Winston didn't have even step out of the elevator to feel tension pressing against him, and that was something. It wasn't what he was used to, at this place. Here was safe. Or supposed to be safe.
And Chance just didn't do this kind of shit.
You couldn't tell there was anything wrong, to look at him. His arms weren't even crossed, his shoulders weren't tight, he wasn't glaring. One hand rested on the head of that half-grown mutt of his. Rott, Winston corrected himself, but then, he wasn't going to poke at the whole dog thing. He just made sure the animal was fed and watered and walked when Chance had to get out of town or otherwise end up missing.
Nobody could tell the other man in the room was tense, either. He perched on the edge of the desk, one foot on the floor, one half folded, arm resting on his thigh. Cool, chill, relaxed. Short man, although he looked in good shape enough. Long hair. Round glasses. Nothing at first glance - or second, or third - to explain the potential for violence in the room, either.
Except where the air was fairly crackling with it.
Neither of them was saying anything, they were just looking at each other.
Actually, neither of them was moving, either, other than Chance's fingers clearly in the dog's fur. Like even the smallest motion would cause some sort of Wild West shoot-down or something.
Scratch that. It would probably be close enough.
Winston cleared his throat. "Who is this?"
Chance didn't look at him. The tension didn't significantly drop. "Winston, this is Guerrero. Guerrero, Winston. Winston, Guerrero says he's here because he has information we can use that he is willing to sell to us."
"Information? What kind of information?"
"It's good, dude."
If he hadn't been watching Chance's face, Winston would have missed the tiny nod. That part, Chance apparently trusted. Great. "About the job I took on this morning," he clarified.
"Right. Now wait a minute. How can he know what case we got this morning? You didn't even know you would yourself!"
"It's one of the things he does."
"So what's the information."
"Payment first, dude."
"Oh now wait a--"
"That's how he works. Let's go."
"You mean you're gonna trust this--"
That word had been the wrong thing to say; the look from Chance's blue eyes as cold and opaque as ice. "That depends. If we get company, the answer would be no."
"Company? What do you mean--"
Narrowed eyes under blond eyebrows at the shorter man, getting at first only a shrug in return while Winston's brain was catching up and his fists were clenching.
"Don't work with them, haven't since then, really. Thought you could use this, take it or leave it."
"Let's go. I need to get the money. You can stay in your car."
The unison in which they moved just cemented Winston's guess on where Chance knew this Guerrero from. Great. Just great.
"Oh, and the name's Chance, now."
"I heard." Winston had the sudden urge to try and clear that smirk from the short man's face. "I'll remember."
"Just making sure."
When he got the opportunity, Winston glared at Chance. "Your shady past catching up with you?"
"I hope not. But you never know. Let's go, I've gotta meet the client in an hour."
Guerrero's information turned out to be spot-on in the end, though. The information Winston dug up on him after the case was done and the short intruder had vanished as neatly as he had appeared turned out far less spotless, however. In fact it was long and fraught with gruesome that Winston would have been tempted to disbelieve it, from any other source.
Chance caught himself staring at the spot where Guerrero had been perched.
It was a week later and there had been no sign of Joubert dropping by. Or angling at him less directly. Or taking shots at him.
Knowing how his former...
Boss. Boss was a word neutral enough.
Knowing how his former boss worked, that might mean nothing. But if Guerrero had told him the location and the security detail - where the greatest asset of the security detail was himself - Chance mostly suspected that the old man would have taken a shot at him already. Or shots. There hadn't been anything.
So maybe Guerrero had told him the truth. He wasn't working for Joubert any longer.
Now wouldn't that be nice.
Would it? Wouldn't it?
Chance shook himself and went off to find Carmine's newest chewbone. How did that dog manage to lose them so quickly? He wasn't sure what he wanted, but the reappearance of his former...
brother comrade at arms...
... was disturbing. And he wasn't anywhere near sure if that was because he didn't want him there or because he was worried he wouldn't show up again.
Don't get ridiculous, Chance.
Except that he was worried. Guerrero had vanished like smoke after the job was done, which had been typical - and what Chance had wanted him to do. After some time to think about it - difficult at best while trying to keep somebody alive - however...
