I groaned, rolled over, yawned. “Go 'way,” I muttered.
“Honey,” Wayne repeated, poking me in the ribs. “Someone's at the door.”
“So answer it,” I grumbled.
“We're at your place.”
Wakefulness finally met up with me, and I sat up, yawning. I could hear what had woken Wayne—a loud, rhythmic knocking: four quick taps and two distinct thumps with a pause before the pattern started again. The knock made my adrenaline spike. Something about that knock was scratching at the back of my mind. It woke me up all the way, and I sat up straight, rubbed the fatigue out of my eyes, and reached into the bedside table.
“Hon—Amy!” Wayne shouted when he saw the gun in my hand. “What—”
“Stay here,” I snapped at him, flicking the safety off the gun.
“Stay. Here.” I glanced at Wayne as I walked out of the bedroom. He was pressed against the headboard, eyes wide, looking like I'd pointed the gun at him.
“Where did you—”
I pressed a finger to my lips, and Wayne closed his mouth. I listened to the knocking. The knocking got louder and a little faster. There was still a pause after the two distinct thumps. M. Two long beeps were an 'M' in Morse Code. Two thumps on the door were the equivalent. The four quick taps took me another second to pull from my memory. I could hear Hannibal tapping his fingers on the dash of the van, running me through the alphabet. Four taps. H. Four short beeps were an H.
Stay calm, I reminded myself. Give away nothing. “Stay put,” I told Wayne again, and I walked out of the bedroom and shut the door behind me, kept myself tight against the wall as I walked down the hallway. My apartment opened up in the front with the kitchen, dining area, and living room all in one open space. The knocking was speeding up. I looked through the peephole and clicked the safety back on my gun.
“Hi!” Murdock greeted me with a wave, as though it was perfectly normal to be at my apartment at—I squinted at the clock on my coffee table—4:37 in the morning. Given Murdock's usual state of mind, I didn't get concerned. “There's been…” He made a hand gesture like shaking a maraca. “Kerflooy.”
“The plan didn't come together?” I asked, stepping aside to let Murdock walk inside.
“Amy!” Murdock pressed his hand to his heart and widened his eyes with great dramatic flair. I noticed his hand was practically dripping with mud. “The plan always comes together!”
“Yeah. Sure.” I pressed my hand over Murdock's before he could step off the entryway tile. “You're caked,” I told him, and he was, from the top of his head down to his shoes.
“No, no, no,” he objected, and I saw the mischief light up his eyes even even with the lights off, “I'm souffléd.”
“The others?” I asked. “Where are they?”
Murdock shrugged, and mud oozed up around his collar. “Don't know. Hannibal said split up, so we split up. I was in a ditch for awhile.”
I opened my mouth to ask what happened, ask why he showed up at my apartment of all places when it'd been a year since I'd heard from any of them. I heard the bedroom door open before I could say anything. I cursed under my breath, and Murdock grinned at me in delight. I didn't need to see his eyes clearly to know he was on the jazz.
“Amy?” Wayne asked. His voice was slightly higher than usual. I heard something bounce off the wall. The bat I kept under the bed, probably.
“It's fine, Wayne,” I said, looking Murdock right in the eyes as I flipped on the living room lights and introduced him. “This is Bob. He's an old friend.” Murdock's face went bland, and he gave me a tiny nod. “He just got mugged. They pushed him into a ditch.”
“Sorry to barge in,” Murdock said, and his voice sounded strange because it had so little inflection. There was a bit of apology, a touch of a flat, Midwestern accent. Murdock's version of average, I realized. “But it happened just down the street, and I didn't see them and just wanted to get off the street.”
“Wow,” Wayne said, and I turned to look at him. He was halfway down the hall, the bat—like I'd thought—in his right hand. “Good thing you were in the neighborhood.”
“I was at that all-night Italian place,” Murdock said. “Amy introduced me to it way back, and I was in the mood.”
Wayne squinted at the two of us. I could tell he was trying to remember someone named Bob. “You're an absolute mess,” I said to Murdock, making myself sound amused. “Stay there, and I'll get you a towel to start cleaning you off.”
“Thanks.” Murdock's smile was a bare imitation of its usual brightness; a purely average smile for a purely average man.
“Should you call the police?” Wayne asked, and I froze, one hand on a towel.
“Didn't see them,” Murdock replied. “I wouldn't want to waste their time.” There was low-key resignation in his voice.
“That's too bad,” Wayne replied, and I breathed easily again. He was buying it.
I walked out of the bathroom, handed Murdock the towel, watched him wipe his face clean. “I think Wayne may have something you can wear,” I told him, glancing at Wayne.
Wayne gave Murdock a quick once-over. “I'm a little broader, but it'll get you through.”
“Appreciate it,” Murdock said with a nod, and he and I watched Wayne walk into the bedroom. “He seems nice,” Murdock said, his usual twang coming out. “Is he a nice boy?” And the voice was all grandmotherly concern.
“What happened?” I hissed.
“Oh, you don't want that story now. I wouldn't be able to tell it right.”
“You're still holding your gun,” he interrupted. He wiped off his hands and reached for my weapon, sighting down it and handing it back. “Very nice.” He affected a French accent. “The lady has excellent taste.”
I wanted to shake his shoulders and order him to explain himself, but all I could do was look at him as I walked over and tucked the gun in a kitchen drawer, and then look over my shoulder to check that Wayne was still in the bedroom. “You're staying the night,” I whispered. “And we're going to stay up because you're too wired from your ‘mugging’ to sleep, and I'm going to insist that Wayne go to bed, and you are going to explain yourself.”
“Why, Miss Allen,” his voice was high-pitched, and his twang transformed into a smooth Southern drawl, “I do declare you have the loveliest ideas.”
I heard the closet close in the bedroom. “Give me Bob, Murdock.” And I watched his face transform again, watched his shoulders roll forward slightly, watched all his interesting angles slide into a posture that would be hard to identify later, should anyone ask any questions.
“Found some slacks and a shirt,” Wayne said, walking down the hall with the clothes in one hand. “Wish I had an extra pair of pajamas—”
“That's fine,” Murdock interrupted in his Bob voice. “I don't think I'll sleep anyway. I'm pretty wound up.”
That was my cue. “I'll stay up with you. I can call the paper and tell them I need to take a personal day.”
“I don't want to be a bother,” Murdock said in a perfect, friendly, unremarkable tone.
“Oh, Bob,” I rested my hand on his arm and gave Wayne a, “can you believe him?” look. Wayne smiled at me and shook his head. “You're my friend, and I haven't seen you in ages. Your nerves just give me an excuse.”
“I'll stay up, too,” Wayne interjected. “I haven't met a lot of Amy's friends.”
I turned to look at Wayne. “You've got early meetings—”
“That'd be nice,” Murdock interrupted. “If you're sure I wouldn't be throwing off your schedule.”
I had to fight to keep from whipping around to glare at Murdock. I turned my head slowly instead. Murdock continued to look completely unremarkable, but I could see the barest hint of glee in his eyes. “I don't think—”
“I'll make some coffee,” Wayne offered and walked into the kitchen.
“What the hell?” I hissed.
“I don't want to track mud all over your carpet,” Murdock replied, and he glanced at me, then down the hall, then at the kitchen.
“I think you'll be okay if you take off your shoes first,” I played along, and I watched him toe off his shoes. They were loafers, not his usual canvas high tops. His hat was missing as well, I realized, and the jacket he wore was denim, not his usual leather. He'd been undercover for whatever job he'd run from. It would make it harder for Wayne to answer questions about him, I thought. All of Murdock's known clothing preferences weren't there.
“What were you?” I whispered.
“Classy,” he replied and waggled his eyebrows. “Shower?” he asked at a regular speaking volume.
“Down the hall to your left. I can wait outside the door and take your clothes to put in the wash, if you want. I've got a washer and dryer.”
The grin I got back was pure Murdock, wide and open. I expected him to pull me into a hug. “You've moved up since I last saw you,” he said, and I got a sudden, mean urge to point out that he could have seen me sooner—and under less dangerous circumstances—if he hadn't taken my name off his visitors list when I'd been in Jakarta.
“I haven't seen you in awhile,” I replied, and I led him down the hall. I stood by the bathroom door while he stripped off. When he handed me his clothes, I grabbed his wrist. “Short version,” I demanded in a whisper.
“The plan came together. Decker showed up. You're still pretty as a picture.” He leaned his head out the door and pecked me on the nose.
I shoved him back into the bathroom and opened the closet doors on the other side of the hallway, dumping his clothes into the washing machine and setting them to soak.
Wayne had pulled mugs out of the cupboard and put out sugar and milk on the dining table. He smiled at me when I walked into the kitchen. “I thought sandwiches would be good, although if he came from that Italian place you like so much, I'll be surprised if he's hungry.”
I walked over and kissed him on the mouth, curled my hands over his shoulders. This was my life now: a nice apartment, a job I enjoyed, and a perfectly nice guy who made coffee at nearly five in the morning to stay up with a friend I'd never told him about. “You're great,” I said to him.
“You're great,” he replied, and he kissed my cheek. “Does Bob take mustard?”
Murdock did, but did Bob? “Mayonnaise,” I said, working with the completely average persona Murdock had already been affecting. “And white bread.”
“He seems pretty together for a guy who just got mugged.”
“He travels a lot.” The lie rolled out without trouble. I could feel the low hum of adrenaline spiking my blood. I tried to fight it down, tried to remind myself I didn't want the rush anymore, that I'd left the team for Jakarta to find my own jazz.
“What's he do?”
“Insurance investigator,” Murdock said from behind me. I just managed not to jump. The smile he gave me was Bob's, honest but small and showing no teeth. “One of those jobs that sounds interesting but isn't, but it gives me plenty of time to read.”
“I'm a middle manger,” Wayne replied. “I understand. Coffee's ready, if you two want to sit down, I can bring in sandwiches in a minute.”
“I really appreciate this,” Murdock said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “I can't imagine how I'm ruining your night.”
“A friend of Amy's is a friend of mine,” Wayne told him, and he grinned at me. I grinned back as my stomach took a slow, rolling turn. Would he still think that if he knew the whole truth?
“I don't remember how you take it,” Murdock said, handing me a mug.
“Two sugars, but I've got it,” I told him, and I added it in, left the spoon on the edge of the sink. Murdock hadn't put anything into his coffee, I'd noticed. I remembered him turning the strongest coffee in the city into a dark tan concoction of sugar and milk. I was fascinated to watch him take a sip and not cringe from the taste. “Not your usual blend, I don't think.”
“It's very good,” he assured me as we sat at the table.
I studied him for a moment. He'd parted his hair on the left, rather than combing it straight back. He'd tucked his shirt into his pants and cinched his belt neatly. He'd rolled up the cuffs of his shirt to show his forearms, rolled up the pants legs so he wouldn't trip over the longer hem. Wayne's clothes were about a size too big, making Murdock look thinner and shorter than he was. I remembered Hannibal and Face schooling me on a good disguise, how you could easily look exactly like yourself but could be mistaken for someone else.
“It's the little tricks,” Face had said. “The posture, the way you speak—”
“The way you part your hair,” Hannibal had added.
Looking at Murdock, watching him curl both hands around his mug, watching him sit completely still, I could see exactly what they'd meant. I could still see Murdock clear as day, but Wayne? Wayne would remember Bob, a perfectly nice, neat guy who'd just had a bit of bad luck and a boring job.
“Amy said you travel a lot,” Wayne said to Murdock as he set a plate of sandwiches on the table and settled into the chair next to mine. “Did you two meet overseas?”
“Oh, no,” Murdock replied. “I'm in the States most of the time. Amy and I met when she was writing a piece on insurance companies.”
Every lie should have a grain of truth, Face had said. It was easier to remember what you'd said that way. “It was my first year at the Courier,” I explained. “I was working in the Life section, and my editor wanted a piece about how insurance companies handle claims. I called Bob's company, and they told me to speak with him.”
Wayne's brow crinkled as he thought. “I don't remember you telling me about that piece.”
I made myself laugh and wondered if it sounded realistic. “It never got published. My editor decided it wasn't interesting enough.”
“Not insurance,” Murdock teased, putting a hand over his heart with less flair than he'd done at the door. “It's such an exciting field.” His tone was sarcastic without any of his usual dramatic pronouncement. I watched Wayne grin, watched him sit forward a little. Murdock was pulling him in, making Wayne trust him, making Wayne want to help him.
Murdock slid me a grin when Wayne took a sip of his coffee. I smirked at him and reached for a sandwich, leaning back in my chair and letting them talk. I kept a mental list of the details Murdock spun around his story—fifteen years at his company, grew up in Ohio, would marry, maybe, if he weren't on the road all the time—and watched Wayne fall for the whole story.
This was my life now, I reminded myself again. I was in bed at a decent hour with a decent guy who treated me well. I wrote local stories so I could stay close to home.
In case they came back to get me.
I pushed the thought out of my head, pulled myself into listening to the conversation.
“You've been quiet, hon,” Wayne said, touching my hand.
“I've heard all this before,” I replied. “Not that it's boring—”
“Of course not,” Murdock interrupted.
“Just that I thought Bob should give you his own details.”
“Always the reporter,” Wayne said to Murdock. “She'll let you talk for ages until you paint yourself in a corner.”
“Don't have to tell me,” Murdock replied, and his Bob-grin slid a little.
“You said you were at the Italian place,” I said to Murdock. “You could have called me. I know you have my number.” The closest I could get to asking outright why he hadn't contacted me when he obviously knew where I lived.
“Last minute choice,” Murdock replied smoothly. “I just happened to be in the neighborhood, and it was already late when I got here.”
On a job, I thought. That you didn't call me for. I took a bite of my sandwich to rein in my anger. “That place still as busy as ever?”
“Packed to the gills, even at three in the morning.”
I'd taken Murdock out to lunch at the Italian place more than once, courtesy of an afternoon pass from his shrink and the head nurse. The lunches had allowed me to keep tabs on the team at first, but then Murdock and I had become friends, going out to lunch or to the park or a movie whenever I could get a legitimate pass, Murdock making me laugh so hard I cried. What he'd gotten out of it, I'd never been sure. I'd assumed he enjoyed the company.
“That place is always packed,” Wayne said. “I've been there almost weekly for the last six months, and the waitresses still don't recognize me.”
“Amy get you into that place, too?”
They shared a grin then looked at me. I shrugged. “They've got great food.”
“They do,” Murdock said, and I thought I caught something in his eyes, some sort of thanks or appreciation. It was gone before I could get a proper feel for it.
I fell away from the conversation again, let Murdock and Wayne talk about traveling for work and comparing management issues. I recognized BA and Hannibal in Murdock's descriptions and watched them fly completely over Wayne's head. I'd never told him about the team. I couldn't figure out how to explain it. Wayne had found the idea of me going to Jakarta fascinating and slightly surprising.
“You don't seem the type,” he'd said on our third date. “You seem more…settled…than that.” I'd given him an insulted look. “I meant that as a compliment,” he had hurried to explain. “You seem like someone who really knows who she is, who got everything out of her system.”
“Everything?” I'd asked, wondering if that was the team had been, just me working off the last of my youthful rebellion.
“You seem very comfortable,” Wayne had replied. “I like that.”
“Amy?” Wayne asked, touching my hand.
I pulled myself back into the room. “I'm here.”
“You didn't hear a thing I said, did you?”
I gave him a smile. “No, sorry. I was thinking.”
“I said I'm going to get in the shower. I need to be at work in a couple of hours.”
I glanced over my shoulder at the microwave. It was 6:15. “Oh!” I swatted at Wayne. “You could have nudged me, you know.”
“You were fine,” Wayne assured me. “Bob and I got a chance to get to know one another a little.” He stood up and kissed me on top of the head. “Don't worry about breakfast. The sandwiches will hold me.”
“Okay.” I watched him walk down the hall, listened for the bedroom door to open and close. I looked at Murdock, my eyebrows up. Murdock waggled his eyebrows in reply. I listened to the bedroom door open again, heard the bathroom door open and close. The shower started a few seconds later. I opened my mouth to start asking questions.
“No ring,” Murdock said, exaggerating a pout and reaching over to tap my left-hand ring finger. “And a gentleman staying over.” He shook his head, waving a finger at me. “For shame.”
“I used to spend the night with four men in a van,” I hissed at him, curling my hand into a fist.
“Shocking!” Murdock replied, pressing a hand to his forehead like he was about to faint. “Such terrible habits you young people have.”
“Murdock, what happened?”
He kept his hand on his forehead for a moment, watching me to gauge my level of seriousness. His hand dropped from his forehead, he leaned towards me, his hands around his coffee mug. “There's a mom and pop twenty blocks from here,” he said, all joking gone from his tone. “They were getting threatened by a local gang. Broken windows, graffiti, and stuff like that. Then one of the kids threw a Molotov through the window.” He shook his head when I gasped. “It didn't go off, somehow, but it scared the crap out of them. They found us. We took the job.”
Of course they did, I thought. It was exactly the sort of thing they always took, no matter how much Face might grumble at the low payday. I focused my hearing down the hallway for a second. The shower was still going. I could hear the murmur of the radio Wayne had hung over the showerhead a few weeks ago. “What happened?” I asked. “How'd you get pulled in for a local job?”
“I am a very talented man,” Murdock replied, overdrawing his twang. “I am useful everywhere.”
“Why were you undercover?” I clarified. “It's usually Hannibal or Face.” Or it was, I thought, when I was with you all.
“I bear a striking resemblance to the pop at the mom and pop,” Murdock explained. “After the Molotov incident, he and the mom felt the need to get away for a few days and leave his trusted brother in charge.”
“And I was excellent.” Murdock preened, straightening his collar and batting his eyelashes. “I expect my Oscar in the mail any day now.”
“Can't wait to hear your speech,” I nearly growled at him in frustration. “How'd it go sideways?”
Murdock shrugged and took a long drink of his coffee. “Someone saw us and recognized us, probably. Or someone called someone to ask questions and someone was listening. Or Decker was really bored and driving around the city hoping to spot us. Or—”
“I get it, Murdock,” I cut him off. “You don't know.”
“So you had to cut and run, and you ran here.”
Murdock beamed. “And you were here! And now we've had time to catch up, and it's great!”
“Yeah, it's fantastic,” I snapped. “Except that I've been back from Jakarta for a year, and you—and most likely the others—know my address, and not one of you has called or dropped by.”
Murdock's face fell. He stared into his coffee cup. “Amy—”
“And you took me off your visiting list,” I added. “I tried to stop by and see you when I got back, and I was told I wasn't allowed in. The nurse told me I'd been off your list for months.”
All the humor in Murdock's eyes disappeared. He worked his jaw back and forth for a moment. “Amy…” the joking was gone from his tone, and his voice was soft, nearly a whisper. “It was for protection. Decker was sure you were helping us, and we had to clear you out of the picture once you decided to leave.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Believe me, beautiful, no one doubts that. But it's not the same as helping us pull a con. You'd be looking at federal time. And you're tough, but you're not federal-time tough. Hell, even BA ain't federal-time tough.”
“I can take care of myself,” I repeated. “Did just fine before I met you, and I did just fine after I spent time with you all.”
“Oh, we know.” Murdock tried to grin, but his face fell when I glared at him. “Not that we've been keeping tabs from afar. That'd be rude.”
“That'd be beyond rude,” I replied. “Even ruder than being twenty blocks away and running a job without checking in with me. Or not answering the messages I've left at the answering services. Or not letting me know any of you were alive. At all.”
Murdock tried to grin again, but it was shaky at the edges. He took a long drink of his coffee, watching me from the corner of his eye as he swallowed down the rest of his drink. “You might have a point,” he said when he was out of coffee. “But you have to understand—”
“Honey!” Wayne called from the bathroom, and Murdock and I both froze. We'd gotten too involved in our conversation, and we hadn't heard the shower turn off.
“Yeah?” I called in return, and Murdock stood up, coffee cup in hand. He grabbed mine as well as he walked to coffee maker.
“Is my blue tie here?”
I stood up from the table as well, walked down the hall to the bedroom. Wayne was searching through the drawer I'd emptied for him a month ago, a handful of ties in his right hand. “You have lots of blue ties,” I told him. “Which blue tie?”
“The blue tie with the silver stripe.”
I knocked him with my hip to get him to move, reached behind the back of the drawer, and felt the silk of a tie. I pulled it forward. Blue with a silver stripe. “This it?”
“You're fantastic,” Wayne said, and he kissed me on the cheek. He paused when he pulled back and cocked his head at me. “You all right? You're tense all of a sudden.”
I pulled him into a hug, careful not to wrinkle his shirt. “I'm all right,” I said. “Just worried about Bob.” It was true enough that admitting it made me relax a little. “And I think I've had half a pot of coffee.”
Wayne rubbed my back a little, kissed me on the temple. “Like half a pot of coffee actually hurts you.”
I laughed a little, swallowing back a yawn as I glanced at the clock. “I should call into work now,” I said before Wayne could think to ask why I was worried about Bob. Muggings happened, and Murdock wasn't hurt or even too shaken up. I'd have to come up with a big enough reason to be worried, and I'd already spun enough half-truths and outright lies for the night. “If I leave a message with the overnight secretary, she can tell the daytime editor when he comes in.”
“Any plans with Bob?”
“I'll probably just see him off and hit the sack,” I told him. It was close enough to the truth. I'd interrogate Murdock before I let him leave, but I would see him off and go to sleep. “Don't worry about me.”
“Never do.” Wayne grinned at me, and I followed him down the hall, watched him shake Murdock's hand before he grabbed his keys from the hook by the door and kissed me goodbye. “See you tonight.”
“Bye, honey.” I closed the door behind him and threw the dead bolt. When I turned around, Murdock was combing his hair straight back from his forehead trying to get rid of his part. “I have to call in,” I told him. “You stay quiet.”
