"Work an hour, do an errand, drive a car."
The voice sounded tinny, like a conductor's voice on the subway coming into a station. The bright lights shining directly into his eyes made it impossible for Erwin to tell what his interviewer looked like. All he could see was a dark shadow of a man; he could smell cigar-smoke and it made his eyes water. Or maybe it was the perspiration dripping into them. He mopped his brow and asked,
"Is it dangerous?"
The voice merely chuckled.
Nettled, Erwin demanded, "What's in it for me?"
"Fifty thousand. Dollars," the tinny voice added, as if he weren't certain that Erwin was clear on the deal. "Not all at once. In installments, every month."
Erwin opened his mouth to ask another question, but the voice cut him off firmly. "In or out?"
Erwin swallowed again and wondered if this was how fish felt when they swallowed the bait. "In," he managed.
"Good. To celebrate, here's some cash." A manila envelope came arcing out of the bright light. Erwin caught it on his chest and his hands shook a little as he ran his fingers over the wad of bills inside. "Buy a car. Nothing too fancy. A station wagon. Big, with room in the back. That's all for now."
Erwin nodded and the light suddenly blinked out, leaving him totally in the dark. He groped his way to the door and had his hand on the knob when the man spoke again. "And Erwin? When I call, you come."
Erwin nodded again and jerked open the door, glad to escape the close room with its smoke-tainted air and mysterious man with too much money in plain envelopes. It says enough about Erwin to note that he did not even think of lurking nearby to see who his mysterious employer might be. He turned and left the cheap motel immediately, content to go home, buy his new car and await a phone call.
Not many weeks afterward, the cigar-smoking man with the tinny voice was sitting in the small meeting room of his own offices, watching as his financial advisor slid a sheaf of sale papers down the marble table toward him. He uncapped a fountain pen and signed each page precisely where Sandy told him to sign. When it was done, he slid the papers back across the table to the delighted new owners.
"Well, I guess we bought ourselves a Johnny Sheppard property!" the fat one said genially. The fatter one next to him said, "First thing I'm gonna do, I'm gonna raise all the rents."
John Sheppard stood, capping his pen and sliding it back into his jacket. He collected his personal assistant, Carol, and Sandy with a glance and turned toward the door.
"Aren't you going to wish us luck, Mr. Sheppard?" the first man said.
Sheppard turned back for a moment and arched an eyebrow. "You paid too much." He turned and left.
Sandy, blushing a bit for his employer's abrupt manner, said hurriedly, "Mr. Sheppard wishes you luck," then ran to catch up with Sheppard's long strides.
He caught up to Carol, who had mastered the art of taking shorthand notes while trotting along behind Sheppard as he wandered through the offices, checking the markets, reviewing currency prices and answering the questions of employees far more harried than he. She seemed to thrive on Sheppard's lackadaisical style, understanding exactly when he was telling her something important and when he was merely chatting. Carol just shrugged and smiled, rolling her eyes at their employer. While he was usually a charming man, stupidity and over-reaching annoyed him and made him rude on a regular basis to those with whom he did business. He was unfailingly polite to his servants and his staff, although Sandy sometimes suspected it was because Sheppard didn't actually care enough to be impolite to them.
He almost walked into Sheppard's finely-tailored back when the man stopped short and checked his pocket-watch. "Carol, no calls now. No exceptions. Book me a flight to Geneva for Thursday afternoon." He walked into his office and shut the door before Sandy could say anything. Then his door opened again and Sheppard stuck his head out. "Sandy, cancel the insurance on that place now. I want my name off that property this afternoon."
Sandy's assent was lost in the slam of the door.
"I guess he's in one of his moods," Carol said lightly. "He's not usually this keyed up after a sale."
"Nor before it."
"Oh well, it doesn't matter, does it? We still get paid, no matter what his mood." She smiled and turned away to get her work done. Sandy, who well knew what they paid her, could understand her cheerful acceptance of her employer's quirks. She had once declared to him over margaritas downstairs that Sheppard 'could beat her every day and twice on Sundays' for the salary she received and she wouldn't complain.
No, Sheppard's mood didn't matter, but he still wondered.
While Sandy stood and wondered about his moods, John Sheppard sat down behind an enormous cherry desk and pulled a yellow legal pad with a list of telephone numbers out of a locked drawer. He slipped a voice distortion unit over the mouthpiece of his phone and began to dial the first number.
One after another, five men in five separate parts of the city answered public phone booth calls from "Charlie" and were dispatched on their way. Four of the men met up on the 6th floor of the Boston Mercantile Bank. Wearing undistinguished gray business suits, dark glasses and gloves, none of the bank patrons or employees much noticed them… until they began pointing guns and shouting instructions at terrified people. The cash delivery being brought in at that moment slipped right out of the hands of the guards and into the gloved hands of the bank robbers with barely a whimper. The four men moved like a smoothly oiled machine, keeping the witnesses covered as one after the other picked up bags of money and left the bank. The last two men uncapped smoke grenades and threw them down the marble foyer, wreathing the frightened men and women in scarlet and yellow smoke. They picked up the last of the bags of money and left the bank.
Just outside the Mercantile, Erwin was parked on the curb, sweating in the June sun. He had left the rear window of his station wagon open and felt the jolt of each bag as it was dropped into the rear luggage compartment. Mopping his face, Erwin watched in his rear-view mirror with a kind of hopeless admiration as each of his unknown colleagues seemed to casually melt into the crowds of business-people thronging the sidewalk. When the last bag had dropped, Erwin started the engine and pressed the button to roll up the window. He pulled carefully into traffic, mindful of the tinny voice's instructions to make no sudden movements or to allow his nerves to fool him into exposing himself.
