Blank was staring again.
"Hey!" Alec barked and the perv jumped. The thick bike chain the scrawny messenger wore across his narrow shoulders jangled.
"What the hell you think you're doing?" Still half way in his olive green t-shirt, Alec hurriedly wrapped the scarf around his neck and straightened down his shirt with a yank. He stomped over from the guys' side of the locker room to its entrance. The short jerk just smirked; he scratched with the back of his knuckles a naked lady tat that ran down the side of his throat.
"Better stick your eyes back into that tiny skull of yours, Blank," Cindy snapped as she came out from the women's rows of lockers. She tucked in her black rider top into her biker shorts. She glowered at him. Other female messengers called out names. "Original Cindy doesn't put on shows."
"But you're so the bomb," Blank leered.
Alec stepped into his space.
"How would you like it if I go kaboom on your tiny dick?" Alec smiled thinly at him. He dropped a hand on Blank's shoulder and squeezed.
Blank gulped. He turned as white as his bleached bangs and scurried away.
"Creep." Cindy nudged Alec with her foot as she tugged her bike out. She shot Blank a dirty look from afar. "I didn't see him this time. Thanks, Newbie."
Alec smirked. "Actually, I thought he was peeping at me." For one breathless moment, Alec thought Blank might have been a past Fifty or worse, a gross Twenty, from his previous place of employment.
Cindy rolled her eyes. She snapped her gum and poked him in the chest. "You're not that pretty."
Alec beamed. "You think I'm pretty?"
Cindy scoffed. "You're all right."
"All right enough to buy me a drink?" Alec wheedled.
"Buy you a drink?" Cindy bumped fists with Sketchy when he walked by. "Now why would Original Cindy waste her hard earned cash to buy you a drink?"
"It's my fifth day here," Alec reminded Original Cindy. Alec wasn't sure why Cindy kept referring to herself as a third person, but if she wanted to refer to herself as a third person to the party, fine. He wanted information, not a bestie gal pal.
Alec flashed a toothy grin at her. "We should celebrate. What say I buy you a beer then?"
Cindy didn't look impressed so Alec switched gears. He pulled back his smile to a smaller one. He stuck his hands into his pockets.
"You got me this gig." Alec shrugged. He forced himself to lower his eyes. Not too much, X-494. He peered up at Cindy. "Figured I at least owe you a beer."
Sure enough, Original Cindy's eyes softened to a warm mocha. Her mouth crooked into a gentle smirk. She lightly punched him on his shoulder.
"You don't owe me anything," Cindy murmured and sauntered away to argue with Normal as usual about whatever route he was going to give her.
Damn it. Alec bit back the scowl that wanted to break through.
Veering around bikes and messengers, Alec went back to his locker. He did a quick sweep of its contents for anything suspicious before continuing to dress. He shrugged into a hooded jacket that'll keep his scarf in place if he needed to run to his next delivery. He frowned, deep in thought.
This was the third time his target shot down Alec. He was going to have to adjust his timeline again. Manticore had hammered into him how to extract from a target. Male or female; it didn't matter even if it did to Alec.
Unfortunately, Original Cindy and her friends didn't follow the Manticore manual. Alec didn't catch them looking at him with a calculating eye, nor did they seem to want to cash in their favors for getting Alec his job.
Sketchy seemed genuinely happy to work at Jam Pony. Weirdo. The lanky messenger with non regulation length black hair was glad to share gossip for free. It was more about their customers than about each other though. Alec had dropped a few suggestive hints, but the guy reacted more freaked out than intrigued.
Alec determined Sketchy wasn't interested when he caught him staring at a woman's generous chest when they waited in line for cheap beef (maybe) tacos in-between hot runs. So building a connection to his target that way was out. Alec was inexplicately relieved about that, even if it meant he was left with going the long route in currying any sort of relationship with the guy, in turn, his target. And Sketchy wouldn't make a good asset; he didn't act like he knew Logan. He appeared to be a fan of Eyes Only but unless Sketchy was that good of an actor, he didn't act like he knew the real identity each time a hack came on.
"...come on. Two tickets?" Sketchy flashed a broad grin at one of the veteran messengers, Cycle. He ignored Normal's glare behind him. "I have those boots you wanted. I want to trade your tickets for a toaster."
"Thought you wanted a new jacket?"
Sketchy's grin was blinding. "Guy wants a toaster for it."
Alec scoffed to himself. Then again, Sketchy might be useful for other things. He heard the messenger was resourceful in getting stuff. Sketchy was the master barterer in this sector.
"...and the brilliance can be absorbed, you know, man? Like oxygen and karma cohabitating in the wonderfulness of our 'verse." Herbal gestured to Cindy and waggled his dark fingers above her head like he was sprinkling salt.
"Herbal, Original Cindy's brilliant but even she can't absorb what you just said."
Another messenger associated with Cindy. It didn't seem like Herbal knew Logan but he looked to be pretty close to his target.
Alec figured Herbal just liked having a listening ear to nod along to his philosophies and swap fist bumps with. He was apparently down about a former cellmate of his who died pretty soon after his early release. Too bad his thick Jamaican accent blocked most from understanding. It was a good opening though; playing sympathetic "Aw, how ya doing, little buddy?" always worked better than a handshake.