“As a mouse,” Murdock promised, holding a finger over his lips while I dialed the paper. He tip-toed with exaggerated care into the living room and then threw himself full-force onto the couch. I turned away to hide my smile.
“Los Angeles Courier. This is Matilda.”
“Matilda, this is Amy Allen. Is Gary in, yet?”
“Hi, Amy. He isn't. Do you need me to pass along a message?”
“I'm taking a personal day. Just let him know.”
“Can he reach you at home if he needs to?”
I glanced at the couch. Murdock was flipping through a magazine, tapping his feet to a song he was humming under his breath. “I'm not certain,” I told Matilda. “I had a friend get mugged last night. I'll have my answering machine on.”
“I'll pass it along. Good luck with your friend.”
“Thanks.” I hung up the phone and walked into the living room, putting my hands on my hips when Murdock looked up from his magazine, all wide eyes and bright smile.
“Breakfast?” he asked. “I could make you biscuits and gravy like my dear old momma used to make.” His grin widened. “With grease!”
It was genuinely tempting. Murdock had cooked for me on a few occasions—each time with a ridiculous accent and at least a handful of thrown flour—and he always cooked great food, but I was still angry and hurt and wanted to get him away from me before the jazz took over my blood. “We should get you back to the VA,” I said. “They'll put out a notice if you're gone much longer.”
The smile slid off of Murdock's face. He sat up, tossing the magazine onto the coffee table. “If you're sure,” he said, and there was no joking in his voice.
“I'm not the one who cut contact,” I pointed out.
“You went away,” Murdock replied, and there was something in his eyes, dark and angry. “You left first.” His shoulders slumped. “And your timing was pretty obvious.”
“My timing?” I asked. “What about my timing? It was an assignment, Murdock. I put in for it months before I left. I told you all that.”
He looked down at his feet and wiggled his toes. “I had Face con your application for Jakarta—”
“Why would you—”
“You put in the day after,” Murdock carried on. He looked at me again. His mouth was turned down, but it wasn't exaggerated at all. “The day after,” he repeated.
I breathed in through my nose, trying to find an answer. There was a sharp knock on the door, three precise hits that made the jazz running low in my blood spike up. I knew that knock. Murdock was absolutely still. He knew that knock, too. We stared at one another for a second. “Guest bedroom,” I whispered. “Across from the bathroom.”
Murdock nodded once. He stood up and walked down the hallway in absolute silence. I watched him until the door of the guest bedroom closed. The knock came again, three sharp raps, and I walked to the door, looked through the peephole, and counted to five before undoing the locks.
“Colonel Decker,” I greeted, not having to fake my surprise, “what brings you here?”
Decker narrowed his eyes at me. The two men standing a step behind him were also in uniform, but neither was looking at me with suspicion. “I have a few questions, Miss Allen.”
I blinked a few times, covered my mouth when I yawned. “Come in,” I invited and stepped aside.
Decker looked me over as he and his men stepped over the threshold, taking in my pajamas and staring hard at my face. “Late night, Miss Allen?” he asked, accusation lacing his tone.
“I had a friend show up late,” I told him. “He was mugged close by and woke me up.”
“Is that friend here now?”
“No. He just left.” Decker didn't appear winded or sweaty. I lived six floors up. “You probably passed him on the stairs.”
“I took the elevator.”
I'd called it right. “What can I do for you, Colonel?” I asked. I yawned again and walked into the kitchen for coffee. The men with Decker split off, one standing next to the couch, the other standing behind one of chairs at the table. Decker stood in front of the kitchen island, not quite close enough to be intimidating me, but close enough that he could if he wanted to. “Can I get you some coffee?” I offered. Murdock had refilled the pot when I'd been in the bedroom with Wayne, and he'd washed the mugs and left them upside down in the sink.
“We don't need coffee,” Decker told me. “We're not here about coffee.”
“Okay.” I picked up the blue mug Murdock had used earlier and pulled myself a cup. I sweetened it, and when I turned back around, Decker's man who had been behind one of my dining chairs was standing closer to the door. The man in the living room was standing near my curtained picture window, and Decker had taken a step back from the island. It wasn't his style, I thought, but I couldn't call him on it. Being suspicious of his movement would make him suspicious of mine. I had to keep him away from the guest bedroom. “What can I do for you, Colonel?”
Decker's eyes narrowed again. “You don't sound surprised to see me.”
I sipped my coffee and pushed my hair away from my face. “I'm tired,” I explained. “I was getting back into bed when you knocked.”
“Why are you having coffee, then? This might only take a minute.”
I didn't have to work at the disbelieving look on my face. “Colonel, I haven't seen you since I returned to the States. You can't be here just to check in on me. Something's happened with the A-Team.”
“You sound certain.”
I shrugged and sat down at the head of the table. Decker sat down at the foot and nodded to his men to sit on either side. “I could play coy, Colonel, but it'd be an insult both to your intelligence and mine. I know you're trying to capture the A-Team, and you know about the rumors of my helping them.”
“Rumors,” Decker sniffed. I didn't rise to the bait, and he folded his arms on the table. “When was the last time you saw them?” he asked. I raised my eyebrows, and he leaned harder against the table. “If you're not going to play coy, Miss Allen, you should go all the way.”
“I'm not in the mood to be brought up on charges for my alleged attachment to the A-Team,” I responded.
Decker looked at both his men, then leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “I'm not looking to bring you in, Miss Allen. Our information has you free and clear of the A-Team since you returned to the States. I see no reason to pursue charges on you for aiding and abetting.”
I sipped my coffee and considered it. He didn't look smug, but he looked certain. He really didn't think I'd had any contact with the team since I'd gotten back. I could give him the honest truth up to Murdock showing up that morning and be in the clear. “I tried to get ahold of them when I got back,” I admitted. Decker didn't move, but his men sat up a little straighter. “They didn't return my calls.”
“You went to see Captain Murdock,” Decker said. “You signed in at the VA a week after you got back.”
“That went nowhere.” I didn't have to fake the anger in my tone. “He pulled me from his visitors list.”
“Why were you going to see him?”
“To see him.” I rolled my eyes when Decker glared at me. “It's the truth.” I looked at Decker's men. They were both watching me. “We were friends. You know that,” I said to Decker. “I checked him out of the VA—legitimately checked him out of the VA—and we spent time together. We went to lunch. We took walks.”
“You met him through the A-Team.”
“I met him when I was searching for the A-Team,” I corrected. Decker had said he wouldn't bring me up on charges, but there was no reason to let him create a different version of events than what had actually happened. “I went back to see him again after I tried to hire the team—”
“Did hire the team,” Decker interrupted.
“Tried to hire,” I repeated. I knew he couldn't prove I'd actually hired the team; he'd have used it as leverage when I was still working with them. “And Murdock and I ended up getting along.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“A week before I left for Jakarta,” I said. “I stopped by his room to say goodbye.”
“And you stopped by to see him when you returned?”
“And nothing since then? No contact?”
I made sure I kept looking Decker squarely in the eyes when I answered him. “None. I tried a few more times to see Murdock, but I was never on the list.”
Decker leaned back, uncrossed his arms. I watched the way his mouth shifted. He didn't quite smile, but he looked very pleased. He thought he had something on me. “Haven't seen him at all?” he asked. “Him or the rest of the A-Team?”
“That's very interesting.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”
“Because I have reliable eye witnesses who say they saw Captain Murdock come into your building very early this morning. Somewhere between two and three hours ago.”
There was no way, I thought. No way. “This is the first I'm hearing of it.”
“You said you had a friend over late,” Decker said. “And I have people who say they saw Captain Murdock coming into your building.”
“Really? By name?” I nearly bit my tongue after I said it. I was too tired to do this properly, too keyed-up on the low-level jazz to not get a little sarcastic.
“Male,” Decker replied, the light in his eyes telling me he thought he had me. “Approximately six feet, light brown hair, thin build.”
I took a sip of my coffee. “Colonel, I'm a reporter. I know facts. That description could be any of a hundred thousand people in this city.”
“It could also be Murdock.”
“It could also be Bob.” I took a small thrill in watching the victory fade slightly from Decker's eyes. “The friend you just missed,” I told him. “He's about six feet, thin, and has light brown hair.”
“Bob?” Decker asked. He narrowed his eyes. “Does this Bob have a last name?”
We hadn't made one up. Wayne hadn't asked. “Richardson,” I ad-libbed. I pushed down the urge to add any more details without Decker asking. The first sign of a lie, Face had taught me, was someone handing over too much information.
“Bob Richardson,” Decker said. “Pretty boring name.”
“He's kind of a boring guy.”
“What does he do?”
“He sells insurance.”
Decker's eyes narrowed again. He was going to check everything I said, I knew. If I gave him nothing else, it'd buy a little time. Maybe enough time for me to find a way to fake information for a non-existent Bob Richardson.
“What proof can you give me, Miss Allen?”
I felt my eyebrows rise before I could rein myself in. “Excuse me?”
Decker leaned on the table, his hands flat on my tabletop. “What proof, Miss Allen? I have a reliable description of Captain Murdock—”
“And any number of beach bums.”
“But you don't seem to know many beach bums, Miss Allen. You know the A-Team. And a man named Wayne. Who appears, on paper, to be an upstanding citizen.”
He'd researched Wayne. How long had he been watching the apartment? Did he actually know that Murdock was here? I stared him down while I tried to invent some proof. The jazz rose up in my blood, and I had it. “His clothes are in my washing machine,” I told Decker. “He showed up muddy last night, and I offered to wash his clothes.”
“And he didn't take them with him?”
“Wayne lent him something to wear.”
Decker worked his jaw back and forth, watching me. “In the washing machine?”
“Yes, sir.” I stood up and led him to the washer, opening it and stepping away so he could look in.
Decker pulled out each piece of clothing and looked it over closely, like the gray twill pants, tan button-down shirt, and denim jacket would suddenly turn into khakis, a cartoon T-shirt, and a leather bomber jacket. “We'll be taking these with us.” He glanced towards the door and saw Murdock’s mud-caked loafers. “And those?”
“He left barefoot?”
“Wayne lent him shoes.”
Decker nodded towards the shoes. “Grab them,” he ordered, and one of his men walked over and picked them up.
“And when Bob comes to pick them up, what do I say?” I snapped.
“Tell Captain Murdock we said hello,” Decker replied. He turned on his heel and walked out the door, his men trailing behind him.
I walked to the picture window and flicked the drape to the side, flattening myself against the wall so I could see outside but not be seen. Decker and his men walked to an umarked dark sedan, and got in, none of them looking back toward my apartment. The jazz rose up in my blood again. One of them should have looked back.
B.A. had been the one to teach me about bugs. People inexperienced at planting bugs put them in obvious places—under counters, near phones—and they acted out of character when they left. Decker wasn't manic like Lynch; he didn't snap at the first sign of trouble. He was smart and well-trained. The kind to remind you that he was watching you.
He should have looked back.
They'd stood at the table and at the counter. I crouched at the table and ducked my head under, trying not to make any sounds. It was three inches from the edge. I stood up and curled my hand under the table; my fingers just barely brushed the edge of the bug. A man's hand, an inch or two larger than mine, could have easily placed that bug.
There was another under the edge of the kitchen island and there was—as B.A. had taught me—one on the underside of the shelf under my phone. I bit my lip and breathed in deeply. I looked at the bugs again as I tried to remember everything I'd been taught. Long-term bugs had to have a power source. The bugs didn't have a battery pack attached, and they weren't connected to any wiring. Short-term, then. They were good for maybe forty-eight hours.
I stood up again and walked to the guest room, opening and closing the door as quietly as possible. I wasn't sure if the bugs were sensitive enough to pick up the noise. The guest room looked empty, and I considered the options. Murdock could be in the closet, waiting to jump out and scare me. He could be under the bed. He could, knowing him, be hanging from the window by his fingertips just to get the adrenaline rush.
I checked the closet. No Murdock. I checked the window. No Murdock. I lay prone on the floor, and Murdock grinned at me from under the bed. He opened his mouth and froze when I pressed a finger to my lips. I stood up and stepped back so Murdock could ease out from under the bed. He didn’t make a sound.
He raised his eyebrows at me, the question all over his face. I took his right arm and skittered my fingers up the inside of his forearm. He mouthed the word “bugs” at me, and I nodded. He pursed his mouth to the left side and tapped his chin. His eyes lit up.
I mouthed the word “no” at him. He pouted. I mouthed it again. Murdock pointed his right hand at me like a sock puppet and opened and closed it. We needed to talk, he was saying.
I raised my eyebrows to ask him how. We both knew we couldn't leave. There were bugs, and where there were bugs, there was someone on watch. The light in Murdock's eyes got even brighter. He held a fist over my head and opened and closed it.
The shower. No matter the delicacy of the bugs, we could have a conversation as long as we whispered. I nodded to show him I agreed, and I led the way to the bathroom.
The shower rattled against the curtain and the wall when I started it. “Decker—” I started in a whisper, but Murdock put a hand to my mouth.
“Get in,” he whispered.
“Excuse me?” Even in a whisper, my voice squeaked.
“Decker's smart,” Murdock explained. “If he can pick up the shower, he'll know what it sounds like empty.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. He narrowed his in return. I put my hands on my hips, and Murdock mirrored me. I sighed silently. He was right. I twirled my finger, and Murdock turned around. I stripped out of my pajamas and stepped into the shower. I closed my eyes when the water hit my face and gave myself a moment under the spray to get oriented, let the hot water push the jazz out of my blood. I turned around and opened my eyes. Murdock was standing in the shower with me, fully clothed. He slid a hand over my mouth before I could yelp.
“Easy,” he whispered in my ear. “We can't talk through the curtain.” He took his hand off my mouth.
“Murdock,” I hissed. “I'm naked.”
“I'm not looking down,” he replied like that was the point.
“Scouts’ honor.” He held up his fingers in the Boy Scout sign, his eyes never leaving mine.
Pushing him out of the shower would cause enough noise to raise suspicion. I crossed my arms over my chest. “There are at least three bugs in my kitchen,” I whispered. “One under the table, one under the phone, and one under the island.”
“Wash your hair.”
“They might know,” he interrupted and handed me the shampoo.
I opened my mouth to argue, but he turned around. I shampooed my hair and rinsed it. When I tried to reach around Murdock, he handed me the conditioner. I coated my hair and handed the bottle back, then crossed my arms again. “Okay.”
Murdock turned around, eyes still on my face. “How long?”
“Two minutes,” I replied. “Assuming we're working on the theory that Decker understands deep conditioning.”
Murdock nodded, his gaze wandering for a moment before I kicked him in the shin. “Sorry.” He beamed at me. “You're pretty.”
“A minute and forty,” I reminded him.
His face lost all amusement. “If I go back to the VA today, they'll nab me. They'll ask where I've been.”
He frowned at me. Not a joking frown, but a real one. “They'll find ways to track me back. They'll find out I was here. I don't—”
“Don't,” I cut him off. “You could have kept me out of this by not showing up last night.”
“You could have turned me in,” he retorted.
I stared at him for a few seconds—four, I estimated, still trying to keep track of our time in my head. “I wouldn't do that. God, Murdock, I wouldn't—” He pressed two fingers to my mouth, not to make sure I kept silent, but to stop me.
“I know,” he said. “I shouldn't have come, but…” He shook his head and looked away from me, staring at the shower curtain.
Forty seconds, I figured, until I'd have to rinse out my hair. “I missed you.” I whispered it even more quietly than the rest of the conversation. “I missed all of you, but especially…” Murdock turned his head to look at me. “But especially you,” I admitted. “You could have kept me on your visitors list.”
“You put in the application the day after,” he said.
I shook my head. “I don't know what that means, Murdock. The day after what?”
He stared at me. “The day after,” he repeated.
Fifteen seconds to go. I could maybe stretch it to twenty. “There were a lot of day afters. The day after explosions. The day after a job. The day—” He kissed my forehead, pressed his lips there for three seconds.
“The day after,” he said yet again, but this time I knew exactly what he meant.
He turned around before I could question him, and I rinsed my hair automatically. He stepped out of the shower without rattling the curtain, and I grabbed the soap as I watched his silhouette in the shower curtain, worked the soap to a lather as I watched his shadow take off his soaking wet clothes.
The day after we'd kissed, he meant. I'd put in for Jakarta the day after we'd kissed.
I rinsed off a final time and turned off the water. When I poked my head around the curtain, Murdock had his back to me, a towel wrapped around his waist and another in his outstretched left hand. His soaking wet clothes were in a heap on the bath mat. I wrapped myself in the towel and pushed aside the shower curtain. Murdock led the way out of the bathroom, a finger to his lips. He walked into the kitchen and ducked by the island to look at the bug. He waggled his eyebrows at it like he was having a conversation with it. He pointed at me and made the talking-puppet hand gesture. He needed me to make noise.
“Smart, Amy,” I muttered slightly louder than I would if I were alone. “You want to get some sleep, and you drank more coffee. I hate it when Decker's right.”
Murdock grinned and gave me a thumbs up, then rotated his wrist to tell me to keep going. Before I could come up with anything else to talk about, the phone rang. I stepped around Murdock to answer it, and he pressed a hand to his ear like he was a switchboard operator.
“Honey, it's me.” Wayne's voice was clipped. “Do you know the A-Team?”
My stomach dropped, and I clutched at the phone. “What?” I turned to watch Murdock as he poked at the bug. “Who told you I knew anything about the A-Team?” Murdock whirled around, eyes wide. I waved him off, pointing at the bug, turning away again so he couldn't see my face.
“A man named Colonel Decker just left here,” Wayne continued. “He told me that you had ties with the A-Team. He said that you used to spend time with them.”
“Wayne—” a high-pitched whine sliced through the call, and I pulled the phone away from my ear. I looked over my shoulder. Murdock had a wire in his hand, and the bug under the island wasn't flashing anymore.
“I'm here, hon.” I watched Murdock crouch by the table to see the bug there. His towel started sliding down, and I turned away as he flailed for it. “Colonel Decker is—”
“He says he's been hunting the A-Team for years,” Wayne interrupted. “Do you know them?”
“I tried to hire them once,” I admitted.
“What?!” Wayne sounded absolutely scandalized. “Why would you do that?”
“Extenuating circumstances, honey.” Murdock caught my eye over the edge of the table. I pulled the phone from my ear as he pulled the wire.
“What the hell is happening with the phone?” Wayne asked.
“They're probably working on the lines,” I replied. I shifted away from the phone so Murdock could get to the bug under the shelf. “Look, honey, let me call you back, okay? I should probably call the telephone company and make sure—”
“Colonel Decker said you and a man named Murdock had a relationship.”
I pressed my forehead against the wall. “I had information he was the A-Team pilot,” I said. “I went to visit him—he's a resident at the VA—and he was a nice guy, so I visited him sometimes.”
Murdock looked up from the shelf, something in his eyes I couldn't read. His smile was small but genuine before he turned his attention back to the bug.
“You never mentioned him,” Wayne said.
“When I came back from Jakarta, he'd taken me off his visitors list.” I turned my face away in case Murdock tried to look at me again. “It's in the past.”
“Did you know them?”
I took a deep breath. “Never met them,” I said. “I only knew Murdock, and I didn't mention him because I didn't want you to worry.”
Wayne breathed out hard. I could picture him in his office at his desk, rubbing the bridge of his nose with one finger. “He said that this Murdock fellow was near your place last night. I told him the description he gave me sounded like Bob, and then he asked a bunch of questions about Bob, and I had to explain that I'd only met him that night.”
“I'm sorry,” I said. “Decker came here right after you left, but I didn't think he'd go bother you at work. If I thought it was of any consequence, I would have warned you.” Murdock tapped my arm, and I looked down. He had his fingers wrapped around the connecting wire on the last bug. “Wayne, I have to go.”
“I'm exhausted.” I let my actual tiredness slide into my voice. “And I know you have work and you probably have to explain to your bosses why a bunch of military men stormed into your office, and I think it'd be better if we talked about this tonight, okay?”
Wayne didn't say anything for a few seconds. Murdock tapped my arm with more urgency. “Okay,” Wayne finally agreed. “We'll talk tonight. Get some sleep.”
“I will. And I'm sorry.”
“Promise me I'll get the whole story tonight.”
I bit my lip before answering, shaking off Murdock's even more insistent tapping. “I promise,” I agreed. “Bye.”
Murdock pulled the wire as soon as I put down the phone. He stood up, flailing for the towel again and grinned at me. It was wild on the edges. “He sounds happy.”
“Don't,” I ordered. Murdock's grin got wilder. “What now?” I asked to distract him. “Decker's not stupid. He'll know the bugs were ripped.”
“Yup.” Murdock grabbed my hand and dropped the wires into my palm. “Dollars to doughnuts there's a guy waiting in the hallway to report any weirdness.” Murdock ruffled my hair and gave my towel a small tug. “Go give him weirdness.”
I swatted at his hands and tightened my towel. “I'm putting on—”
“Nope.” Murdock mimed flicking his hair over his shoulder and planted his hands on his hips. “You are an angry woman,” he started, his voice rising into falsetto, “wrongly accused of spending time with those awful, awful men.” He flicked a hand like he was dismissing me. “And you come out of your shower, get an angry call from your boyfriend, and discover that that horrid Colonel Decker bugged your home.” He threw up his hands in outrage. “In your home!”
“Murdock, your towel fell off.” I stared at the ceiling when he bent over. “What will you be doing while I complain?”
I chanced a look. Murdock had knotted his towel at the hip, and he was standing with his hands under his chin, tapping his fingertips together. “How much of my day is this scheming going to take?” He raised his eyebrows and said nothing. “Will I have time to put on clothes?” He waggled his eyebrows. I sighed. “Great.” I walked around him and pushed my hair over my shoulder, the wet ends smacking Murdock on the chest.