He could probably track down the short nuisance. A near-snort escaped his throat at the thought of confronting him for a conversation, but leaving a note or some message, just to let him know that if there's a next time, he can show up again, so long as he's tailless...
Who am I fooling. They call it a thank-you note in this world.
The second time was easier. Well, easier for Chance.
Guerrero fell into stride beside him - the opposite side from the client - and said, "Heard you can use some help, dude." Simple as that.
His timing turned out to be perfect, too, since shit hit the fan not twenty minutes later.
Chance was now past the point where the person he was protecting was a handicap. Possibly... no, scratch that. His previous experience definitely was help in knowing where and how to move the client in question - this time, it helped she was a tiny woman who could curl up in a ball in defensible places. Not that she would, most times, but walking them into a warehouse full of people trying to kill her limited her temptation to be stubborn. A feature he liked, inconvenient as it was now, since it was paired up with courage.
But still, the numbers were decidedly against them, in a space that allowed for very little cover. Even with Guerrero there, it was bad. Chance hadn't hesitated to call Winston in, and the big man came, too, just as he was needed.
"What is he doing here?" Winston asked when the fight allowed them near enough to talk without shouting through half the open space.
"Did you call him?" Before you called me, the thunderous subtext's thrum was interrupted when the big man had to duck out of the way of a board swung in the direction of his head; he punched the air out of his attacker in return.
"No. He just showed up. This way," Chance directed his client away from the current focus of attacks.
"What's going on? Why are they here, it was supposed to be empty and we could get--" There was panic in her voice, tightly wound but recognizable.
"Probably some of the phones you used to arrange the location were tapped. Or one of your contacts is playing for the other team. We'll find out when we get out of here."
"That's his specialty, lady."
"Guerrero." Chance didn't need to clarify any more, he just pointed with his chin towards a redhead to the side of the warehouse.
The blue eyes flashed at him from behind the glasses. The glasses seemed new. The look, not at all. "Got it, dude."
And then they were all too busy. When it was a melee like this, try as he might, Chance couldn't pull his punches enough to make sure his opponents remained alive, not if he wanted to avoid them coming at his back again. He didn't like it, but it was a question of life and death - and the people who were coming at him had opted for this. It didn't mean they deserved to die. But he felt less guilt over that than over letting an innocent person who was unable to protect herself, die.
A few subjectively stretched minutes later, when he knew he was starting to push even his own limitations, Winston's voice reached through the din to him. "Okay, that's enough. He's down."
Followed by a shot, which made everybody freeze and look around; all the guns had seemed emptied before Winston stepped inside the warehouse. And they saw the man Chance had directed his ... whatever Guerrero was, with his head burst out, Winston's gun in the shortest man's hand.
In the silence that stretched past that, Winston's voice tolled clear. "What's wrong with you?"
Were the circumstances different, Chance could almost have smiled at the look Guerrero returned to that question.
With the man who had arranged their pay out of the picture, though, the surviving hired hands dispersed like mist at noon.
Guerrero started to do the same, and Chance looked up from seeking the chip they'd come to pick up in the first place just in time. "Hey. Guerrero."
He only got a look up.
There was something like a smile on the battered face, and he shook a strand of long hair away from his eyes. "I'll call you with a number."
And he was gone.
"What did you mean, contact?"
Chance looked sideways at Winston. "He didn't have to do this. And there aren't many who'd have been up to it."
"We're not going to be working with that animal, Chance."
The blond let out a long breath. But they'd deal with this later in detail. "He did what he had to do. That man was coordinating and organizing them, you saw what happened when he went down."
"He was already down. He didn't need to get dead."
"In this case, he possibly did."
"Are you ba--" Winston lowered his voice so that the client couldn't hear him. She was now sitting away from any spilled blood, curled up on herself, and rocking a little. Her jaw was still set, and her eyes were on them."Are you backsliding?"
"I am not backsliding. Just staying real."
"Well I don't like his variety of staying real."
"I know, Winston. Let's get back to the job, shall we?"
