.
"You okay?" Tyrrel asked.
He blinked at her dazedly, then nodded. After a moment to catch his breath, he remarked, "I feel like I got hit by a car."
"Very funny. Hang on a sec."
Setting the gun down on the bed, she crossed to the nearest lamp and screwed in the light bulb properly. Then she switched it on. She could now see the print of Lou's fist in Harry's face very clearly.
"Hm. You're lucky he got you in the eye. If he'd hit your jaw, you'd have been eating through a straw for the next two months."
"Yeah, Lucky's my middle name." She chuckled. "Nice work, by the way."
"You, too. I didn't think you'd be able to take out Lou with anything less than a wrecking ball."
Harry shook his head in disgust. "That was pathetic. I need to get in shape. All that sitting around talking to ducks is hell on my reflexes."
Tyrrel just rolled her eyes at the mysteries of male behavior and asked, "Now what?"
"Find the phone. Call the police. Then call Hanson for a ride."
"Where are we going? Another hotel?"
"I've got a better idea." Smiling sweetly up at her, he asked, "How would you like to spend the night behind bars?"
*** *** ***
Tom padded restlessly around the apartment in his stocking feet, unable to hold still but equally unable to decide what to do with all his nervous energy. He had found no message from Ioki at the Shop or at home, which left him with a knot of fear in the pit of his stomach and no means of allaying that fear. He asked himself, repeatedly, what could have happened to Ioki and Dr. Martin, but he already knew the answer. Trumbull.
He circled the room again, his eyes glued to the telephone as though he could will it to ring. The phone just sat there in mocking silence. He groaned and tore his gaze away to continue pacing.
"Damn it, Harry, where are you?"
The chime of the doorbell pulled him to a stop and flooded his face with relief. He ran to the door, ready to fling it open and vent his frustration all over his wayward friend, but at the last moment he hesitated. What certainty did he have that it was Harry on the other side of that door? None, really, beyond his own wishful thinking, and when dealing with the likes of Laurence Trumbull, wishful thinking could be hazardous to your health. Instead of opening the door, he peered through the peephole.
A total stranger stood on his doorstep. A woman with long dusky hair, melting brown eyes, and a red leather skirt that looked as though it had been spray painted onto her shapely body. She gazed wistfully at the closed door, and even through the fish-eye lens of the peephole, he could read the distress in her face.
He stared at her for a long moment, feeling the power of her sex-appeal seeping around the edges of the door at him and wondering what brought this gorgeous creature to his apartment at this hour of the night. Finally, he couldn't stand the suspense any longer. Flipping open the deadbolt, he opened the door.
The Bambi eyes flew to his face, and her lashes fluttered in an attempt to hold back frightened tears. Tom wasn't fooled, but he wasn't immune to the effect, either.
"Can I help you?"
"Are you Tom Hanson?"
His face grew more guarded. "Yes."
"I have a message for you from Mr. Trumbull." When Tom started to shut the door in her face, she put a hand out and urged, "Please, Officer Hanson, I don't like this any better than you do but..." Her tears quickened, and a few droplets escaped the dense barrier of her lashes. They sparkled against her flawless cheek.
"But what?" Tom snapped, unimpressed.
"I do what the Boss tells me, and I don't ask too many questions."
"What'd he tell you to do, this time?"
"To deliver a message. About your friends."
With a hiss of anger, Tom grabbed her arm and pulled her roughly into the apartment. "Quit wasting my time with tears, and tell me what that bastard has done to them!"
The girl skipped awkwardly through the door. As she clutched Tom's arm for balance with one hand, the other moved to the back of her red leather waistband. She staggered on her high heels and fell slightly against him. Tom felt the press of steel against his midriff. Looking down, he saw a small gun held expertly in her hand, the business end pushed up under his ribs.
She smiled confidently at him through her crocodile tears. "I wouldn't worry about them. You've got more immediate problems. Put your hands on your head and hold very, very still, Officer Hanson."
Tom complied. He didn't see any real option.
Without turning her head, the girl shouted out the door, "Come on in, boys!"
A moment later, a matched pair of goons bustled into the room. Each was easily as wide as two normal people, and both carried guns to match their girth. They grinned in perfect unison.
"Let's go for a little ride, buddy" one of them chortled.
Tom shrugged and allowed the other one to herd him out the door. As they headed down the corridor toward the exit, he reflected that his current situation had one unexpected perk. He might be about to die, but at least he'd spend his last minutes watching that remarkable leather skirt sashaying down the hallway ahead of him.
*** *** ***
Penhall trudged up the stairs to the Shop at the ungodly hour of six am, feeling ancient and miserable. He didn't want to sit around the squad room, but he couldn't bear another moment in the empty apartment, and he had nowhere else to go. So he climbed the stairs, his head buzzing with a vicious combination of anger, fear, exhaustion and caffeine, to sit in the deserted shop and wait for Tom Hanson. And then to kill him.
Ioki had not come home last night. For the first handful of hours, Doug had tried to convince himself that his roommate had a perfectly rational explanation for his disappearance. But somewhere around two am, after his third pot of coffee and his hundredth unanswered phone call to Hanson, he had to face the nauseating truth. Harry was gone. And Tom was either gone or hiding from him...again. When Doug thought of the things Tom had said to him not twelve hours before - about Harry taking care of himself and not needing Doug to protect him - he wanted to cry and scream and break things. And then he wanted to kill Tom.
It kept coming back to that. All night, it had come back to that, again and again, hour after hideous hour. This was Tom's fault - Tom who should have told him what was going on; Tom who should never have aided and abetted Harry in whatever madness had led to this; Tom who was supposed to be his partner, his friend, and the person he trusted the most; Tom who had betrayed him. And Tom who would pay dearly if Harry didn't come home.
Penhall unlocked the upper door, pushed it open with his shoulder, and reached in to flick on the lights. He stepped inside without really looking at the familiar, cluttered space. His feet carried him toward the coffee machine on auto-pilot. Then his hollow gaze touched the holding cell in the corner, and he froze.
It took him a full thirty seconds to absorb what he saw and another dozen or so to convince his muscles to move again. Finally, he pried the soles of his shoes free of the floor and crossed the room to the cell. Two people slept peacefully inside - a woman curled up on the cot with her face to the wall, and a man sitting on the floor, his head propped against the bars - and Doug knew, even before he consciously registered the fact, who belonged to that rumpled mop of jet black hair.
He knelt outside the bars, leaned close to the sleeping man, and whispered, "Harry?"
Ioki mumbled something in his sleep, shifted to a more comfortable position against the bars, and ignored him.
"Iok?" When Ioki still did not wake up, he straightened his knees, took a half step back from the cell, and bellowed at full, window-rattling volume, "Harry Ioki, I'm gonna break your neck!!"
Both Harry and the woman snapped instantly awake. The woman - a stranger with sleepy gray eyes squinted against the light - stared at him in open alarm. Harry scrubbed his hands over his face, shoved his hair out of his eyes, and grinned up at his apoplectic roommate.
Penhall stared at him, dumbfounded as much by his cheerful welcome as by the fluorescent black eye he sported. "What the..."
"Who were you talking to all night?" Ioki asked, as he climbed to his feet. "Every time I called, the line was busy."