I opened the front door and poked my head out. Down the hall, halfway between the elevator and the stairs, was a man in a military uniform. If you're going to pull a con, Face had taught me, make sure you believe the con. I thought about not sleeping and Decker going to Wayne, and I thought about Murdock showing up and thinking that I might turn him in to Decker. I stalked into the hallway. “Excuse me.”
The soldier looked over, his eyes widening at my nearly naked state. “Ma'am?” he asked, and his eyes drifted downward.
I held out my left hand and showed him the wires. “I understand Colonel Decker thinks I'm some sort of cohort with the A-Team, and I understand that means I get to have an awkward conversation with my boyfriend, but this?” I shoved the wires under his nose. “Bugs?”
The soldier gaped at me. “Ma'am, I don't—”
“You weren't involved,” I interrupted, “Sure. Fine. Whatever. The point,” I poked him in the chest, “is that you're going to call Colonel Decker, and you're going to inform him that I know how to disable a bug because I'm a reporter, and that if he wants to know if I'm talking to the A-Team, bugging my apartment is not the way to win my help.”
“I have confidential sources! Decker could have ruined my first amendment rights by ignoring my fourth amendment rights!”
I raised my voice. “And don’t try to tell me he got a warrant. If he’d gotten a warrant, he would have had someone else plant the bugs. I know how this works.”
“Call him,” I demanded. “And tell him I want to talk to him.”
“Ma'am—” the soldier paused, waiting to be interrupted again. “Colonel Decker isn't nearby. He couldn't talk to you for a few hours, at least.”
“You're right here,” I pointed out. “If I go anywhere, I'll give you an address.”
He blinked. “I'll call him,” he promised. He took the wires from my hands. “Sorry for the…inconvenience.”
“Thank you.” I gave him a sharp nod and turned on my heel, making sure to slam the door behind me when I went back inside. Murdock wasn't in the front of the apartment. He wasn't in the bathroom, and he wasn't in the guest room. In my bedroom, I found an outfit laid out—jeans, a yellow button-down, and sneakers—but no Murdock. My bedroom window was open, and when I stuck my head out, there was a note taped to the fire escape.
Out to lunch.
I ripped the note off the escape and flushed it down the toilet. Was the lack of an address Murdock being paranoid in case anyone else was watching, or was it his attempt to give me a way out? Laying out my clothes told me he wanted me to meet him, and the note was certainly a clue, but by not waiting for me to get dressed and sneak out with him, he was giving me the option to stay home and stay out of trouble.
I sat down on the bed and stared at the clothes. They were practical and common, something I could wear to blend in with a crowd. If I pulled my hair into a ponytail, I'd look like any random woman walking down the sidewalk. Murdock was expecting me to go with him wherever he was going. Or maybe not. Maybe it was just Murdock being Murdock, doing something strange to get a reaction later.
The problem with being friends with a legitimately crazy person meant that, sometimes, he was legitimately crazy. It'd been so long since I'd seen him; I couldn't properly weigh what he'd left me. The tiredness that had been pulling at me all morning was weighing heavier now. Stay or go?
I paced the room as I dried my hair and stared at myself as I combed it out in front of the mirror. When I went back into the bedroom, the clothes were still there with just as few clues as five minutes before.
Hannibal's advice, when a plan went sideways was to trust the jazz. “The jazz can't lie, kid,” he'd said. “It'll tell you if you're in trouble.”
I closed my eyes and breathed deep, thought back to my adventures with the team and the last few hours, let the jazz—finally—rise up and take over my blood. The jazz made me shiver, and I opened my eyes a few seconds later with the answer.
I got dressed and grabbed my keys and purse, pausing at the front door, my hand on the knob. The longer the soldier in the hallway thought I was in the apartment, the better head start I'd have. I walked back to the bedroom and climbed onto the fire escape, squinting to try and spot any guards Decker might have put into place. Pedestrian traffic was light, and I didn't see anyone standing or walking with the particular movements of a trained soldier. I rattled down the fire escape and stood with my back to the building, considering Murdock's note.
Out to lunch.
The Italian place, maybe? It was seven blocks over, far enough away Decker might not think to search it immediately once he got here, but Wayne could have mentioned it to him. Murdock would know that. He'd pick somewhere else. It might not be farther away than the Italian place, but it'd be more obscure. Someplace Decker wouldn't know about. Someplace just between us.
The jazz pointed me south, and I followed the instinct, bypassing a bus to flag down a cab. It was easier to be anonymous in a cab. Cab drivers rarely looked anyone in the face. I gave the driver an address and leaned back in the seat, relaxing my body while I kept watch for signs of Decker or his men.
The day before I'd put in for Jakarta, I'd stopped by the VA to take Murdock to lunch. The floor nurse had waved me on without even looking at my signed slip from Dr. Richter. “Good to see you, Amy.”
“You, too, Nadine. How is he?”
“In high spirits, as always.” She'd smiled and rolled her eyes with fond exasperation. “Today, he's been a pirate, a racecar driver, and either a fine Southern belle or an angry Southern general. There's some debate amongst the nurses on that last one.”
“I'll see what I can figure out over lunch,” I'd promised.
Murdock had greeted me with a bed sheet tied around his head, his comb held in his fist like a sword. “Milady!” he'd yelled. “You have come to negotiate my release!”
“It's only a temporary release,” I'd replied, playing along. “Just long enough for bread and water.”
Murdock had quirked his mouth at me and walked over slowly, his comb nearly touching my nose. He had eyed me, cocking his head. “And cola?”
“I can only promise to try,” I'd told him, trying to hold back my laughter.
Murdock had tapped me on the nose with his comb. “I accept.” The bed sheet had been whipped off his head, the comb placed on his bureau, and Murdock had slipped on his jacket and put on his ball cap and given me a grin. “Where to?”
“Miss.” The cabbie tapped on the divider glass and brought me out of my thoughts. “We're here.”
It was a seafood restaurant, best known for its grilled salmon. It's where Murdock and I had gone to lunch the day he'd played pirate. The day we'd kissed.
I paid the cabbie, tipping him enough to be remembered as a ridiculously average fare: jeans, brown hair, and a passable tip. I let myself into the restaurant and looked around. He'd be on the back wall, I knew. The team always sat along a back wall when they could help it. Near the back exit and with an eye on the door. The hostess walked up to me as I spotted a familiar ball cap near the kitchen. “I've got it,” I told her and walked away before she could ask me any questions or get a good look at my face.
Murdock had a plate of clams in front of him, his hat tipped back so he could get close to the plate. “Amy!” he greeted me around a mouthful. “You look lovely!” He leaned back in his chair and looked me over. He affected a British accent. “You're ravishing, darling.”
“Thanks,” I said as I dropped into the chair across from him. The waitress walked up. “The special,” I ordered, “and coffee. Lots of coffee.” She walked away, and I eyed Murdock. He was wearing another set of Wayne’s clothes, and he'd found his jacket and his cap. I glanced under the table. He'd found his shoes as well.
“Do you keep caches of your clothes around the city?” I asked.
Murdock's eyes widened. “Well, that's just plain crazy.” He slurped down a clam and pushed the plate towards me, wiping juice from his chin with the back of his hand.
“I can wait for my food,” I assured him as something inside me shook at he familiarity of it. We'd always split a plate of clams when we'd come here. “Murdock…” I started, but I didn't know where to go with it. The waitress came over, a cup of coffee on her tray along with a small bowl of creamer and sugar. I nodded my thanks, and she walked off.
Murdock finished the last clam, put the plate on the edge of the table. He wiped his mouth one more time, and when he dropped his napkin onto the table, his lips were a thin line of concern. “I shouldn't…” He quirked his mouth and took off his cap, ruffling his hair before jamming his cap back down.
“Shouldn't what?” I asked. He leaned away from me, crossed his arms and stared at his water glass. “Murdock…” I still didn't know what to say, but I knew his stance, the way his eyebrows were furrowing. One of us had to say something, and it would be easier for me. I'd be questioning everything that came out of my mouth, but at least I wouldn't be wondering if I sounded completely unhinged when I said it. “I've missed you.”
He looked up, and his tight-pressed lips curled into a tight-pressed smile. “I am unforgettable.” He pressed a hand over his heart. “So handsome. So worldly. I am always missed.”
“You are,” I agreed. “I…” I added sugar to my coffee and took a sip as something inside me shook so hard I shivered. “Wayne's a nice man,” I said. “He's a nice man.”
“Nice man,” Murdock said with a slow nod that I read as satiric. “Nice man with a nice job. A nice wardrobe.” He smoothed the sleeves of the shirt and straightened the cuffs. “Nice girlfriend,” he said without looking at me.
I laughed, and I wasn't sure why. “Yeah, I'm fantastic,” I agreed, “I've got a nice job and a nice apartment and a nice boyfriend, and he didn't know I had a gun in my bedside table.” I looked down at my hands on the tabletop. They were shaking a little. “And he'll let himself into my apartment tonight thinking I'm there and ready to talk to him about you and the others. And.” I looked up from my hands and straight into Murdock's eyes. The jazz was so high in my blood it was buzzing in my ears. “And I won't be there,” I said. “Will I?”
Murdock worked his mouth back and forth. “I do not know,” he said in a German accent. “Zis iz not my decizon. I am merely ze zerapist.”
I rubbed at my eyes and drank more coffee. Murdock watched me, his squinting caricature of a concerned therapist falling away to a serious expression the longer I said nothing. “Amy?” he finally asked, voice soft. “You're looking a little…crazy. And I'd know.” He gave a ghost of a grin. There was a wave of worry in his eyes. “I didn't—”
“I made my own decision,” I cut him off. “Just like before.” Murdock opened his mouth to reply, but the waitress came over with my food. I thanked her when she set it down and watched her walk away. “I went to Jakarta so I wouldn't run off with you all,” I said, not looking at Murdock. I cut into my fish and took a bite. When I looked up, Murdock was watching me with no expression on his face.
“You could have,” he said. “We'd have let you. You didn't take off after nearly getting killed by that cult. We decided then and there to let you be as much of the team as you wanted.”
“Voted by secret ballot, did you?”
“Probably the only time we all ever agreed on anything that wasn't one of Hannibal's plans.” Murdock smiled at me, earnest and hopeful. “We wouldn't have had a problem with you tagging along permanently.”
“That was—” I stopped myself. I was going to say “that was the problem,” but it wasn't. It had never been. I'd been the one to blackmail them into letting me tag along. “That wasn't the problem,” I said. “The acceptance.”
“Then what?” Murdock asked. He threw himself against the back of his chair and nearly slammed his hands on the table, stopping an inch above the formica. It'd bring too much attention. “What the hell would have been so bad about coming along?” The anger in his voice made his twang longer, and slurred the words together. I shivered again.
“It wasn't wanting to come along with the team,” I explained. “It was wanting to come along with you.” I watched Murdock's eyes. The rest of his face could do a dozen things at once, but I could always see the truth in his eyes. There was shock, confusion, anger—directed at which of us, I couldn't tell—and then blankness.
He shook his head, tapped his fingers on the tabletop. “I shouldn't have—” He gnawed at his bottom lip and looked away from me, up on the high part of the wall where there was a mural of fish jumping in the waves. “You should go home,” he said to the fish. “I'll be all right.”
He looked at me again, and there was something bright in his eyes. Tears? I'd never seen him cry, and I'd seen some of his bad days, I knew. “You should go home,” he repeated. “Wayne's a nice man.”
“Murdock…” I watched him smile at me, hard on the edges like his face wasn’t supposed to bend that way. “You need somewhere to stay,” I said. “You need someone to keep you company until you can go back to—”
“Lies!” Murdock squeaked, loud enough the people at the next table looked over at us. He pressed a hand over his mouth then spread his fingers. “Lies,” he hissed between his teeth. “Lies, lies, lies, lies.” He closed his fingers again and stopped talking.
I stared at him, confused for the first time since our first meeting. “Lies?”
He face turned light pink, then darker pink, then something in the range of magenta. He dropped his hand from his mouth. “Yes,” he muttered to his empty plate of clams.
“What?” I took a long drink of coffee, wondering if I was having some sort of sleep-deprived hallucination. “What was lies?”
He pressed his fingertips to his mouth. His eyes widened. “All of it,” he said between gritted teeth. “Most of it,” he amended. “Pretty much everything. Except.” He pressed both hands over his mouth.
“Except?” I prompted. “Except what?”
Murdock's hands curled into fists, still pressed against his mouth. I stared at him until his fists dropped into his lap, until his eyes dropped to the tabletop. “We weren't on a mission,” he muttered, so low I barely heard him. “I haven't seen the guys in about a week.”
“I missed you,” he interrupted, and it was like the confession was all he needed to open the gates. “When you left, we agreed to cut you off to keep you safe. You chose to leave, and we all knew it was smarter to let you have your own life again, and you left.” He took off his cap, scrubbed at his hair, then worked the brim between his hands. “And Hannibal ordered us to not contact you. Even if you called, he said. Even if you went by the laundry, he said. We were supposed to let you have your life back, because that's what you wanted. And we did.” Murdock put his hat on the table, stroked his fingers over the brim like an apology. “We tried,” he amended. “I tried.”
“What…” I shook my head. “What are you saying, Murdock?”
“I missed you,” he said. “I wanted to see you.”
I tried to catch his eye, but he wouldn't look at me. It took a few seconds for my over-tired brain to make sense of what he was saying. “You weren't on assignment last night. You weren't—you weren't in danger, were you? At least, you didn't think you were.”
The jazz fizzled out. Anger rose up to take its place. “Did you know?” I snapped. “Did you know Decker was following you?”
“It was…” Murdock licked his lips and reached for his hat. “It was a distinct possibility.” He put his hat back on his head. “He's been following me around for awhile.”
“What?!” I didn't realize I'd yelped until the same people as before glanced over at our table. “Murdock,” I whispered, “are you saying you knew for certain he'd show up?”
“You put me—you put Wayne—in danger because you…” I couldn't figure out how to finish the sentence. “What the hell, Murdock?”
He looked at me, a wistful half-smile on his face. “I'm crazy?” he asked. “I'm lovably crazy?”
“No. No, you are not. Whatever issues you have—and I know you have some legitimate ones—you've never been crazy enough to put my well-being into jeopardy without checking with me.” I glared at Murdock. “What is wrong with you?”
“You decided to leave. The day after—”
“It wasn't because of the kiss,” I interrupted. “It was coincidence!” I took a deep breath, trying to take back some thread of my control. Across the table, Murdock just stared at me. “I wasn't even thinking about you when I put my name in. I signed up because it sounded exciting, because it was something I hadn't done.” I clenched my teeth to keep from yelling. “It wasn't a personal affront. It was an adventure.”
Murdock pressed his lips together. I could hear him tapping his feet under the table. “We were supposed to be the adventure,” he said so quietly I barely heard him.
I wanted to stand up and storm out, but I couldn't. Murdock looked genuinely sad, and he wasn't meeting my eyes. “You were,” I told him. “At first. But then…you became my friends. All of you. And it stopped being an adventure and started being about spending time with all of you.” I curled my hands into fists to keep from reaching out for him. “It was about spending time with you. And Jakarta had nothing to do with you. The timing of everything was just coincidence.”
“You could have just come by.” I cut him off. If I let him get a word in, I knew I'd probably lose. “Any time. I wouldn't have been entirely happy to see you given how you all cut me out, but it would have been honest.” I stood up before Murdock could put together a response. “Wayne's a nice man. I have to go explain things to him.”
“Call next time, Murdock,” I said over my shoulder. “But make sure it's been awhile.” I walked away, not looking back, and didn't stop walking until I was six blocks away. I sagged against the wall of an office building and caught my breath for a moment. I scrubbed my eyes with the heel of my hand. I wasn't crying, I rationalized. My eyes were just dry from not getting enough sleep, and it was warm out, and…
“I've got a nice bridge I could sell you,” I muttered to myself. A woman walking by glanced at me in concern. I looked away before she could decide to be helpful. The building behind me had a lobby with a desk. I walked in and tried to smile at the man sitting behind it. He was older, probably around Hannibal's age, but with the soft edges of someone's grandfather.
“Excuse me, I was wondering if you had a restroom I could use.”
“The restroom is only for clients of the companies upstairs, ma'am.” He gave me a polite, apologetic smile. “Unless your name's in my book, I can't give you the key. I'm sorry.”
“I understand, but this is something of an emergency. I just…” I tilted my head down slightly, “and I wasn’t expecting for it to start another day, and I wouldn't ask if I weren't so far from my apartment that it'd be an issue.”
The man looked at me, eyes going wide when he realized what I was saying. “I see.” He reached under the desk and handed me a key on an elastic band. “You're obviously a nice girl,” he said. “If anyone asks, you're my daughter from Oregon. They've never met her.”
The smile I gave him was real. “Thank you so much.” I clutched the key and followed his pointing finger to a hallway. The ladies’ room was at the end of the hall. It had a single toilet, a sink and mirror, and a small easy chair. I locked the door behind me and sank into the chair, tipping my head back to press against the wall.
Be mad, I ordered myself. Be mad. You have every reason to be mad. But I…couldn't. I sat there, staring at the ceiling tiles, and waited for the anger from the restaurant to take me over. It had been there, but now it was gone. All I had left was frustration, but I couldn't figure out what I was frustrated about.
Standing up, I smoothed my hair, washed my hands, and walked back to the lobby. “Thank you,” I said to the man at the desk, and he gave me a slightly embarrassed smile as he waved me out the door.
“Miss Allen.” Colonel Decker stood by the elevator, looking like he'd been there all day. “I asked the doorman, and he said he doesn't remember you leaving.”
“I went out the fire escape,” I told him, trying to reach the call button. Decker tried to step around me, but I used my shoulder and shoved him aside—a trick I'd learned from BA, along with how to rebuild a carburetor. “I met Murdock at a seafood place.” Even without looking, I knew Decker was trying to hide the surprise on his face. “You got taken for a ride, Colonel.”
I glanced over my shoulder. He was standing almost directly perpendicular to me, trying to catch my eye. “They weren't on an assignment last night,” I told him. “Murdock hasn't seen the team in awhile.”
“Miss Allen, I understand that your relationship—”
“It was a ploy, Colonel,” I interrupted him. “Murdock was…” I wasn't sure where to go with the thought. “Seeing if you'd follow,” I finished. “He knows you've been watching.”
“I don't believe you.”
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. I stepped into the car. “Then don't believe me. I'm very tired, Colonel. I'll be in my apartment the rest of the day.”
“I'm posting someone at the fire escape,” he said as the doors closed.
“Fine,” I agreed, and the doors closed. I sagged against the back of the elevator car. Closing my eyes, I felt every second of sleep I'd missed the night before. The elevator swept up five floors, then dinged to let me know it had reached the sixth. I forced myself upright and walked down the hall. I missed the lock with my key twice before I got the key in and got the door open.
“Hello?” I called when I closed the door, half-expecting someone to answer me. Wayne, maybe. Or Hannibal or Face or BA, here to explain Murdock's actions. My voice echoed back at me, and I felt even more exhausted. I threw my keys on the kitchen table and toed off my sneakers by the door. I half-stumbled down the hall and peeled off my clothes in the doorway of the bedroom, falling face first onto the bed and crawling up to the pillows. The blanket was rucked up at the foot of the bed, and I fumbled for it a few times before getting a grip and pulling it up to my chin. When I closed my eyes, I saw Murdock looking happy, Murdock looking excited. Murdock looking sad for dramatic purposes, and Murdock looking sad for real. And I saw Murdock looking at me time and again, everything he was feeling plain in his eyes. And I saw myself, in a weird third-person view, staring back with the same look in my eyes.
Because I'd fallen in love with the crazy man. Because I was obviously unhinged.
I turned over, rearranged my pillow, and took in a deep breath to feel every tired part of my body. Fall asleep, I told myself. Fall asleep.
I did. How quickly, I wasn't sure. When I woke up, the slant of the light in my bedroom told me it was late afternoon, and the phone was ringing. It was Wayne, I thought, checking to make sure I was okay.
“I'm fine,” I answered the phone, not even sitting up in bed. “I just need to get some sleep.”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone, but I could hear someone breathing. “That's great,” the voice said, and it took a moment for my half-awake brain to place the voice. Face. “But I'm not calling to check on you.”
I sat straight up in bed, my tiredness wiped away in a spike of adrenaline. “They—”
“They're not,” he interrupted. “We swept your apartment after you left to meet Murdock.”
I couldn't think of anything to say for a moment. “What? How?”
“Well, you scaring off the guard by your apartment door helped, and the fact that they didn't plant someone at the fire escape helped more.” Face sounded like he was on the verge of laughing. “How you been, Amy?”
His tone—interested but not too interested—snapped me beyond adrenaline-awake and into full-awake. “How have I been? How have I been? Are you out of your damned mind, Face?”
“I think we both know you're talking to the wrong—”
“Shut up,” I snapped. I was rewarded with absolute silence on the other end of the line. “What the hell do you think you're doing? Calling me now?”
“I thought I'd—”
“Face,” I warned, “not right now.”
There was more silence on the line. “Murdock had the best intentions,” Face said after a long pause. “I'm not saying that led to him doing anything reasonable, but we both know—”
“Stop,” I ordered. “If there is anyone on the team willing to forgive Murdock his weirdness, it's me.”
“That's…true.” Face said slowly.
“And if there is anyone in the world who can see through the bull the four of you layer so well, that is also me. So cut it.” Face said nothing for a few seconds, and something pinged in my head. “Wait, did you say you swept my apartment?”
“And when did you do this?” I asked.
“After you left—” Face cut off, and I listened to him swear under his breath.
“You were in on this,” I said. “You and BA and Hannibal were all in on this, weren't you?”
“What the hell, Face?” I had more, but I couldn't put it into words, so angry I was seeing spots in front of my eyes.
“Amy,” Face paused, waiting for me to stop him again.
“What?” I asked into the silence. “Am I supposed to be flattered, Face? You don’t contact me for a damned year, and I'm supposed to be thrilled you're contacting me now?”