"Does anyone remember what a hot run is?" Normal hollered as he chucked a package at a random passing messenger.
Despite being their supervisor, Normal appeared clueless about everybody. Alec heard Normal's been more uptight about the deliveries ever since some mix-up that had him sweating in a gangster's pad for hours until the police got an anonymous tip about a murder and busted in.
"I said no riding on premises! Those are our customers' packages not hockey pucks!"
Although it was hard to imagine Normal ever being laid back.
Alec slung his black messenger bag over his shoulder. Even being respectful and consistently on-time for work, Normal wasn't singing his praises. Whatever had happened then pretty much wove in the grouchy DNA permanently into Normal's bones.
"O.C, so what about the run? Trade with me? Or at least get her number?" Sketchy kept darting left and right in front of Original Cindy, trying to cajole her into something.
"Original Cindy has her own damn business to worry about than playing cupid for you, Sketchy."
Original Cindy apparently didn't find Alec enticing enough for a beer and a quick roll in bed. Often, she seemed amused by Alec, which doesn't help her spill whatever she knows to Alec. She was okay with the flirting, but she didn't flirt back. Playing little Orphan Alec made her soften some, but only to her casually inviting him along to Crash with the others.
Her place in the next sector offered no clues either. Alec scowled as he tracked her wagging a finger at Herbal. She lived in a partially constructed building like most of the working slobs in Seattle. She used to have some roommate named Kendra before she married someone she was translating for. She didn't have any family anywhere. No angle, no relations, nothing.
Alec sighed as he turned back to his locker. He made a face at the neon green logo branded on his bag. At least he was collecting some interesting leads to ripe homes. And the temporary messenger id card was letting him come and go from sector to sector. No more sneaking in; he would flash a badge at the sector cops and let in without a second glance. Pretty sweet.
Still, as soon as Alec get everything Cindy knew about Logan Cale, he was ditching the low paying job and go back to more lucrative high-rises and penthouses.
"...ten bucks say he can pull the phone number in sixty seconds!"
"Yeah? She used to do it in less!"
"...keeps shaking me down for more rent money..."
"Four Munson Lane! Hot run!"
"They're all hot runs!"
"That's because you losers never go when I first tell you to! Bip, bip, bip!"
The chatter around him was a surprisingly pleasant white noise. Instead of the drill alarms, whistles and Lydecker's stupid stopwatch, Jam Pony was a cacophony of people shouting out of turn, laughter and the rickety whir of bicycle wheels. The barracks would never have allowed this. Hell, the X-5s would have stood at attention by their racks the moment Normal raised his voice.
Alec smirked into his locker as he grabbed the rest of his gear. His grin contorted into a glower when he turned around and found Blank staring at Cindy's ass again. He stalked forward a step.
Blank tripped over Herbal's bike when he scrambled back. Herbal made a face and shoved him away.
"No fighting! Take it outside!" Normal shouted. "Our insurance doesn't cover stupidity!"
"We have insurance?" a messenger mockingly exclaimed.
Alec found himself grinning again as he readjusted his dopey Jam Pony messenger bag across his shoulders and clipped on his badge.
"New guy!" A package sailed neatly into Alec's waiting hands. For a guy hiding out in a cage, Normal's aim was good.
"Yes, sir!" Alec greeted jovially. "And good morning to you!"
Normal always looked at Alec like he wasn't sure if he was joking or not. "Where's your bike?"
Alec raised his eyebrows. "Don't need one. I'm a fast sprinter. And I know all the shortcuts. Haven't been late so far."
"I told you. I was going to make an exception for three days. Your three days were up. No bike, no job." Normal squinted at his badge. "And you still have to take your employee photo for that badge, too." He leaned further out of his cage. "Sketchy! Bring out your camera!"
"I charge extra," Sketchy complained as he trotted over with a beat-up black duffle bag. "This is not part of my job description."
Normal glowered. "How about I don't fire you this week?"
"That's amenable." Sketchy hefted up his dented, paint streaked SLR camera with both hands and a grin. "Who's my victim?"
Normal jerked his head towards Alec. "I want no poses, no funny faces, none of that artistic interpretation crap again. Just take his picture."
"I'm a budding photojournalist," Sketchy explained. "I can make anyone photogenic." He gestured to the back of the locker room towards the only patch of wall was clear of flyers, posters and vandalism. Someone had drawn a chalk outline on the ground that looked like a death pose and something out of Kama Sutra.
Lump in his throat, Alec hesitated behind Sketchy. The bottom fell out of Alec's stomach. It had been cold enough for his scarf. Alec had hoped no one would remember until he found a new tattoo guy.
"Come on," Normal barked. He gestured through his cage and shooed Alec on. "All employees must carry photo IDs."
"Stand there over the scene of the crime," Sketchy instructed as he took his time setting up a tripod. He squinted critically through his lens before screwing it on. He flipped out a piece of cloth and polished the lens.
"I just want a photo!" Normal hollered.
Sketchy sighed. "You're not supposed to rush genius."
"I'm not! I'm rushing you!"
Sketchy frowned at Alec. "What do you need your scarf on? Take it off."
"The magic words," Alec joked weakly as he slowly unraveled the scarf from his neck with numb fingers. He fought back a shiver. A chill settled on his exposed neck.
