"Im telling you, she likes me!"
"Nuh-uh. No way! I saw the way she looked at me."
"Yeah, I saw that too. I think its called disgust."
"Boy, boys," Judy Hoffs interrupted, stepping between the arguing Penhall and Ioki. "Shouldnt you two be working or something?"
Penhall put his hands on his hips and smiled smugly at Harry. "Now we can settle this," he said, and turned to Judy. "Jude, me and Iokage here are having a difference of opinion."
"So I -- and half the people in this building -- heard," she retorted, but when Doug just gave her a reproachful look, she sighed and raised her hands in defeat. "Okay, okay, what can I do?"
Harry explained, "See, theres this girl. . ."
Judy rolled her eyes. Of course there was a girl.
"Shes way hot!" Penhall filled in enthusiastically.
"She works over in Records. Me and Doug went over there to pick up some files for the McClaren case, and she was totally flirting with me," Harry said.
"You?" Doug said. "She was flirting with me, you numbskull."
Harry frowned but didnt respond to Penhalls juvenile name calling he liked to think himself more mature than this pompous, vain, dog-faced, bad-cologne-wearing, uh, badly-in-need-of-a-breath-mint. . .um. . .doodyhead. Even though he hadnt actually said it out loud, Harry cringed in embarrassment. Doodyhead? Oh man, are you five? How lame can you get?
"Anyway," Penhall continued, oblivious to Harrys silent, self-directed scolding, "thats the problem. I say she was goo-goo eyed over me. Harry, believe it or not, thinks she likes him."
"I see," Judy said slowly. During the brief explanation, she had seated herself on a corner of Hansons desk, who was not there at the moment. Now, she crossed her ankles and tilted her head. "Go on."
This time Harry jumped in. "You being a girl yourself and all, which of us do you think she would go for?"
"Youre kidding, right?" She looked at Harry and Doug. They werent kidding.
Judy stood up and circled the two of them, looking them up and down. She didnt say a word, and the silence seemed to last a really, really long time. Harry shifted, suddenly a little bit nervous, and from the corner of his eye, he saw Doug do the same.
"Well?" Harry prompted, but Judy shushed him.
"Im thinking," she said. After another minute of careful consideration, she said, "Id have to say Doug."
"What?" Harry exploded in disbelief. "This Neanderthal?"
Doug sucked in his gut and batted his eyelashes coyly at Judy, obviously remembering that time a while back when the two of them had almost made out. She giggled at his antics, and Harry quickly pushed her away, towards her own desk.
"You, get out. Youre no help at all. Go over here and sit down," he ordered.
Judy didnt resist his efforts to herd her over to the other side of the room, but laughed the whole way. He pushed her gently but firmly into her desk chair, and she smiled up at him innocently. "Youre not mad, are you, Harry?" she asked sweetly.
"Traitor," he whispered under his breath as he turned on his heel and strode back to Penhall. Louder, he said, "That doesnt count. Shes biased."
Doug smirked. "Youre just a sore loser." His eyes lit up at something over Harrys shoulder, and Harry turned to see what it was. "Tom!" Doug exclaimed. "Just the man were looking for."
Hanson walked slowly towards his desk, cup of coffee in hand, suspiciously eyeing the pair of them.
"If you were a girl, which one of us would you go out with?" Doug asked.
Tom didnt say a word, but the look on his face said it all as he turned on his heel and walked back out of the bullpen.
"Whats with him?" Doug mused, and Harry shrugged.
"Look, Doug," Ioki began, "lets just do this the reasonable way, all right?"
Penhall crossed his arms in front of his "Im With Stupid" t-shirt, and said, "Im listening."
"Lets just each go over there, one at a time, and ask Amber out. That way well find out for sure which one of us she likes."
"All right, then, lets go."
*** *** ***
The Records Department consisted of a small front office with two desks and a much larger back room filled with filing cabinets and such. When Harry entered the front room, Amber ODonnell was the only one there.
She looked up and smiled brightly. "Officer Ioki," she greeted. "Back so soon?"
He returned her smile with a dazzling one of his own. "Yeah," he said. "I missed you already." She blushed and covered her mouth with one hand as she giggled. Harry took that as a sign of encouragement and continued, "Hey, I was wondering, are you free tomorrow night?"
Amber thought about it for a few seconds, then said, "Yes. . . Why?"