There was a series of hushed whispers on the other end of the line. I listened to the phone get passed off. “Kid,” Hannibal said. “We need to talk.”
“You think? My God, Hannibal, you've gotten astute in your old age.”
“Careful, kid,” Hannibal's tone carried plenty of warning. “We wouldn't call you if—”
“You haven't called me,” I interrupted. “Not once. No matter how often I've tried to get into contact with you.” Hannibal didn't reply. “And I swear, Hannibal, if you even think of passing the phone to BA, I will hang up on you.”
“Wouldn't dream of it,” Hannibal replied, unflappable as always. “He's driving.”
Driving? Oh, hell. “How close are you?” I asked, dropping my head into the hand not holding the phone.
“Sixteen blocks,” Hannibal replied. “Anything we should know?”
I thought about Decker, wondering if he and his men had left yet. I stood up from the bed and looked out over the fire escape. I spotted a man in uniform down on the ground. I considered not telling Hannibal, but even in my anger, I couldn't set them up to get caught. My frustration was no reason to send them to federal prison. “Decker and his men are still here,” I told him. “One at the fire escape, probably another in the hallway, and Decker said he'd be in front of the elevator the rest of the day.”
Hannibal hummed in thought. “Better start some coffee, Amy. We'll be there in twenty.”
“Of course you will,” I replied, and I heard Hannibal chuckle as he hung up the phone. I moved away from the window to hang up the phone and reached for my jeans and shirt. The front door opened as I walked down the hallway, and I froze, pressing against the wall. It could be Decker, coming to poke around.
“Hon?” Wayne called as he closed and locked the door behind him. “You here?”
I gritted my teeth as I pushed off the wall. “I'm here,” I said and smiled as he kissed my cheek. “I was just going to make some coffee.”
“Did you get any sleep today?” he asked as he set down his briefcase and peeled off his coat.
“Some.” I emptied the coffee grounds from that morning into the wastebasket and considered how to tell Wayne that the guys were stopping by. “I thought you'd be working later.”
“Given the day I've had and the day you've had, I thought I'd come home on time for once,” Wayne explained from down the hall.
I started fresh coffee and pulled down mugs as I listened to Wayne walk into the bathroom and turn on the faucet. I heard the water turn off and braced myself as Wayne walked back down the hall. When I turned from the counter, he was standing next to the island, brow furrowed, a bundle of soggy clothes in one hand. “Wayne?” I asked.
“These are the clothes I loaned Bob,” he said. His voice was quiet. He looked at me, the furrow between his eyebrows getting deeper. “Why were they on the floor of the bathroom?”
Oh, hell. “Wayne—”
“Did the tub leak?”
He looked at the clothes, then back at me, then back at the clothes. I held my breath, not sure how to segue from Murdock and me in the shower to telling him the guys were stopping by in—I glanced at the microwave clock—sixteen minutes. Wayne dropped the clothes on the counter and crossed his arms. He looked at the clothes. “Bob isn't Bob, is he?”
My breath rushed out of me. “No.” I clenched my fingers on the counter. “He—”
“That was Murdock,” I pushed out. “And the other guys are coming by in about fifteen minutes.” My heart hammered in my chest while Wayne stared at me.
“Hannibal and Face and BA,” I explained. “They're going to be here in about fifteen minutes. They need to talk to me about Murdock.”
“And you—” Wayne threw up his arms. “Amy!” he shouted. “You said you didn't know them!”
“I know!” I shouted back. “I know,” I said more quietly. “Wayne, honey, I'm sorry, but…” I couldn't find the words.
“They're criminals,” Wayne said after a few seconds. “They're wanted felons. What kind of attachment do you have to them?”
“They're good people,” I argued. “They're—”
“Here,” Hannibal announced as he, Face, and BA walked down the hall. Wayne jumped and tried to backpedal away from them. Hannibal put a hand on his shoulder before he could get far. “You must be Wayne,” he said, holding out his hand. “Hannibal Smith. Nice to meet you.”
Wayne blinked. He glanced at me. When he looked back at Hannibal, Hannibal smiled wider. “Nice to meet you,” Wayne parroted back, but he didn’t shake Hannibal's hand. “Listen—”
“Wayne, hi, I'm Templeton Peck,” Face said, sliding around Hannibal, shaking Wayne's hand, and leading him away from the conversation in one smooth motion.
I crossed my arms as Hannibal and BA turned to smile at me. “Twenty minutes?”
“Window lock wasn't a challenge,” BA explained.
“And the guard?”
Hannibal shrugged as he removed his gloves. I got a whiff of blasting powder. Of course. “How much—”
“It was minor,” Hannibal assured me. “Just a diversion to get him to look away.”
Before I could retort, BA stepped forward and curled a hand on my shoulder. “Good to see you.”
I wanted to hug him, tease him about buying me a better lock and the actual size of the explosion, try to tease him into confessing that they'd been downstairs casing the place when they'd called. I pushed the urge aside. “Murdock's not with you?” I asked. “I would have thought he'd lead the charge through my window like a knight in dented armor.”
“Crazyman stayed home,” BA explained. “Thinks you're mad at him.” He crossed his arms and glared at me.
I met him with a glare of my own. “That's because I am.”
“No, you're not,” Hannibal told me. “You're mad at us.”
“No, Hannibal, I'm fairly certain I'm mad at Murdock.”
“You ain't,” BA told me.
I huffed out a breath and put my hands on my hips. “No, I'm mad at Murdock. Who showed up, turned everything sideways, and led to Wayne having to answer a bunch of questions he didn't know he was ever going to be asked.”
“You didn't tell him about us?” Face asked as he walked up to the conversation. He tilted his head towards Wayne, and BA walked over to loom over him.
“That's completely unnecessary,” I hissed. “He doesn't need BA treating him like a suspect.”
“He does,” Face disagreed. “He's squirrelly, Amy. He'd probably bolt if we stopped watching him.”
“I can't possibly imagine why,” I replied, sarcasm as thick as I could make it. “It's not like he's spent the whole day down the damned rabbit hole.”
“Let's calm down,” Hannibal said, holding up a hand. “We're here to check in, kid. Make sure you're all right.”
“Make sure I'm all right? Or make sure I'm not going to finally grow sane again and decide to turn you over to Decker?”
“Both,” Face said with a grin meant to ease the tension. “But more the first than the second. We trust you. You know that.”
I snorted. “Trust. Yeah. I've really been seeing that since I got back into town.”
“Easy now,” Hannibal said. He pointed a finger at me. “We had our reasons for keeping you out of the loop.”
“I've heard it.” I snapped. “Safety. Protection. Letting me have my own life. It's a great story. Really.”
“You're the one who left,” Face pointed out. His face was smooth, the anger only in his voice.
I pressed the heel of my hand to my forehead. Across the room, Wayne tried to see around BA. BA stepped over to block his view. “Do any of you not have abandonment issues?” I asked. Face's neutral expression quivered, then held. My stomach knotted, and I turned away from them, started pouring coffee. “Face, that's not—”
“It's a fair hit,” Face interrupted. He took the coffee I handed him and pulled me into a side hug, kissing me on top of my head. “Missed you.”
My anger dissipated into pieces I couldn't reassemble. Face had always been a cheat, and the admission and the hug and the kiss were a too powerful combination. “Yeah, yeah,” I groused and handed Hannibal a cup of coffee of his own. “I tried to get ahold of you.”
“We know,” Hannibal said, taking a sip of his coffee and nodding at the taste. “And we chose to ignore you.”
“I'm a big girl, Colonel. I can make my own decisions.”
“And we're big boys. We make our own decisions sometimes, too,” Hannibal replied.
“You left,” Face said, “and we decided to give you a break, let you have your full life back.”
“Is it so bad?” Hannibal interrupted, glancing over his shoulder to Wayne and BA. Wayne was still trying to sidle around BA and not making progress. “Seems like a nice guy.”
“We vetted him,” Face told me. “Not even a parking ticket.”
“You—” Of course they had. I sighed and poured another cup of coffee, nudged Face out of the way so I could get a bottle of fruit juice from the fridge. I walked across the living room and handed the coffee to Wayne and the fruit juice to BA.
“Thanks,” BA said, twisting off the cap. “You done bein' mad?”
“Working on it,” I told him. I looked at Wayne, put my hand on his arm while I handed him his coffee. “Today's been a mess.”
Wayne looked at me askance as he sipped his coffee. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I noticed.”
“Let's all sit down,” I offered. “Let's talk through this.”
“Amy—” Wayne started, but Face and Hannibal were already sitting in the arm chairs, and BA was sitting on one end of the couch. “Amy,” he said more quietly, “I don't care for this. You never told me—”
“I know, but I'm trying to tell you now.”
He tapped his fingers on his coffee mug and glanced around the room, not quite looking at BA, Hannibal, or Face. “Amy—”
He clenched his fingers on his mug and breathed out hard. “Why didn't you ever tell me?”
I looked at the guys. Hannibal smiled at me. Face gave me a nod. BA huffed and uncrossed his arms. “They're my friends,” I said to Wayne, turning to look at him again. “But it's hard to explain to people.”
“We've been together for almost a year!” Wayne shouted. Face and BA both jumped up. I held up a hand, and they both stopped moving. Wayne looked at them, then back at me. He clenched his fingers tighter around his mug and swore under his breath. “Jesus, Amy, what else don't I know? What else don't you trust me with?”
“It is.” Wayne stepped around me and stormed into the kitchen. I shook my head at Face when he moved to intercept him.
Go after him, I thought, but I couldn't move. I stood in the middle of the living room and listened to Wayne slam his coffee cup into the sink, listened to him open and close cabinets and mutter under his breath.
“So,” Face said as the sounds petered off. “How's things?”
“Face,” I muttered, and I ducked my head to hide my smile at his singsong tone. If Wayne walked back in and I was smiling, everything would get even worse.
Wayne walked back into the living room and stopped short, like he'd forgotten the guys were in the room. He looked at each of them in turn then ran his hands through his hair and stared at me. “What else?” he asked. “What else don't I know?”
“Nothing,” I promised. “This was it.”
“This,” Wayne snorted, waving a hand at the room in general. “How long has this been in your life?”
“For the record,” Hannibal interjected, “we haven't been in her life recently.”
“You said you didn't know them,” Wayne said, ignoring Hannibal. “You said you tried to hire them, and that you spent time with the other one—”
“Murdock,” I filled in automatically.
“Murdock,” Wayne spat out, “because he was nice.”
“He is nice.”
Wayne stared at me. “And me?” he asked. “Am I some sort of cover for you? A respectable guy so you can keep this secret?”
“Hey, now,” BA interrupted, walking over to Wayne and crowding him into the wall. “You don't say those things to a lady, you hear me? Amy's classy. If she likes you, it's because she likes you.”
Wayne looked scared for a moment, then it wiped off his face. “Classy? I had a damned colonel in my office today threatening me with a treason charge. What kind of classy person knows people who could get her arrested for treason?”
“BA!” I shouted as BA reached for Wayne's shirtfront. “Don't.”
“He's talkin' sass.”
“Don't,” I repeated. I strode over to him, pulled at his forearm where it rested in the air. “He has a fair point.”
“He don't. You're—”
“Back away,” I interrupted.
BA frowned at me, growled at Wayne, and did as I asked. Wayne shook his head and stepped away from me, close to the door. I slid around him to block his way.
“Let me out,” he said.
“No.” I pressed myself against the door and clenched one hand over the knob. “Wayne, please. I know it's a lot to take in, and I know there’s a lot I didn't tell you, but you can't storm out of here. They'll know. There are guards around the building. If you storm out, they'll know they're here.”
Wayne's jaw twitched. “Amy,” he said slowly, “think about what you just said. Think about the ultimatum you just gave me.”
“You just chose them,” he said. “By telling me I can't leave, you just chose them.”
Oh, God. I slumped against the door and stared down at the floor. “I didn't—”
“I'm leaving.” Wayne announced. He looked over his shoulder at the guys then back at me. “I'll…” He shook his head and grimaced. “I'll do it quietly, okay? I just…I can't be here right now. I can't be here with…” He waved a hand behind him. “If I stay here, it's just going to degenerate into a lot of terrible things.”
“Wayne.” I looked him in the eyes, and he looked at me right back. I unclenched my hand from around the knob and stood up a little straighter. “You're a really nice guy,” I told him. “I appreciate that.”
He huffed a laugh, low and self-derisive, “Yeah, that and a good haircut.”
“I'll be at my place,” he said. “I'll call you tomorrow. I won't…” He looked over his shoulder again, met everyone's eyes this time. “I'm not squirrelly,” he said. “I'm not going to run and tell.”
“Thank you,” I murmured, and I reached out to touch his arm. He let me. Face tapped him on the shoulder and handed him his briefcase. Hannibal and BA both gave him a nod. “Thank you,” I said again as I stepped away from the door.
“You've got a headache,” Wayne said as he opened the door. “I'll call you tomorrow, see how you feel.”
“I love you,” I murmured.
“Yeah,” Wayne breathed out, and he walked out of the apartment.
I left the door open a crack and listened to him walk to the elevator. I didn't close the door until I heard him get on. When I turned around, Face, Hannibal, and BA all gave me sympathetic looks. “There's whiskey in the cupboard over the sink,” I said to Face. “Make me a drink.”
Face walked into the kitchen, and I slumped on the couch, hands over my eyes. I felt the couch sag on either side of me, and I felt BA's arm come around me. When I looked up, Face was walking back into the living room, a collection of drink glasses balanced in his hands. Hannibal, Face, and myself all took the whiskey. BA took the water.
“Lies of omission don't count,” Face said as he sat on the coffee table, leaning forward to make sure I could see his eyes. “If Wayne didn't ask, it's not your job to tell him.”
“Who asks, 'Oh, by the way, do you regularly hang out with felons,’ Face?” I sipped my whiskey while Face shrugged in reply. “And that's not the point, anyway.”
“There's a difference between someone not askin' and someone not sayin' on purpose,” BA interjected. “Amy tellin' him nothin' at all tells me she meant to hold it back.”
Face shrugged again. “So what? It's one piece of information he doesn't have. Everything else she ever told him was true. That should count for something.”
BA crossed his arms. “You either trust someone or you don't.”
“Gentlemen,” Hannibal broke in, giving my shoulder a nudge. “Perhaps we should let the lady speak for herself.”
I gave Hannibal a half-grin and sipped my whiskey again. “The lady doesn't have a lot to say.” I gestured between Face and BA. “You're both right. If Wayne doesn't ask questions, it's not my job to inform him on every single thing that's ever happened to me—”
“Spoken like a very good reporter,” Hannibal interrupted.
“But,” I continued, throwing Hannibal an annoyed look, “I kept it from Wayne with purposeful intent, and nothing done with intent can be said to be an accident.”
“Spoken like a lawyer,” Face said with a roll of his eyes.
“Learned a lot about the law running around with you,” I replied, swatting at his leg. Face grinned, but BA and Hannibal said nothing. Silence settled around us, and I stared into my drink. “He's a nice guy,” I said without looking up. “He didn't deserve to get all this dumped on him without warning.”
“So why not tell him?” Hannibal asked. “You trusted him enough to let him walk out of here tonight; why not trust him enough before now?”
“Because,” I said, and finished my drink in a gulp. Because Wayne had started out as a diversion, someone to keep me company until the team decided I could join them again. “I thought you'd come back before now,” I said. “I thought you'd take the hint when I tried to find you when I got back. And when you didn't, Wayne seemed like the opposite.”
“Law-abiding, good looking, and making his way comfortably up the corporate ladder?” Face asked.
“Steady,” BA added. “Not gonna jump and run.”
“And smart,” Hannibal finished off. “Our Amy doesn't go for the dumb ones.”
I snorted. “So, I'm one of you again, am I?” Anger simmered in me, and I put my tumbler next to Face's leg. “Am I supposed to be glad this has happened?” I asked. “You're here now, and you've helped run off Wayne, so now we can go on adventures, right? Now that you know for certain I'm not going to—”
“Hold on a minute,” Hannibal interrupted, warning in his tone. “We didn't show up to screw things up with you and him.”
“Your timing just happens to be excellent,” I stood up and walked around them all, flicking back the curtain at the picture window to look out over the scenery. “How long have you been planning this? How much time did you four put in to come up with this crazy idea?”
“Wasn't us,” BA said, his voice almost a growl. “We're playin' clean up.”
I'd only pushed the curtain over far enough to see out. I couldn't see their reflections in the window. I couldn't give Decker or his men a chance to spot them. I turned around, pulling the curtain tight against the window frame. “For what? Walking in when Wayne was here?”
“For Murdock,” Hannibal told me.
“We weren't in on the plan at the start,” Face added. “Most of what happened today was pure Murdock.”
“Crazyman wanted to see you, so Crazyman came up with a reason.” BA scowled. “And we're the ones gettin' yelled at for it.”
“Murdock called us early this afternoon,” Hannibal said in his debriefing voice. “He gave us the broad strokes, mentioned you'd been bugged, so we thought we'd come over and double-check the place for you.”
“Then, he called a little while later and told us how badly things went at the restaurant,” Face picked up. “And as he's back at the VA—”
“Under heavy guard,” Hannibal interjected.
“We came as proxies.” Face finished. “With absolutely no ulterior motive regarding Wayne or your relationship.”
“Murdock feels bad,” BA added. “He wants to apologize.”
I couldn't figure out what to say for a few seconds. “You don't answer my calls,” I finally said. “You don't answer my requests through Mr. Lee, and now you're here, and I'm…” I shook my head and had to swallow down a laugh at the sheer weirdness of it. “I don't know what to do. The plan hasn't come together.”
“So what?” Hannibal asked, beaming at me. “Maybe this isn't the final stage of the plan. Maybe this is the middle stage of the plan.”
“Hell of a climax for the middle of the plan,” I replied. “You three coming in the window, Wayne storming out, me getting an explanation of what the hell's happened today.”
Hannibal shrugged. “End of the second act, kid. There's a whole act to go.”
I looked at the three of them and let some of the laughter escape. “God, I can't do this right now. There's…I don't have the tolerance built up for this level of weirdness anymore.”
“We should go,” Hannibal said, standing. Face and BA followed his example. They all walked over to me, hugged me, and started to walk down the hall towards the bedroom.
“Is it because you didn't trust me?” I asked as Face pushed the window open and glanced out. “Did you refuse to answer because you didn't trust me?”
They all stared at me for a moment. It was BA who finally answered. “Fool,” he muttered. “Wouldn't be here we thought we couldn't trust you.”
“We took a vote,” Hannbial explained, throwing one leg over my windowsill. “And we agreed, as a team, to give you a real chance at a regular life, to not pull you back in just because you thought you wanted to.”
“Murdock…” I started but didn't know how to finish.
“We made him take your name off the list,” Face said. He grimaced. “It didn't work, obviously.” He followed Hannibal out the window, stepping down the fire escape ladder to the floor below.
“BA, let's go,” Hannibal said, following Face down.
BA stuck both legs out the window and turned to look at me. “Crazyman's crazy,” he said. “Doesn't mean he don't mean the things he says and does.” He pushed himself out of the window and was headed down the fire escape before I could answer.
I closed the window after them and flipped the lock, watched Face jump from the fire escape and tackle the soldier on watch. I watched them until they slipped down an alley and vanished from sight.
I spent the night rolling around in bed, dozing on and off but not really sleeping. The clock rolled over to five o'clock, and I called it off, slid out of bed and walked down the hall to the kitchen. I half-expected Wayne to be there, standing at the counter and eating a light breakfast before going out jogging, but the kitchen was dark. I opened the fridge to search for something to eat. On the top shelf, leaning against the milk carton, there was a small stuffed dog. It had a note wrapped around its neck.
I stared at it, then closed the fridge. When I opened it again, it was still there. I closed the fridge again and forced myself to take a deep breath. I picked up the phone and dialed one of the team lines from memory. After the third ring, the line was picked up.
“This is the answering service for Appleton Productions. May I take a message please?”
“My name is Amy,” I said. “Just a short message.”
“Certainly, Miss. Please go ahead.”
“Did you know about the dog in the fridge?”
There was a pause. “Beg your pardon, Miss?”
“That's it,” I told her. “Just that.”
There was another pause. “The message I'll be relaying is, 'Did you know about the dog in the fridge?' Is this correct?”
“And a number where you can be reached?”
“They have it.” I hung up before the woman could ask if I was certain. I started the coffee and cracked a couple of eggs into a skillet. Whether the team got back to me or not, the day was going to be a bad one, and I could hear BA in my head, reminding me that breakfast was what got you going for the whole day.
The phone rang as I was folding the eggs into an omelet, and I fumbled the receiver off the hook. “Hello?”
“A dog in the fridge?” Face asked, sounding only half awake. “Please tell me it wasn't alive.”
“Stuffed,” I said. “A toy,” I clarified when it sounded like Face was choking back shock. “I know he's crazy,” I reminded him. “But come on.”
“Murdock's idea of a gift can get weird,” Face pointed out.
I opened the fridge and looked at the dog again. “Did you leave it here before you left?” I asked. “Was it part of the plan?”
Face didn't say anything for nearly a minute. “I wish,” he finally said. “Because now you're going to go yell at him, aren't you?”
“For breaking into my apartment in the dead of night? Yeah, I'm going to yell at him.”
“Meet me for breakfast,” Face said. His tone was open and warm.
“What aren't you telling me?” I asked.
“I know that tone,” I told him. “You're trying to distract me.”
“I am not.”
I rolled my eyes. “Face.”
He sighed. “Meet me for breakfast,” he repeated, and this time his tone was rueful. “I'll buy you waffles.”
“Why not just tell me now?”
“Because I have to commit a minor theft in order to explain things properly.”
I laughed. I couldn't help it. It was everything I remembered in a single sentence. There was a plan, but in order for the plan to work, something at least mildly illegal needed to happen. “Fine,” I agreed. “Where?”
