Chance was every bit the coward that Ilsa had originally called him, Winston thought, glaring at the man. His chair was tilted back and his eyes were closed and he was pretending to be asleep, leaving Winston to explain to their new boss the facts of the business.
A few hours in, Ilsa brought up the matter of Guerrero. She tried to raise the matter subtly, a comment on how their third associate had remained behind in Geneva and what his connection to the firm was. “When I did my investigation into your business, you two were the only names listed with the firm.”
“Guerrero’s not on the books,” Winston said, “We all prefer to downplay his link to us.”
“So he’s not part of the team?”
Winston hesitated, pondering how to convey just what Guerrero’s status was. “He’s a freelancer. Just... one we tend to hire for every case we work on.”
“Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to put him on retainer then?” Ilsa asked.
“Don’t know. He’s not interested.”
“He works other jobs then?”
“I don’t know,” Winston stressed the word know, “what he does in his off-time and I don’t want to.”
Ilsa’s eyes narrowed. “That’s a narrow-minded way of looking at matters.”
“Look, you want the official reasons we hire him or the unofficial?”
“I watched him shoot the gun out of a man’s hand from another building and keep six men pinned down; I understand how valuable an asset he is.” She glanced at where Chance reclined. She kept her voice low; clearly, she believed the ruse. She didn’t understand what a weasel Chance was when it came to talking things out. “My investigators were very thorough in regards to you and Mr. Chance. I know about Chance’s background and that he left it to work with you. Your records were even easier to obtain. I can’t believe you would work with someone who was...” She paused, looking for the right word.
“But he is,” Winston growled. He kept his voice low, in case Chance really was sleeping. “The first two years, I called him every name in the book and he deserves them all. He’s worse and more dangerous than any of the people we go after, and if you mean to stick around you need to know that.”
“Then why? How can you work with him?”
Winston snorted. “Chance will tell you he’s got a code. He does what he’s paid to do, and so long as you pay him, you don’t have to worry.”
“I’m not asking Mr. Chance.”
“The jobs we do, they can get messy. I may not like the man’s methods, but - and don’t tell him I said this,” Winston grimaced, “his skills have sometimes been helpful.”
“Surely there are other people.” Ilsa glanced at her purse. “I still have the numbers for the security agencies I hired before coming to you.”
“They seemed pretty by-the-book,” Winston said. “Chance doesn’t do real well with that type. Look, I didn’t trust the guy for years, but the simple fact is, Chance has a better chance of coming out alive with Guerrero helping.”
“That’s a laudable goal,” Ilsa conceded, “but it can’t be the sole focus of the Foundation.”
“You want to save people?” Chance asked, not opening his eyes. “We’ll save a hell of a lot more with Guerrero on the team.”
“Whenever he gets around to returning,” Ilsa said. “He wasn't very specific.”
Chance settled deeper into his chair. “He'll turn up.”
“Like a bad penny,” grumbled Winston.
Ilsa shifted her attention back to him. “If you dislike him so much, why did you ever hire him in the first place?”
“I didn't. He showed up one day and this one,” Winston jerked a thumb towards Chance, “decided to cut him in on all our business ever since. Believe me, you don't know the number of times I've replayed that day and tried to think of something I could've done differently.” Winston sighed. “We're stuck with him now.”
“It was probably when we gave him food,” Chance mused.
“Gave isn't how I'd describe it.”
Once is happenstance
In the few months he'd been working with the man, Winston had never seen Christopher Chance hesitant. He'd seen him confused, torn between his instincts and training as an assassin and his new career as protector. He'd seen Chance doubtful, lost, uncertain, but never hesitant. Once Chance decided on a course of action, he threw himself into it fully.
Not that anyone watching would've thought him hesitant. When the elevator doors opened, Chance moved before Winston had even registered something was off. Chance pushed the client back, hard enough the woman fell, drawing his gun in the same movement. Fast and smooth, quicker than Winston had witnessed before. The click of the safety coming off was almost lost in the sound of the woman crashing to the elevator floor.