He had a bad moment near South Station when traffic backed up on a side street due to a slow-moving egg man who had parked his truck carelessly. A hot and annoyed mounted policeman came riding slowly by Erwin's car and seemed to be paying too much attention to him. Erwin was uneasily aware of how exposed the bank bags were in the cargo area and smiled glassily at the policeman until the horse clopped its way on past him, hoof-beats never breaking rhythm. The idiotic smile melted off of Erwin's face and he mopped his face again with his soggy handkerchief before finally driving on.
Traffic was brisk on the Mass Turnpike and he never noticed the black Rolls Royce that followed him discreetly through the Brighton toll plaza. He followed his instructions to the letter and drove to the Mt. Auburn Cemetery. His tongue stuck out from between his teeth as he maneuvered the big station wagon through the narrow grassy lanes, winding up a small hill near the rear of the park. He pulled up short beside a black steel mesh garbage can and got out. He peered around, hardly comforted when he saw no one.
Now the heat and his nerves were catching up with him and he moved faster, grabbing the bags from the back of his car and stuffing them into the garbage can. He was moving so quickly that he nearly forgot to rip off the fake New York plates he had glued over his real license plates; those went into the trash can, too. The tolling of the cemetery bell made him jump and he cursed himself even as he yanked the car door open and threw himself into the driver's seat. Without a glance behind him, he drove away.
The black Rolls purred up the hill scant yards behind where Erwin's car had disappeared and turned into the same grassy lane. John Sheppard got out and pulled on gray gloves as he crossed to the passenger side of his car. Opening it, he pulled out a large and stately funeral wreath. Looking at the purple bow of the ribbon appraisingly, he carefully pulled it perfectly into line and turned to place it on the gravestone before him. He stood a moment, listening to the bell's slow chimes and reading the words carved into the stone: Blessed Are the Pure In Heart. A boyish smile of pure glee cut his face when he looked to his right and saw the trash can filled with bank bags. Moving swiftly, he popped open the trunk of his car and piled the bags inside. He slammed the trunk and was driving away from the grassy lane before the cemetery bell had stopped tolling.
Lt. Eddie Malone wasn't having any fun at all this afternoon. His precinct was full of bewildered, shouting people, all testifying about the robbery at the Mercantile Bank. The hounds of the Press were clogging his hallways and the Chief of Police had already called him twice. His motherly secretary had taken one look at him an hour ago and handed over a coffee mug half-full of Milk of Magnesia.
"How much was stolen, Lieutenant?"
Marcy, his secretary, handed him a slip of paper as he elbowed his way through the shouting reporters. "$2,667,550," he read. "And 67 cents." God, even the number was appalling.
"Gee, couldn't you be more exact?" a wag called and Eddie snarled at him but Marcy poked him firmly in the ribs before he could say anything that would damage his career.
"When do expect to make an arrest?"
"Any hour now," and he dragged Marcy along with him through his door before slamming it shut on more flashbulbs going off in his face. He leaned against the door and sighed before running a hand over his face. "I coulda been a dentist, ya know," he said to Marcy, letting his Southie accent come out full and thick just for a moment.
"Sure, Eddie, sure. And I coulda been a priest. Here's the first reports from the sketch artists." She handed him a pile of paper and patted his arm as she went on to her desk. He sighed and sat down and started to read. Without looking, he pulled a blue glass bottle from his second desk drawer and poured himself another shot of Milk of Magnesia.
At home on Beacon Hill, alone in his library, John Sheppard poured himself a martini. The giddiness of success was flooding through him and it had been everything he could do to not embarrass himself in front of Thomas, his very proper butler. A chuckle escaped him as he turned away from the bar. He caught his own eye in the mirror and toasted himself, a satisfied smirk breaking out on his face as he sipped the cool gin. Crossing to the sofa, he picked up a Cuban cigar from the humidor before dropping bonelessly onto the upholstery. He put down his drink and lit his cigar, lips still curving dangerously. Finally, he gave up and began laughing loud and long.
Thursday found John Sheppard in Geneva. He was met at the airport by Georges, who took charge of him and his two large suitcases without a flicker of curiosity. Sheppard loved that about Switzerland; the Swiss were the polite sort of people who took one at face value. He looked and acted like a wealthy man traveling on business and they accepted that. Customs officials never bothered to open his luggage and were perfectly satisfied when he told them he had nothing to declare.
He was just as pleased with the ostentatiously incurious bank official he met with on Friday morning. The little gray man stacked piles of bills onto a rosewood desk and handed the empty suitcase back to him without any tedious questions. Sheppard handed him a slip of paper with the amount of his deposit written on it. "It's all there," he said and grinned.
The little gray man's superior was not quite as incurious as his subordinate. When handed a note card containing a code word and number for the account, he disappointed Sheppard by saying, "No name and no address? But… we do not know you."
"But you will do it."
"Of course, sir." The bank official nodded, tacitly agreeing that he had overstepped.
"Excellent. There will be more deposits; there may be some withdrawals. The instructions could come any month, any year. But they will always be dated the 19th of the month. Is that clear?"
Sheppard stood and strode to the door. "Enjoy my money!" and he left with a grin.
The two bank officials glanced at one another and sighed. Americans… they tended toward the gauche, even men as wealthy as that one.
At the same time Sheppard was meeting with his incurious Swiss bankers, another set of bankers were meeting with Lt. Eddie Malone and a highly incensed official from the Northeastern Insurance & Financial Company. Jamie McDonald was having a hard time handing over that much of his company's money. "It's a black day for banking when four men can walk into a bank in broad daylight and make off with two million dollars." He passed the check over to the manager of the Boston Mercantile and sighed deeply.