“There's a doughnut shop two blocks from your apartment. It should be busy pretty soon. Go in and buy a cup of coffee. There's a side exit that puts you into an alley that'll get you over to the next block. I'll pick you up there.”
“Doughnut shop,” I repeated. “Two blocks down.” I clicked off the burner and moved the pan to a cool burner. “Haven't seen you in over a year, and you have my neighborhood mapped?”
Face cleared his throat. I could see him in my mind's eye, smoothing the front of his shirt and trying not to fidget. “We might have kept an eye on you.”
I shook my head. “Of course,” I muttered. “You're explaining that, too.”
“Give me an hour,” Face said. “Side door of the shop.”
“I'll remember,” I promised. I put the phone back on the cradle and checked the time. 5:27. I walked to the bedroom and checked down the fire escape. There were two soldiers on-duty on the ground. Not surprising, considering the team had tackled whoever had been on-duty last night. I'd have to go out the front door.
The soldier by the elevator looked me over as I walked up to him a half-hour later. “Ma'am—” he started, but cut off when I held up a hand.
“Am I under investigation?”
He blinked at me. “I beg your pardon?”
“Does Colonel Decker have me under investigation for something, or are you here guarding me against a threat?”
“I can't disclose—”
“Then you can't ask me questions,” I continued. “In fact, I'd report you for trespassing if I wasn't certain the colonel was nearby to come up with an explanation.”
He blinked again. It was possible, working for someone with the power of Decker, that he'd never had someone get in his face about the actions of his superior. “My orders are to watch the door,” he said after a moment. “And inquire as to where you're going.”
“What if I don't tell you?” I asked.
“I don't have orders for that. The colonel…” He trailed off.
“The colonel assumed I would be willing to share, yes?”
“I'm not. I'm trying to live my life, and I'm trying to do it around a set of accusations that have led to my boyfriend questioning my honesty.”
“We know—” he bit his lip. I took a moment to look him over. He was young, maybe twenty or twenty-one. He wasn't scared of me in the least, but he wanted to tell me something he shouldn't. He was nice, I decided. He followed orders and did his job, and he was a nice guy who didn't want someone to be ambushed if they weren't really an enemy. “I shouldn't tell you anything,” he said, and he straightened his shoulders.
I considered pressing him for the information. I could get it, I was certain, but it wasn't right. For as long as the guys had been on the run, they still thought of themselves as military men, and I'd gained respect for all that stood for in the time I'd spent with them. The man in front of me was a good soldier because he didn't want to give me information, and he was fighting the natural urge to cut me a break.
“I'm getting breakfast,” I told him, keeping my tone annoyed. “And then I'm going to work. You need my number there to check up on me?”
They had somebody posted, then. “Have a good day,” I said as I pressed the button for the elevator. He didn’t respond, and it was only as the doors closed behind me that I saw him talk into a wrist mike. They'd be tailing me. I'd have to be extra-careful slipping out of the doughnut shop.
I made a point to meander on my way to the shop, stopping to look into display windows. At the third window, I spotted him in my reflection. A man in his twenties, striped polo shirt and khaki pants. His shoes gave him away, shined too bright for a civilian. They'd given me a plainclothes tail in the hopes that I wouldn't notice. Decker and I didn't get along, but I had to give him credit for his appreciation of my intelligence. The thought made me grin as I stepped into the doughnut shop and got in line for coffee. My tail didn't follow me in. I wondered if he was checking alternate exits or radioing my location to get backup.
“What'll it be?” the teenager at the counter asked.
“Coffee. Black.” I ordered and moved to the side. I pushed my way toward the wall, away from the counter and into a small shadow so I could get a good vantage point on the door. The man in the striped polo walked in a few seconds later, scanning the room for me. I looked at a sketch on the wall, the glass in the frame reflective enough I could track him. I saw him spot me and then move closer.
“Coffee! Black!” the teenager at the counter called. I pressed forward and got my coffee. “Restroom?” I asked.
“In the back, next to the kitchen,” he said, jerking a thumb as he turned away from me.
I couldn't watch my tail as I walked to the bathrooms. There was a line at the women's room, and I stood at the back, looking out towards the front of the shop. My tail was ordering at the counter. He was looking at the menu, but I was certain he could see me in his peripheral vision. I wouldn't shake him just going into the bathroom. I'd have to come up with a better plan.
“What’s the hold up?” I said, half under my breath, but loud enough to get the woman in front of me to glance over. “I've never been here,” I told her, giving her a sheepish smile. “Is it a single stall?”
She nodded. “Oh, yeah. This place used to be nothing until the tourists found it.” She sized me up, looking for, I imagined, any telltale signs of tourism.
“Damnit,” I muttered and gave her a rueful look. “One broken coffee maker…”
She snorted in agreement and fell silent. I didn't push her. A single stall bathroom could give me a chance to sneak out. All I needed was a window.
Ten minutes later, as my tail ate the last of his doughnut and pretended not to be looking my way, I made it into the bathroom. There was a toilet, a sink, and a window. It was up high and covered in wire mesh. I put my coffee on the edge of the sink and dug into my purse. Wallet. Keys. Lipstick. Powder. Swiss Army knife.
It had been a gift from the team, A super-deluxe Swiss Army knife, complete with a tiny pair of wire cutters. I inspected the mesh. It covered the whole window but was only connected at the four corners. I balanced on the lid of the toilet and snapped the wires, throwing the mesh to the floor as I pushed against the window. It stuck; there were three layers of paint on the sill. Someone rapped on the door and jiggled the knob. I shoved my shoulder against the window, and it gave, cracking open an inch. Another hard shove with my hands, and it opened fully, pointing straight out.
The trick to slithering through a window, Murdock had taught me, was not sucking in. Breathing in expanded the chest cavity, making you wider than you actually were. I pushed all the air out of my lungs and shoved myself through feet first. I dangled above the ground, trying to find a foothold on the side of the building. Someone grabbed my legs, and I kicked out.
“Easy,” Face called up to me. “It's just me.”
I went limp, letting him take my weight and lead me to the ground. “Sorry,” I said when we were face-to-face. “I've got a tail.”
“Thought you might.” He grinned as he looked up at the window. “Nice escape.” He grabbed my hand and led me across the street to a gold sports car, opening the door and helping me in. He jogged around to the driver's side and got in, checking the mirrors as he started the engine. “What'd he look like?”
“Mid-twenties, striped polo and khakis. There may have been more than one.”
Face pulled out of the parking space, reached over and pushed down on the top of my head. I slid down the seat until my head couldn't be seen out the window. “I think we're okay, but stay down there for a minute.” He rounded a corner, stopped briefly, then rounded another corner. “All right,” he said. “You can come up.”
I pulled myself up and straightened my shirt. “Where are we going?” I asked. “You promised me waffles.”
“I did,” he agreed, and he took at exit for the highway. “Probably best we're not in the city, though.” He reached over as he merged, popped the button for the glove box. “Brought you something to read.”
I looked into the glove box. There was a file folder, and I pulled it out. Written on the tab in careful print letters was a name:
Murdock, H.M. Captain
It couldn't be. I turned the folder over in my hands, not opening it. “Face—”
“He's in love with you,” Face interrupted. “Has been for years. You should know what you're getting into.”
“Amy.” He glanced away from the rode to give me a brief, serious look. “I know he's a goof, but he's not—”
“I know,” I cut him off. “I—”
“You think you know,” Face interrupted again, “but it's not—”
“Face.” The way I said his name, hard on the 'c,' made him stop short. He glanced at me again, and I looked down at the file. “Was this the theft?” I asked.
“The latest copy I had was a few months old. I thought you'd want the most up-to-date version.”
I shook my head, pressed the file against my lap. “Does he know you look at it?”
Face didn't look at me. We were going in a straight line down the highway. “Not exactly,” he admitted after a pause. “He gave me permission a long time ago to keep informed, but it's been awhile since I mentioned it to him.”
I looked down at the file again. “Why did you…”
Face didn't answer for nearly a mile. I rode it staring out the windshield, the file heavy in my lap. “You're in love with him,” Face finally said. He held up a hand before I could argue. “I read people for a living, Amy, and I'm accurate. You've got a great job, a great apartment, and a great boyfriend, and from the moment Murdock showed up the other night, you made decisions that placed him higher on the chain of importance than any of that.”
“I…” I clenched my hands on top of the folder. “I care about Wayne,” I said. “I love Wayne.”
“Wayne's a good guy,” Face replied. “And you do love him.” He turned onto an access road, slowing the car down with careful pressure to the brakes. “But there's love and there's love.”
I looked at him, watched him watch the road. His window was cracked, a few strands of his hair blowing in the breeze. “If you're going to say it, say it,” I challenged him. “You don't have to scam me into anything.”
Face glanced at me again, then back at the road. “You left, and we accepted that, and when you came back and tried to reach us, we chose to ignore you.”
“I know all this,” I reminded him.
“Let me finish.” He waited a few seconds to make sure he had my attention. “But we couldn't fully ignore you. You'd been part of the team, stuck around a lot longer than we'd expected, and we ended up liking you a lot. Murdock…” Face shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. “Murdock fell in love with you. Hard. When you came back, and we told him he had to take you off the visitors list to protect you, he…” Face shook his head and didn't speak for a minute, pulling the car into a gravel lot in front of a red and white building with the word “Waffles” painted on the front. “He made demands,” Face finally said, looking over at me. He turned off the car and kept looking at me. “We had to keep an eye, he said, and make sure you were all right. So we did.”
“You—” I tried to get out more, but Face shook his head.
“Amy, if I don't say it now, I won't. This is entirely more emotion than I care to share, okay?”
I pressed my lips together and nodded, curling my hands into tighter fists.
“We didn’t follow you everywhere, okay? But we paid attention some. When you moved, we vetted the neighborhood. When you started dating Wayne, we vetted him, too. And we were going to leave it at that, except…” Face shrugged. “Murdock.”
I almost smiled at the fondness in it, but I fought it back. “That was it?” I asked. “You all decided how I should live my life, and that's it?”
Face shrugged. “We're all a bit old-fashioned,” he admitted. “A proper lady should get a proper life, and you're a proper lady.”
I rolled my eyes. “Who can shoot any number of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.”
“Being a well-trained lady doesn’t make you less of a proper lady,” Face argued.
“How flattering,” I deadpanned. “You saw right through my modern woman disguise. I should bake you a victory pie.”
Face had the good sense to look abashed. “We were trying to help,” he said. “We didn't want you…regretting us.”
“For taking you away from the life you wanted,” Face explained. “For making you a fugitive through coercion.”
I considered slapping him across the face. Or maybe punching him in the jaw. BA had taught me how to do it without breaking my fingers. The trick was to put the power in your arm. “When, precisely, did any of you coerce me to do anything, Face?”
“I’m not saying—”
“You are too saying,” I interrupted him, my voice rising. “I blackmailed you if you'll recall. I chose to run around and get shot at if you'll recall. I decided to lie to Lynch and Decker if you'll recall. There was no damned coercion, okay? I made my own decisions, and I had a right to make them again.”
Face curled a hand over one of my fists, gave it a squeeze. “I know,” he agreed. “And Hannibal and BA and Murdock know, but we…we're protectors, Amy. And given the choice between letting you be fully free of possible treason charges and making room for you in the van again, it was a no-brainer. You're safer without us.”
“I don't want to be safe!” I nearly yelled. The silence after it was heavy. I swallowed hard. “That's not what I meant.”
Face squinted at me, sizing me up. “Let's get some food,” he said. “We'll talk after we eat.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, and I got out of the car. It was only as we were sitting down that I realized I was still holding Murdock's file. I pushed it to the far end of the booth, against the wall, and didn’t look at it while I ordered coffee and waffles and bacon. “Where are the others?” I asked after the waitress bought our coffee. “I'm surprised you're alone.”
“BA figured it was best we not put you in a van with lots of guns and ammunitions.”
“Hannibal's filming next week. He didn't want to show up to set with a black eye.”
I smirked. “So they sent you.”
“I'd have come anyway.”
I stirred my coffee and listened to the noise around us. There was a couple having a quiet argument over my shoulder. To the left there was a family, the tired slump of their shoulders telling me they'd been on the road. There was no one behind Face. He'd picked a booth that let him put his back to the wall.
“Amy?” Face asked, his eyebrows up, asking the rest of the question.
I glanced at the file. “I know Murdock has issues. What do you think I don't know?”
Face breathed out hard, but he didn't break eye contact. “Nothing, probably, given your friendship with him. You've seen his bad days, right?”
I had. Murdock went quiet on his bad days, rolled into a ball on his bed, a pillow under his chin. Sometimes it happened on the days I'd come by to take him to lunch. I had always sat on the edge of the bed, one hand on his back, not saying anything, just breathing in and out with him. “I've been there,” I said. “Did you think I hadn't?”
Face shook his head. “Most of the time, he's some version of himself. The up-beat, twitchy, multi-voiced weirdo that he is.” He looked away from me and closed his eyes just a little longer than a blink. “You would have liked him back in the war. Tone him down a notch or two, and he's exactly the same most of the time.”
“I like him now,” I said. “I liked him the first time I met him.”
Face looked at me again. There weren't tears in his eyes, but they were brighter than they should have been. “He shouldn't have done what he did, coming to your place like that, but…”
I pushed my coffee to the side and reached for Face's hand, pressing my fingers to the back of his hand. “I'm pissed. I'll probably stay pissed, but I know Murdock. Maybe not as well as you and Hannibal and BA, but I know him. And I'm going to call him on all this stupidity—”
“Then you know him well enough,” Face interjected.
I smiled a little. “Thanks.” I squeezed Face's hand. “I'm going to yell at him,” I said.
Face grinned. “Oh, good. BA could use a break.”
“And, if he decides not to be entirely difficult, we may even talk about the proper way to talk to me and the improper way to get in touch with me.”
“And about leaving stuffed dogs in your fridge.”
“That, too.” Face turned his hand over and wrapped his hand around my fingers. “I brought you the file because there's more than you know. You know Murdock, but there's some things that haven't come up.”
I ticked off the points on my fingers. “Recurring nightmares. Insomnia. Window fans becoming helicopter blades. Tourists quietly speaking their native language become Charlie.” I arched my eyebrows at Face. “Anything else?”
“Screaming fits,” Face replied, trying not to look surprised.
“Face, I can sleep through gunfire because of all of you. Screaming fits don't concern me.”
“He kicks in his sleep during nightmares.”
“So do I.”
Face grinned. “All right, then.” He leaned back as the waitress dropped off our plates. “Thank you,” he said, his grin slipping up a notch. The waitress blushed and backed away without turning around.
I watched him cut into his eggs. “What just happened?” I asked.
Face glanced up, swallowing his bite before speaking. “Problem, Amy?”
I knew that tone. That was his, ‘I just won and you didn’t know it was happening,’ tone. “Face,” I said, dragging out his name to make it a warning, “what just happened?”
He took another bite of his eggs, took a sip of his coffee. He wiped the edges of his mouth with the corners of his napkins. “Nothing that we haven't already discussed,” he said. “You. Murdock.” He pulled a face. “Love.”
I sighed and stared at my waffles. “I have to talk to Wayne,” I said. “He deserves as much as I can tell him.”
I bit into a piece of bacon. “I'm yelling at him.”
I shrugged. “I'll probably yell at him some more.” I cut into my waffles. “Pass the syrup.”
If anyone knew how to accept an abrupt change of subject, it was Face. He was the one who had taught me how to use it properly, after all. “Syrup,” he said, handing me the jar and giving me a wink. “Butter?”
We ate in silence for a few minutes. I adjusted the grip on my knife to cut through more of my waffle, and my elbow nudged Murdock's file. The papers shifted, and I could see the text on the top few.
“We won't tell him,” Face said quietly, not looking up from his eggs.
I picked up the file, tapped the edge against the table to right the pages, and handed it back to Face. “Lies of omission,” I said, “and deliberate not telling, remember?”
He pretended to think it over. “Sounds familiar.” He reached for the file and placed it on the seat next to him. “I'll put it back where I found it.”
Face dropped me off twelve blocks from my apartment. “Last chance,” he said, holding up the file.
“It's not fair,” I replied, and I stepped away from the car and waved him off. I glanced around as I walked down the block, but I didn't spot anyone who looked like a tail. There was no one positioned across the street from my apartment, and the soldier by the elevator was gone. It wasn't right. The jazz thrummed low in my blood in agreement. Decker didn't just give up and leave. I eyed my front door, checking the lock for scratches. Scratches meant someone with lock picks. Of course, someone particularly good with locks—like BA—wouldn't leave scratches.
Fake calm, I thought. It was always better to pretend like you didn't know what was going on. Go in acting like there's no one there. It'll be easier to get the advantage. I turned the key in the lock and opened the door. No one was in the front of the apartment, but I could hear shuffling in the bedroom.
I walked to the kitchen and silently opened the drawer where I'd stashed my gun the day before.
“Amy?” Wayne called from the bedroom.
Of course. The tension leeched out of me. “It's me,” I called back. I tried to put the gun back in the drawer, but I banged it against the edge of the frame instead.
“Are you—” Wayne stopped at the end of the hallway, eyes widening at the sight of the gun. “Jesus, Amy, I was just—”
“Sorry,” I said. “The soldiers are gone, and I thought…” I couldn't finish the thought with Wayne watching me. “Sorry,” I repeated.
“They were gone when I got here,” Wayne said. “If you're talking about the guy who was in the hallway.”
I finally got the gun back in the drawer, closing it with a snap that made Wayne flinch. “They were gone?”
“Yeah.” Wayne's brow furrowed when I reached under the counter. “What are you doing?”
I moved from the kitchen to the dining area, sliding my hands under the table, then under the phone. I walked past Wayne to check under the coffee table and against the seams of the couch.
“We need to talk,” I interrupted. “But I'd rather not do it here, considering…” I couldn’t say the truth, in case there was a bug I'd missed.
“Yeah,” Wayne agreed before I could finish the thought, but the way he looked where the guys had been sitting the night before, I knew we were thinking of different things. “I'd rather not talk here, either.”
“The Italian place?” I offered. It was always crowded, always busy. The chances of anyone listening to our conversation were minimal, and the chance of anyone remembering us even less. “I'll buy,” I offered.
“I can buy,” Wayne said, and his mouth twitched into something that was almost a smile.
“Okay,” I agreed. It was an old joke, my offering to buy, Wayne politely insisting to pay. “Give me a minute,” I said, and I walked towards the bedroom to check for bugs in the nightstand. On the bed, laid out in careful piles, were Wayne's clothes. His razor and shampoo and toothbrush were on the nightstand on his side of the bed.
I checked for the bugs—nothing—and walked back into the living room. Wayne was waiting by the door, his suit jacket draped over one arm. “You…” I started, but I couldn't get out the rest of the sentence. “Let's go,” I said instead, and we walked to the elevator in silence.
The lack of soldiers on our walk to the Italian place made the jazz strum a little harder in my blood. I let Wayne talk to the hostess while I looked around and tried to figure out if I had a tail.
“Excuse me,” I said to the hostess, “do you have a phone I could use?”
“Sure,” she said, handing me the phone on the hostess stand.
“I'll be right there,” I told Wayne, and I caught something in his eyes—disappoint or aggravation—as I dialed the Appleton Productions answering service.
“Just a short message,” I interrupted.
“Go ahead,” the woman on the other end said without missing a beat.
“I may have pests,” I said. “That's all.”
“I may have pests,” she repeated back to me, more professional than the woman from early that morning. “Is that all?”
“And your name and number?”
“No number. The name is A. M.”
“Yes. Like the time designation.”
“Yes, ma'am. I'll pass along the message.”
“Thank you.” I hung up the phone and turned to find Wayne waiting for me, close enough to have overheard the call.
“Let's sit down,” I overrode him. “Please.”
He narrowed his eyes at me but followed the hostess to our table. We sat and took our menus. As soon as she was gone, Wayne dropped his menu on the table. “What is this?” he hissed. “You pulled a gun on me.”
“I didn’t know it was you.” He looked away from me, and I knew it wasn't a good enough answer. “Wayne…” I bit my lip and tried to figure out what to say. “I'm sorry I lied to you.”
“I would hope so.”
“And I—” I swallowed back the rest of what I was going to say as the waitress came over to get our order. “I'll just have coffee,” I said.
Wayne looked at me over the edge of my menu. “You're not getting food?”
“I just ate,” I admitted, and I saw his eyes clearly this time. It was aggravation.
“Spaghetti carbonara,” he ordered. “Extra pepper.”
“And to drink?”
“Water is fine,” Wayne snapped. He held out his menu like a sword. The waitress didn't seem to notice his attitude as she gathered mine and left us alone. The room around us was busy with conversation and movement. Wayne tapped his fingers on the table and looked away from me for a moment. “What were you doing in the kitchen?” he asked.
“Looking for bugs.”
“With a gun?”
I breathed in slowly. “No. That was—”
“Did you think I'd hurt you?” Wayne's voice snapped, and he scraped his nails across the tabletop.
“No!” I nearly shouted. “God. Wayne. No,” I said more quietly. “You're not—” I swallowed back the rest of the sentence. “I know you wouldn't hurt me,” I promised. “You're a good man.”
“What were the clothes?” he asked. There was something hard in his eyes. I'd seen it before, when I'd gone with him to business parties and someone had politely insulted his talents. He was angry, but he didn't want to show it. “Why were those clothes soaking wet in the bathroom?”
“There were bugs in the apartment. The only place to have a conversation without being overheard was the shower.”
Wayne thought about that for a moment. “You didn't have any wet clothes on the mat,” he said.
“No, I didn't,” I agreed. “It was—”
“Don't finish that sentence,” Wayne requested. “I don't want to hear the end of it. There can't be anything that comes out of it that explains it in a way I'll accept.”