And there Chance stopped. He didn't follow through, sweeping the gun up to human height and firing, didn't do a dive and roll to gain cover. Just stood in the elevator door like a statue.
Winston had spent a lot of time watching Chance these past few months, and this was his 'prepared for a serious fight' stance. He edged around Chance for a better view, got a glimpse of a man sitting on the couch before Chance shifted, keeping between the intruder and Winston as if Winston was in need of protecting.
The intruder had dirty blond hair that looked like it needed a haircut, wire rim glasses, and cool blue eyes that were fixed on Chance in relaxed amusement. His hands weren't visible, but an assault rifle leaned against the couch and on the table sat a carton of Chinese food that looked suspiciously like the take-out they’d ordered last night. He greeted their appearance with a quiet, unconcerned, “Hey, dude.”
Chance still wasn’t moving. Mister ‘Rule 1 always take the fight to the other guys’ was in fact waiting for the other guy to make the opening move. The intruder seemed to realize the same thing. “Dude,” he said, arching an eyebrow and almost sounding offended. “Really?”
When Chance still couldn't seem to decide how to act, Winston took the initiative. “Who are you and how did you get in here?” He took a step forward and ran into Chance’s suddenly outstretched arm, shoving him backwards.
“Yeah,” the guy said. “You might want to look in to improving your security. It was way too easy, even for me.”
Chance slowly reset the safety on his gun. This time the click was loud, the only other sounds in the loft being the breathing of the four of them. Chance slid the gun back to its resting place nestled at the base of his spine. He moved deliberately, obviously, giving the intruder plenty of opportunity to make his own move.
The client, taking that as a sign that things were safe, began to stand back up.
“Stay down,” Chance ordered her, voice tense.
“Is he one of Billy’s people?” she asked. There was a weary, worn note in her voice. She’d had a rough few days, constantly on the move and under attack. They'd been escorting her back to the office/warehouse, both of them to discourage Billy's boys from making a move on her before they were ready to spring their trap.
“No,” Chance answered without hesitation and Winston flicked him a look. “He’s,” slight pause, Chance watching the intruder evaluatingly, “a friend.”
A laugh escaped her. “Do you always greet your friends by drawing your gun?”
“Are you coming in or not?” the intruder interrupted. “I made coffee. Thought you’d be back sooner.”
“Made yourself at home,” Winston muttered under his breath.
“Ran into a bit more trouble than expected,” Chance said. He offered a hand up to the client. “Winston, Ms. Roberts, this is Guerrero.”
Blue eyes flicked up and down Winston, assessing and dismissing. They lingered longer on the woman’s curves, appreciating and dismissing. As Chance finally crossed into the loft, the man, Guerrero, leaned forward and picked up the Chinese take-out carton. He slurped a spoonful of pan-fried noodles.
Pushing into the room, Winston rounded the couch. He didn’t really need the confirmation of seeing the gun that lay on the man’s lap, aimed at the elevator’s doors. He also didn’t need to check the fridge to know where that take-out carton had come from.
“Why are you here?” Chance asked, once he’d gotten the client settled in the next room.
Guerrero paused in his devouring of their food. “Flight got canceled, didn’t feel like waiting around the airport.”
Chance watched him for a moment.
When it became clear that neither man was going to say anything more, Winston cleared his throat. “Can I have a word with you? Chance.” He enunciated the name deliberately, reminding Chance of who he was now.
Chance got up and let Winston manhandle him into the next room. “Who is he?” Winston demanded.
“Someone from my past.”
“An assassin,” Winston prodded. Chance didn’t answer. “A criminal,” Winston continued. “A bad guy, the kind of people we take down.”
Chance smiled. “The people we go up against are small time. Guerrero... is not.”
“What if he’s after you?”