The scarf hung limply in his white knuckled grasp. Alec stood with his back against the wall, knees locked, spine ramrod stiff.
"You look like you're in front of a firing squad," Sketchy complained. "And the lighting's all weird. Step forward a bit."
Alec's fingers slipped into the unraveling strands of the knitted scarf. Yarn wrapped around his index finger.
Jaw clenched, Alec dragged himself forward a step. His knees ached when he was done.
Sketchy dropped behind the camera. He popped out again and framed Alec with his index fingers and thumbs. He hummed. He peered through them at Alec.
"Show me contemplative," Sketchy plead.
Alec pursed his lips.
"No, that's constipated."
Alec wanted to grab the camera from Sketchy and show him concussed.
"Can you stop looking like a zombie?" Sketchy grimaced. "You're a happy employee of our fine establishment. You're not representing. Come closer too. Your shadow is messing up the shot."
"Sketchy." Cindy came out of nowhere from behind Alec's right. Alec twitched.
Original Cindy flicked a look at Alec. She pursed her lips and folded her arms in front of her. She redirected her frown to Sketchy. "Just take the shot."
"No appreciation for the arts," Sketchy mourned. "I just want a little acknowledgment of my skills."
"How about Original Cindy acknowledges you with a fist?"
"Say cheese," Sketch said hurriedly as he ducked back behind his camera.
Alec did nothing of the sort. He just grinned, jaw aching until he was done. As soon as he heard the camera go off, Alec wrapped the scarf around his throat again. He ignored how his fingers shook from the cold as he took care to tuck the scarf ends into his neckline. He swallowed when he realized there was a hole large enough for three fingers. He briefly wondered if Mrs. Moreno knitted more scarves for Logan; the guy didn't need them.
"Want a copy when I'm done?" Sketchy ordered magnanimously.
"Sure," Alec managed with what he hoped wasn't too weird of a grin. "Couple of wallet sizes to give out."
Original Cindy scoffed. She patted Alec on the shoulder for some reason. Alec squinted at her, but she only shrugged. Whatever. He zipped up his hoodie to his throat.
"Back to work," Alec mumbled as he left.
Normal stopped Alec as he headed for the door.
"Hold up, buddy."
Alec arched an eyebrow at the disgruntled dispatcher. "Thought you said it was a hot run?"
"Only if you're on a bike." Normal scowled—did his face do anything else? "No bike, no job. Rules are rules."
Normally, getting a bike wouldn't be a problem, but Jam Pony took up his day and plucking out leads from following Logan at night left him no time to make extra cash. Unless he gave up that pesky sleeping habit. And he wasn't touching his tattoo fund. Hell, no. He'll skip a few more meals before he did that.
"He could use Max's wheels," Original Cindy said out of the blue. She wasn't smiling, smirking or rolling her eyes. She looked at Alec solemnly and that freaked him out.
"Not like Max is using it anymore." Cindy nodded to the gunmetal chrome bicycle Sketchy rolled out with a flourish of "Tada" hands. "Been holding it here, in case Max comes back." Something flicked across her face. "Might as well give it to the Newbie."
Alec narrowed his eyes. "How much?"
Cindy shrugged. "I'll think of something." At Alec's eyebrow, her frown came back, "Not that." She slapped him in the arm.
"What are you still doing here?" Normal bounced a wadded up antiquated sexual harassment pamphlet off Alec's nose. "Hot run! Get some gear and go!"
Alec caught the spare helmet Herbal tossed over and went. It was a hot run after all.
"Two more! Two more!"
"No way! Five bucks says—"
"I'm telling you! All the way to the left!"
Alec swirled the beer in his mug to cover his surveillance. Original Cindy, Herbal and Sketchy seemed to favor Crash after work. He's been here once before; it was friendlier than other bars. It was an exposed brick, neon sign flashing sort of place. No one noticed newcomers suspiciously and it felt like the Jam Pony messengers does a mass exodus to the bar nightly immediately after work. The bar sounded like work, minus Normal's hollering.
"...so I was telling him if you're that worried about your package..."
"...came to sign for the receipt naked, man! If he were a looker, I wouldn't have minded the chains..."
Alec sat with his back to the wall by the darkest corner of the bar. He surveyed the rest of the patrons over the rim of his mug. He occasionally flicked an eye towards the three exits, making sure they were still clear. Otherwise, he would need to reposition.
The bar's customers were mostly messengers, day laborers and people interested in playing pool for money. Judging the friendly nods the bartenders gave to the incoming, the people in the bar were mostly regulars.
Herbal and Sketchy were by the bar counter with a bartender. There were a lot of hand gestures going on, but from what Alec could figure out, they were placing bets on the bicyclist balanced one wheel on top of the table in the central pits that served as a staging area for whoever was drunk enough to put on a show. They must have won because the stunt rider bounced three times on the front wheel, spun and neatly somersaulted down. Not bad. Alec checked if he could see a bar code on the neck, just in case. Seeing nothing, Alec clapped with the others, even offered a whistle because yea, the guy didn't get it out of any test tube.