"C'mon, Jamie, lighten up. They win, we lose, that's all." Eddie knew it was the wrong thing to say the instant he opened his mouth but it came out anyway.
Jamie shot to his feet. "It's a blacker day for law enforcement when Boston's finest can't even get a hint of the criminals!"
"And a downright inky day for insurance when you have to cover that missing two million," Eddie snapped. Then he saw the lines of strain around Jamie's eyes and relented. "We're working on it, Jamie, I swear. But there's damned few leads."
He put a hand on the other man's shoulder and, nodding a farewell to the relieved bankers, started walking the two of them out.
"Look, call me before you leave town. Maybe I'll have something for you by then."
Jamie's lips were pursed and he was obviously thinking hard. "Eddie, there's a specialist my company uses in cases like this. He's a kind of insurance investigator. You won't like him."
"If he can find the damned money, I'll love him, I promise."
Jamie turned out to be right. Eddie hated him on sight. Rodney McKay was everything Eddie Malone hated about private investigators, no matter what they called themselves. Arrogant, dismissive of decent police work and procedure and he never shut up. Eddie's first impression, while standing beside Jamie in Logan International Airport, was of an oncoming train. McKay strode through the airport with two uniformed attendants trailing in his wake with his baggage.
He smiled when he saw Jamie and greeted him with a firm handshake. "Jamie, you never call, you never write. Most importantly, you don't pay me. What have you lost this time? Painting? Sculpture? I've got it -- someone's priceless stamp collection." One broadly waving arm nearly knocked Eddie out but McKay barely gave him a glance. McKay seemed to seize Jamie and add them both to the vortex of motion about him, sweeping through the airport like a prince with his retinue of faithful retainers.
"Rodney. Rodney. This is Lt. Eddie Malone; he's working the case we're bringing you in on."
Cool blue eyes swept over Eddie and he was suddenly aware of any number of unpleasant facts in the wake of that sharp gaze. He was hot, tired, had five o'clock shadow even though it was only 2:30, he had bought this suit three years ago at a Jordan's Basement sale and he was going to have to work with this man no matter what.
"Charmed," McKay said flatly before turning his attention back to Jamie, who was gesturing toward a hired car. McKay made a sharp gesture toward the two porters who quickly loaded his luggage. Eddie tried not to see that McKay tipped them both well even as he was dismissing them with a shoo-ing gesture that would have had Eddie's fists balling up in his pockets if it had been aimed at him. Suddenly, there was no way he could possibly ride back into town with that man; close quarters would result in a homicide before they'd even made it through the Sumner Tunnel, he was sure.
"Well, this isn't my reunion, so I'll say my goodbyes here." He ignored Jamie's surprised face and slammed the car door closed from the outside. McKay had begun speaking again and didn't even appear to notice Eddie's abrupt departure as the car pulled away from the curb. He wished Jamie luck with his 'specialist' and tried to forget that he'd be seeing the man in the morning. He whistled for a cab and wished for a beer.
Eddie didn't care any more for Rodney McKay when he arrived early the next morning to find him standing in the middle of the office, reading through files on the Mercantile Bank robbery. A pointed look had no effect on McKay, so Eddie just walked past him to sit in his desk chair and pointed at the guest chair on the far side of the desk. McKay ignored the gesture and just started talking as if Eddie had been privy to all of his thoughts. He wandered around the office as he spoke, touching things, picking them up and putting them down again after directing a disinterested look at them.
"This one's interesting. He's different. More challenging. I'm going to enjoy getting this one."
"You sound awfully sure that you will."
McKay looked surprised. "Of course I'm going to get him. I always do."
That smug certainty was going to make Eddie grind his teeth to stubs. "What do you get out of this?"
"10% of everything recovered. In this case, that's a LOT of money. Enough to tempt me to cut my vacation short and get back to work."
He tried not to let his shock show on his face, but Eddie knew he was doing a bad job of it. If they found the money, this arrogant son-of-a-bitch would be paid two hundred thousand dollars; Eddie would be lucky if his captain took him down to Jake Wirth's for beer and a steak. McKay was rambling on.
"Every crime has a personality, something like the mind that planned it…"
"Oh, that's clever."
McKay stopped lecturing and frowned. "If you don't want to work with me, Eddie, just say so. You'd be stupid, but it makes no difference to me. I can go about this my own way and let you get on with whatever it is you do." A flapping hand gesture had Eddie clenching his fists again.
"Forget it, McKay. You're here to help, you help! Pull your own weight. Just don't try to tell me how to do my job."
McKay blinked, then nodded shortly and Eddie had the strangest feeling that he had passed some test. McKay came to sit on a corner of Eddie's desk and said only, "Let's start with the money…what would you do with two million dollars?"
Just about the time Marcy was feeding Eddie his first dose of Milk of Magnesia and fetching Rodney McKay's third coffee (large, black, two sugars), John Sheppard was slipping through the air above Beverly Farms. His glider whispered and trembled as he looped again and again, seeming to dive into the sun before dropping earthward again, only to spin back upward again on a thermal.
It was only up here that he felt like the man he had been before … the one the Air Force had made and then executed. Flying was the one thing that came naturally to him, the one thing he didn't have to credit his father's money, his genes, his education or his influence. He enjoyed making money, besting other people at the game of acquisition, betting and winning, but he loved flying. Being discharged from the Air Force hadn't taken away his love for flying although it had shaken his confidence; it had been two years before he'd gone back up as a pilot.