I opened my mouth to argue, and then I remembered why we were here. Because I'd lied. Deliberately. For a year. “Nothing happened.”
“Of course not,” Wayne said, scathing. “Just like nothing happened with the A-Team.”
He looked away from me, jaw tightening. “I don't—”
“You were packing,” I shot back.
“I thought you'd be there,” he snapped. “I was going to talk to you, but when I called, you weren't there, and when I showed up, you weren't there, and when you did show up, you pulled a gun on me.”
“Not on you. On—” I pressed my hand to my mouth. Wayne watched me.
“You lied to me,” he said. “You purposefully lied to me.”
I didn't respond. The waitress brought my coffee and Wayne's water and walked off again. “I did,” I said after I'd sweetened my coffee. “But only about—”
“About a lot,” Wayne interrupted. “It was one big lie, Amy, but there were a lot of smaller lies wrapped around it.”
“You didn't know the A-Team. You'd never met the A-Team. The man who showed up last night wasn't part of the A-Team.” Wayne clenched his jaw. “Except that you know the A-Team, you've met the A-Team, and the man who showed up last night—”
“I get it,” I interrupted. “And I'm not denying it—”
“Denied it long enough,” Wayne muttered.
I clenched my hands around my cup and looked him in the eyes. “I lied to you,” I said, “and I admit that. I can't take back what I did, Wayne, and I'm not expecting you to forget about it.”
He tapped his fingers against his glass. “What do you want from me, Amy?”
“We could try it again,” I offered. “I'll tell you everything,”
“It's not the same.”
Wayne looked away from me. There were couples to our left and right. He had a group of businessmen seated behind his shoulder. I had my back to the wall.
“You said I know everything else,” he said finally, looking at me again. “You only lied about them. Is there anything else I should know?”
“Nothing.” It tasted like a lie in the back of my mouth. I took a drink of coffee. “I'm in love with Murdock,” I corrected myself.
Wayne stared at me, anger and betrayal sliding over his face. “What?”
“I'm in love with Murdock,” I said again.
I took another drink of my coffee. “It wasn't the first time I met him or anything. It…it snuck up on me—”
“I don't want to hear this,” Wayne interrupted. “I don’t want to hear this,” he repeated. He shook his head and pushed his glass aside to put his elbows on the table and put his head in his hands. “Jesus, Amy.”
“What did you do in the shower?” he snapped, looking at me. “And what were you doing when he got my clothes wet?”
“Not that,” I snapped in return, angry at the implication. “There were bugs in the apartment. It was the only place to talk.”
“Where were your clothes?”
“I had to actually take a shower for whoever was listening. I didn't know he'd—”
“Please don't,” Wayne interrupted, and I pressed my mouth closed. “Amy…were you in love with him when you met me?”
I didn’t answer right away, considering my phrasing. “Not actively. I'd been in Jakarta, and then I came back, and they weren't talking to me, and Murdock had taken me off his visitors list, and I was trying not to be.” Wayne flinched, and my stomach rolled. “You weren't a replacement. You were—”
“A nice guy,” Wayne cut in. He sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “If he hadn't shown up last night, would you have ever told me?”
“Not on purpose,” I admitted.
“Did they know about me?”
“Wayne, I swear I hadn't talked to them since I left for Jakarta. I didn't have a chance to tell them.”
“If you had, would you?”
I opened my mouth to say yes, to tell him I'd have given them every detail. “If they'd been around,” I said instead, “I probably wouldn't have dated you.”
He stared at me, and I watched him decide to walk away and cut his losses. To get away before it could get worse. “This isn't going to work now,” he said. “Maybe it shouldn't have worked in the first place.”
“It worked,” I argued. “It was nice.”
Wayne scoffed. “Nice. It’s…it’s funny. You’ve used that word to describe me and Murdock and the rest of them. What’s the difference?”
Explosions, I thought. Adventure. An expectation for the unexpected. “It’s just…different.” I shrugged, not wanting to give him the list. Lying to him again, I realized, even if it was to try and spare his feelings. “They’re all just…them.”
Wayne shook his head and pushed himself out of the booth. “I'll take care of your coffee.”
“They’re different,” he muttered, shaking his head. “How could I possibly live up to such high expectations?”
I looked down into my coffee. “Thank you for not…” I shook my head and stood up next to him. “I'll get your things packed. You can leave your key when you pick them up.”
He watched my face. I had no idea what he was seeing. “I'll go now if you can give me a few minutes.” I nodded in agreement. “Thanks,” he said and it sounded like it hurt him to say it. He looked at me for a few seconds; I watched him fight himself to say something else. “I would have married you,” he said finally, and his shoulder slumped forward. “I thought you were more sensible than this. I thought you wanted a life.”
I am getting one, I thought. “So did I,” I said instead. I could tell he didn’t believe me. “I'm sorry.”
He walked away without responding, and I sunk back in my seat. I put my head in my hands and thought about what I'd just done, giving up a sure, comfortable thing to possibly get investigated for treason and chased around by Colonel Decker and his men.
“Excuse me, miss, I think you dropped this.”
I lifted my head and eyed the old, slumped man in front of me. He had curly gray hair, a thin mustache, and a tweed sweater with worn elbows. There was a mole on his cheek, and his glasses were nearly falling off his nose. He was holding out a paperback book, and I took it from him. “Hi, Hannibal,” I said quietly.
“Hey, kid.” He winked at me. “Book's a diversion. No bugs at your place. BA and I made a show of showing up and leading Decker's guys on a chase when we saw Wayne walk in.”
I raised my eyebrows at him. “Face said you didn't want to get punched.”
“A true excuse is the best excuse,” Hannibal said. He grinned at me. “See you around, kid.”
“Thanks for the book,” I said as he turned and shuffled off, hitting the edge of a table like his eyesight was going. I counted to sixty before I stood up and walked out the front door. It was bright outside, and traffic was picking up as the lunch hour got closer. I could see Hannibal down the block, still shuffling, committing to the role. I turned in the opposite direction and walked down the street, glancing at the display windows to check for a tail as I tried to clear my head and give Wayne time to clear his way out of my life.
I wasn't surprised Wayne had gotten up and left. I would have done the same thing. But my head was still muddled. A year ago, I'd come back and unpacked and made a call. It'd been a different answering service then, a different efficient voice.
“Your message?” she'd asked.
“I'm back in town,” I had said, and I had given my phone number, hung up the phone and waited. Two days, I'd figured, maybe a week if they were on a job.
A week and a half later, I hadn't gotten a message or a visit. I'd called a different answering service and left the same message. Another week and another service. I hadn't wanted to see Murdock until I'd checked in with the team, but I was worried, not sleeping quite right, and so I went to the VA.
“You're not on his visitors list,” the nurse had told me, “I'm afraid you can't see him.”
“What?” I had tried to look around her down the hall. Murdock's room was down the hall, fourth door on the left. “Have there been problems?” I had asked, wondering and worrying what I'd missed while in Jakarta. Had something happened? Was he hurt?
“I can't give you any details on Captain Murdock's care,” the nurse had told me. “You're not on his medical list, either.”
“He can still receive mail from you,” she had offered. “You're not banned.”
But I am, I had thought. “Dr. Richter?” I had asked. “Is he around?”
Dr. Richter had given me the same response as the nurse. “Part of Murdock's work is learning to set appropriate boundaries. If he's chosen to remove you from his visitors list, Miss Allen, that is his choice.”
I'd gone home, sat on the couch, and wondered what to do. At work the next morning, I'd scoured the Courier's databases for any recent news on the A-Team. There were a few blurbs of small businesses rescued from under mob rule, property destruction surrounding rumors of crooked businesses trying to harm their employees.
I kept leaving messages, kept trying to track them. Nothing piled into more nothing. Every time I called to try and talk to Murdock, I was told he didn't want to talk. I sent letters, but I got no responses.
A month later, as I started to give up, I was introduced to Wayne at a party, a friend of a friend. He had smiled and nodded and shaken my hand, and at the end of the night, he'd asked me out.
I'd said yes because I didn't know what else to do. They weren't calling. They weren't sending notes. They weren't dropping in. I wasn’t supposed to be the type of woman who sat around waiting for things to happen around me.
So I'd said yes.
Decker's men were posted at the entrance when I got back to my building. They didn't meet my eyes, didn't try to start a conversation. Decker himself was waiting outside my apartment door, talking into a wrist mike. He didn't try to hide it when I walked up. The gloves were off, then.
“Three times in twenty-four hours,” he greeted me, “members of the A-Team have been spotted on the premises. Once, they've been seen exiting your apartment.”
“And?” I prompted as he moved aside to let me in the door. He didn't follow right away, and I raised my eyebrows. “Are you actually going to wait for an invitation?”
He worked his jaw back and forth. “My men…” He paused and cleared his throat. I'd heard him yell down Hannibal without a pause. Whatever was bothering him, it wasn't the team. “I got reports from my men that the gentleman you're seeing left with suitcases about an hour ago.”
He said it in a rush, clipping the ends of his words. It took a moment for it to sink in. “What?” I asked. I hadn't actually expected Wayne to work so fast. I thought he'd pick up the essentials and come back for the rest. I held up a hand before he could repeat it. “Nevermind.”
Decker worked his jaw again. “Miss Allen,” he started, “I follow the orders I'm given because I believe in the laws and rules of this country, but I would like to…” He didn’t quite fidget, but he adjusted his shoulders, “I would like to apologize if the tactics I took in discerning answers regarding the A-Team caused issues in your personal life.”
I blinked at him. When I blinked harder, he was still there. I opened the door wide and gestured him in. “Whiskey?” I offered.
“All of your sightings have been correct,” I said. I wasn't certain why, maybe to thank him for the apology. “And that's all I'll tell you about what I know about their activities, because that's all I know about their activities.”
He sized me up. I didn't move. Lynch had been a full-on idiot, sent out—I was still convinced—to amuse the people who had to work with him, but Decker had always had a shrewd sense of reading people. He nodded after a moment and followed me inside.
“I didn't come in while you were away,” he said, and I recognized it as a reciprocal piece of information to my admission that the team had been by. “You're a person of interest, but you're not quite that interesting.”
“And I trashed your last bugs.”
He rearranged his shoulders again but didn't confirm that he knew. I could see why he and Hannibal worked so well against each other, both military men to the bone, able to see and predict movement, but not above cheating where it was needed. “They were here? You're confirming that?”
“What's it get me if I do?” I asked as I reached for the whiskey. I poured us both an inch and set the glasses on the kitchen table. He sat down with the careful movements of a man who'd been trained not to wrinkle his uniform.
“Technically, I could bring you in for questioning.” He watched me sit down, and I watched him as he glanced down the hall behind me, probably expecting the guys to stick their heads out and wave. “Given the circumstances—”
“Colonel,” I interrupted, “don't put on the kid gloves now. It's boring.”
Decker gave me another once over. “Lynch hated you,” he said after a moment.
“He couldn't get you to admit to anything.”
“Lynch was an idiot,” I responded and sipped my whiskey. “And I've only admitted to what you know is true. They were here. You saw them.”
“Where have they been?”
“I have no idea.”
“Why did Wayne leave with his things?”
I considered laying the blame on Decker and his men, trying to guilt him into leaving the team alone for a little bit, but I couldn't do it. It wouldn't be honest, and even if his discussion with Wayne had been the lynchpin, it still wouldn't have erased my lying. “We broke up,” I said. “He got a very sudden, unexpected look at what I used to do, and he decided he'd rather not be part of it.”
“It's in the past. It shouldn't matter.”
I held back a smile at his decisive tone. “He didn’t know anything about it. When Murdock showed up last night, I lied through my teeth. Wayne really thought he was Bob who worked in insurance.”
Decker considered that for a moment. “You're being very candid,” he said.
I shrugged. “I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.”
“I could take you in for this, you know. I could take you to a military prison.”
I laughed, a little longer than necessary for my amusement, but it made me feel better, so I let it run a little loose. “One,” I said, holding up a finger, “they've already broken out of one and coming after me would be a vacation.” Decker didn't quite smile, but his lips twitched in acknowledgement. “And two,” I continued, holding up another finger, “you wouldn't dare.”
He cocked his head at me. “And why is that?”
“I don't know where they're staying. I don't know what they've been doing. I had had no contact with them for a year until Murdock showed up last night. And you,” I pointed a finger at his chest, “aren't going to waste time and resources on me in this situation.” You're not Lynch, I didn't say out loud, but I could see Decker knew I was thinking it.
“It's still something I need to investigate,” Decker argued. “They've contacted you again after an absence we thought was permanent. Their attachment to you—”
“Is not something you want to use as leverage.”
Decker shook his head. “I wasn't going to suggest that at all. I'm aware of what they're capable of when they think one of the team is in trouble. I have no wish to bring that rage down on myself or my men.”
I considered that, and I considered what I'd already told him. I considered Wayne leaving and Murdock showing up and the team rallying around me. The jazz spiked my blood in a hard rush, and I let it take over, let myself be fully reckless for the first time in months. “If I give you a full statement,” I said, “if I tell you absolutely everything I know right now, what's in it for me?”
Decker's eyes narrowed. He leaned forward in his chair a little. “What are you saying?”
“You know what I'm saying.”
“Miss Allen, I make it a point to never know what anyone's saying until they say it.”
“I have possible leads,” I told him. “A few phone numbers, a few names. What's in it for me?”
“You're giving them up?” Decker tapped his fingers on the table and shook his head. “You're not,” he declared. “You're not.”
“Everything I have,” I offered again. “Every detail from the last thirty-six hours, and I'll repeat it as many times as you want.”
“You're an upstanding citizen, Miss Allen,” Decker replied. “You've got a good job, and a nice apartment, and you're well-respected. If you're thinking—”
“An offer,” I interrupted. “Right now.”
“If you run off with them, if we can link you to them properly, you'd be a fugitive—a military fugitive. It's one thing to have supposed ties with them, but to—”
“Colonel, I'm a grown woman in charge of my own life.” I waited a beat for him to reply. He simply watched me. “I made my choice when I first met them. They made my choice when I came back. I'm making my choice now.”
We sat in silence for nearly a minute, staring each other down. I felt completely calm. All the doubting voices in my head were quiet, the jazz drowning them out.
“A head start,” Decker offered. “A day's head start.”
“A week,” I countered.
“Give me everything,” he said, “from the first day you met them. Sign your name to it as an accomplice. Two days.”
“Five, and this deal includes them as well.”
“I can't hold off questions for five days. I can make busy work for two. Maybe four.”
“Four or nothing.”
Decker worked his jaw. “Forget something,” he told me. “Something minor but very useful. Two days from now, call and tell me.”
“I can do that.”
“Make it a lynchpin that will get me real information, Miss Allen, and I'll get you four days.”
“Done.” I lifted my glass, and Decker lifted his, and we clinked them together.
“I don't care how you play it,” he told me as he stood and straightened his uniform. “I just want good information.”
“You'll get it.” I promised. I watched him open my front door and snap his fingers at the solider I knew was by the elevator.
“Pen. Paper. A typewriter if you can get it here quickly,” he ordered. The solider saluted, spun on his heel, and walked away. Decker turned to look at me again. “Once he gets back, you can't back out.” He didn't sound concerned, but I could read it on his face.
“I know what I'm doing,” I replied. “I know my own mind.”
He nodded and shut the door. He poured us both another drink while we waited.
Three hours and pages of confession later, Decker and his men departed. I watched them from the picture window and crossed to the phone once they'd driven off. The answering service picked up on the first ring.
“Emergency,” I said before the woman on the other end could finish her greeting. “I need a callback immediately.”
“Amy,” I said. I hung up before she could read the message back to me. I walked to the bedroom and looked around. Wayne's key was on his nightstand. He'd finished emptying the closet and his drawer in my dresser. His shaving kit was gone from the bathroom, and two of my coffee cups were gone. The phone rang, and I grabbed it midway through the first ring.
“What's happening?” Hannibal snapped in greeting.
“I told Decker everything. He's given me a two-day head start. Four if I can feed him another piece of information in the next forty-eight hours.” I heard Hannibal suck in a breath. “He took his men and left,” I said before he could say anything. “I can be packed in an hour.”
“Wayne left, Hannibal, and I've been kidding myself, okay?”
“Kid—” He didn't continue for a few seconds. “Jesus,” he muttered, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to hear him. “We didn't want this for you.”
“I want this for me.”
He sighed. “Pack a small bag,” he ordered. “Empty your bank account. Find a nice hotel.”
“A nice hotel?”
“People on the run hide in cheap motels. Smart people on the run hide in nice hotels. I'm going to give you a number. Don't write it down.” He rattled it off to me. “Repeat it back,” he said. I did. “Again,” he said, and I did. “You got it?”
“Got it,” I said. “What about the rest of my stuff?”
“Hold on,” Hannibal said, and I heard a soft thud, like he'd put the receiver on his chest. I heard a muffled conversation, but I couldn't make out the words. “You've got an hour to clear out,” he said when he got back on the line. “We'll take care of it from there.”
“I'll call when I'm settled,” I promised, and I waited for the click that told me Hannibal had hung up. I walked back into my bedroom and took a moment to stare into my closet. What to take, I wondered. I knew Face could scam me some new clothes as needed, but I could at least provide some day-to-day wear.
I threw jeans and slacks and t-shirts and button downs and sweaters and a few nice dresses into my smallest suitcase. A few pairs of shoes went into a spare purse along with my jewelry and make-up. I left my toiletries—they'd be easy to replace—and I considered my books and tapes before deciding lighter packing was less suspicious. I was out the door in thirty-four minutes and down at the bank at the hour mark Hannibal had given me.
“Is there a particular reason you want to close your account, Miss Allen?” the man at the bank asked me, looking prepared to argue me into staying.
“I'm leaving the country,” I said. “I work for a newspaper, and they're sending me to a country without ATMs, so I want to make sure I have plenty of cash.”
“We could do traveler's—”
“Cash,” I insisted with a smile. “Just to be safe.”
“Traveler's checks are actually—”
“Cash,” I said again, putting steel in my voice.
He handed it over in twenties and fifties. I piled them into my purse and left the bank, hailing a cab and giving directions to a collection of hotels that were popular with traveling businessmen. I chose one at random and walked up to the desk with the best harried smile I had. “Do you have a room?” I asked the man at the desk. “My reservations fell through across the way.”
The man behind the desk smiled placidly at me. “Let me see.”
I made a minor show of tapping my fingers on the desk. I wanted to be memorable, but in a vague way. If I tried to rush the desk clerk through finding a room, he'd remember a harried woman who could have been nervous about something. If I made too much noise about the wait, the desk clerk and anyone else in the lobby might recall me. I was aiming for an average level of annoyance; something everyone in the lobby saw every day, something that blended in although it stood out for the few seconds they rolled their eyes at my behavior.
“I have a room on the fifth floor,” he said, giving me another placid smile. “How many nights?”
“Two.” Being a hotel catering to businessmen and tourists, a single night stay would be memorable. I reached into my purse for my wallet and paid in twenties before taking my room key and walking to the elevators. A family of four ducked in after me, laughing breathlessly at their good luck. I watched them press the button for the fourth floor and considered what I'd given up in my three hours with Decker. I'd given up them, I realized. I'd given up—at least for the foreseeable future—the chance to be breathless and happy and have my biggest concern be waiting for the next elevator.
The elevator dinged on the fourth floor, and I watched the family get out. They filed out like ducks—mom, daughter, daughter, and dad—and I could hear them chatting even after the doors closed.
My room was in the middle of the hallway, about thirty feet from the elevator and stairwell. The strategic disadvantage made the jazz ramp in my blood, but I fought it down as I opened the door. There was a bed, a television, a dresser, and an open-air closet. A set of sliding glass doors led to a balcony. I leaned over the edge of the balcony. In a pinch, I could probably climb down the side of the building, balcony to balcony until I reached the ground, but it wasn't an ideal situation. Decker had promised me three days, and I was certain I could trust him, but I wondered about the people barking his orders. When he showed up with the stack of information I'd given him, they could very well push him forward, and he wouldn’t disobey an order like that.
I jumped and whirled around, staring into the room from the balcony.
It was the phone on the bedside table. I shook my head at my nerves and walked over to it, letting it ring twice more before I picked it up. “You're following me,” I accused in greeting.
“You couldn't possibly have spotted us,” Face replied, sounding affronted.
I grinned. “I know all your tricks,” I taunted, and I felt myself relax as Face chuckled. “Where are you?”
“In the van, a few blocks down. I've started the process of breaking down your apartment. A few hours from now, no one will believe you lived there.”
“Thank you.” I sat on the bed and picked up the mint on the pillow. “What do I do now?”
“Play the tired executive. Go down to the bar and order a drink—”
“Get a booth in the back,” I finished.
Face didn't say anything for a second. Then he coughed like he was using it to cover up something. “Yes.”
I waited for him to continue, but he didn't say anything else. “I'll be down there in ten minutes.” I hung up when he didn't say anything else, and I checked myself in the mirror before I headed downstairs to the bar.
It was nearly empty, only the bartender and a couple of men in suits at the entrance end of the bar. They both glanced at me, and one leered. I ignored it, walking to a booth in the back and sitting down. The bartender called over his shoulder and a waitress came out of the kitchen, smiling as she neared me.
“I'm Susan. I'll be your waitress. What can I get you?”
“Glass of Chardonnay,” I ordered. She walked away with a nod, and I watched the door while pretending I was looking over the menu for happy hour.
Two minutes later, Face, Hannibal, and BA walked in the door without disguises or distractions. Face and Hannibal the bartender and the men at the bar would forget, but BA they'd remember. I'd probably be changing hotels by the end of the night.
“Where's your bag?” Hannibal greeted me as he and Face slid into the seat across from me. BA grabbed a chair, turned it backwards, and sat at the end of the table. Susan came back. “Scotch, neat,” Hannibal ordered.
“Same,” Face said.
“Milk,” BA said.
Susan raised her eyebrows. “Milk?”