"I was looking for you." Penhall's voice came out sounding small and terrified. He cleared his throat and repeated, in a much louder and angrier tone, building momentum as he went, "I was looking for you! I thought you were dead, Harry! I thought I was gonna start my day by identifying your body in the morgue!"
"We were here most of the night."
"Oh, yeah? Did she give you that shiner?!" He pointed an accusing finger at Tyrrel, who edged farther back on the cot to avoid him.
"Of course not. Doug Penhall, this is Tyrrel Martin. She's a doctor. And he's my roommate, in case you hadn't figured that out."
"Nice to meet you," Tyrrel said, doubtfully.
Doug ignored her. "What d'you need with a doctor? And what were you doing, sleeping in this cell, instead of your own bed? Come to think of it, how'd you even get in here?"
"Blowfish let us in. Doug, can you stop yelling for a minute and listen to me?"
"No, I'm not gonna listen! I don't have to listen to anything! I spent all yesterday listening to Hanson and Fuller and anyone else who wanted in on the act tell me what a screw-up I am, and I'm sick of it! It's my turn to do some talking, and you are gonna listen for a change!"
Tyrrel slid off the cot and edged toward the cell door, trying to keep as much distance as possible between herself and the seething Penhall. She paused beside Harry to touch his arm and murmur, "I'll be in the bathroom. Call me, when you've straightened this out."
Harry nodded understanding, while Doug glared daggers at her.
"Where d'you think you're going, lady?" he growled.
"To give you some privacy. I don't think you need an audience." With that, she ducked quickly through the doorway labeled "restrooms" in glowing pink neon.
Harry turned a thoughtful, but not very friendly look on his roommate. "I need a cup of coffee. It's way too early for this."
"Great. Now you're gonna pull that cool, reasonable thing on me and make me feel like a raving lunatic, when all I'm trying to do is look out for you!"
Harry started for the coffee machine. "Where do you guys keep the filters?"
"Damn it, Harry! Don't walk away from me! And don't you dare ignore me!!"
Ioki spun around, his eyes flashing with anger, and snapped, "Doug..." Then he got a hold on himself, found his reasonable tone again, and added, with forced calm, "I'm not ignoring you. I know you're mad, I understand why, and I'm sorry. But screaming at each other isn't gonna fix it."
"You really want to fix it? Then come home with me, right now. Leave that...that person in there to solve her own problems and come home where it's s..."
Harry lifted a warning finger, cutting him off in mid-word. Then, taking a deep breath to control his temper, he dropped his hand and fixed his empty, intent gaze on Doug's face.
"I can't. Tom is missing, and I think Laurence Trumbull has got him."
The words hit Doug like a fist, driving the air from his lungs and draining the blood from his face. Grabbing the nearest chair, he dropped limply into it.
"Oh, God," he gasped, "oh god oh god oh god...."
"Take it easy, Doug. Breathe."
"Breathe, he says. He tells me my partner is dead, then he tells me to breathe. Oh, God."
"He's not dead. Trumbull doesn't like to kill cops, so he won't hurt Tom 'til he's sure he can't pay him off. We've got some time."
"Time to do what?"
"Get him back."
Doug lifted his head, a spark of interest driving some of the panic from his eyes. He gazed hopefully at Harry and asked, "D'you really think we can?"
"Well, we're sure not gonna leave him there!"
"What's the plan?"
"I don't know. Yet." Harry smiled mischievously at him. "But whatever it is, you're driving."
*** *** ***
Hanson took another turn around his plush cell, dodging antique furniture and tiffany lamps as he went. His guard, one of the interchangeable Muntz Brothers, lounged on the satin cushions of a Queen Anne sofa and watched him through bored eyes. Gesturing with his own china coffee cup, he said,
"Why dontcha have some breakfast, Officer? Better not to face the Boss on an empty stomach."
Hanson strolled over to the table and studied the plate of almond croissants laid out for his delectation. A sterling silver coffee pot sat beside the plate, steaming gently. Tom shook his head. The whole thing was just too civilized and weird to take in. He'd expected waving guns, foul threats, rubber truncheons in dark cellars...maybe Pop Tarts for breakfast. But what kind of mobster served his enemies croissants and coffee on bone china?
Oh, well, whatever Trumbull had in mind, he was willing to feed his prisoner decently first. Tom poured himself a cup of coffee and sank his teeth into a pastry.
"Good boy," the goon said.
Hanson was working on his third croissant, when the door opened to admit his host. Trumbull lumbered into the room, looking woefully out of place in his elegant surroundings. He sent the guard packing with a nod of his head, folded his bulk onto the suddenly puny sofa, and plucked the cigar from between his teeth.
"Sleep well?" he growled. Tom got the impression that Trumbull always growled, even when trying to sweet-talk his ninety-year-old mother. He simply didn't know any other way to communicate.
"Pretty well, considering." Lifting the half-eaten pastry, Tom added, "Thanks for the breakfast."
Trumbull waved away his thanks with a benevolent hand. "Can't think on an empty stomach."
"True." Hanson took another large bite.
"And it's time for you to do some heavy thinking, pal. You've had your night on silk sheets and your fancy breakfast, now you should be ready to talk business."
"What kind of business?"
"Life and death. The important kind." Hanson nodded, encouraging him to continue. "We know a lot about each other, Tom Hanson. I know what you do for a living, and you know what I do. Problem is, I think you know a little bit too much, for your good or mine. That puts me in a bad spot. See, I don't like killin' cops."
"I heard that about you."
"I wouldn't get too snotty, if I were you, kid. I said I don't like killin' cops, not that I won't. Remember that, and we'll get along just fine."
"I'm getting a warm, fuzzy feeling already."
Hanson's tone of bored sarcasm brought a snarl to Trumbull's face. Rising to his feet with surprising agility, he said, "I can see you aren't ready for business, yet. Well, relax, Officer. Have some more coffee and rolls. Enjoy the view of my prize-winning roses. And think long and hard about why your friend didn't call you last night." Hanson's face paled slightly, and Trumbull gave an ugly laugh. "You don't have to like me, boy, but you damned well better respect me. I don't play games I can't win, and if that means wastin' a couple of bullets on a mouthy doctor and an ex-cop who doesn't know how to mind his own fuckin' business, then that's what I do. No second thoughts. The only thing that's earned you this chance is my respect for the Law. But don't push me too far, cop. It'll be the last mistake you ever make."
With that, Trumbull strode out of the room and left Tom alone with his dark imaginings. As the door closed behind the mobster, he sank back in his chair and closed his eyes, fighting panic. Common sense told him not to believe Trumbull's threats until he had proof - like a couple of dead bodies lying in front of him - but the cold lump in his stomach undermined common sense. Some part of him had believed that Ioki and Dr. Martin were dead from the time he'd returned to the Shop and found no message from them. That part now crawled out of the dark recesses of his brain and planted horrible, terrifying images behind his closed eyelids. ...Tyrrel and Harry dead on the floor of some anonymous hotel room, bloody holes punched in their temples, Harry's perfect silicon eyes still gazing at the door as though he expected Tom to walk in at any moment... ...Jackie and Lou sliding two bundles of chain, canvas and corpse into the oily, black river without so much as a splash... ...Harry lying on the bottom of the river, watching lazy fish and the hulls of ships drift past above him, still waiting for Tom to come...