The green pastures and farm houses and mansions flickered beneath him and he crossed the airfield. A tiny figure waved to him from the back of an open Cadillac and he sighed before turning to make the approach. He banked then let the glider slide off of the thermal he had been riding, dipping down below the tree line before catching the updraft he knew was right there at the edge, letting it tip him gently up and over the trees to slip down and onto the grassy field as easily as rain.
The bright yellow glider slid along on its belly before coming to rest just a few yards beyond the Cadillac's hood and the girl watching him. The glider balanced perfectly for a long moment, then tipped gently to rest on its left wingtip. Only then did Sheppard pop the canopy and climb out. Claire stood beside the Cadillac, tow rope in her hands. She tossed him an end and called gaily, "Someday, you should buy a motor for that thing!"
He grunted as he knelt to attach the line to a hook on the glider's nose. When he stood and looked at her again, he saw her finely-plucked brows knit in a worried line.
"I wish you wouldn't undershoot the field like that, Johnny."
He sighed. He liked Claire; a young Frenchwoman of perhaps 23 or 24 who claimed to be an Art Student, she was always happy to meet him for dinner, to partner him at any of the innumerable charity events that Sandy or Carol thought he should attend and she was an attentive and talented lover. While their arrangement was nothing more than casual enjoyment on either side, he didn't actually want to worry her. To Sheppard, it seemed that her worrying about him would demand some sort of emotion from him that he chose not to give.
He walked back to the canopy to prep the glider for towing. "Why not? It would end all my worries." He shot a grin at her to let her know he was kidding.
"What worries could you have?" she asked, reassured by his tone and laughing again.
Perversely, her laughing acceptance of his façade made him more honest than he intended.
"Oh, who I'm going to be tomorrow."
A week later, Eddie and McKay were still no closer to figuring out the Mercantile Bank job. McKay's haranguing of eyewitnesses hadn't produced any better descriptions of the criminals than they had had before and it was making them both edgy. They had been sniping and bickering through most of the morning until Marcy had finally lost her temper and sent them out of the office with the instructions to walk it off or she wouldn't be responsible for what happened that afternoon. So there they were, sullenly tramping through the hot, dusty streets of Boston, suit-jackets slung over their shoulders. Finally, McKay stopped and leaned against a brick wall overlooking a school playground. His eyes fixed on the kids playing basketball, he said thoughtfully,
"There's been no sign of the money anywhere, has there?"
"Think it's been taken out of the country?"
Eddie nodded, watching one kid fake left before hooking the ball right and making the basket.
McKay continued meditatively. "Two million dollars. That much money is really bulky. How would someone get it through customs?"
"Someplace they don't check too carefully?"
"The Swiss are notoriously casual about Customs. A Swiss numbered account would be a perfect place to keep the money."
Eddie wanted to snort derisively, but it wasn't a bad idea. "I could get a list of people from the airlines who have traveled to Switzerland since the robbery."
"And we could cross-check it against the list of people we know have been using or working at that bank. It has to be someone who is absolutely familiar with the layout and delivery schedules."
OK, that was a workable plan. At least it felt like something they could be doing. He pushed off the wall and started strolling across the playground, McKay trailing in his wake, chewing on a thumbnail reflectively. Halfway across, he stopped with a grunt of excitement. Stooping down, he scooped up a lump of chalk left behind after a hopscotch game. He started drawing on the asphalt and Eddie felt his irritation rising again. "What are you doing?"
"Drawing the bank." McKay snapped his fingers at him and it said a lot about the past week that Eddie squatted down and looked at his lopsided chalk rectangle without even rolling his eyes. McKay's finger stabbed toward the drawing. "Five entrances to the bank and five exits. Five bank robbers. Suppose they'd never met before?"
Eddie stared at him.
"No, it's perfect! That's how he keeps himself safe. He recruits them for one job, they don't know him or each other."
"They'd never met him, either? How does he pay them off? Why would they trust him?"
"I don't know," McKay said excitedly, "but it's brilliant. I know this is the right track. Maybe they're not professionals. That would work! He's using talented amateurs, not professional thieves with records. We're looking for someone who has a lot more money than he ought to."
McKay stood up again, beaming as he tossed the piece of chalk up and caught it without looking again and again. Eddie found himself fascinated by the spectacle of McKay's mind at work as McKay beamed at him.
"OK, I'll grant you, that's an angle. But how do we find the guy?"
"We'll advertise! Be a fink for $25,000…"
They worked out the wording on the walk back to the office. Back at the office, they set Marcy onto the problem of compiling a list of business travelers to Switzerland in the past month and set up a meeting with the bank records officer in the morning. McKay drank the dregs of his cold coffee and wandered out with a distracted grin. Eddie sighed and wished for a nice, simple murder.
"I'm sorry to ask you to come down here, Lieutenant, but we can't allow these records to leave the bank," the records officer said apologetically.
McKay merely waved a hand and gestured for Eddie to precede him as they were led to a comfortably appointed office with a stack of file folders spread out on the polished desk-top. The files represented the 4 men whose names had appeared on both the airlines' lists and that of the Mercantile Bank.
Eddie seated himself at the desk and reached for the first file, intending that they work their way through them systematically. McKay made a hum of annoyance and snatched photos off of three of the folders before spinning away and throwing himself down to sprawl on the leather sofa across from the desk. Once again distracted by the spectacle of Rodney McKay at work, Eddie watched him consider the first photo. Blue eyes stared intently at the black and white photo, taking in every detail of the face as well as the background of the portrait. McKay's finger snapping seemed almost polite and Eddie forgot to be annoyed as he read the first name. "That one's a bank vice president. Good income, doesn't seem to spend too much…"
McKay shook his head. "No, doesn't seem like the type."