"Sure. But we're not working with..."
"I heard you the first time."
"I know that smirk. What did you do?"
Chance shrugged, heading over to the fridge to get some cold water, one hand on his hip near his phone. "I just narrowed down the time window by a lot. We can do it all blind - not sure when, not sure who, that's a bit much."
Winston narrowed his eyes, then glared. "You provoked him, didn't you."
"Well, I wouldn't put it like that..."
"I would. What did you do, and how might that help?"
"Oh... I had them leak some relevant information for the exclusive, small press conference this afternoon. All four of the Board and the two secretaries will be there." It was difficult to tell which one among the six was the target, in this case, since all of the threats and attempts had been when all of them were at the same place at the same time. Without exception, unless they were withholding information - which he didn't think they were. "And since we have the advantage of knowing who was hired to go after them..."
"We do?" Winston's brows knit together, then shot up. "Wait a minute, you didn't know who it was two hours ago!"
"Yeah, but I had a little talk with Guerrero and we sort of figured it out." Chance ignored the scowl directed at him and went right on, hands cooling against the water bottle. "Now, since the hired person occasionally under-contracts, there are three basic options. The person who'll make the attack will turn out to be one of the six, the person who'll make the attack will be one of the journalists, or the person who'll make the attack will come in from the outside altogether. I'll be with the group before, during, and after the press conference until they disperse or something happens, and you'll be one of the dozen journalists who are allowed. Congratulations. It's a select group."
"Yeah, yeah. Now, what's the plan exactly? That will cover some of those three options. But not all."
"I thought you'd never ask."
The large man looked to the door, as if to verify that sight would match sound, then dropped his forehead into his open palm, elbow on the desk. "Not you again."
"Oh yeah. Chance here knows whose brains he can pick on a tough nut. Besides, somebody's got to cover you two when things get all stuffy on the inside."
"And you think I'll trust you to have my back?"
"That's your business, dude. He does."
"Anybody interested in what the plan actually is?" Chance interjected. After a heavy look, Winston rose and came to the drawing he'd made of the conference room while Guerrero... more sort of ambled to his other side. They'd had something like a talk, after that second job Guerrero had shown up at. Enough that Chance was feeling a little exhilarated over working with the short man again. An enthusiasm which the former policeman emphatically didn't share.
"So," he began, "the straightforward plan is straightforward. They make an obvious move, we trace which of the six it is against, take them away, take down the threat."
"I see your usual optimism hasn't expired yet."
"Of course not, he's a real ray of sunshine."
"Yeah, well, if they weren't hiring professionals, that would even work."
Chance almost smiled at Guerrero's obvious interjection, but then just went on, covering complications and possible answers to those, growing less and less simple.
"Right," Winston asked at a point. "My question is, why do we need him?"
"Because, dude," and Chance almost rolled his eyes at how the height difference really didn't matter at all in how his old... his old friend approached things, obvious at five foot six vs. six foot... seven, "there is no upper limit to how many people you'll have to be dealing with. And I am good... among other things, at the long range." Guerrero patted the sack he'd lugged into the warehouse, then unzipped it slightly so that he could show off.
"No way are they gonna let you on any press conference of that company with that!"
"That's because I'm not going in, dude."
"You're not going in unless you have to drop it, that is," Chance said.
Guerrero's blue eyes narrowed at the correction. "As I was saying, there may be complications. Let's get back to running through them, shall we?"
Thank god for mobile communications, Chance thought as he sat in front of the cameras (how could twelve journalists only - no, make that eleven journalists plus Winston, at best - make so many flashes?) and listened to Winston and Guerrero bicker quietly over the comm link. The news dropped turned the press conference into a storm of activity, disproportionate to the size of the event, so the big man's quiet rumble went unnoticed.
Underneath the semi-veiled insults, they were updating him on the current status.
Which was good, because when the strike came, it came fast and strong. One of the secretaries opened her purse and dropped a smoke bomb on the floor. Which made her immediately not the target. Chance was already moving before the visibility dropped, lunging at the woman and pinning her down. His attention was split, but he could see Winston moving, too.