With a groan of frustration, he leapt to his feet again and resumed pacing. He was playing into Trumbull's hands, letting that bastard plant ideas in his head that would undermine his confidence and his ability to think clearly. He couldn't afford to do that, and he could not...would not believe that Ioki was dead until he saw it with his own eyes. He simply had to be patient and try to have faith in his friend's resourcefulness to keep both the doctor and himself alive. The alternative was unthinkable.
* * *
"So, how does it look?"
Penhall lowered his binoculars and turned a sour glare on the man beside him. "It looks like a twelve-foot wall with high voltage wires strung around the top of it."
"I can't see anything besides that! There's a great, big wall in the way!"
Ioki groaned and banged his head against the truck in frustration. "Focus, Doug! Focus!"
"Which button does that?" Penhall muttered under his breath.
The two men stood in the bed of Penhall's yellow truck, their elbows propped on the roof of the cab, while Penhall peered at Trumbull's mansion through a pair of high-tech field glasses. They were parked on a small side street, which formed a T-intersection with the larger street running down the side of Trumbull's property. From here, they could not be seen by the guards at the main gate and they had a clear view of the ivy-covered brick wall that surrounded the estate.
"What can you see over the top of the wall?" Ioki demanded, in a tone that would brook no more foolishness on his colleague's part.
"Any up close to the wall?"
"Yeah...a couple." Doug scanned the visible stretch of wall for a moment, then added, "There's one that's hanging right over the wire. That's not too bright."
"Hmm...Satellite dish on the roof...some antennas...Then bucks says the guy's got a chopper pad in there somewhere. What else are you looking for?"
"Any sign of security equipment in the trees or on the top of the wall?"
"Like what? A big sign that says, 'I'm watching you, asshole'?"
"Just look, Doug."
"I'm looking, I'm looking..." He fell silent, as he studied every shadow and crevice for some hint of concealed cameras, alarms or tripwires. Finally, he lowered the glasses and shook his head. "I don't see anything. If he's got those trees wired, it's below the level of the wall. Then, of course, there's the possibility of landmines..."
"That's why we throw you over first."
"Oh, you're a riot. Listen, Iok, I can see where this is going, and I gotta tell you, I hate it."
"Not a big surprise."
"Even if we could get over that wall, without being barbecued, we've got no idea what's waiting for us on the grounds! I wasn't joking about the landmines!"
"Don't worry. There won't be any mines in the driveway." Before Penhall could continue the argument, Ioki turned a brilliant smile on him and chirped, "No point in putting this off! Where's Ty?"
Casting him a look of near-loathing, Penhall waved a signal with one arm. A moment later, Tyrrel Martin came jogging around the corner from her sentry post on the larger street. She climbed nimbly into the bed of the truck and eyed her co-conspirators with a distinct air of excitement.
"Penhall's blood pressure," Ioki quipped, cheerfully.
In answer, Penhall glared at the pair of them and pulled his gun from its shoulder holster. Under Ty's curious gaze, he popped out the magazine to examine it, checked the firing chamber, then thumbed the safety off and settled the weapon back into its holster. He had all the air of a man about to storm the beaches of Normandy.
His grim, self-sacrificing mood was shattered when Ty said, eagerly, "Can I have one of those?"
"Not a chance!" Doug bellowed.
"A gun?" Harry gave her a confused look. "I thought you hated guns."
"Only when they're pointed at me."
"You do not need a gun," Penhall growled. "You are going to stay out of trouble, keep your head down, and make sure Ioki doesn't get lost. That's all you're going to do, understand?"
"Oh, please," Harry groaned.
Ty grinned wickedly into Penhall's smoldering eyes and said, "Sorry. Forgot his leash."
Harry brought one fist crashing down on the roof of the truck to get their attention. When he had reduced Penhall to seething silence, he said, "Y'know, Trumbull could be turning Tom into cat food as we speak. Are we gonna get in there and save him? Or are we gonna stand around being stupid?"
"Okay, okay," Penhall grumbled, "let's do it."
* * *
Tyrrel once again found herself on sentry duty. From her post, she could just make out the guard house at the front gate, and she had a clear view down the length of the side wall. She watched Penhall and Ioki stroll up to the wall, stopping exactly where the tree overhung the electrified wires. Ioki carried a heavy blanket over one shoulder that he had unearthed from behind the seat in the truck. It looked like the kind of thing you rolled up dead bodies in, and what exactly Penhall used it for Ty had no idea.
The two men fell to arguing, predictably. Ty began to fret. They didn't have time to waste on this kind of foolishness. Then, abruptly, the battle ended and Ioki sat down to pull off his cowboy boots. Score one for Penhall. When Ioki had shed the offending footwear, Penhall crouched by the wall, allowing the smaller man to climb onto his shoulders. It took Ioki a moment to get his balance, then Penhall slowly straightened his knees, rising to his full height.
Standing in his stocking feet on Penhall's shoulders, Ioki's head still did not top the wall, but he was close enough for their purposes. Ty watched him unfold the blanket and shake it out, while Doug concentrated on keeping his feet planted solidly under Ioki's shifting weight. It was like watching amateur acrobats rehearse, and Ty found herself digging her fingernails into her palms to control her nervous trembling.
Finally, they were ready. Doug took a step back from the wall, giving Harry more room to move, and craned his neck to get a glimpse of the wires. They held a quick, muttered conference, then Harry lifted the blanket in both hands, paused to fine-tune the picture in his head, and tossed the heavy cloth toward the wall.
Ty clapped a hand over her mouth, muffling her shout of warning, as Doug staggered and Harry grabbed at the ivy on the wall to keep from falling. They danced around drunkenly for a moment, then settled back into some kind of balance, with Harry still standing on Doug's shoulders. Ty looked fearfully up at the fence and broke out in a wide grin. The blanket had landed across the uppermost wire - a little crooked, but exactly where it belonged.
Under Doug's whispered guidance, Harry pushed the loose blanket out of the way to expose the bricks and got a firm grip on the upper lip of the wall. He hesitated for a moment, falling perfectly still. Ty could hear her own heart pounding in her ears, and she wanted to scream at him to jump already. With the toss of the blanket, they had officially breached Trumbull's security and elevated this whole venture from the status of mental exercise to deadly reality. The clock was ticking. Every second counted. But this part of the plan belonged to Harry, and it was up to him to execute it properly. If Ty opened her mouth now, she'd blow them all out of the water.
Without warning, he jumped. One moment he was standing on Doug's shoulders, and in the next, he had vaulted almost effortlessly onto the top of the wall. As his feet touched the bricks, he straightened his knees and spread his arms for balance, catching the tree branch that brushed his left shoulder just in time to stop himself from toppling backwards off his precarious perch. Then he was standing easily on the wall and grinning down at Doug. Tyrrel wanted to cheer, but she was too petrified even to breathe.