Frowning at the interruption, Eddie picked up the next file when McKay waved the second photo at him. He read the top page and announced, "That one's a lawyer."
"Too square," said McKay dismissively and tossed the photo on the desktop. Turning his attention to the third photo, Eddie was amused to see McKay's scanning gaze stop suddenly. The eyes went back to the top of the photo and worked downward comprehensively and McKay whistled silently as he considered.
Eddie read the file cover and started reciting. "John Sheppard. Dartmouth, then Harvard Business School. Brief stint in the Air Force, honorable discharge but there's something that doesn't ring quite true about it. 36, divorced, she kept the kids."
McKay silently perused the photo for another moment, then said, "This is the one, Eddie. I know it."
"Sheppard?! What would he need the money for? He owns half of Boston." Even as he said it, though, Eddie felt a little tickle of apprehension. What if McKay were right? Christ, that would be a hell of a thing - a wealthy Bostonian pulling bank jobs between board meetings.
"What does he do?"
"Stocks, bonds, arbitrage, some real estate. Why him?"
McKay pulled his glance away from the photo of John Sheppard slowly and met Eddie's gaze confidently. "He's got what it takes. Brains, decisiveness, power, risk-taking -- he's the one. I feel it."
"Christ, feelings," Eddie said disgustedly.
Sunday afternoon found John Sheppard pounding down the polo field after the ball and trying not to be unseated by the opposing side's #1 before he could make the pass back to his own #1. He loved playing the #2 position; it needed someone fast, fearless and dedicated to winning. They kept offering to let him captain the team from the #3 spot but he didn't want to give up the fun of tearing around the field and annoying the hell out of his opponents. Besides, he didn’t care to play the defensive game the #3 player had to master.
By the end of the third chukka, he was on his second pony and they were both covered in sweat and panting. While his groom handed him a towel, Sheppard sat back and stretched a little, surveying the crowd casually. It was the usual mixed bag: Sunday games at the Myopia Hunt Club field were open to the public who came to gawk and cheer. Jeans, shorts, skimpy sundresses, fat men in t-shirts, sticky kids covered in melting popsicles… and someone filming him from the back of a red convertible Porsche. Interesting.
The man noticed his scrutiny and seemed unconcerned. He stood out in the crowd and Sheppard watched him at odd moments, finding the man's attention always firmly fixed on Sheppard. The man was dressed in a light summer suit of unobjectionable tailoring, looking slightly bizarre amongst the summer casual crowd. He was wildly out of place and completely at ease; he obviously didn't care if he fit in or not.
He held an expensive video camera competently and he sat negligently on the back of an exceptionally fine Porsche convertible, bright red against the cool green of the shady observers' area at the side of the field. It was the car that decided Sheppard and, when the game was finally won, he made his way over to the fence but the car and the man were gone.
Eddie Malone winced and blinked as the lights came up. The image on the screen was still frozen on John Sheppard, leaning far over the neck of his polo pony. Marcy said from her place by the light-switch, "He's a nice looking boy."
McKay stood up with John Sheppard distorted weirdly across his broad chest and eager face. He stabbed one finger at Eddie and said,
"He's our man, Eddie."
The smirk on McKay's face said that he planned to do just that.
"Johnny, this time, do me a favor and don't bid on things unless I tell you they're worth it." Sandy had the tone of someone who has said the same thing far too many times and doesn't expect to be heard this time, either. He clutched an auction guide in his hand and pointed out a lot number to Sheppard.
"Now, these are worth five hundred, no more. Promise me, Johnny."
Sheppard grinned distractedly and said, "It's for charity, Sandy."
If his financial planner was going to insist that he appear at the Cancer Society Art Auction, he would have to put up with the fact that Sheppard often bought on whim, merely because he liked the look of the thing, not because he was thinking of it as a valuable addition to the Sheppard collection. When had he started keeping a collection, for god's sake? He sighed, knowing exactly when it had begun -- with his father's death.
His gloomy thoughts were short-circuited by a flash of red parked at the curb, right in front of the gallery. It was that lovely Porsche convertible from the polo field a few days ago. Sheppard managed to keep himself from patting it on the hood as he went by. He went bounding up the stairs, Sandy's exhortations still muttering in his ear.
He wandered through the cool foyer and into the main gallery room, following the chant of the auctioneer. Sandy elbowed him discreetly and whispered, "This is the lot!"
The bidding had reached $300 by the time he had arranged himself in a comfortable lean against the door frame. The auctioneer's pleasant upper crust Bostonian accent turned his cant into something like poetry as he extolled his wares.
"This is a very fine set of lithographs depicting the Five Senses. The bid is at $300, ladies and gentlemen. Come now, this is hardly what they're worth. Be generous and remember, it's for charity."
The sharp motion of a hand caught Sheppard's eye and he turned his head to see the erstwhile cameraman with the red Porsche as his bid was accepted.
"$325 to the gentleman by the door. Very good, sir."
Sheppard took a moment to study the man. He seemed to be in his mid-30's, light brown hair carefully styled to minimize the fact of his receding hairline. His suit was understated and absolutely correct for the occasion, although his tie was a shade too narrow to have been purchased on this continent. There was an anticipatory smile forming over a pugnacious chin as the auctioneer began to wind up the bidding. Sheppard's hand rose in a quick and subtle signal before he was even aware of making a decision. Five widespread fingers caught the experienced auctioneer's eye and he nodded fractionally.