"Target is the tall blond, dude. The redhead who's hustling him out of the room is quite a sight for sore eyes."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm not interested in," Winston's snipe was interrupted by a pant as he pinned a man's arms to his body and lifted him up and away from his rush towards Chance, "your preferences, the question is, can you get her?"
"Not right now, no."
"Then make sure you know where they're going, I'll follow in thirty seconds. If they disappear from your line of sight, cover the rear exit. Winston, you take the front." If Chance himself lost them, he'd cut to the underground garage, but he was hoping it wouldn't come to that.
He caught sight of them at the end of a hallway, the CFO, who seemed still oblivious to the fact that the woman - she really was something - might be malevolent; she was feigning uncertainty where they should head while steering him towards the employees elevator.
"Guerrero? You already heading down?"
"Call the employee elevator to the ground floor. Keep it there."
"You sure you want to make them use the stairs?"
"I'll get her before they reach that far. Just don't let them get into the--"
"Got it, dude."
Two minutes and forty-five seconds later, the redhead was on the floor, her gun arm elbow shot through, and they had figured out the first part of the puzzle - who the target was.
Why, and how to stop them - especially since 'they' were hiring hands - well. Chance hoped Mr. Andersson would help with that.
Winston's ears were still ringing from the explosion, and he was squinting with the aftermath of the flare. In a moment, when he could trust his senses (more or less), he'd head in to try to find that damned fool of a man, if he was still alive (and the possibility that he wasn't, while terrifying, was smaller than he'd thought when they'd started), before the cops showed up.
Not that he was happy to hide from what he still believed in. But the client was safe - Winston could see him from where he was, sitting in the car, ducking down as though if the explosion reached him, ducking down would help - and the guilty parties were likely ... incapacitated by that big boom.
People who owned houses like that didn't tend to make them go boom. Chances were that was Chance's work. At least that's how Winston figured.
A beat before he took that deep breath to plunge into the blast area, two figures appeared in the smoke, back-lit by the fire that the building had turned into. One short and the other not too much taller. At least from Winston's vantage point, even with their larger-than-life shadows preceding them. He let out the breath he'd been holding.
After a few running paces, the figures did resolve into Chance, thankfully, and that... thing that he kept picking for the trickier jobs, Guerrero.
To Winston's intense irritation, they were laughing. Nothing so obvious as laughing out loud or high-fiving each other, but they were laughing. It was there in the stuttering rhythm of their gasps as they slowed their run and stopped beside him. Chance bent down, hands above his knees, until he caught his breath some. There was soot on his face and the leather jacket was singed.
"What--" Winston started, but the blond just shook his head.
"I'm fine." His arm waved sort of above his head, and a moment later he straightened up. "That was a trifle close." But the corners of his mouth were tugging up.
"That was fun, dude. Like that time in Bali, remember that?"
Chance's face screwed up as he wrinkled his nose. "Don't want to. That could have gone better."
"Yeah, but it worked as it did..."
"What are you talking about?" Winston was about to ask the same question when the client, who'd gotten out of the car, beat him to it.
"Oh, you probably don't wanna know." At least he had the dubious pleasure to be the one giving that answer. It got Chance to smirk and Guerrero to give him the stinkeye - which Winston generously returned.
"I don't understand..."
"The case in point, Mr. Andersson, is that the problem is taken care of. I'd suggest you stay with us - or keep me around you - for the next twenty-four hours, in case somebody who was hired between the last set and now tries to finish the job. More than that, and they'll get the news that nobody will pay and will back off."
And that was that. More or less.
"Well... thank you, Mr. Chance. About your payment..."
"Would you like to discuss that with Winston?"
"Of course, of course."
"Winston, keep in mind the additional expense."
"Yeah, yeah, I know what I'm doing."
"Good. I'm heading back. For a shower."
"You can live with it."
"True, but do I want to?"
"Will you give me a ride?"
"Can't promise it'll be direct."
"Your jeans are singed."
"What?" The short man looked down immediately, then twisted around. "Dammit."
Chance was already slipping into the passenger seat of the battlewagon.