The two men held another low-voiced conference, then Ioki stepped over the insulated patch of wire, waved a casual farewell to his cohort, and vanished into the tree. Ty automatically looked at her watch and started counting off the seconds. At the one minute mark, she lifted her eyes to cast a searching glance up and down the street. Nothing moved in either direction, and the guard gate was quiet. Ty strode across the street, meeting up with Doug as he hurried down the sidewalk toward her. He looked pale and tense, with a hunted expression in his eyes that worried Ty. This was a man on emotional overload, if she'd ever seen one.
Putting a calming hand on his arm, she murmured, "Time for Phase Two."
He glanced at his watch, then down the street toward the main gate. "You sure you wanna do this?"
"It's a little late to back out, now. Come on, Penhall."
"Right." He took a deep breath and shook himself all over, like a dog coming out of a bath. Then he gestured politely for her to precede him. "Take it away, Babe."
Tyrrel immediately started running. A few seconds later, she heard Penhall's feet pounding the pavement behind her. They both ran full tilt, lending as much authenticity as possible to their performance, and tore around the corner onto the street that ran past the main gate. Ty threw one glance over her shoulder and saw Doug right on her heels.
As she reached the gate, and the two guards watching her curiously, she gasped, "Leave me alone, you son of a bitch!"
Penhall growled a wordless response, making a snatch for her arm that she easily dodged. When she turned away and tried to put on a fresh burst of speed, he took her down with a flying tackle. She slammed into the sidewalk, all of Doug's considerable weight on top of her, and gave a very real grunt of pain.
He leaned closed to her and mouthed a silent, "Sorry," to which she responded with an elbow in his gut. He swore colorfully and rolled away, clutching his midriff. Ty staggered to her feet. She managed only a step before his hand shot out and fastened on her ankle. The next thing she knew, she was lying on her back, staring up at Penhall's enraged face, while he straddled her and pinned her down with his weight on her stomach.
Pushing her voice into the shrill, panicked register, she howled, "Let me go, Dougie! Let me go, or I swear, I'll call the cops this time!"
"Bitch!" He gave her a very convincing open-handed smack to the face, which she dramatized by rocking her head to the side and shouting in pain. "Don't you threaten me!"
Doug only just caught her wrist in time to prevent her from raking her nails down his face.
By now, one of the guards had left the gatehouse and approached the wrought iron fence that separated him from the tussle outside. He saw Penhall draw his arm back for another blow and called, "Hey, buddy! Somethin' wrong?"
"None of your damned business!" Penhall bellowed.
"Then take it somewhere else, huh?"
"He's trying to kill me!" Ty shrieked. "Make him stop!"
"Shut up!" Doug delivered another loud, but harmless slap, which reduced Ty to shuddering sobs. "Don't make me tell you again!"
The guard pulled a fat bunch of keys from his pocket and fitted one into the lock on the small pedestrian gate next to the main one. "Watch it, pal. You're gettin' kinda rough."
"Oh, yeah? You got a problem with the way I treat my lady?"
"Yeah, I think maybe I do."
"Help me!" Ty sobbed, gazing pathetically at the enormous guard.
Doug swore again and lifted his hand to strike her, but the guard loomed suddenly up behind him and caught his arm in a vice grip.
"That's enough outta you."
"Oh, man, I'm glad you did that!" Doug chortled, springing lightly to his feet. "I been dyin' to beat the crap outta someone all day!"
While Penhall mixed it up with the guard, Ty scrambled out from under their scuffling feet and turned worried eyes on the gatehouse. The second guard lounged inside the small kiosk, watching his partner in amused boredom. He paid absolutely no attention to the estate grounds visible through the back window of the booth, so he did not see Ioki slip past. Ty did, and she reacted appropriately.
Jumping to her feet, she ran to the gate and clutched desperately at the bars. She needed to get the second guard talking, fast, so Harry would know where he was. "Can't you do something?" she shouted. "Call the police, or shoot him, or something?!"
The man laughed. "It's not my war, chikita. You want your sugar daddy dead, you're gonna have to do it yourself."
The goon was still chuckling when Ioki buried a fist in his stomach. He doubled over in pain, received a knee to the face, and dropped to the floor in a limp heap. The first goon heard the disturbance in the shed and spun around to investigate, but Penhall had heard it as well and was ready for him. Drawing his gun, he whacked the guard neatly across the temple and sent him off to sweet oblivion with his partner.
It took all three of them to drag the guard back through the gate and into the kiosk. Ty carefully locked the gate behind them, then pocketed the keys for future use. She found Penhall and Ioki trussing the guards up with a convenient roll of duct tape.
"Do mobsters always carry that stuff?" she asked.
"You never know when it'll come in handy," Penhall grunted, as he heaved one of the men onto his back and slapped a piece of tape over his mouth.
"Come on," Ioki whispered, "let's go."
Penhall obediently clambered over the stacked bodies to reach the door, but Ty hesitated. The nearest guard had a familiar-looking bulge under his jacket that drew her attention. Crouching beside him, she reached inside to find the gun.
"What are you doing?" Doug hissed.
"Don't worry." She hefted the large automatic in one hand, as she got to her feet. "I'll apply for a license when we get out of here."
Penhall shook his head in grim surrender and headed for the house without further comment. Behind him, Ioki caught Ty's arm and leaned close to murmur, "Just don't shoot anybody we like."
* * *
Doug felt an arm lock around his throat, cutting off his air supply. He thrashed helplessly, trying to shake off his attacker, but the arm was as thick and strong as a tree trunk, and the body behind him as unforgiving as a concrete wall. The arm tightened, and his feet lifted off the floor. Black spots danced before his eyes, blotting out his view of the elegant foyer.
A voice growled, "How'd this rat get in here?"
The voice's free hand closed around Doug's wrist and began to squeeze. His fingers went instantly numb, and his gun clattered to the parquet floor. A moment later, the arm loosened, allowing him to slump down next to his abandoned weapon. He blinked to clear his vision and saw Ty step away from the wall, her gun raised. The goon ignored her. He stooped over Doug, fastened a hand in his collar, and dragged him to his feet. The renewed pressure of his shirt against his windpipe almost made Doug black out again. He clutched at the massive arm, gasping for air and fighting to stay conscious.
Ty watched this, her eyes burning, then pointed the gun at the goon's chest and shouted, valiantly, "Freeze, asshole!"
Doug groaned and the thug laughed. A flare of anger stiffened the doctor's spine and steadied her hands. Her face hard with determination, she tightened her finger on the trigger. The gun made a soft clicking sound, but no bullet came out.
"Oh, shit," she whispered.
With another burst of laughter, the thug let go of Penhall and made a lunge for Ty. She gave a panicked squeak. Suddenly, a tiffany lamp came down on his head with a crash, dropping him in his tracks.
Ioki tossed the remains of the lamp onto the thug's back, stepped past him, and remarked pleasantly to the stunned doctor, "Better take the safety off."
Penhall scrambled to his feet and retrieved his gun. "That woke up the whole house. Let's go, guys!"
Ty obediently followed him, still shaken by her near miss with the goon and mortified by her blunder. Ioki made a move to join them, but then he hesitated. Tom had told him that Ty was a very smart woman, and he had seen ample evidence of that, himself. Perhaps he'd do well to follow her example and arm himself.