Alec shrugged into the folds of his scarf. He watched the others as they hooted, elbowed and laughed. It would be so easy to take their money, do a couple of upside down wheelies with his borrowed ride, but he could imagine the shit flying if his scarf unraveled or a bitter loser protests too loudly about his skills. He observed the next stunt, noted the flaws and nodded to himself when the guy inevitably failed. He blinked when the others clapped anyway. The dude exchanged a high five with the next rider. That guy flubbed it because he was laughing too hard, but his second try at his stunt earned him a few hoots.
Absently, Alec tucked a woolen loop deeper into his neckline. He redirected his eyes towards his target and her buddies like he was supposed to.
If anyone knew the ongoings in his target's business, it would be Sketchy and Herbal. Cindy knew this Max fellow close enough to keep his ride around, friendly enough to promise to keep an eye on Logan. And the two male messengers, while giving no indication they were intimate with each other, they were still close.
Alec moved his timeline to ten. Cindy was hard to catch alone and the moment he sets foot into Jam Pony, Normal has him right back out again on another "hot run."
While Cindy had joked to Logan she would deliver his packages untampered, it didn't seem like she made it a point to take them whenever his address is bellowed out. Alec perked up when he heard Logan's address and sometimes Cindy would grab it, but she didn't go out of her way to get it.
Alec took a sip of lukewarm beer. He raised his eyebrows as he pulled the mug back to stare at the amber contents. Huh. Real beer. Not watered down and they were still giving out free peanuts. He popped one in his mouth and rolled the salty bit inside with his tongue.
He hasn't been back to Logan's penthouse sinc—no, he wasn't going to calculate how long. It wasn't like they had a schedule or anything. Alec could come and go as he pleases and if he didn't want to go back to that gloomy face, Alec was all the better for it because he was tired of talking to that self-sacrificing brick wall—
"...cannot be hack, cannot be..."
"Hey, it's him!" someone called out.
Alec's eyes snapped up to the television above the bar. Everyone, in fact, stopped and Sketchy even hopped up on the counter to bring the volume up. No one complained.
Black and white eyes stared back through the screen.
"...make his money off the backs of those just trying to survive. Unpaid, overworked, Bronck has promised..."
Bronck again. Alec could imagine Logan sitting in his wheelchair, the glass partitions closed around him, the dull hum of his white noise generators drowning out the outside and muffling his existence inside.
His throat ached. Alec wondered if Logan found that stupid tiny laptop of his yet. Or did he just buy another? He probably just bought another. He was loaded; seemed like a thing a rich guy would do.
The Eyes Only broadcast was winding down with a few photos and embarrassing video that left some snickering, but left Alec fuming because he knew based on the angles how close the idiot must have gotten to get those.
Nevertheless, Alec couldn't help but grin when others cheered instead of cursing. Guess there were still some people who appreciated what Logan was doing.
"What got you in a good mood?"
Alec squashed down the twitch to jump because, damn it, he didn't hear Cindy come up.
"Them." Alec shrugged. "Normally, people are throwing shoes and words at the guy." He waved towards the television. There was a pang in his chest when he noticed the hack was over.
Cindy knew what he meant though. "Guy's just trying to help the people out. Can't get angry about that. We working slobs see that. No one else is bothering to help us."
"Wonder who helps him," Alec muttered darkly.
"Nothing." Alec raised his glass. "Buy you a beer? For the bike?"
Cindy gave him a searching look. She nodded. "Sure, sugar."
To Alec's amusement, she whistled shrilly to the barkeep and pointed to Alec's drink. The bartender shouted back an affirmative.
"Why aren't you out there?" Cindy asked, nodding towards the pit. "The pot's good this evening." She slid into her seat opposite Alec. She beamed at the waitress who sauntered by with her drink.
Alec shrugged. "I ride the bikes. That's all. Nothing to bet money against."
"I think you would clean up," Cindy murmured as she drank her beer.
Alec's heart hammered. "Oh? Why's that?"
Original Cindy studied him. After a beat, after Alec debated taking the exit to his five o'clock, she smirked.
"Because half the audience's female today."
Alec covered his relief with a dramatic groan. "Aw, I could have gotten sympathy bets or at least some phone numbers!"
Cindy scoffed. "And to think I thought you sat here because you were shy."
"Was that why you came over? To keep lonely me company?" Alec batted his eyes and got a crumpled napkin for it.
Original Cindy rolled her eyes. "You get out of there and you wouldn't need Original Cindy to watch your ass."
"But then I wouldn't have you here," Alec whined.
Cindy smugly drank her beer. When someone shouted, she twisted around to cheer the next stunt. It didn't work. She jeered, but the rider laughed in return and hollered someone needed to buy him a beer, damn it. Someone did.
"What?" Cindy asked as she sat back down.
Alec realized he was grinning like a fool again, like the few times he caught himself doing at Jam Pony. "Nothing. You guys are..." Alec shrugged. "Weird. You know?"
Cindy snorted and took a long draught.
Alec waited until she was done. He nudged the full peanut bowl over and cleared his throat meaningfully. "So...you and Max, huh? You were holding the bike. Guess you two were pretty tight?"
A shadow flickered across her face. "You could say that." She shot him a look. "You would have liked Max. You two got a lot in common."
Unless Original Cindy referred to breaking into Logan's penthouse and the custom DNA soup, Alec doubted it. Alec pulled his mug to his face.