"Going once at $325, twice… Ah! A bid for $500! That's much nearer their worth, ladies and gentlemen," the auctioneer inclined his head courteously in Sheppard's direction. Other heads turned in his direction, including that of the previous bidder, whose smile was fading quickly. An ice-blue gaze locked on Sheppard's before the eyes narrowed and he looked back toward the auctioneer who was just announcing, "Sold to Mr. John Sheppard for $500."
During the polite applause, Sheppard made his way across to meet the man who once again openly studying him. He made his opening gambit.
The other man continued to consider him, a faintly cynical line to his mouth. Sheppard tried again.
"Where's your camera?"
Some decision being made internally, the man smiled broadly and said, "You remember." He held out a hand. "Rodney McKay."
Sheppard took it in a firm grip. "John Sheppard."
"Yes, I know." The cynical line to McKay's mouth had become sardonic although his grip was as uncompromising as Sheppard's. They released each other's hands and then fell into step with one another, seeming to move with one accord toward the refreshment table placed discreetly in a side room.
"Did you really want those lithos?"
McKay shook his head. "Not really. They're interesting, but mostly because they're a very good set of forgeries."
Sheppard shrugged at the idea that he had just bought fakes, but he preferred to trust Sandy's proven track record over an enigmatic stranger's declaration.
"So, who do you work for? Esquire? Playboy? World-Wide Polo?" Sheppard turned to pick up a glass of champagne.
McKay reached for a glass as well. "No, I'm in insurance."
"I hope so," McKay said musingly, then sipped his champagne. "I investigate," he announced.
"Anything in particular?" Sheppard strolled over to the window beyond the table and looked out at Newbury Street without much interest as he drank.
"The bank robbery, Sheppard."
Sheppard turned and looked at him with polite interest. McKay continued. "The insurance company sends me in to discover what's happened to their lost property. And to find whoever is responsible."
"So you're…what? A type of headhunter?"
"You could put it that way."
Sheppard felt his interest in this odd man sharpening. "Whose head are you after?"
McKay looked at him as if he were a slow pupil. "Yours."
Sheppard felt a real grin break out on his face and he took a healthy swallow of champagne. "Always get your man?"
"Yes," McKay said, chin raising a little at Sheppard's teasing tone.
"Think you'll get me?"
McKay's head tilted slightly to the right and he considered Sheppard carefully, as if he were an unsolved equation. "I hope so."
Sheppard nodded as if politely considering McKay's view, then shook it to dismiss the possibility of such an occurrence. "Want to get some lunch?"
That night, getting ready for bed, Sheppard thought back over the day and decided it had been more interesting than usual. Lunch with Rodney had been … fun. Sheppard didn't know how else to think of it. The sheer self-assurance of the man had been fascinating. In anyone else, the starting assumption that he was a criminal would have been infuriating; the fact that it was true was neither here nor there to Sheppard. But Rodney hadn't hammered away at his point. Instead, the conversation had been far-ranging, from art to politics to science. Rodney certainly could argue his points well and he didn't cave in to Sheppard once. It was refreshing not to have to deal with tactful assistants or toadying sycophants, or even Claire's softly-accented probing into his inner thoughts. Rodney McKay knew exactly what he wanted and made no bones about it. Sheppard had even wondered once or twice, when McKay's eyes had rested on him a fraction too long, what else Rodney McKay might want from him. He found that possibility as intriguing as beating him at his own game.
Tying the belt of his bathrobe, Sheppard paced across the bedroom to look out into the darkness of Beacon Hill. A slight movement down by the iron palings of his driveway caught his eye. There was an orange spark in the dark and the indistinct shadow of a man smoking a cigarette and leaning against an oak tree. So, Rodney McKay was serious enough to have his house under observation. Sheppard grinned and left the window. It really had been an interesting day.
Eddie Malone was practically vibrating when he met up with Rodney McKay the next morning. "We've got a lead! Some salesman's wife on Long Island. Husband sells cosmetics to the whole New England area. He was in Boston on the 9th and has a new car, a lot more cash than he used to and a brand-new safe deposit box at his local bank."
McKay's eyes lit up. "That's terrific. Can we drill the box?"
"Not without a warrant. Banks are picky about that sort of thing."
McKay nodded, reluctantly admitting the point. "Can we pick up the car? See if it's the one used in the robbery?"
Eddie shook his head. "Again, not without a warrant. And no judge is going to issue a warrant without a lot more evidence than we have right now."
McKay threw his hands up. "So what are we supposed to do? Just sit around and wait for something to happen?"
"That's exactly what we're supposed to do," Eddie said heavily. He saw the speculative gleam in McKay's eye and moved to squelch it firmly. "And that's what we're gonna do, right, McKay?"
The other man just slanted a grin at him. "You bet, Eddie. No problem." He clapped his hands together. "So, where do you want to go to lunch?"
Two days later, Erwin parked his station wagon in front of the Woolworth's and went in to buy corn pads for his crabby mother-in-law. Not three minutes later, two teen thugs had hotwired it and were driving off before he had more than a chance to run outside and shout at them in high-pitched fury.
"Erwin! They stole our car - you have to call the police!" his wife shrieked at him for the fifth time in as many minutes. He sat slumped in the hallway, inarticulate and miserable. All he could say, again and again, was, "I can't. No police. We can't call them."
The shrill ringing of the telephone was almost a relief, since it made her get up and go answer it, leaving him in debatable peace. But even that was not to last. He heard his wife gasp and say, "Who is this?!" He hadn't even made it down the hallway to her before she raised horrified eyes to his and demanded, "Where's Jimmy? Where's Jimmy?!"