While Penhall and the doctor crept down the hallway, he turned his attention to searching his victim. When he had relieved the goon of his gun, he crossed the foyer to the hallway opposite the one Doug had taken. Pausing in the opening, he listened.
Voices. Angry voices, and the thud of furniture being abused. He couldn't gauge the direction too accurately, but it came from somewhere down this hallway. Suddenly, a door opened, and the voices got much louder.
Harry moved into the hallway and followed the wall 'til he came to the first door. He didn't have time for real caution, but he did listen for a moment, just to be sure there weren't hungry guard dogs or thugs having target practice on the other side. All seemed quiet, so he eased the door open and slipped through it.
The room felt empty, much to his relief. By keeping the door open a crack, he could hear the group of angry voices coming down the hall. They were discussing the break-in. One of them - probably Trumbull, to judge by his fondness for making threats, giving orders, and swearing - told the others to put an extra guard on "the cop" and tighten the perimeter defenses.
'It's a little late for that,' Harry thought.
When the voices had passed his hiding place and faded into another wing of the house, he slipped back out into the hallway. He cast a smiling glance after Trumbull's retreating squad of thugs, then started down the hall toward the room they had left. Time to explore.
* * *
Ty clutched Doug's arm in a panicked grip and pulled him close to whisper, "Where's Harry?"
"Huh?" His brows snapped together in a deep frown. "Didn't you..." Then he saw the empty space behind her and let out an explosive curse. "You lost him!"
"I didn't lose him! He lost himself!" At his furious glare, she whispered, desperately, "I'm sorry, Doug! But I thought he came with me! Where would he go?"
"Damned if I know." He gnawed on his lip for a moment, his eyes straying toward the foyer, then he gave a growl of frustration and started down the corridor again. "Come on. We gotta find Hanson."
Ty jerked him to a halt again and hissed, "I'm going to find Harry!"
"No, you're not!" She blinked at him, hurt and surprise warring in her face. "The last thing I need is to lose you, too. And Harry..." He choked on the words, forcing them out past a sudden tightness in his throat. "Harry can take care of himself."
Ty nodded reluctantly and dropped her hand from his arm. "Okay, but...before we tackle anymore goons..."
"Would you show me how to take the safety off this thing?"
Doug broke out in the first grin Tyrrel had ever seen on his face. Pointing to the switch on the side of her weapon, he whispered, "Push it forward. Good. Now, stay close, and for God's sake, don't shoot me in the back!"
She returned his smile and fell into step behind him, her gun pointed conscientiously at the ceiling.
* * *
Tom prowled the confines of his prison, straining to catch every sound from outside. His guard had not returned after Trumbull's exit, but when he tried to open the door he found it locked. And when he pounded on it, demanding attention, both Muntz Brothers promptly answered. They made it painfully clear that they wanted no more distractions from him, so he didn't summon them a second time, but he could hear them shifting around and muttering to each other, right outside the door.
When he saw a pair of heavily armed goons tramping through the rose garden, it did not immediately occur to him that something was up. Maybe Trumbull always posted a guard on the grounds. But when Trumbull himself stuck his head in the door to glare at Tom, then disappeared again without saying a word, he began to wonder. Soon, he heard running feet in the corridor and shouted orders from the garden. Trumbull's voice carried from another part of the house, swearing viciously.
Tom stopped pacing and turned curious eyes on the door. He could now hear crashing and thumping from the hallway, and once - just once - the tantalizing hint of a familiar voice growling threats at some luckless goon. A smile spread over Tom's face. Penhall had come for him. He should have known that Doug would never leave him to the tender mercies of Laurence Trumbull.
Something heavy struck the door, making it bow inward. Another blow, then the sound of voices arguing. A moment later, the lock turned and the door slammed open as if hit with a battering ram. Doug Penhall charged headlong into the room.
* * *
Harry stepped into yet another empty room and paused to orient himself. This one smelled of cigars. Keeping his gun in his right hand, he started following the wall to his left, cataloging the furniture he ran into as he went. A large plant. A lamp. A vase on a wooden stand - something rare and expensive that it would give him great satisfaction to smash, but he didn't want to attract attention to himself with the noise. A bar. A table with some more expensive breakables on it. Built in bookcases. Chairs.
The third chair felt like a big leather desk chair, the sort executives used to intimidate people. Harry stopped to consider his options and decided to take a chance. After all, Laurence Trumbull's study couldn't be anymore hazardous than Doug Penhall's kitchen. And it would contain fewer sharp objects.
Using the chair as a reference point, he stepped away from the wall. The chair spun smoothly under his hand, allowing him to circle it without letting go of the tall back. Suddenly, he found his way blocked by a very large, very heavy chunk of wood. Settling into the chair, he ran his hands over the polished surface and smiled happily. It was a desk. And in this room full of expensive artwork and cigars, such a desk could belong to only one person.
Still smiling to himself, he began rifling the drawers. He didn't really expect to find anything - or at least, not anything that he could readily identify - but this was too priceless an opportunity to pass up. The lower drawers were both locked, so he went back to the center one to retrieve the letter opener. With this, he was able to pop the lock on the drawer to his left. It contained bunches of hanging files. Nothing fun there.
He was still working on the single remaining drawer, when he heard the stump of heavy feet in the hallway. Trumbull's voice sounded right outside the door, growling at someone about alarms and security gates. Harry reached up to retrieve his gun from the desk top, then he slid quietly out of the chair and under the desk.
The door creaked open, then Harry heard one pair of feet - a much lighter pair than Trumbull's - head back down the corridor. Trumbull's heavy tread entered the room. Alone. He shut the door and strode toward the desk.
In one, smooth gesture, Harry pushed back the chair and rose to his feet. He thumbed back the hammer on the gun, pointed it at the mobster, and said, "That's far enough, Mr. Trumbull."
Trumbull stopped dead in the center of the floor, his eyes nearly popping out of his head as they fell on the gun in Ioki's hand. "What the fuck...? Oh, It's you!"
* * *
Penhall released his partner from a crushing bear hug and set him on his feet again. Hanson grinned up at him, his eyes shining with relief and the barest hint of threatened tears. The two men just looked at each other, sharing a moment of welcome rapport, until Tyrrel cleared her throat from the doorway.
Tom turned startled eyes on her. "What are you doing here? I thought you were dead!"
"You took the words right out of my mouth." She gestured toward the hallway with her purloined gun. "Hadn't we better go? We still have to find Harry."
Penhall rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Don't get me started! That reminds me, Partner. When we get outta here, you're a dead man."
"Why? What'd I do?"
"Like you even have to ask?!" Penhall hissed, as he shepherded both Hanson and the doctor out of the room and past the sprawled forms of the Muntz Brothers. "How could you let Harry get himself mixed up with major-league scum like Trumbull? What the hell were you thinking?!"
"Me?! What makes you think I had anything to say about it?" Hanson stopped walking and turned a fulminating glare on Penhall. "Anyway, I'm not the one who brought him here! To Trumbull's house, for God's sake! Have you gone totally insane?"
"Well...it wasn't like that, exactly." Penhall looked more than a bit sheepish. "He sorta brought me here."
Tom gave a disgusted snort and headed down the hall again. "Now you know how I feel."
In the distance, they heard the welcome wail of sirens approaching.