“If he wanted me dead, I’d be dead.”
“Then why do you think he’s here?”
Chance looked at him innocent blue eyes. “His flight got canceled.”
When they emerged, Guerrero was talking to the client about the hotel weak points.
“How the hell do you know all that?” Winston demanded.
Guerrero glanced at him. “It was on your computer. You need a better password.”
Winston took a threatening step forward, but Guerrero had shifted his focus to Chance. “Lot of entrances, lot of exits,” he remarked. “Hard to cover them all.”
“We can handle it,” Winston growled. Maybe Guerrero was in Billy’s pay, come to find out their plan.
Chance, damn him, bounced on the balls of his feet, like a boy headed to playtime. “That’s why we’re going to lure him out to where we want him. Put Ms. Roberts and the documents all in one place. He won’t be able to resist.” Chance, who didn’t even share his plans with Winston most of the time, didn’t seem to think twice about spilling the details to Guerrero. Winston could feel his stomach churning with acid frustration.
“Winston will be redirecting the camera feed to the local news station. With a murder attempt on record, his bid will be out of the running.” Chance looked pleased; Guerrero looked unimpressed.
“It’s a good plan,” Winston said.
“Your plan is to lure this guy into a room with him standing between you and the only exit and let him put a gun to your head,” Guerrero summarized. “In my book, that’s about as far from a good plan as you get.”
Winston had said the same thing, albeit at more length, but it didn’t make him like the scruffy guy any better.
“Put a gun to my head on camera,” Chance was explaining. “And it’s the only plan that gets her out from under this threat without anyone dying.”
Guerrero’s face was blank as he watched Chance. Winston didn’t have a clue what was going through his mind. He didn’t know what this guy was about, why he had shown up. All he knew was that he didn’t like surprises.
“If you're between jobs,” said Chance, “I wouldn’t mind a spotter.”
For a moment, Winston disbelieved his ears. No way was Chance backsliding into his previous ways. “Chance...” The man’s name came out in a long growl. The man himself paid no attention, watching Guerrero.
No emotion on Guerrero’s face. “Saving damsels in distress,” the guy said. “Not really my thing.”
“That'll be my part,” Chance said. “I was thinking more of like Boston.”
“I take my payment in cash, not barter.”
“Deal,” said Chance.
“No deal,” said Winston.
Guerrero stood, a fluid movement that made Winston frown. “I left my number on the pad by your bed. Call me when you settle the details.”
Chance watched him leave. As the elevator doors slid shut, he announced, “New plan. We’re going to have this go down in the conference room.”
The new plan, very similar to the old plan, involved getting Billy to make his murder attempt on camera. Except instead of happening in the room they’d prepped, the one with a window they could blow out and jump through if it did turn to shooting, they’d confront him in a fifth floor conference room. It had a window, one whole wall was windows, but there would be no exiting from them. “It’ll give Guerrero the best angle,” Chance had said, and that was the end of the discussion.
Winston had watched Chance in numerous situations. Knew how he looked when calculating odds, when trying some death daring feat even he didn’t expect to work. His body humming halfway between tension and exhilaration. Watching the camera feed, waiting to switch on the override that would send it streaming to the news station, Winston saw no sign of that in Chance now. Just a calm, solid, damn near relaxed posture. Chance said something to the client, making her laugh, soothing her nerves. Winston snorted. His shoulders itched just at the thought that Guerrero was watching them through a sniper scope.
Billy showed up on cue, and Winston started the video streaming. “This is a terrible plan,” Winston muttered. “Worst one ever.” He ignored the fact that he said that every time. He started cursing in earnest when Billy finally brought out his gun.
Chance didn’t twitch, just laid out the details of the trap. Winston saw the fury cross Billy’s face, saw the flicker of desperation in his eyes. That was the problem with ruining someone so completely; sometimes they no longer cared what happened to them. The gunshot rang out, and Winston saw Billy stumble backwards, his hand bloody.