After that, it had been a kaleidoscope of horrible moments and he registered events as if lit by a strobe light. Getting the $5,000 demanded by the kidnappers of his son (Oh God, Jimmy!); walking to the shopping mall and dropping the money into the third Goodwill box from the left in the corner of the lot, then hearing the blessed bright cheer of Jimmy's voice calling, "Over here, Dad!" Turning and seeing his car parked a few spaces away and his son waving happily from the passenger window. Jimmy in his arms, sticky and babbling excitedly about being lost and then found by the "nice man". The nice man in question turning a gaze like blue icicles onto him and suggesting flatly that one of the other men suddenly grouped around the car take Jimmy home to his mother while Erwin stayed and "had a little chat."
Erwin was directed to the back passenger seat and slumped into it in a weird mixture of bone-loosening relief at Jimmy's safe return and sickening dread at the certain knowledge that he was in deep trouble. The blue-eyed man wasted no time.
"We know you were one of the men who robbed the Mercantile Bank in Boston on June 9th, Erwin. Two witnesses have identified you positively. You're going to be going to jail, Erwin. Your wife will divorce you and you'll never see your kid again."
At Erwin's panicked gasp, the man waved a hand in irritation. "Yes, yes, but what did you think was going to happen when you robbed a bank? That you could give back the money and everything would be swept under the rug?"
Then the man looked at Erwin carefully and said musingly, "Well, that's not entirely out of the realm of possibility, I suppose. But I'll need you to give me something to bargain with." He paused for a moment to let it sink in, then passed over a silk handkerchief and watched as Erwin gratefully mopped his sweating face.
"Let's start at the beginning, then. How did he contact you?"
A few hours after Rodney McKay was making Erwin's life a burden and a misery to him, John Sheppard was doing much the same thing to Sandy. He stood at his office window and looked down at the Mercantile Bank and, "I'm thinking of retiring."
He heard Sandy drop his pen. "Retire? What for? Why?"
The very real concern he heard in Sandy's voice checked the joke he had been planning on making. "I'm starting to feel trapped, Sandy. It would take me a year to liquidate; I want to be free."
"You've got more freedom than most men, Johnny. Your money makes that possible."
"I know. But, if I suddenly went away, you could take care of things for me, couldn't you? Close up shop and make the books balance? I could give you power of attorney."
Sandy's mouth opened and closed a few times. " I wouldn't know what to do with it all."
Sheppard crossed the office to his wall-safe and pulled out a thick envelope. He held it up and said soothingly, "It's all here -- what to hold, what to sell. Only to be opened if I leave abruptly. OK?"
Sandy nodded, looking stricken. Sheppard grinned suddenly and clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Sandy. I might change my mind tomorrow."
And Sandy, knowing his employer as he did, blew out his breath and reminded himself that it had always been a toboggan ride working for John Sheppard, pere and fils. This was just one more swerve. Comforting himself with that thought, he left the office, envelope tucked in his breast pocket.
Smiling after him, Sheppard reached for the phone and dialed Rodney's number.
Eddie Malone was not smiling. Eddie was shouting at the top of his lungs. Marcy had already shut the office door and shooed interested bystanders out of the hall. She sent the office boy out for another bottle of Milk of Magnesia and heartily wished that Rodney McKay would go back where he came from.
Eddie slammed his hand down on the Stop button of the little tape player that had been repeating Erwin's whining confession to Rodney. "You lied to me!"
Rodney crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow.
"You go haring off to New York alone, you steal a car, kidnap a kid and blackmail his father…" Eddie's feeling overcame him and he was reduced to waving his arms around.
"I do my job," Rodney retorted, his calm self-assurance goading Eddie's fists into clenching again.
"What the hell kind of job is that?!"
"It's mine," Rodney shrugged. "I'm immoral. So's the world, Eddie. What does it matter if we've got the goods?"
"You're really something, aren't you, McKay? Is there anything you wouldn't do to get your fee?"
That sally hit home and Eddie had the equivocal satisfaction of seeing McKay's eyes flash with hurt before his lip curled and he said, "I don't know. Nothing comes to mind right now, but I'm not done yet."
"I guess you aren't," Eddie muttered.
"Now, if you're done with the histrionics, maybe we can get back to the case? Erwin is our link to Sheppard. I want to put the pressure on and this is how…"
Carol brought a stack of phone messages and mail to Sheppard a little later that afternoon. He let her pile it into two stacks for him, which she referred to as "ASAP" and "Important". He privately categorized them as "Yeah, OK" and "If I feel like it". Things that she knew he would regard as actually important, she made a point of actually telling him verbally.
"Mr. McKay called and asked if you would mind meeting him at the police station at 6 p.m. He said he's likely to be tied up until then, but he's looking forward to your game tonight. Room 515."
Sheppard grinned a little; one of the things he liked about Rodney was his complete dedication to the job at hand. "Game, huh? OK. Anything else?"
"Thomas called to ask about the rug men at the house."
That brought him up sharply. "Rug men? What rug men?"
"Thomas said they're measuring the whole house for wall-to-wall carpet, sir. That's why he called."
He shook his head in disbelief. He wondered what Rodney would stick at in this game of theirs. He looked forward to finding out.
At 6:15 p.m., John Sheppard sat in an uncomfortable wooden chair directly across from Erwin, who sat sighing and perspiring in the close little interrogation room. Erwin had looked up only once, when Sheppard had been shown in to wait by the unflappable Marcy. He had given a sickly social smile but after that, he hadn't spared Sheppard another glance. His fingers jigged and tapped on the arm of his chair and he blew out his breath noisily from time to time.