“Milk,” BA barked. “Please,” he added as an afterthought, giving her a smile. She backed away slowly. I'd be changing hotels by the end of the hour.
“Your bag?” Hannibal prompted me again.
“In my room,” I replied. “Getting me out of here?”
“Don't trust Decker not to follow you,” BA said. “Gettin' you someplace safe.”
“I followed your directions to get here,” I protested.
“And you're going to follow them to get out of here,” Hannibal replied. He gestured to Face. “Give him the key to your room. Then we'll all sit here and have a drink for a few minutes, and then we'll split off. Face will go get your bag, and BA and I will get you back to the van.”
I narrowed my eyes at them. They met me with placid stares. “Is this how it goes?”
“You're with us, you take my orders,” Hannibal said. “You don't want—”
“Don't start,” I interrupted him. “I'm not saying I won't follow orders; I'm asking if what you're doing right now, this steam-rolling to get me elsewhere is something you'd do for the team in general, or are we going to have to have a conversation about you all treating me like a girl?”
“You are a girl,” BA said.
“A woman,” Face corrected when I glared at BA.
“We're treating you like someone new to what we're doing,” Hannibal said, holding his hands palm out as I tried to protest again. “You're new to being this deep, kid. You don't get to go home tonight or after the next job. If you're going to long-haul this, you take your orders.”
I couldn't go home. It hit me like a punch to the gut. I couldn't breathe for a few seconds. BA and Hannibal both looked worried. Face reached across the table and grabbed my hand. “That just kicked in, huh?”
I breathed out. “Yeah…yeah.” I clenched Face's hand tight for a moment, then I made myself let go. “Okay.”
“If you need a minute—”
“I'm fine, Hannibal,” I cut him off. “I'm fine.” I glanced around BA. The waitress was headed our way, drinks on a tray.
“Sorry it took so long,” she said as she set the drinks on the table. “It took me a little bit to find the milk.” She smiled at BA, setting a tall glass of milk in front of him.
“Thank you,” he said with a nod.
She waited for the rest of us to take a drink of our drinks before nodding to herself and walking away. I took a long drink of my wine and closed my eyes for a few seconds.
“You can't back out,” Hannibal said while my eyes were closed. “If you'd told us you were thinking of doing something so reckless, we could have helped, but the way you did it, you're stuck.”
I opened my eyes to glare at him. “I’m allowed a moment to adjust.”
“Once,” Hannibal replied. “And we gave that to you when the cult was getting ready to murder all of us.”
“You're a charmer, Hannibal. Don't let anyone tell you differently.”
BA and Face both looked like they were ready to laugh. BA took a long drink of milk, and Face managed to pull back his laugh. “Room key,” he said to me. “BA and I are going to get your stuff.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Need to know,” Hannibal said, eyes narrowing in challenge.
I met his gaze while I reached for my room key and tossed it to BA, who caught it one-handed. “Time to finish my drink?”
Hannibal grinned. “Always time to finish a drink.”
Face rolled his eyes. “Sure, for you,” but he finished his scotch in two quick sips while BA drank his milk in gulps, and then they were both out of the booth and headed towards the elevators.
“We're taking you someplace safe,” Hannibal said once they were out of the bar. “Play along, and you'll get a reward.”
I grinned a little, composure coming back as I let myself fall into the rhythm of the team. Sit up, take orders, and let Hannibal take the reins. If the plan fell through, run like hell and shoot over your shoulder.
“There's the all-together woman I remember,” Hannibal said. He toasted me with his glass. I toasted him in return with mine, and we took a drink at the same time.
I was still jittery, under my skin, but I tapped my fingers on my glass to release it. “What's next?” I asked, proud that my voice didn't shake.
“We get you out of here, get you moved someplace we know is secured.” Hannibal took another sip of his drink. “Not that I don't trust Decker to keep his word, but I've got a plan.”
I laughed, the last of the jitters fading. “Of course you do.”
He grinned and reached into his pocket for a cigar. “You'll love it.”
The new place turned out to be a swanky hotel on the outskirts of the city, up in the hills where the view was all lights and the Hollywood sign. “Do I even want to ask?” I asked Face as he set down my suitcase in the living room of the penthouse suite.
“It's mostly legit,” he assured me. “Which is to say, it's under an alias you couldn't have given to Decker, and it's an alias that doesn't have a felony attached to it yet.”
“Breaking it in, am I?”
“Couldn't think of anyone better to ruin my name,” Face said, grinning as he walked over to check out the view. “You need anything?” he asked. “Think hard; you're going to be hunkered down for a couple of days until you make the call to Decker.”
I thought about it. “I didn't pack any books. I could use something to read.”
Face reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and handed me a thin paperback. “It's not much, but it'll keep you busy while we're picking up supplies. Any books in particular you're looking for?”
“Entertaining,” I said. “No espionage.”
He nodded. “What else? You've got the mini-bar and room service to keep you fed, and there's a small gym off the second bedroom so you can exercise.”
“Murdock?” I asked after a few seconds of silence.
Face didn't say anything for almost a full minute, turning away from the window and sitting in an overstuffed armchair. He rested his left ankle on his right knee, and when he looked at me again, there was a fiercely protective glint in his eyes. “Did you do this for him?” he asked. “Did you take the plunge so you could be with him?”
“I did this for me,” I replied as I sat across from him. “What I had, it wasn't…” I thought for a few seconds, trying to find the words. “It wasn't bad,” I finally said. “It was comfortable, and I knew what to expect, and I was doing…well.” I looked away from Face, glancing at the gleaming wood of the side table, and the stack of coasters in their holder, stamped with the hotel's insignia. “But it's not…” I clenched my hands on my knees trying to find the words.
“It was safe,” I interrupted. “And it was proper and expected, and it wasn't that any part of it was bad. It was…” I shook my head. When I looked at Face, he was waiting, the protective glint gone, curiosity taking its place. “I…”
“What?” Face prompted after a few seconds. “You're not describing anything bad, Amy.”
I wasn't, especially to someone like Face, who craved normalcy but put up with never-ending weirdness because the team was his family no matter his complaints or irritations. “It wasn't bad,” I said because it was true. “It's just…God.” I ran a hand through my hair and made myself look Face in the eyes. “It's not wrong or weird or anything. It's just…”
“What is it?” Face prompted.
“I blackmailed you all into taking me along for a story,” I said. “And it was the best thing I ever did. It was unethical and dangerous and stupid, but I had so much fun, and I learned so much, and I know you all tried to stop me from learning about certain things—”
“Like explosives,” Face chimed in, but he was smiling.
“Like explosives,” I agreed with a grin, “but it was still the best time of my life.”
“And Murdock?” Face asked, and the protective glint was back.
“Murdock was a bonus,” I explained. “A double-weirdness bonus that I don't want to shake off.”
Face tilted his head to consider the idea. “You're certain?” he asked. “You haven't even read—”
“Forget his file,” I snapped. “He's…” I shrugged. “God, Face, I don’t know. All I know is I want to run around and possibly get tried for treason, and I want to be near Murdock because I'm in love with him.”
Face was trying not to grin, but the edges of his mouth were quirking against his will. “It'll take a couple of days,” he said. “We'll want to make sure Decker isn't watching. But if you can wait, we'll get you in to see him before you make the follow-up call to Decker.”
“I'll owe you,” I responded. “I'll owe you big.”
Face laughed, a brief and happy sound. “Are you kidding? Do you know what a pain in the ass it is to get a woman to play along with us? You can only be useful at this point.”
I laughed, too, and I reached across the space between us and grabbed Face's hand. “You're sure Hannibal and BA will be okay with it? Me meeting with Murdock?”
He beamed at me, his confidence man smile—all teeth and tan and blond hair. “Amy,” he assured me. “If I can't convince them, I'm lousy at my job.”
I slept hard that night—two nights of questionable sleep catching up with me, I was certain. When I woke up, it was mid-morning and cloudy. I stared at the ceiling and listed everything I was leaving behind. My work with the paper was finished for certain. My editor had always enjoyed the stories I'd brought him from the team previously, but I'd filed those under the protection of investigative reporting, citing the team as sources. To publish anything now would put the paper in serious legal trouble.
I'd given up my apartment, but that didn't bother me as much. It was a nice place to live, but it was just a place to live. The bed had been comfortable, and the couch had been big enough to nap on, but they weren't irreplaceable.
I rolled out of bed and walked into the bathroom, turning on the shower and calling down for room service while I waited for the water to heat up. I'd given up some friends, but I hadn't had that many in the first place.
I stepped into the shower and closed my eyes, thinking about two days before, turning around to find Murdock dripping wet in his full clothes. I'd given up Wayne. My stomach twisted at the thought, and I titled my head back into the water, letting the water run down the sides of my head to create white noise.
When I finished my shower, I called down for room service and sat on the edge of the bed, towel drying my hair and watching the clouds move across the sky. My stomach had calmed down, but I had a heavy, guilty feeling in my shoulders. I was running my relationship through my head, wondering if I really had just strung Wayne along. It was hard to be certain, looking at it in the light of the last forty-eight hours.
I wrapped my hair in the towel and walked across the room to the door. Looking through the peephole, I grinned. The bellhop was standing at an angle where I couldn't see his face, but I could see his jewelry.
“Hi, BA,” I said as I opened the door. “Feel free to set that anywhere.”
BA grinned as he wheeled in the cart. He removed the silver dome over the platter to reveal my order of coffee, juice, and bacon and eggs. There was a carafe of milk along with it and an empty glass. “Got a little time,” he said. “Thought we could talk.”
My voice caught in my throat at the softness in his eyes. “Thank you,” I said. “Let me get dressed, and we can sit down.”
When I came out of the bedroom, BA had everything laid out on the table and was already seated, pouring himself a glass of milk. “You're not eating?”
“Had breakfast already,” BA said. “I don't need lunch just yet.”
I sat at the table and cut into my eggs. They were still warm. The bacon was crispy, and the juice had pulp. When I looked up to get cream for my coffee, BA was watching me. “Yes?”
He shook his head. “You and Murdock?”
“You knew this already,” I pointed out.
“Big step you took, doing this.”
I watched him take another drink of milk. When he glanced at my plate, I handed him a slice of bacon. He bit into it with a nod. “Do you think I shouldn't have?”
He shrugged. “Not my place to say.”
“I'm asking you to say,” I pointed out.
“You love him?”
“I mean really love him. I'm talking about you loving him even on his bad days, when he's had nightmares and actually thinks there's devices in his teeth and calls and asks why we don't visit more.”
“Yes,” I repeated. BA kept watching me, similar to the way Face had watched me the previous day. “I've seen his bad days, BA. I've sat with him through some when you all couldn't be there.”
“You gonna be able to sit through his bad days when you can't be there? If you're running around with us, it means you won't always see him.”
I sipped my juice and bit back my first response—that I hadn't seen Murdock on any of his days in a good, long while because of them. “If we'd kept things the way they were, I wouldn't be seeing him anyway. This way, at least, I've got a chance.”
“To go to prison.”
I rolled my eyes. “That, too.”
BA eyed me for a long moment before breaking into a grin. “You remember Maria?”
I thought back for a moment. “The little girl from the illegal workers scheme.” BA nodded. “Do you still talk to her?”
“Every now and then. Her mama sends my mama a Christmas card for me.”
I smiled. “What made you think of that? That's been awhile.”
BA's grin got a little wider. “Remember what you did for that job?”
“You all had me play pretty distraction. And then Face came in to cause a scene—” I laughed as I remembered Face's outfit and the story behind it. My fake boyfriend had dragged me to Mexico to go duck hunting, and I was looking for someone to keep me company. Face had stormed in decked out in red and black hunting gear, demanding that I respect “Donny's” decision to take me duck hunting. Didn't I understand what it meant? He'd yelled. Donny only took very special people duck hunting. Face had gotten tossed out, and then he and Murdock and BA had come right back in, guns in hand.
“You remember what Murdock said?” BA asked. “When he broke it up between you and the chump at the bar?”
“He introduced himself as Donny,” I replied, still laughing a little. I swallowed it back as the implication hit me. “He was trying to tell me,” I said, watching BA's face. BA's grin had softened around the edges.
“He's been in love with you for a long time. Didn't say nothin' about it because he didn't want to be a burden.”
“Way he thinks sometimes, that he's a burden on us because he's crazy.”
“He's so kind,” I said. “So sweet. And I know…I know there are parts of it that are just him screwing around. I've never—God, did he think that? He was never a burden.”
“He knows it,” BA said with a nod. “On his good days, he knows it.”
“And the rest of them?”
BA shrugged. “I'll call him a fool on a good day as quick on a bad day. Same as Face will play along with Billy bein' real. Same as Hannibal will put Murdock in the driver's seat of any death trap with wings. We try to tell him by not treatin' him any different. He don't talk about it.”
I scoffed. “When do any of you talk about anything?”
BA chuckled. “Worked so far.”
“You need a feminine touch,” I teased. “That's the real reason I told Decker what I knew. You're all in desperate need of a lady's help.”
“Start with the Crazyman. He likes givin' hugs in the first place.”
I laughed at that and touched BA's hand. He grinned at me and stole my last piece of bacon, snapping it in half and giving me the bigger part. “I love him,” I said after I'd eaten my part of the bacon. “And I know he's not always there, but when he is—it's better than the jazz, BA. It's—” I shrugged. “It is.” I said. “That's all I know.”
“Mama always said that's all you gotta know, that you love someone enough to put up with 'em.”
“I want to put up with him.”
“You'll probably be all right, then.”
Before he left, BA reached under the room service cart and handed me three paperbacks. He hugged me goodbye, nearly lifting me off the floor with the force of it. I flopped on the bed after he left, reaching for the paperback I'd started the night before. I made it half a chapter before I tossed it on the bed and sat up, staring out the windows to the view. I wanted to call Decker and get it over with, but I knew better than to call from the hotel phone, and I knew even better than that not to go out without one of the guys. I paced the room instead, stared out the window, walked into the small gym off the living room and considered a workout and a second shower. I considered sneaking out of the hotel in a hat and sunglasses and going to Murdock.
The phone rang just after three as I tried to read again. I lunged for it. “Hello?”
“Ready?” Hannibal asked.
“Your call to Decker, of course,” even over the phone, I could hear the grin in Hannibal's voice. “I think you'll enjoy it.”
“Trust me. It'll be great. Be downstairs in five.” He hung up.
I set the phone back on the cradle and turned away from the phone. There was a mirror set on the wall opposite, and I stared at my face for a few seconds, specifically, the suspicious furrow between my brows brought on by Hannibal's comment. If he thought I was going to enjoy it, it meant he'd done something. I grabbed my purse and my room key and tried not to think about it.
Face was in the lobby, reading a newspaper on an overstuffed couch when I walked over to him. He flipped the paper down and beamed at me. “Don't you look lovely?” he greeted me, standing up and offering me his arm.
“What are you up to?” I asked as I tucked my hand against the crook of Face's elbow. “Hannibal sounds like he's up to his ears in the jazz, and I’m not supposed to call Decker until tomorrow.”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.” Face replied, not even trying to lie, and grinning at me with mischief in his eyes.
“So I shouldn't be concerned that you're taking me to call Decker a day early and looking like you've just pulled a scheme.”
“I'd hope you'd know by now that when we pull a scheme, they work out,” Face chastised me, still smiling.
“What did you do?” I demanded as we stepped aside, and Face turned us left. “Or, if you haven't done anything yet, what are you planning right now?”
“You agreed to need to know,” Face reminded me, and he chuckled when I huffed out a breath. “And we're not sure it's worked, but we're pretty sure it's worked,” he said in an undertone as we rounded the corner and walked up to the van. He opened the side door and offered me a hand up before stepping in behind me. Hannibal grinned at me from the front passenger seat; BA nodded hello in the rearview mirror.
“Ready for your debut as a fugitive?” Hannibal asked, a cigar tucked into the side of his mouth.
“Of course.” I waited for Hannibal to start espousing on a plan. He just grinned at me. “You're on the jazz,” I said. “What have you done?”
Hannibal waved his hands expansively. “Absolutely nothing.”
“Today,” Face muttered. He gave Hannibal a grin when Hannibal raised his eyebrows at him. “If Amy is part of the team full-time now, it's only fair we don't lie to her face.”
“Once she makes the call,” Hannibal said, clipping his words, “then she's part of the team.”
“I'm right here,” I reminded them. I leaned back in my seat as BA started the van and eased into traffic. “What's going on?”
Face and Hannibal had a discussion without saying a word. Face's eyebrows went up, Hannibal's went down. Face glared, and Hannibal grinned. “After the call,” Hannibal said, and Face rolled his eyes but didn't fight him.
BA pulled up to a phone booth, and Face hopped out and took up a guard point next to the back bumper. Hannibal stepped out and leaned against his open door, angling himself so he could see the front of the van and the reflection in the side mirror. “Two minutes,” he told me. “No more. Just call, give him the details, and get back in the van.”
“I've done these calls before, Hannibal,” I reminded him. “I remember.”
“It's been awhile,” he said with a grin.
I reached for the phone as I grinned back. I dialed Decker's number and turned away from the phone to keep an eye on the street.
“Colonel Decker,” Decker said in greeting.
“Colonel, this is Amy Allen. I thought of something else I knew, something I thought you could—”
“You've got nerve,” Decker interrupted me, nearly growling “Our deal's off, Miss Allen. You know that.”
“What?” I nearly shrieked into the phone. “What do you mean it's off? I told you everything I—”
“Don't play me, Ms. Allen. You know it doesn’t matter now.”
I breathed in hard, glancing at Hannibal. He was outright beaming. BA was doing the same in the driver's seat, and Face gave me a shrug when I looked at him. “Colonel,” I said, trying to keep my tone even, “I don't understand.”
“You set me up to fail, Miss Allen. I don't appreciate that. I thought we had a rapport.”
“We…” I shook my head as Hannibal's smile got wider. “Colonel, I sincerely have no idea what you're talking about. At all. I swear I don't.”
He didn't say anything for a few seconds, but I could hear him breathing on the line. “I made some calls,” he finally said, speaking in the slow and controlled way people have when they're trying not to yell. “And I sent some men out.” He went quiet again, but I could hear him breathing. “You don't exist,” he continued, and it was lower than before, like he'd had to push it out.
“What?” I asked when he didn't elaborate. “What do you mean?”
“You. Don't. Exist. I've sent a dozen men to a dozen locations to look into your stories, and while all of them remember the A-Team, there's not a single one who remembers you.”
“It is entirely possible. Because it's happening. No one we've talked to has any recollection of you. Not people you said were clients, not people who remember the damned explosions.”
“I don't understand—”
“You have no connection to them, Miss Allen,” Decker snarled. “The story you've been telling for years, about you staying friends with Captain Murdock because he was nice, there's nothing to disprove it. Not a damned thing.”
I pressed a hand over my mouth. “What are you saying?” I asked. “What does this mean for—”
“We have no tangible evidence linking you to the A-Team, Miss Allen. We don't even have hearsay. We've got no reason to arrest you for your association.”
“But they were at my apartment!”
“And while my men saw them,” Decker sounded like he was talking with a gun to his head, “it doesn't give us any conclusive proof. In fact, one of my superiors has floated the idea that maybe they were there against your wishes, and he refuses to consider another option until I can bring him any sort of proof that your attachment to the team extends beyond the psych ward at the VA hospital.”
“You're free to go home, Miss Allen, but I'm sure you already knew that.” He hung up before I could respond. I stared at the phone for a few seconds before I managed to remember it needed to go back on the cradle.
“What the hell?” I asked as I stepped out of the booth. I looked from Face to Hannibal to BA. “Decker says I don't exist,” I told them. “He says there's no one who remembers me, and that's just…what the hell?”
“So it did work,” Hannibal said. He looked at Face and reached into his pocket. “I was sure it wouldn't.”
“He's crazy, but he's good,” Face replied and took the twenty Hannibal held out. “Always a pleasure, sir.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose between my fingers and took a deep breath. Antics were part of this, I knew. Nothing ever got done in complete seriousness if the guys could help it. “Would someone—please—tell me what the hell just happened?”
“Someone will,” Face promised, as he waved me back into the van. “But not us.”
“Crazyman got infatuated with you quick,” BA interrupted me, responding to Face's pointed cleared throat with a glare. “Hatched a plan to keep you out of it. We weren't sure it worked.”
“Murdock's not quite right in the head, you see,” Face added with a small smile. “So we didn't want to get your hopes up.”
“Amy,” Hannibal said in a soothing tone as he slid into the passenger seat, “Murdock doesn't want you to have to run for your life every week. He's into you, kid, and he tried to show it by staying away.”
“Murdock,” Face said, completely serious, “is not quite right in the head, you see.”
I pressed my head against the seat. “I see.” I closed my eyes for a moment. When I opened them, all three of them were watching me. “Why wouldn't he just tell me?” I asked. “I know he's not all there, but why not even give me a hint?”
“He wasn't sure it worked, either,” Face explained as he closed the van door. “He threw around a lot of money, but that doesn't necessarily mean everyone's going to keep their mouths shut.”
“I…” I shook my head and looked around the van, wishing there was a window in the side panel to give me something to stare at. “Can I see him?” I asked. “Could you please take me to him now so I can get some damned answers?”
“Of course,” Hannibal replied as if I were being silly. “BA, let's go.”
I stared at the wall of the van as BA drove. I saw Face shift from the corner of my eye and turned to face him as he leaned over. “I'm okay,” I said. “I just…” I shook my head, at a loss for words. “Every time I think I know what you're all up to…” I trailed off, and then I laughed, dropping my head into my hands and shaking my head when Face touched my shoulder. “It's fine,” I said between my fingers. “It's…” I lifted my head and pushed my hair off my face. “I never did get used to the plan coming together. It always comes out of nowhere.”
“Stick with us, kid,” Hannibal said, “we'll get you trained, yet.”