* * *
Ioki hung up the phone and turned smiling eyes on his prisoner. "That should do it. The cops won't waste any time getting here."
Trumbull threw him a look of intense loathing. "Why'd you go and do that? What's the point in getting the cops involved?"
"Old habits die hard, I guess."
"You're wastin' a golden opportunity, here, kid. I could do a lot for you."
"Please, whatever you do, don't offer to help me!" Ioki protested, horrified. "I get so sick of everyone trying to help me!"
"Fine. Then I'll kill you."
Harry fixed the mobster with his unnervingly direct gaze, a smile spreading across his face. "Just in time to explain it to the police."
"I'm really starting to dislike you, kid. I mean, before it was just business. Nothin' personal. But now, I'm beginning to think I'd really enjoy blowing a hole in your head."
"Why didn't you when you had the chance? I'm not a cop. You could've killed me with a clear conscience."
Trumbull glared sourly at him. "I'm sorry I didn't. You know what you are? A maggot. A disgusting little maggot, totally fucking useless, but always turning up where you aren't welcome, gnawing holes in a perfectly good plan."
"You sure you don't mean a termite?"
"Oh, shut up," the mobster grumbled.
Harry settled back against the corner of the desk, making himself comfortable without taking the gun off Trumbull.
"You want to know the funny part of all this?" he asked, conversationally. "You did it for nothing. Dr. Martin didn't hear a thing. She patched up Gordon, sent him off to surgery, and forgot all about him, until you sent Jackie and Lou to kill her. Now you're going to prison for kidnapping one police officer, bribing another one, and trying to kill a doctor. Maybe for Gordon's murder, too, if we can find the gun." He glanced curiously around the room. "Is it in the desk, maybe? Did you shoot Gordon yourself, Mr. Trumbull? Give it the personal touch?" Trumbull snarled at him, and Ioki's smile widened. "I guess we'll find out, soon enough."
"If I ever get my hands on you, kid..."
"I know. You'll squash me like a bug."
"You've heard that one before, huh?"
"Lots of times."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" After a moment of sullen thought, Trumbull asked, "Is it true, what you said about the Doc? That she didn't hear anything?"
"Nothing but Gordon swearing a blue streak."
"Son of a bitch." He fell silent again, mulling over the twists of fate that had brought him to this pass. Then he asked, "And I never would've had to look at your ugly face, if I hadn't gone after the Doc, right?"
"Son of a bitch! What the fuck did I do to deserve this?"
Harry gave a philosophical shrug. "Life just sucks, sometimes."
"You got that right, kid." Trumbull cocked an ear at the sound of approaching sirens, and he sighed lugubriously. "Boy, you sure got that right."
*** *** ***
The three young men gathered around Hanson's desk, waiting for Dr. Martin to come out of Fuller's office. In the aftermath of an incredible Law Enforcement coup, they seemed strangely subdued. Hanson leaned back in his chair, his feet up on the desk, yawning 'til his jaw cracked and blinking like a sleepy cat. Ioki sat on a corner of the desk, picking paperclips out of the magnetic holder one at a time, while Penhall stabbed pencils into an empty foam cup. They both looked thoughtful, even somber.
"What's takin' so long?" Penhall demanded.
Hanson yawned, yet again. "Fuller's plenty pissed that we didn't report the shootings, and he's not any happier with Ty's involvement than with ours. You can bet he isn't going easy on her."
"So, it's Ty now? You guys are getting pretty chummy, aren't you?"
Hanson threw a laughing glance at Ioki, who raised his eyebrows at Penhall's caustic tone.
"She's a nice lady," Harry commented, blandly, "for a doctor."
Harry smiled but said nothing.
"You'd better get used to her," Hanson said. "She's not going anywhere."
"What d'you mean?" Penhall demanded.
Ioki turned a surprised look on him. "Yeah. What do you mean?"
"I mean, there is no way that lady is letting you walk out of her life, free and clear."
"She's got nothing to say about it," Ioki retorted.
"Oh, no? You're in for a rude awakening, my friend. Besides, I like her. We're friends. And since you and I will be working together..."
Ioki's warning came too late. Penhall jumped on the seemingly innocent phrase like a mongoose on a cobra.
"Working together? What the hell are you talking about?!"
"I knew Iok was up to something! I knew it! Now he's got you backin' him up again, doesn't he?!"
"Yes, he does." Tom sighed. "I guess this is as good a time as any to tell you. Doug, I'm resigning from the Force."
Penhall's eyes flew open wide in shock. "What?!"
"Don't act so surprised. You know I've been wanting to...to move on for a long time. I just didn't have anywhere to move to. Well, now I do." Meeting Penhall's wounded gaze, he said, a touch defiantly, "Harry and I are opening a business together. We're going to be private investigators."
In the silence that followed this announcement, Ioki could hear Penhall gasping for breath. He stood up and put a hand on Penhall's arm, but the other man shook it off.
"Take it easy, Doug."
"Take it easy?" Penhall's voice scaled up in panic, full of as much pain as anger, and it shook audibly. "You're trying to get yourself killed, he's trying to help you do it, and you think I should take it easy?! Are you out of your mind?!"
Harry turned away from him, his shoulders slumping in defeat, and sat down on the desk again. "Yeah, that's it. I'm crazy, Tom's crazy, the whole world is crazy except for you." He swung his foot, knocking his boot heel against the steel leg of the desk in a sullen, frustrated gesture. "You better go find me a rubber room, Doug, 'cause I'm gonna need it."
The bitter note in Harry's voice got through to Doug as no amount of shouting could. He swallowed his angry words and turned a searching gaze on his roommate, really seeing him for the first time in months. What he saw disturbed him.
"Don't talk like that," he said, his voice now low and gruff with concern.
Harry threw a paperclip down on the desk, with a sharp snap of his wrist. "Do you have any idea," he said, through clenched teeth, "what it felt like, when they told me I couldn't be a cop anymore? They took away the only thing in my life that mattered a damn, and they handed me a check to replace it." Another paperclip pinged against the desktop. Then another and another, in a vicious staccato rhythm. "I spent six months feeling useless. Like a pile of dirty laundry on your floor. Most of the time, I had trouble remembering that I ever was a real person, with a job and a life."
"You have a life."
"I have a big bank account. It's not the same thing."
"You could do lots of things with that money. Things that would make you feel good about yourself, without..."
"What? Scaring you?!" When Penhall did not answer, he almost shouted, "There's only one thing I want to do! Be a cop! But I can't! Ask anybody, they'll tell you, H.T. Ioki can't be a cop anymore!"
Penhall stared at his own toes, fighting angry tears, and muttered, "They're right."
"Damn it, Doug, I am so sick of people telling me what I can't do! I can't be a cop, I can't take care of myself, I can't even cross the street alone because I might get hit by car! Well, I got news for you. I've been hit by a car, and it was one of the best things that's ever happened to me."
"Forget it! Don't even ask! Just listen to me. For the last two days, I've been a real person again, and I like it. I got shot at and chased and punched in the face... I got to climb over electrified walls and wave guns at stupid mobsters and listen to them insult me every way they could think of... and I haven't had this much fun in years!"
"Same here," Tom murmured. Penhall glared resentfully at him but did not interrupt.