Winston almost didn’t begrudge handing over two-thirds of the payment to Guerrero.
Twice is coincidence
“What are you thinking?” Winston asked Chance. The latest password denied message still showed on the computer monitor between them.
“You’re not going to like it.”
“There’s nothing about this I do like,” grumbled Winston.
“Guerrero’s good at getting into systems,” Chance said.
“Oh hell no,” Winston growled. “I looked him up. Do you know his record? If even a tenth of it’s true, he’s a monster.”
“Good at getting into systems, though,” said Chance. “If we go in blind, it’s going to get messy.” He looked at Winston. “And, hey, he might be busy.”
It sounded like he was, when the call went through. “Guerrero. Talk.” In the background, Winston could hear a voice mumbling, words like please and help.
“It’s me,” said Chance and Guerrero’s voice changed from terse to friendly.
“Hey bro. What’s up?”
“Got a harddrive I need cracked, 128 bit encryption. Needs to be done without the owner noticing and we’re on a tight schedule.”
“You got inside access to the network?” Clinking sounds, like tools being shifted.
“Sounds like fun. I’ll be there in ten.” The next words were a bit muffled, Guerrero turning his head away from the phone. “Hey, I’m going to give you a few hours to think over what I said.” Addressing whatever poor soul was on the other side, Winston realized. “We’ll finish this when I get back.” The man’s sob was cut short as Chance closed the phone.
Guerrero showed up almost exactly ten minutes later, a briefcase full of computer hardware in hand. Most of it highly illegal. Winston prodded a scanner. “Where did you get this?”
“You don’t want to know,” Guerrero said, not looking up from his typing.
Winston scowled at seeing the man was already further into the network than he’d gotten. His eye fell on something white on the other side of the laptop, “Is that my bologna sandwich?”
“Freelancer’s perk,” Guerrero said, and proceeded to reel off a list of nonsense about what he was entitled to as a freelancer. Winston could feel his blood pressure rising. “I’m in. Emailing you a copy of the files... now.” He hit a few more keys, probably sending himself a copy too, Winston thought darkly. “Time for me to be getting back. I’ll swing by tonight to settle up.”
“We usually order pizza around seven,” Chance said.
Winston waited until the sound of the elevator stopped before confronting Chance. “The man’s a criminal. Worse. We are not bringing him in to the firm.”
“We couldn’t afford him,” Chance said, skimming through the data files. “Hey, this one looks promising.”
That job, Chance ended up with a cracked rib and a dislocated shoulder. The one after, his palms shredded with broken glass from smashing out a window. On the third job, Winston listened to Chance’s plan and when he finished explaining, said “You think we can manage that with only the two of us?” He glared at Chance, daring him to make a comment.
Chance opened his mouth, closed it. Finally, he asked, “You have anyone in mind for backup?”
“Don’t make me say it. Just the thought of the man makes me want to throw up.”
Guerrero took the call. He took the call every time, until even Winston realized that wasn’t his usual modus operandi. And they did call on him. Winston couldn’t argue the man’s skills. More than that, Winston appreciated having someone else on the team that cared whether Chance survived his missions, because the man himself sure as hell didn’t. And Chance.... Winston wouldn’t say he blossomed under Guerrero’s wry wit and food-stealing ways, but he seemed less grimly determined on an early demise. So Winston grumbled and growled about Guerrero’s presence, but didn’t talk about how he wasn’t able to sleep on the nights they dealt with Guerrero, how he got sick to his stomach when they paid him.
Three times is a habit
Winston might grumble about it, but he always looked out for Chance. The man had didn’t have the sense God gave kittens, and when it came to short, food-stealing reminders of his assassin past, he seemed to have even less than usual. Seemed to. Chance trusted Guerrero at his back, but he didn’t trust him with the clients. He never left them in Guerrero’s care, they were always with him or Winston.