Harry shrugged. "I dont know. I thought maybe you and I could go out to dinner or a movie, or maybe both."
A look of understanding dawned in her eyes. "Oh. . ." She pursed her lips and looked down at her desktop for a moment.
"Uh," Harry began, seeing the unenthusiastic response, "if tomorrows not good, maybe Friday. . .?"
"Oh, no. . . Thats not it. You know, I think youre really nice and everything, and I do like you, just. . .not in that way." She gazed up at Harry with large, warm brown eyes.
He thought he could get lost in those eyes. . .and then he heard what she said. "What?" He blinked twice. "Oh. Oh, right. Okay. Sure, thats okay."
"Youre not upset?" she asked, concerned, a tiny furrow appearing in her perfect brow.
"No," he said quickly, then more convincingly, "No. Im fine. Just thought Id ask, you know?" He edged towards the door, smile pasted on his face.
"No harm ever came from asking," Amber said helpfully.
He smiled again, nodded, bid her farewell, and got the hell outta there. Doug was right outside, waiting, and had undoubtedly eavesdropped on the entire conversation, judging by the big grin on his face.
Unfazed by the scowl directed at him, Penhall smoothed down his hair and said, "My turn." He gripped the doorknob and looked back once more. "Listen closely, grasshopper, and learn."
Ioki aimed a kick for Penhalls backside, but Doug disappeared inside the Records Department before he could land the blow.
He leaned against the wall and stared morosely at the floor. Hed been so sure that Amber liked him. Beautiful, gorgeous, couldve been a supermodel Amber. Shed sent out signals, or at least he thought she had. How embarrassing. "I do like you, just not in that way," he said sourly under his breath.
Two minutes later, Penhall entered the hallway with an indistinguishable look on his face. Harry studied him with a narrowed gaze. Disbelief. Puzzlement. Uncertainty. "She turned you down, too!" Harry crowed in sudden realization and delight. "The master has failed!" Suddenly, he didnt feel so bad about being rejected himself.
"Come on, whatd she say?" Harry wheedled.
Penhall sighed. "She said Im really nice, but. . .she doesnt like me that way."
Harry howled in laughter and clapped his hands, while Penhall watched him, stone-faced. Finally, Harry stopped, wiped his eyes, and inhaled deeply.
"Are you done?" Penhall asked sarcastically.
"Yes." Harry grinned. He turned his head to gaze thoughtfully at the door beyond which beautiful, gorgeous, couldve been a supermodel Amber sat working. "I dont get it. I mean, were two fairly decent-looking guys. What girl wouldnt want to go out with us?"
"That one," Penhall sighed.
Hanson walked up behind them, a small stack of file folders in his hands. "Hey, guys," he said and walked into Records. He didnt bother to close the door, so Harry and Doug could see and hear what went on inside.
"Hey, Amber," Tom said, "These are the files on the Dobson burglary I borrowed yesterday."
Amber looked up at him and smiled sweetly. "Thanks, Tom," she said dreamily.
In the hallway, Penhall and Ioki glanced at each other.
"No problem," Tom said.
He was about to turn and go when she called to him and said, "You know, I have two tickets to the big concert this weekend."
Tom smiled. "Yeah?"
Amber nodded eagerly. "Middle row seats. Would you. . .like to go with me?"
"Yeah, that would be great. Id love to."
As Amber scribbled down her phone number, Doug gaped in shock in the hallway. He turned to Harry and mouthed, "She likes him?"
Ioki shook his head sadly.
When Tom turned their way, they scrambled away from the door a few feet, striving to appear nonchalant. "Hey, guys," he said, barely glancing at them as he walked past them and down the hallway.
Doug suddenly lunged forward, and only Iokis quick acting prevented him from strangling his best friend. Tom disappeared around a corner, and Doug finally stilled, scowling. "You can get off me now," he said, carefully articulating the words for emphasis.
Harry unwrapped his arms from around Dougs head and hopped down from Dougs back to the tiled floor. He straightened the hem of his shirt and asked, "You okay now?"
"No more trying to kill Tom?"
"I said Im fine."
"Maybe Ill just hurt him a little, though," Penhall said and took off running down the hall in the direction that Hanson had gone.
"Doug!" Harry shouted. With a groan and a theatrical roll of his eyes, he threw all caution -- and regard for the No Running signs -- to the wind and ran after Doug.