"So where did Max go? How come you got the bike? Is Max coming back?"
Cindy narrowed her gaze. "Why you want to know?"
Alec shrugged. He made a point to lean back into his seat with an air of indifference.
"It's a sweet ride but I gotta know when my lease is up so I can get myself a new one."
Another shadow. Cindy tried to cover it with a drink.
"Max isn't coming back," Alec guessed. He grimaced. "Sorry. You two were close?"
"I thought so." Cindy sighed. "But no one can stay in one place forever."
Alec's throat worked. "Yeah, guess you're right." He cleared his throat. "Found a better job?"
Cindy burst out laughing, "What's better than Jam Pony?"
"Uh, everywhere else?" Alec grinned.
"Trust me, there are a few places worst than Jam."
"Worst than Normal?" Alec made a show of clutching his chest. Cindy bounced a peanut off his shoulder.
"Try selling insurance for a few days." Shuddering, Cindy made a face. "Nasty gig: calling people to get them to buy insurance on what they hope would never happen." At Alec's eyebrow, she added, "You're paying in case you get an arm or a leg missing so they'll pay up."
Alec screwed up his face. When she put it that way, it did sound screwy.
"But no, not a better job. Just couldn't stay here. Found a chance to leave so..." Cindy shrugged. Her shoulders were still tensed when she rose to her feet. "Thanks for the beer, Newbie."
"You're leaving?" Alec whined. His head spun with the rest of the questions he still needed to ask. "I thought you were keeping me company?" He grinned cheekily. "You can have my nuts."
Cindy scoffed and to Alec's dismay, merely ruffled his hair when she left.
Alec turned to watch her leave, one hand smoothing back his hair. Original Cindy was definitely hard to pin. He thought back to what she said about Max, which wasn't much. He ran his thumb across his lower lip.
Maybe there were employee records on file for this Max guy.
The roof looked exactly the same.
Alec sat with his back to the ledge. Mrs. Moreno was watching Chinese hockey again. The strains of Mandarin floated up to the roof. He listened as he thumbed through the applications.
Jam Pony's security system was a joke. Alec got in through the back door that wasn't even wired into the alarms. The packages were locked in a caged area, guarded by a padlock. Just a padlock.
The paperwork was even sadder. Alec found his own paperwork misfiled and stuffed between two piles of outgoing deliveries. Max's was nowhere to be found, but there were a few pay stubs for the guy and a few others which also had applications missing.
"You probably would have a hissy fit if you saw their setup, Heather," Alec muttered to the night air, to no one in particular. The faint screaming from Mrs. Moreno's television replied in a fit of foreign syllables. "Seriously, I found someone's lunch in the Out tray. It would have been funnier if it weren't so gross."
Alec wrote down names, date of births and addresses of anyone who even said hello to Original Cindy. There were two applications for her. The latest form, she had added under Experience a brief stint in life insurance in a company Alec knew went belly up. He read through others, but other than listing former employment or addresses, Alec found himself knowing less.
"Date of birth, 'wouldn't you like to know?'" Alec complained. "Geez, some of these people are more paranoid than you."
Mrs. Moreno's television cursed in Mandarin in response.
Alec grunted. The sports announcer was right, for once; the forward was pathetic. He snickered when he heard Mrs. Moreno's squeaky reply to the screen.
"You tell him, Mrs. Moreno," Alec murmured, smiling as he flipped to memorize the next application. "Handles Stone? This guy has a better porn name than you, Heath—holy shit, it's a girl!"
As night stretched, Seattle's lights faded one by one, whether by the rolling brown outs or it was simply bedtime. Alec scanned each form while he ran a commentary towards the direction of a certain window below. It was easy to pretend Mrs. Moreno's television was replying in Logan's place.
When Mrs. Moreno finally went to bed, Alec's observations started to feel too much like a monologue so he stopped.
Sighing, Alec rolled up the applications. As crappy Jam Pony's systems were, someone was bound to notice a stack of thirty or forty forms missing. He peered down the building to bid Mrs. Moreno good night. He paused.
Logan's light was still on.
Alec glared down to the floor below Mrs. Moreno. He checked over his shoulder. The rigging was still by the ledge, next to the smokestack. No one deemed it necessary to check this section of the roof.
Come to think of it, anyone could come up here and maybe break into Mrs. Moreno's skylight and access Logan's as well. The CCTV cameras were broken long before Alec left a bag of gear and a bedroll up here. Yet no one noticed or bothered to check.
Alec circled the two skylights in question. The pyramid-shaped windows looked like gemstones on the roof. He toed the narrow bars that wrapped around the borders. He grunted.
Mrs. Moreno's looked rusty with wear. One of the screws popped up the moment Alec's boot poked its frame. He picked up the screw as it rolled away. He tried to pop it back in; it wouldn't stay.
Logan's was warped from the last time Alec pried out the frame to drop in. Light shone up from the skylight, a beacon for robbers to come in.Alec could see Logan's shadow as his chair crossed under the skylight several times as he watched. It didn't look like Logan was going to bed any time soon. Guess being a superhero requires overtime.
The rigging snarled in his grip as Alec untangled the coils. He paused halfway from buckling in. He peered over the building again. He looked down at his lines. He thought of how Logan looked when Alec had kissed him. He thought of how his stomach clenched when Logan placed a hand on him and gently pushed Alec away.