BA pulled into a parallel parking space three blocks from the VA. “Good chance Decker or someone military is there,” he said as Face opened the side door.
“If no one sets off your radar, take a cab back to the hotel,” Hannibal instructed me.
“If you spot anybody you think may be trouble, go here,” Face said, handing me a business card with a hand-written address. “He doesn't have any reason to stop you, but it's probably best to either commit that to memory or tuck it somewhere he can't easily reach.”
“You really think it'll be an issue?” I asked, reading the card a few times before tucking it into the corner of my bra and ignoring Face's mostly-suppressed smirk.
Hannibal shifted his cigar to the other side of his mouth. “Decker plays fair. He won't try to drag you into questioning without a reason, and neither will his men, but I don't know if his superiors have sent out men who aren't under Decker's orders to have a word with you.”
“He said they didn’t believe him,” I said.
“Doesn’t mean they meant it,” Hannibal replied.
“I'll be careful,” I promised. I stood up to step out of the van, and BA reached for my hand, pressing a canister into my palm. I looked down at it. It was mace.
“In case anyone gets rough,” he said. I gave him a grin and squeezed his hand as I stepped down to the sidewalk and squinted against the sun to see up the block.
“I don't see anyone from here,” I said, turning to Face for a confirmation.
“No one.” He gave me a serious look as he stepped onto the curb. “Don't forget, if you see anyone—”
“To the address you gave me,” I finished for him. “I've got it.”
“Let her go,” Hannibal ordered with a wave of his hand. “She's fine, Face. She knows what she's doing.”
Face stepped back into the van and closed the door behind him. Hannibal raised his hand in a wave, and I returned it, watching the van pull out of its spot and enter back into traffic. I stood in the same spot for a few seconds, checking them for a tail, but I didn't see anyone.
I headed up the block, humming under my breath and wondering how to start the conversation with Murdock. I had so many questions, and I knew I had no guarantee that Murdock would answer them seriously. I considered whether I could get him a three-hour pass to go to dinner, but I discarded the idea almost immediately. There was no way the nurses had missed him skipping out in the middle of the night and coming back in the next morning. They'd learned years ago to walk into his room and actually check that he was under the blankets.
The front door had been recently painted. It was a very light blue, and I looked at it for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and walking up the front steps. I wondered if he knew I was coming. I hadn't thought to ask the guys if they'd made sure I was back on his visitors list; I was still so stunned by the idea that I wasn't giving up every last thing in my life, that I didn't even feel nervous walking up to the front desk.
“How can I help you?” the nurse at the desk asked. She smiled at me.
I smiled back, and I could tell it was shaky at the edges. “Amy Allen,” I said. “I'm here to see H.M. Murdock. I think I'm on his list of approved visitors.”
She reached to her left, shuffling through a stack of files before pulling one from near the bottom. Her thumb covered the tab where Murdock's name was surely written. My stomach knotted a little as I waited for her to flip pages to the visitors list that was—if they hadn't changed their filing system since I'd last been here—attached to the back of the folder.
“Amy Allen,” the nurse repeated. She nodded, closed the folder, and handed me a clipboard and a pen. “I'll need your name, the name of the person you're visiting, and the time you checked in, please. You'll need to stop by here when you leave so we can record the time you leave as well.”
“Sure,” I said, writing my name and then Murdock's name, and then the time.
“It's for everyone's safety,” the nurse continued as she handed me a visitor's badge and took back the clipboard and pen. “In case one of our patients has any strong emotional response or tries to run away, we can have an idea of what might have set them off.”
“Okay,” I said, because I didn't know what else to say. That I knew Murdock, that I'd known him for years? That I was hoping for a strong emotional response? I clipped the badge to my shirt as the nurse pressed a button and the doors to my left swung open.
“Take the elevator or stairs up to the third floor. He's in room 316. I can provide you an escort if you'd be more comfortable.”
“No, thank you. I'll be fine.” I walked through the doors and pressed the button for the elevator. I watched the ward doors close behind me. They barely made any noise when they shut, just a tiny click. I looked around for anyone in uniform, anyone who could be military police or working for Decker or his superiors. I only saw doctors and nurses and orderlies. Some of them were walking with patients. None of them paid me any attention.
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. I stepped inside, moving to the side as a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair got in with me. I pressed the button for the third floor and looked at the woman.
“Four, please,” she requested, and I pressed it, too.
The man in the chair was muttering almost too low to hear. It blended in with the hum of the elevator. I glanced at the woman again, and she was looking at him, brushing his hair back from his face and smiling at him. He didn’t seem to register her presence. He looked like he was in his early thirties, about the same age as Face. She looked about the same age. She was wearing a gold wedding band, but his fingers were bare. His shoes were slip-ons without laces.
The elevator dinged and the doors opened on the third floor. I stepped out and didn't look over my shoulder as the doors closed behind me. The nurse at the desk by the elevator looked up and waved me over, checking my badge with a quick nod.
“I remember you,” she said with a smile. “I'm Clara. You may not remember me.”
It took me a few seconds to place her. “You help Murdock come up with his T-shirts,” I said, smiling at her. “Your husband has a T-shirt store.”
“Yeah,” Clara said, reaching out to shake my hand. “And you're the reporter. Amy, right?”
“It's so good to see you. You haven't been here in awhile.”
“I was on assignment,” I explained. “And once I got back home I had to settle back in and then there were paperwork issues and all that jazz.”
Clara smirked down at the stack of papers on her desk. “Oh, I know that feeling.” She squeezed my hand and let go. “Same room as before,” she said, “down the hall and to the right. I know he'll be excited to see you. He's been talking about you for weeks.”
“Really?” I asked without meaning to.
“All kinds of stories,” Clara said, giving me a knowing look, “but I'm sure at least half of them are just for fun.”
“That's Murdock all over,” I agreed, and I walked away, Clara waving me on.
Murdock's door was closed, and I pressed my fingers to the door for a second before making a fist and knocking.
“It is open!” he called out in a terrible British accent.
I opened the door and stepped inside. Murdock was standing in front of his mirror, jaw pushed out to one side, an electric razor in one hand. I watched him a moment, shaving a slow, careful circle against his cheek. “Hi, Murdock,” I said, and I was certain my voice cracked.
He looked at me in the mirror, and I had a flash of our first meeting—me walking into the room to see if he could lead me to the team, him shaving bald patches into his hair but not frightening even in the midst of—I realized once I knew him—trying to throw me off the team's scent with his weirdness. “Why, Miss Allen,” he drawled in an over-done version of his actual accent, “I do declare you are lovely as a spring day.”
I didn't say anything in response. I watched him shave, and I listened to him hum under his breath, and I wondered if I could kiss him with the door wide open without causing him trouble.
“I played Houdini the other night,” he said after what was probably a full minute or two of silence. “So they took away some privileges.” He waved the electric razor at me. “This is my punishment. It just doesn't shave as close as a regular razor.” He pulled his upper lip taut over his teeth and ran the razor over the skin below his nose. “But I can still have the door shut,” he continued, words slightly slurred due to his lip. “If you're comfortable with it, of course.”
“I am,” I got out, and I shut the door behind me, listening to it latch. I sat on the edge of his bed and watched him shave around his Adam's apple. I had a list of questions but no idea where to start. Murdock didn't say anything, just hummed as he watched himself in the mirror and occasionally glanced my way.
“You…” I stopped, cleared my throat, and wondered why I was suddenly nervous. This was Murdock, I reminded myself. You gave up everything you had to be right here. I opened my mouth to tell him his bribes had worked, that Decker couldn't line up a connection between me and the team. Nothing came out. I swallowed and closed my eyes for a second to center myself. When I opened them, Murdock was watching me in the mirror. The razor was turned off and sitting on the edge of the sink.
“I want to kiss you,” Murdock said, and his voice shook just a little. “If I can, I mean. If you don't want—”
“Yes,” I agreed. I stood up and met him halfway, gripping the sleeves of his T-shirt in my hands as he put his hands on my waist like I'd break. I tilted my head back, and he leaned down, but he stopped just short of kissing me. “Murdock?”
“Did it work?” he asked.
“Did what—Decker, you mean? Did all the money you threw around to hide me work?”
I beamed at him, leaning up to try and kiss him, but he pulled away, bending backwards in a fashion that would have been comical if he hadn't looked so serious. “It worked,” I said. I poked him in the chest with my finger to get him to look at me. “Decker told me personally there's nothing on me.” I couldn't read Murdock's face. “What is it?” I asked. “What's wrong?”
“You're clear?” he asked. “You can go home if you want?”
I squinted at him, not following his train of thought. “If I want…” It clicked. “I'm not here because I have nowhere else to go. I'm here because I want to be.” I tugged at the front of his shirt and pulled him towards me. “I've always been here because I want to be.”
“I'm crazy,” he said. “Full-on crazy. I've got blue ribbons in it. They're in my sock drawer.”
“Face tried to show me your file,” I told him. “I didn't look at it. I know who you are. I don't care what's in your sock drawer.”
Murdock cocked his head, then pulled away. He walked over to his arm chair and sat down, digging into a cardboard box next to him. “I'm probably never gonna get out of here,” he said, pulling out a bundle of yarn and a crochet hook. I couldn’t make out what he was working on. “I like it too much. Good food. Sure, it’s mushy, but it’s filling. And the meds are fantastic.” He looked up at me, all wide eyes and crazy smile. He stopped crocheting and held out his project. It was a high top sneaker. I realized he was only wearing one shoe, and I smiled as he pulled the crocheted one onto his other foot.
“I know I play a good game of follow-me-around-the-crazy-bush for distraction,” he continued, as he tied the laces on his new shoe. “But there are legitimate issues. I’m made of so much energy, you see, that there’s a chance I’ll explode with it without my meds.” He stood up and walked around, staring at his feet. He walked over to the dresser and picked up a top hat, placing it carefully on his head and preening in the mirror.
“Murdock,” I said, when I realized he wasn’t going to say anything else. “I don’t—”
“Legitimate issues,” he repeated, removing the top hat, then his ball cap, and smoothing down his hair. “Screaming fits. Nightmares. Audio halluci—”
I walked over and put my hand over his mouth to stop him. He kept going for a few seconds, but it was all muffled. “Don't lick my hand,” I ordered when he stopped talking and started looking mischievous. He pouted, and I shook my head at him. “I'm serious, Murdock. About the licking and your issues and everything. I made my decision for myself, okay? Not for you. Not for the team. Without you all, I'd have…I don't know. I'd have found something else crazy and ridiculous and dangerous to do, but I found you all instead. And at least Hannibal's plans always come together. I can't say the same would be true if I made them up myself.”
Murdock watched me, then reached up and curled his fingers around my wrist, pulling my hand away from his mouth. “The last time I kissed you, you left.”
“It wasn't you.”
“Felt like me.” He squeezed my hand like I would try to get away.
“It was me,” I said. “I had to…I was getting addicted to all of it. The running. The screaming. The explosions.”
“The explosions are always great.”
I grinned. “Yeah, they were. And I needed to do something a little more…settled…to make sure I was actually doing what I wanted to do.”
Murdock's brow furrowed in confusion. “Why?”
I smiled at his confusion. That was really the team to a T. Who didn't love explosions? “I grew up in a two-bedroom house in the suburbs with Mom and Dad and a dog. Being a reporter in LA was as exciting as I expected my life to get. I didn't expect you. Any of you. And then you were there, and it was the most fun I’d ever had, and then…” I looked into his eyes, reached up with my free hand and smoothed the hair over his left ear. “And then,” I repeated and shrugged.
“I kissed you,” Murdock said.
I smiled. “You did.”
I’d walked him back to his room after our lunch, and he’d shown me a new T-shirt, then a dinosaur figure, then a book. When I’d asked him what else he had, he’d kissed me like we were in a movie, tipping me back and squeezing his arm around my waist. I’d kissed back without a thought.
“And then there was you,” I said.
Murdock grinned. “I’m memorable.”
I grinned in return. “Yeah.” I watched him watch me. “I'm in love with you,” I said. He went from grinning to serious to surprised to pleased in about two seconds. “I have been for a long time, and…” I took a deep breath to say the next part. “I left—partly—because of that. It scared me a little. And when we kissed—” I grabbed at Murdock's T-shirt before he could back away. “It was fantastic,” I said. “It felt wonderful. It was perfect, and I put in for Jakarta to be sure, and I had to go when I got it. That’s how it works.. I had to be sure that I could still go out and have some sort of adventure without helping you guys rig up booby traps.”
“I wanted to see you when you came back,” Murdock said, “but we'd all agreed to give you a chance to not be in trouble because of us.”
He looked at me for a moment. “Face is my best friend, and BA's my best enemy, and Hannibal's my best boss.”
“And me?” I prompted.
He grinned, his eyes twinkling, ready to say something ridiculous. The grin softened out, and he let go of my hand to curl his hand around my neck. “I want you to be my best girl.”
I chuckled at the phrasing, and he smiled at me. “Yes,” I agreed. “But only if you'll be my best guy, and Billy will be the best invisible dog.”
Murdock beamed. “We'd be delighted,” he said in a mild falsetto, and then he leaned down and kissed me, cupping my face in his hands and humming against my mouth. I laughed into it and kissed him back.
“It's not actually this easy,” Murdock said when we pulled apart. His cheeks were flushed, and his eyes were bright, but I could see the seriousness in them.
“If you'd let Decker find proof of me, it'd probably be a little easier,” I said. “I was happy to leave and run around with you all.”
Murdock didn’t say anything for a moment. “But if I'd let him find proof of you, you couldn't keep your contacts,” he said, his face dropping into a mock-severe scowl. “And that's the only reason to keep you around, you know.”
“Oh? This is all a fact-finding mission?”
Murdock snapped to attention and gave me a sharp salute. “Ma'am, yes, ma'am. I have been ordered by the colonel to ascertain you are not a spy.”
I laughed again. “Well, I suppose I'll have to tell you my entire background.”
“Mine's in my file,” Murdock said. “I can sign you out a copy if you want.”
“Just tell me,” I countered. “We've both pulled a lot of tricks for the other. Let's just talk.”
Murdock made a grand, sweeping gesture towards the bed, waggling his eyebrows to make it complete. “If the lady would sit,” he said in a high-class tone, “I shall fetch us tea and cucumber sandwiches, and the conversation can commence.”
I sat and watched him leave the room, placing his top hat back on his head over his cap and miming using a cane. It made me relax, to see him affect his usual level of amusing weirdness. I had been afraid the tone of our conversation would make it disappear for the whole day, and I didn't want Murdock to take things entirely seriously. It was so…Murdock of him not to. I needed that like I needed to learn how to rig dynamite to hubcaps to make exploding Frisbees to use against a group of people trying to harm other people. Something I hadn’t realized was important to me until it was right in front of my face.
Murdock walked back in the room, sodas and candy bars in one hand. “The tea of the day is grape,” he informed me. “And the kitchen informs me I shall have to make do with chocolate sandwiches.”
“I do enjoy a good chocolate sandwich,” I replied.
“Then I shan't fire the whole staff.” He flopped on the bed next to me and watched me for a few seconds. “I love you,” he said so quietly I almost didn't hear it. “I really do.”
“Well, that takes a lot off my mind,” I replied as he sat up and watched me some more. “Because it really would have screwed up my plans for the next few years if you didn't.”
“Well, I do. So it won't.” He popped the tab on his soda and held it between his knees as he opened his candy bar. “What do you wanna talk about?”
I thought about it for a moment. “What's it like on your bad days?” I asked. “Do you remember them?”
He looked shocked that I'd even ask. “Sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes not.” He took a bite of his candy bar. “Sometimes it's just dark.”
I curled my fingers over his forearm and gave it a small squeeze. “You can tell me,” I said. “And I'll tell you whatever you want, okay? And if you don't want to talk about it, or I don't want to talk about it, that'll be okay, too.”
“Why Wayne?” he asked rather than agree, but I knew the question was the agreement.
“Because in a world of people who are not you, he's probably the best example of not being you.”
“Did you love him?”
I thought about it. “Not well,” I admitted.
He wasn't you, I thought, but it felt like a cop-out. “Because I didn't want to,” I said. “He was an experiment, and I didn't want to admit he was. But I…I hadn't given up on you, and then you showed up, and the whole thing just…it was going to fall apart eventually, but you sped it up, and I'm glad for that.”
I shrugged. “I don't know if you've noticed,” I said, “but I like to keep company with strange people, and even when I can't for some reason, I still miss them, and then when they show up again, it makes me want to be around them more, and it makes me see that people like Wayne, they're just…not my people.”
“Ve are your people,” Murdock said in a German accent. “Ve vill alvays be your people, and you vill alvays be ours. Ve vill make a decree.”
“All right,” I agreed, and I held up my soda can. “To the decree,” I said. “Whatever it might say.”
“To ze decree,” Murdock agreed. “And it vill say very important tings. Very important.”
“Well, every good decree should.” I leaned against his shoulder and after a minute, he put an arm around me.
“Billy's gotten bigger,” he said in a tone that said he was changing the subject. “And he's missed you.”
“I've missed him, too,” I told him, and he started telling me stories about Billy's adventures.
I didn't see anyone suspicious when I left the VA. Murdock waved at me from his window, miming a fall as I watched and laughed. I got to the corner and hailed a cab, smiling to myself all the way back to the hotel. I spotted Face in the lobby, but he thumbed the side of his nose, and I didn't stop, getting onto the elevator just as it was closing.
I checked my room for signs of disturbance but didn't see anything out of place. I hadn't even put down my purse when there was a knock on the door. It was Face. He looked me over and grinned. “No tail,” he greeted me. “Well?” he added when I didn’t say anything.
“Things are good,” I said as I stepped aside to let him into the room. “Murdock was concerned I was trying to be with him because I had nowhere else to go.”
Face shrugged. “Well—”
“He's crazy,” I finished, and we grinned at each other. I put my hands on my hips and lifted my eyebrows. “What's next?”
Face sat in the easy chair and crossed his ankle over his knee. “I guess that's up to you, really.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Face shrugged again, the slow, exaggerated roll of his shoulders telling me he was going to tease me a little. “We could find you a new apartment and get you settled back in, get you back on the paper and come visit on Sundays.”
“Or, I don't know, we could secret you away in a series of glamorous hotels and spread the rumor you died tragically. A boating accident, maybe.”
“Or, if the lady would prefer,” he performed a loopy little hand gesture I recognized as Murdock's influence, “you could spend most of your time in the back of a windowless van with a group of questionable men.”
I swallowed back a laugh. “You have such a way with words.”
“Is that a yes?”
“That's a yes. That's a big yes.”
Face jumped up and spun me around in a hug. “All right, then. Let's get you packed.”
“Is there a van full of questionable men downstairs?”
Face grinned as he unzipped my suitcase. “For you? Of course.”
Four days later, I ducked as an explosion went off five feet from me. Next to me, Murdock laughed maniacally and tossed me a grenade. “Darling,” he said and turned to fire off a few rounds from his AK-47.
I pulled the pin on the grenade and lobbed it over our cover the way BA had taught me years ago. I peeked over the old table we'd tipped on its side when the firing started and watched it land. It blew, and three guys came flying over their own overturned table. I laughed as Murdock handed me another grenade. He began singing “California Girls,” and I joined in on the chorus as we huddled together against another burst of gunfire.
Ten minutes later, as Face and BA were finishing tying up the bad guys, Murdock grabbed me and kissed me before picking me up and swinging me around.
“Not bad for a first date,” he said and reached into the inner pocket of his bomber jacket. He pulled out a slightly crushed tissue paper flower and held it out with a flourish, fluttering it near my face before holding it out stiff-armed like a little boy. “For Madam.”
I took it and smelled it, smiling when I realized he'd scented it with cologne. “Well, aren't you just sweet?” I asked.
“I'm gonna be sick,” Face deadpanned, pulling a face.
“Oh, let them have their fun,” Hannibal admonished. His face went dreamy, and he slipped into a slightly higher octave. “There's so little love in the world.”
“You make me sick,” one of the bad guys said. “All of you. Drag this poor woman—”
“Gonna make you hurt,” BA threatened, lifting him—and the two guys tied to him—a few inches in the air. “Woman's made her decisions. She's part of our team. You ain't part of our team. That means we get to hurt ya.”
“You heard the man,” Hannibal said when the bad guy looked at him for help. The bad guy slumped against BA's fist, and BA let him drop back to the ground. “Let's go, kids,” Hannibal ordered. “Want to get out of here before the police or Decker arrive.”
Hannibal led the way, Face and BA filing out after him. Murdock offered me his arm, and I tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow. We stepped outside into the sun, and I grinned at the sound of sirens not far off.
“Everybody in!” Hannibal yelled, and we scrambled into place. BA driving, Hannibal in the passenger seat, Face and Murdock in the captain chairs, and me buckled into the back bench seat. BA revved the engine and hit the gas, and we all jerked with the motion as he whipped around the corner and got us out of sight. Hannibal watched from the side mirror, and I kept watch from the back window, keeping my head low so BA could see clearly when he looked in the rearview mirror.
“Clear,” Hannibal announced.
I slouched back down into my seat. A few seconds later, Murdock flopped onto the seat and dropped his head into my lap. “Hey, there,” I said.
“My darling, how I have missed you!” he crowed, then lifted his head to remove his cap. He pressed it against his chest. “How long I have waited to declare my love for you.”
“Declare away,” I responded, taking the cap from his hands and putting it on. Murdock beamed at me and I beamed back.
“Seriously,” Face said from his chair, half-turned to look at us. “This is getting disgusting.”
Murdock clapped his hands over my ears. “Do not listen, my heart! That terrible man is just jealous!”
Face snorted and turned back to face front, starting a conversation with Hannibal and BA about the cost of the job versus the payment. I tuned them out, smiling down at Murdock, who still had his hands over my ears.
“I've missed you, too,” I said. I met him halfway for the kiss.