"So I made a decision. I'm not gonna go back to feeling like old laundry. I'm not gonna talk to ducks anymore. I'm gonna start this business and do this job because I love it, and I'm never, never, never letting anyone tell me, ever again, what I can't do! Not the city, or the Police Department, or Tom, or even you. It's my business. It belongs to me. And whatever happens to it - or to me - is my responsibility and my choice. Can you understand that?"
Penhall didn't answer for a long, painful minute. Then, finally, he took a deep breath, let it out on a sigh, and said, "Yeah. I understand."
"Can you accept it?"
"I don't know." Another moment of thought, then he added, "But I'll try."
Harry's face softened instantly, the anger and frustration vanishing in the heat of his sudden smile. He touched Penhall's arm again, and this time, his friend allowed it. "Thank you."
"I'm not making any promises."
Penhall shot a sideways look at Hanson, with a slightly malicious smile curving his lips, and a hint of his usual humor crept into his voice. "So, if I'm hearing this right, Tom's working for you?"
"That's the agreement," Hanson said, easily. "Ioki owns controlling interest in the business, so he's the boss. I, however, am the brains."
Ioki wrinkled his nose in comic disgust. "I just hired him 'cause he's got a driver's license."
"And a license to carry a gun," Hanson added, "and the P.I. license we'll need to open the agency...basically, I make us legal."
"I'll get a P.I. license. There's gotta be a loophole somewhere that'll work for me - like maybe no one bothered to put in writing that you actually have to be able to see to be a private investigator. That's just the sort of thing those bureaucrats would leave out. And as a last resort, I can squeeze one out of Mayor Davis. He's scared to death of me."
Tyrrel strolled over to the desk just in time to hear this statement. She raised an amused eyebrow and commented, "Trading on your Celebrity Victim status again, Harry?"
Ioki grinned unrepentantly at her. "Whatever works."
With her arrival, Penhall's mood changed abruptly. His lurking smile died, and the sullen glower settled on his face again. He shoved his hands into his pockets, hunched his shoulders, and growled, "I should've guessed you had something to do with this."
"Yes, you should have," Tyrrel said.
"But she doesn't," Ioki protested.
Tyrrel exchanged a conspiratorial smile with Hanson. "Well, nothing official, mind you. I'm not looking for a percentage. But you will be needing a medical consultant and someone to apply the occasional band-aid, ice-pack, or slab of raw meat to a black eye. And I expect Tom to give me some lessons in handling firearms, so I'm not caught with my safety on a second time."
"Hey! I didn't agree to any of this!"
"Relax, Harry. I'm just an on-call specialist. You can pay me by the stitch." Before Ioki could marshal his scattered wits to tell her exactly what he thought of this plan, she started away from the desk, calling back over her shoulder, "I've gotta run, guys! I'm about five hours late for my shift, already. How about I buy you all a really fabulous dinner tomorrow night, just to say thank you? I know it's kind of inadequate, but I have to start somewhere, and maybe a thick steak will soften Penhall's bad opinion of me. See ya!"
As her sunny voice trailed off into the stairwell, Ioki turned a hostile glare on Hanson and snapped, "I'm gonna get you for this!"
Hanson just laughed, completely unfazed by his friend's disapproval.
Ioki jumped to his feet. "It isn't funny!"
"Yes it is!"
With an infuriated squeak, Harry turned his back on the chuckling Hanson. He threaded his way through the maze of desks, shouting at Tyrrel to wait.
Tyrrel hesitated in the alley doorway when she heard Harry call her name. Looking up, she found him standing at the top of the stairs, gazing intently at her. She climbed the staircase again to stand one step below him, close enough to see the faint scars on his face and read the tension in his features.
"What is it?"
"Why did you say that? About working with us?"
"Because I meant it. I'm a danger-junkie, Harry. I didn't know it, 'til I helped you and Penhall break into Trumbull's mansion, but I know it now. When Tom told me about your plans and offered me the chance to work with you two, I knew I couldn't turn him down. I want to feel that rush again."
"After a while, there is no rush. Just fear."
"Then why do you do it?" she asked, softly.
"Because it's who I am. It's what gets me out of bed in the morning."
She lifted one hand to rest against his cheek. "I know."
He caught her wrist and shifted his head away from her touch. "Please, Ty, don't."
"All right, we'll do this your way. I'm your friend and colleague, and I'll respect the boundaries you set. But remember this, Harry Ioki. No matter how long it takes, or how much of your foolishness I have to put up with, one thing will never change. I love you. I'm going to spend my life with you, one way or another. I'm a very patient woman, and one who does not take these things lightly, so don't expect me to change my mind."
"What you are is loony tunes."
"If that's what you want to believe, go right ahead."
"You are. And the sooner you get your head screwed on straight, the happier we'll both be."
She smiled and squeezed his hand, as she pulled free of his grasp. "You say the sweetest things. Thank you for catching my goons, and for saving my life. And most of all, thank you for making me loony tunes."
"Go home and take a pill."
"I'll be in touch." Her hand brushed his cheek again, then she turned to descend the stairs. "Take care of yourself."
"Go out on a date. Get a life! Get a grip!"
Her laughter floated back up the stairwell to him. At the outside door, she paused to call, "Remember what I said, Harry!" Then the door slammed shut behind her.
Ioki made a sour face at the empty stairwell and grumped, "Doctors! They never listen!"
"What's up, Iokage?"
Harry turned a frustrated glance on his new business partner. "That woman is gonna drive me nuts."
Tom laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "That's what they're here for."
"I wish she'd go away."
"Yeah, right! Come on, Harry, admit it. You love having a gorgeous bombshell of a doctor crazy in love with you."
"You got one thing right. She's definitely crazy."
"I wouldn't know."
"And in love with you."
"Y'know, if we're gonna work together, you have to stop saying stupid stuff like that."
"So sorry... Boss."
Harry chuckled. "I am the boss, and don't you forget it."
"I don't think you're gonna let me."
"Not in this lifetime. Oh, boy, is this gonna be fun!"
Tom draped a companionable arm around his shoulders as they turned back into the squad room together. "It sure is."
*** *** ***
Penhall jockeyed himself, a suitcase and a sleeping five-year-old through the door, then pushed it shut with his foot. It slammed a little too loudly, but the child barely stirred at the noise. He dropped the suitcase, making a mental note to move it out of the entryway before morning, and flicked on the light. Home, sweet home! God, how he'd missed it! Nothing like spending a couple of weeks in Hell to make you appreciate the little comforts in life - like a clean apartment and the promise of a soft bed.
He headed for the couch on tip-toes. Clavo seemed to be out for the count, but Harry was a notoriously light sleeper, and Doug didn't want to deal with his inevitable sour mood if he got awakened at 2:30 in the morning. Penhall had spent much of the flight home from El Salvador worrying about how he would break the news to Ioki that they had acquired yet another roommate. He still hadn't come up with a plan, but he knew for sure that he didn't want to do it at this hour.
"Hey, Doug." Penhall gave guilty start and looked up to find Ioki standing in the hall doorway. He was dressed in a bathrobe, looking rumpled and three-quarters asleep. "I'm glad you're back."
"Thanks. It's unbelievably good to be home."