The ropes fluttered unchecked to the concrete.
Alec stayed on the roof until the floor below finally darkened. He stared hard to see if from this angle, he could make out the red light of the alarm. Of course, he couldn't, not from here, but there was no point rappeling down to check either. Besides, maybe Logan was going to bed. Saving the world was on hold for another day.
Chin resting on his clasped hands, Alec stayed long enough for the morning frost to collect on his scarf before he could bring himself to leave.
At least it wasn't about Bronck again.
"...three early released convicts killed..."
Alec listened to Mrs. Moreno's television as he worked. For three nights, it was all about Bronck, blah, blah, woof, woof. It was refreshing to hear a different hack tonight, even if it was just a rehash of a yet-to-be-solved mystery.
"...paid their debt to society and earned their right to be part of it again..."
Alec soldiered in the main frame around Mrs. Moreno's skylight until it was flush against the glass like it should have been. He frowned when his keen sight zeroed in on tiny scratches on the screws. Someone had tried before. Crap. He ran the blue flame over the hash marks and melted the screw heads. He added a hidden hinge, not visible to the naked eye, but if needed, Alec could flip the skylight open with an allen key in a certain spot and drop in (literally) for a quick pay day.
"...no evidence, no witnesses. Consider this a warning for those returning after paying your dues. You're in danger..."
Alec arched an eyebrow as he examined Logan's skylight and the similar frame cooling in the night air. He didn't think Logan would pop in with "The sky is falling" hack without enough to back it up, but he supposed after weeks of flimsy evidence from Matt Sung, Logan had to do something.
Logan's frame still looked a little bent out of shape. Alec ignited the blowtorch he borrowed from building maintenance and coaxed the metal closer to the window. The gap was large enough to slip half an ounce of C4 to enforce entry. Never mind the fact only a tiny acrobat or a flexible X-5 can squirm through the skylights that littered the staggered levels of the roof.
Alec glanced towards the ledge when Logan's transmission ended. Mrs. Moreno went right back to her hockey. The night air filled with tinny cheering again.
Sighing, Alec lowered the tool and studied the two skylights. He turned back towards the edge. He peered over it. Logan's light was off. A check through the skylight. The lights were off under the portal as well.
Alec shrugged towards the rigging by the ledge. Bedtime for vigilante cyber-journalist superheroes.
After one last check, Alec saluted Logan's skylight. He blew a kiss towards Mrs. Moreno's and left to return the torch before someone sounded their pathetic alarms.
"I'll take that."
Alec neatly intercepted the receipt Normal flapped towards Original Cindy through the opening of his caged office.
"Fine," Normal grumbled as he stepped back into his cave. Already, he was calling out a new hot run.
Shrewd dark eyes bore through Alec's cheeky grin. Alec fought the instinct to salute.
Original Cindy lowered the hand she had stretched out to grab the job slip. "Thought Normal has you going to Potts."
Alec folded up the call receipt. He barely gave the triple carbon copy form a glance. He knew the address. He knew it before Normal even finished calling out the street name. And no, he didn't elbow past Herbal to get it.
"It's on the way." Alec smiled beatifically at Cindy. Again, she looked unimpressed. "Thought I give my best girl a break."
Cindy flicked a look up and down, her ruby red lips pursed.
"On the way," she repeated slowly.
"Uh, yeah?" Alec tucked the receipt into his jeans. "It's five blocks over from the Potts building."
Cindy hummed. She folded her arms in front of her and canted her head towards him.
Fourteen days in and Alec still can't figure her out. He rolled his eyes and made a show of reaching for his back pocket.
"Fine, if you—"
Original Cindy reached over and tweaked the collar of his jacket. There was a freaky moment when she tugged the fraying end of his scarf, but she only gave it a pull, tightening the coils around his throat more securely.
"Say hi to Logan for me," Cindy finally said.
Alec blinked. "Who?"
"Um hm." Cindy clicked in her mouth. She gave Alec an eyebrow before sauntering away.
Alec stared after her. Part of him wanted to check for a barcode. The other part was just admiring how her shorts clung to her butt.
"Do you people remember the concept of a hot run?" Normal bellowed. A box bounced off Alec's hip, which was his cue to leave.
There was a thrumming that ran up and down Alec's spine when he showed his badge to the front desk. No rooftops. No alarms. He just walked right in.
It felt weird to see the building from this angle. The lobby was modest considering some of the other lobbies Alec visited, but the glaring presence of armed rent-a-cops declared they were just as expensive as any other residential building here in this privileged neighborhood.
"Jam Pony messenger here for you," the burly security guard said crisply into the phone. He rubbed a hand over his closely shaven head as he eyed Alec's badge like it was a leper.
"Want us to send him up?" The last part was said with a bit of distaste.
Alec scowled at the guy who was making a face at whatever he heard on the receiver. What was the point of growing a goatee if he shaved his head?
"Yes sir." Bored mud brown eyes flicked over to Alec but didn't stay.
"Twenty seventh," the guard said in the general direction of Alec's ear. "Leave the bike outside,"
Alec glanced down at his ride. "And have it stolen?"
The security guard sneered. "Not likely on this street. Outside."