In Winston’s view, that was still far too much trust. Winston knew Guerrero was part of Chance's past, was waiting for Guerrero to make his move. But the days kept passing and Guerrero never tried to talk Chance away from his new path, never tried to get him to kill. When he made his long shots, his bullets always precisely hit hands, shoulders, legs, never head or heart.
And having him around made Chance happy. Oh, he never came out and said anything, but there was always extra food in the fridge. Slowly, even Winston settled into the routine.
“I’m not going to tell you the code,” the man said. He looked belligerently at Winston and Guerrero, as belligerently as someone cuffed to a chair could. Winston drew breath to start a lecture.
“Dude,” Guerrero said. “We don’t have time.”
“I’m not going to let you torture someone,” Winston said, “even a sleazebag like Ralph.”
“You think you’re going to scare me with your good cop, bad cop routine?” Ralph scoffed.
“I’m not a cop,” Guerrero said levelly. “You’ve been watching too many crime shows. All three CSIs, Bones, 24, the Princess and the Frog, although I assume that’s little Alicia’s viewing choice. She’s around the age for Disney princesses.”
The man’s face went white. “You sick bastard, you stay away from my daughter.”
Guerrero didn’t bat an eye. “Tell me the code and you’ll be out of here in time to pick her up from soccer practice.”
The man swallowed. Guerrero flipped open his phone, pressed the speed-dial for Chance, and held it to the man’s mouth.
“2 8 7 5 1,” the man said.
Guerrero took the phone back. “Got it?” he asked Chance and snapped the phone shut when he was answered. “All yours,” he told Winston, and strolled out.
Winston had words with Chance after.
Winston thought he'd kept suspicious of Guerrero but the more cases he worked, the more relaxed he grew. You just couldn't keep up that level of wariness forever. One day he realized he'd fallen into playing bad cop, worse cop tag teaming a suspect and not given it a second thought when walking out and leaving him with Guerrero. He wasn't worried about Guerrero breaking the moral code. Which was stupid, because he knew while his talk was all bluff and hot air, Guerrero’s wasn’t.
A man could come into town and a make a strong play and coast on that reputation for some time without having to do anything else. Some time, but Guerrero had been hanging around for nearly two years now and the longer he stayed in town, the more fear invoking his name brought. He’d never crossed the line from threats to action on their jobs, but his reputation wouldn’t have held if he kept to talk on all his jobs. On the other hand, Winston thought, listening as Guerrero walked their current prisoner through what would be happening to him for the next few hours if he didn’t talk, even the stupidest criminal might not be stupid enough to challenge him.
Winston did, though. The case had, unsurprisingly, gotten messy and they’d all argued over the plan. Chance had sided with Guerrero, but Winston couldn't. He called in the police. Afterwards, Guerrero stalked over to him. “Not cool, dude.” His eyes were ice and Winston felt a jolt of adrenaline. His breath caught and he flashed back, not to memories of how the criminals flinched at the drop of Guerrero's name they way they didn't for law enforcement or Chance's, but back to the early days. “What if this some sort of play?” he'd asked Chance. “What if he's biding his time to kill you?”
Chance had shrugged. “If he wanted me dead, I'd be dead.” No doubt in his tone about how the situation would fall out.
Winston didn’t doubt how he’d fare either. He knew he had a gun holstered on his waist, but he couldn't seem to make his arm move.
Chance slammed the door as he made his entrance. “What the hell,” he demanded of Winston. “We agreed not to call the cops in.”
Guerrero turned on his heel, made some scathing comment, and headed out, muttering about damages to his car.
Breath returned to Winston and he blinked as a realization settled. Winston knew Guerrero had seen him choke, knew Guerrero didn't care, had never cared about what Winston thought. He watched Winston’s back because Chance wanted him to. Winston had nothing to fear from Guerrero because Guerrero, for some reason, kept within the lines Chance silently demanded of him. And Chance would never let him get hurt.