"Did you find Marta?"
Something about his tone of voice told Ioki what his words hadn't. Harry fixed blank, but oddly expressive eyes on him and murmured, "I'm sorry."
Doug couldn't meet his gaze. He turned his own eyes, now filling stubbornly with tears, on the floor. "Yeah...well, it was a long shot, anyway. Right?" Clearing the roughness from his throat and forcing the tears back, he said in a determinedly cheerful way, "Listen, Iok, there's something I n..."
At that inopportune moment, the boy in his arms stirred and lifted his head. "Are we there, Uncle Doug?"
The burst of sleepy, high-pitched Spanish interrupted Penhall and brought a look of comical surprise to Ioki's face. Penhall couldn't decide whether to groan or laugh. Keeping one wary eye on his roommate, he said to Clavo, in passable Spanish, "Yup. Safe and sound." He then switched to English and urged, "Say hello to my friend, Harry."
"Hola, Señor Harry," Clavo chirped.
"Hello," Ioki responded, with automatic courtesy.
"Marta's nephew," Doug added helpfully.
"Nice to meet you."
"He's staying with us, for a while."
Harry nodded understanding, his face carefully neutral.
Doug said to Clavo, "Let's get you to bed, little dude."
Clavo murmured acceptance of this dictum, said a polite goodnight to Ioki, and allowed Penhall to cart him off to bed. Doug toyed briefly with the idea of crawling into bed beside him and avoiding the inevitable confrontation with Harry, but curiosity got the better of him. He just had to know what was going through Ioki's mind.
Shutting the bedroom door on the sleeping Clavo, he padded down the hall in his stocking feet and went into the kitchen. There, he found Ioki pouring a cup of coffee.
"Planning an all-nighter?" he quipped, mechanically.
Harry shoved a cup across the counter toward him. "What time is it?"
"Late. Too late to get into this."
"Oh, no you don't. If you think I'm going back to sleep before you tell me what happened in El Salvador, you're crazy."
The complete lack of hostility in Ioki's voice surprised Penhall out of his defensive posture. He still couldn't tell how the other man felt about this latest development, but he saw nothing beyond concerned interest in his face. With a mental shrug, Doug plunked down on the couch and started talking. Harry listened in silence, while Doug wandered his way through the story, glossing over the things he found too painful to dwell on and stressing the few moments of humor or warmth they had experienced. Harry wasn't fooled, but he let Doug tell it in his own way.
"We hit the airport at about eleven," he finished up, "went through customs, caught a cab, and here we are."
"Is Tom okay?"
"Yeah. It's gonna take him a few days to...you know, shake it off, but he's fine. I dropped him at his place on the way home." Doug downed a slug of coffee and scrubbed a hand tiredly over his face. Harry just watched him in that weird, intent way of his, as if his silicon eyes worked better than the old ones.
Finally, Doug screwed up his courage to ask, "So...how pissed are you?"
Harry's eyebrows rose slightly. "I'm not pissed. Why should I be?"
"Because I just dumped a five-year-old on you, with no warning or anything. If I were you, I'd be pissed."
"It's none of my business."
Doug stared at him in perplexity. "It's your house!"
"It's your house, too. And Clavo's your family."
"You're not gonna fight with me about this?"
"If you brought him here, you must've had a good reason. Where's his mother?"
"With the Rebels. Still alive, at least for now."
"We both know how fast that can change."
In the silence that followed, Penhall watched Ioki for some clue to his thoughts, but he still had his blank, impassive face on. Penhall decided to take the cautious approach, for once, and let the other man make the next move. He had ample time to worry about what that move would be, while Ioki drank his coffee and stared into the middle distance and said nothing.
Finally, Harry shifted his attention back to his thoroughly worried roommate and said, "Clavo's lucky to have you."
"Well, like you said, he's family. Somebody's gotta take care of the little guy, and it seems like I'm the best one to do it, right now."
"Yeah. Which is why I think it's time for me to move out."
"Shh. You'll wake him up."
"I thought you said you weren't pissed at me!"
"Then where the hell is this coming from?!"
"Come on, Doug, be serious. What are you gonna tell him the first time he leaves his toys on the floor, huh? Are you gonna make him paranoid about where he plays and what he does in his own home? That's not fair. He needs time to get comfortable, to feel safe in a new country, with a new parent. And that's all he should be worried about."
"That's about the dumbest excuse for breakin' up a family I ever heard. So, he won't grow up to be a slob, like his Uncle! So what? After what he left behind in El Salvador, a warm, safe, clean home, with people around to take care of him, will be heaven. And a couple of rules about leaving his junk around aren't gonna ruin it for him. You, of all people, should understand that."
Harry thought about it for a long minute, then nodded.
"Okay, then," Doug growled, "what's really going on here? Are you looking for an excuse to move out? Or are you mad about something that I don't know about?"
"No. Neither one. I just..." He sighed and shoved the hair out of his face with a tired gesture. "You've got a real family, now, and I don't want to mess that up for either one of you."
"Did somebody steal your brain to sell for lab experiments, when I wasn't looking? How many times do we have to go over the same stupid thing?"
"No, don't try to explain it to me, especially not in that 'I'm so reasonable and you're such a dipshit' voice. All you'll do is make me want to clobber you. So, just shut up."
Harry obediently clamped his mouth shut and folded his hands around his coffee cup. Penhall took one look at his guileless expression and threw a sofa pillow at him.
"I'm gonna say this to you exactly one more time, Iok, then I'm gonna have it tattooed on your forehead. In Braille. You are not going anywhere. The whole point of this trip was to get all of my family in one place, under one roof, and that includes you...you incredibly pig-headed, impossible little jerk! If you leave now, you'll mess up all my plans and tick off Big Brother Dougie in a serious kind of way! Are you finally getting the picture?"
"Yes, Dougie," he answered, meekly.
That earned him another pillow in the face and a growled threat from his roommate to separate his limbs from his body in a violent and bloody fashion. He bore it all in virtuous silence, 'til Doug collapsed in a fit of silly, exhausted laughter. Then Harry threw the pillows back at him and finished his coffee, wearing an aloof, dignified expression that only triggered more hilarity in Doug.
Finally, Penhall caught his breath and regained his composure. "So, what are you really thinking?" he demanded of his inscrutable friend.
"Where's Clavo going to sleep?"
"Right in front of your door, so you trip over him every morning. Of course."
"Iok." Harry glanced over at him, startled by the serious note in his voice. "Tell me the truth."
Harry smiled a little sadly. "It's nothing. I'm just thinking...about five-year-olds and war."
Doug felt a small pang of guilt at his words. He hadn't meant to bring up unpleasant memories for Ioki, but in retrospect, he should have seen this coming. He couldn't expect to show up on their doorstep with a refugee child and horrific tales of war, privation and death, without disturbing some ghosts.
A few of his own ghosts paraded briefly before his eyes, and he sighed. "Yeah. I learned a lot about war, down there. Stuff I wish I could forget."
"You won't. Not ever."
"I figured as much. But hey, we've made sure there's one less five-year-old in the world who's gotta grow up in a war zone, right?"
"We're gonna make it okay for him, and for us, too. 'Cause that's what families do."
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