Grumbling, Alec pushed his ride to the front of their fancy double glass doors. The panes and nickel handles were smudge free and looked like someone made the effort to polish them every day. Geez.
"Is this fine, Sir?" Alec called out loudly. Residents in the lobby stared. "No?" The bicycle squeaked loudly across the marble floors when Alec dragged in to the left.
"Is here good?" Alec asked at the top of his lungs. "Here? How about over here? What? Here? Okie dokie!"
The guard gestured wildly from his perch behind the mahogany front desk. Alec took it as, "Fine, fine, stop screwing around and get your business done before you sully our oxygen."
Smirking, Alec set the bike by the double glass doors, out of the way because he wasn't a complete ass after all. Whistling, he gave the red-faced guard a neat little bow as he strolled past. He ducked into an elevator, grinning when he saw who it was who held the door open for him.
"Good morning, Mrs. Moreno!"
"Why, good morning." Alec's favorite hockey lady genially smiled back, puzzled. "Do I know you, young man?"
"...let me know if you hear anything else..."
Alec fought not to bounce; not that he knows why he's rocking from toe to heel. He stared at the cherry wood door, all fancy and polished with the crappiest door entry key and card system he's encountered.
His smile flipped.
Now that Alec thought about it: this isolated on the tippy top, soundproof, shitty window alarms, subpar key system, this really wasn't a place for Eyes—
"Sorry about that. Thanks for waiting...."
Alec realized he was scowling when the door opened. He immediately schooled a grin. He spread opens his arms wide, waggled his brows and waited.
Alec's smile faltered. Okay, he wasn't expecting Logan to fling his arms around him (although, Logan would be at the perfect level for a little face to dic—shut up) but Alec was hoping for a little enthusiasm. He has been gone for two weeks.
"Didn't you miss me?" Alec whined.
Logan blinked. His mouth parted, snapped shut, parted again. Something flitted across his drawn face. He had looked away briefly before he recovered. The corner of his mouth lifted.
"I didn't recognize you standing under a door." Logan rolled back, neatly turned and headed for the kitchen.
Alec looked around him, took a deep breath and stepped across the threshold. Okay, no trumpets but his feet felt tingly as he legitimately entered the penthouse for the first time.
Logan was in the middle of the corridor, watching Alec with an odd twist in his mouth.
Alec smirked. "Surreal, huh?"
"I've never had anyone break into my house by knocking politely before." Logan paused, finally taking in Alec's appearance. "Wait, you're the messenger security sent up?" Green eyes widened further as they spotted the bag with its blinding neon logo on its front flap.
"Surprise! I've gone legit!" Alec spread his arms wide again and just for the hell of it, turned around slowly to give Logan a view of his backside as well. Just in case Logan forgot what he looked like.
Alec screwed up his face at the suspicious tone. "What do you mean why? Shouldn't you like be proud I've gone the straight and narrow?" He splayed a hand on his chest.
"Your mundane dorkiness has inspired me to strive for the same! I'm getting glasses next week and swapping out all my clothes for baggy ones to complete the look."
"Hm." Logan just said as he entered the kitchen area.
"What's that for?" Alec griped.
"Nothing," Logan muttered. "Wondering where the urge to work below minimal wage came from?"
"I like a challenge." Alec shrugged as he set his bag on the counter. "Speaking of which: minimal wage is hungry work. Got anything to eat? I had smog for breakfast, Seattle's best." He quickly surveyed the apartment. Everything looked the same. He cooed and wiggled his fingers towards his favorite lesbian vases. "Hello, ladies! Missed me?"
Alec rolled his eyes. "Oh, all right, fine! I did join Jam Pony for another reason."
Interestingly, Logan's shoulders tensed. He abruptly faced the contents of the fridge. He didn't turn around.
The reason stuck in Alec's throat; he'd planned for this moment to confront Logan, but now the words wouldn't come out. He gulped, thought quickly and blurted out "Leads."
Alec's thumb scratched up and down the bag's wide strap. "They send us all across the city, some pretty nice places, with a sector-free zone pass." He grinned broadly at Logan, who turned around at him. "Really nice places."
Predictably, Logan cast his eyes towards the ceiling. The hard line across his shoulders relaxed. "I figured the things in this building could only hold your interest for so long."
Logan sounded unsurprised. Alec felt something inside him twinge. He scowled after Logan.
"There's only so much I can take from here before your so-called security realizes someone's been robbing every unit blind."
"Not every unit." Logan wheeled around, a plate of sandwiches now on his lap. "Mrs. Moreno, I hear, has been fortunate so far."
"Yeah, well, it's Mrs. Moreno, you know," Alec mumbled. He fingered the wool around his neck. It was as soft as fur after many careful washings. "She knits nice scarves." He eyed the plate Logan set on the counter between them with distaste.
"Peanut butter. Again?"
Logan slanted him a look.
"Fine," Alec grumbled as he plucked one soft triangle. He gave it a sniff.
"Banana," Logan said as he fished out a quart of goat's milk and a tall glass as well. He set it by the plate.
"Banana?" Alec twisted his mouth. "I know I've bitched, but no jelly?"
Logan shrugged. "Thought you might want something different."
Alec stared at the gaping neckline, the shadows under Logan's eyes. He looked at the plate, at the sandwiches cut diagonally in half. He was tempted to look in Logan's fridge, but was afraid he'll starve just by looking inside.
"Prove it," Alec demanded. He thrust the other half towards Logan, who gaped at him.
"If it's that good, prove it." Alec picked up the half by two fingers. He made a face and wiggled the sandwich in front of Logan.
"You're not serious," Logan managed. At Alec's scowl, he sighed. "Fine." He took a bite. He raised an eyebrow.
Alec folded his arms in front of him.
Muttering to himself, Logan finished it with four neat bites.
"Delicious," Logan muffled. He made a face when he heard himself. He poured himself a glass of goat's milk to wash it down. "Absolutely fin—oh God, but not with that."
Alec snickered at the face Logan made at the milk streaked glass. "Told you that stuff was nasty."
Logan looked rueful as he set the glass in the sink. "Yes, well..."
Alec ate the other half and the second andwich. He gulped down the goat's milk and made a face of his own. Actually, the sandwiches weren't bad. The banana was creamy, sweet against the salty tang of the crunchy peanut butter, but he agreed with Logan about the milk: holy shit, that was nasty.
"Been keeping yourself busy then?" Logan asked casually, but Alec caught him giving Alec a sideways look. Logan plucked an apple and rolled it down the counter to Alec. Cool, he'll save it for later.
Alec grinned as he tucked the apple, caught the second tossed his way, into his messenger bag. "Yep. I am now a bonafide underpaid working slob."
"Winter's almost over."
Alec's smile faded. He briefly touched the scarf. He swallowed; this time it wasn't peanut butter stuck in his mouth. "I know. Haven't a chance to really check out a new tattoo place..." He took the folded piece of paper Logan wordlessly handed him.
"If this is your phone number, hate to tell you this, but I already got i—what's this?" Alec blinked at the list of phone numbers.
"You're taking the untraceable number thing too far, you know."
Logan peered over the top of his spectacles at him. "Tattoo parlors."
Alec leered. "Thinking of some ink? Might I make a suggestion? How about your left butt ch—" At Logan's aghast expression, Alec snorted.
"Okay, okay." Alec reread the list again. None of the numbers looked familiar.
Logan's shoulder lifted briefly. "Some of the places listed, while expensive, are reliable at least. Somewhat. My friend...uh...mentioned trying them before. They're not in the habit of sharing their client lists for any price."
Alec's throat worked. "Oh." He scanned through them quickly. "There's a lot here."
"Wasn't sure if you were coming back. I uh..." Logan's wheelchair rocked before abruptly turning around. "In any case, just thought it might be useful for you, should you come by."
Alec stared at the list. He thought of all those hacks, staring unblinking at a camera, those nights meeting people in weird places while vetting less unscrupulous tattoo parlors.
Logan's phone rang.
"Hello?" Logan's brow rose and he glanced over to Alec. "Everything's fine. There were a few more things I needed the messenger to wait for. It's fine up here."
"Security was wondering what was taking you so long," Logan explained with an exasperated sigh as he hung up. "I guess they were afraid you might have somehow murdered me in my sleep."
It came out before Alec could stop himself. "It's not that hard, you know."
Logan meant what he said before to be funny; Alec was pretty sure of that. He didn't know why he said what he said and shit, Logan's sudden fascination with the receiver in his hands, that sandwich wanting to leave his stomach, the way the air staled between them, he...he...What the hell?
"I should get going," Alec announced too loudly. He ignored Logan's grimace as he pivoted on his heel. "Normal's a bit of a stickler for timeliness."
Logan's forced light tone burned in his ears. "I remember."
Alec was tempted to ask about that as well but not now. Not when he could feel Logan's stare boring through his back like a sniper scope.
"Hey, we should celebrate with dinner or something. You here tonight? I'll swing by eight? Nine? You in the mood for anything? Of course not. No eggrolls though, okay? I still taste them in the back of my nostrils whenever I—"
Alec froze mid-babble, because damn it, he was babbling, verbal diarrhea and Jesus, he needed to get out of here before he says something ridiculously—
"Don't you need this?"
Alec stared blankly at the paper wrapped box Logan extended out to him. Oh. Right.
"Yeah. Uh, you know the routine, right? Sign here, here and here." Alec hefted the box in his hand. It was the size of a cinderblock, but not as heavy. He shook it by his ear. He shook it harder and thought he heard something banging the sides. "What's in it?"
"I thought you guys were supposed to be discreet," Logan replied wryly.
A harder shake yielded nothing.
"Seriously?" Alec complained. "What's in it?" He didn't know why Logan looked so damn amused. He glared at Logan. "Drugs?"
Logan gave him a frown.
"Yeah. You're boring that way. Uh, ooh! Porn?"
Alec glowered back.
"Thirty thousand in untraceable cash," Logan deadpanned.
Alec arched an eyebrow at him. When Logan's face wouldn't reveal anything, Alec huffed.
"Fine, don't share. I'll make sure it goes to...47 Chambers Lane, all right?"
"I think that was the point." Logan paused. "So, ah, nine?"
"You said dinner." Logan shook his head. "Never mind. I thought—"
"Nine's good," Alec blurted. "I get off work at eight." He made a face. "That's going to get some taking used to saying."