Looking on from behind the two-way glass, Eddie said disgustedly, "Nothing. Look at him - nothing!"
And McKay looked. What he saw was undeniably John Sheppard playing up to par. He looked like he was just ready to head into the Board Room instead of sitting on a cheap chair at the tail-end of a muggy, rainy Boston day. His dark blue suit was crisp and his hair was perfect. Instinctively, he knew that wasn't the real John Sheppard sitting there, politely disinterested in the man he had hired to drive his getaway car. The real man was somewhere deeply hidden and he had the urge to excavate until he found…what?
With a slight chill, McKay realized that his own motivations weren't entirely clear to him. Of course, $200,000 ought to be more than enough of a goad, not to mention his own professional pride. He was the best in the business and aimed to stay that way. Landing John Sheppard would insure his reputation for years to come.
"Patience, Eddie. We'll just keep putting the pressure on." He picked up his jacket and slid it on, heading to the door. Eddie followed hard on his footsteps and saw Sheppard's face brighten into animation when he say McKay, then slide into a more guarded expression when Eddie came into the room.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, John. John Sheppard, this is Lt. Eddie Malone, Criminal Investigations."
Eddie held out his hand and felt like an idiot when Sheppard did nothing but stare at him. After a few beats, just as Eddie was pulling his hand back, Sheppard said, "I'm not saying a thing without my lawyer here," and smirked at him, shaking it firmly.
Eddie turned his own lips up into a polite grimace and dropped Sheppard's hand as quickly as possible.
Erwin gave a bleat of laughter. "Hey, that's funny! Not gonna say a thing without his lawyer. Ha!" He was immediately silenced by Eddie's glare.
McKay started for the door, throwing a "See you in the morning," over his shoulder, Sheppard in train. They walked in a companionable silence to the elevator foyer and Sheppard pressed the button. They waited, leaning against opposite sides of the door. McKay was watching him speculatively and with a touch of admiration. He lifted an eyebrow in question.
McKay said, "Like ice," and grinned in answer to Sheppard's own blooming smile. "Round 3 to you. That's your only round so far, though. Don't get cocky."
"It's still your game, Rodney."
"I'm beginning to wonder," McKay said as the elevator doors slid open. Sheppard's laughter sounded very loud bouncing off its metal walls.
So far, in the weeks since he and McKay had begun their odd game, they had met on neutral ground. Restaurants or museums, a walk through the Public Gardens, a stroll past Cobb's Burial Ground, one never-to-be-forgotten careen through the Isabella Stewart Gardner collection listening to McKay detail every imperfection in the place, as well as relate Mrs. Gardner's scandalous acquisition of half her pieces. Sheppard had been fascinated, watching McKay's cool sophistication dissolve like mist; his eyes snapped and his hands moved and he hardly took a breath between rants. It was like uncovering a bonfire. Other patrons had given them a wide berth, which was all to the good in Sheppard's book. No one had asked for a contribution once that afternoon.
Tonight was a calculated move on his part. Tonight, he welcomed Rodney McKay into his home territory.
"Home to meet Mother?" McKay asked as they turned up the rainy Beacon Hill street that led to his home.
"No mother. No wife, either. But you knew that," he added, just to see McKay's sideways smile.
Inside the foyer, they were met by Thomas, who took their outerwear and announced that drinks were waiting in the library.
"That'll be all, Thomas. Good night." To McKay he said, "Go on ahead. I'll be right down."
He went trotting up the curving staircase, then stopped to watch as McKay walked briskly toward the library's oak paneled doors. As his hand touched the brass handle, McKay seemed to feel Sheppard's gaze upon him; he turned and looked upward, faintly questioning.
"Wall-to-wall carpet," Sheppard challenged with malicious humor. He watched as the line of McKay's mouth deepened as he tried not to smile. He laughed and continued up the stairs.
Later, with a sip of old brandy rolling silkily across his palate, he watched McKay prowl around his library. Long fingers touched the spines of books, tested the tuning of the piano, described the arc of a circle on a framed map. Occasionally, he sipped at his own snifter of brandy and Sheppard was amused as a look of bliss closed McKay's eyes every time he swallowed.
"You live very …well, don't you?" McKay's musing voice came from the direction of the fireplace, where he was leaning on the mantle and staring into the flames.
"I've got no complaints."
"It would be a shame to have to give it all up," McKay commented, then drifted over to look at the chess problem set up on the small table to one side of the hearth.
"Do you play?" Sheppard asked, already anticipating the light of battle coming up in McKay's eyes. He wasn't disappointed and got to his feet with McKay's snort of disbelief at his stupidity ringing in the room.
McKay played a cautious, meticulous game. He studied the board before each move, unconcerned with the passing of time. But after his move, when Sheppard was left to contemplate the new pattern on the board, he could feel those cool blue eyes watching him, moving over his features again and again.
The fire crackled softly to his right and Rodney's fingers moved lightly over a captured bishop, the tip of his middle finger catching as it stroked over the bulbous ivory head. When Sheppard moved his knight and placed Rodney's queen in jeopardy, the finger was removed and Sheppard breathed out a little in relief. Then he noticed that Rodney was staring at the board, his first two long fingers tapping thoughtfully against his slanted mouth. Wondering about the possibilities of that mouth had Sheppard shifting abruptly in his seat, drawing Rodney's gaze. In the gloom of the library, the shadows thrown by the fire leeched the color from his eyes, leaving them indeterminate, a color he could not name. Sheppard hurriedly reached for his snifter and took a sip of brandy, swallowing too fast when he realized that Rodney was watching him again, a faint curve to his lips.
Sheppard wondered what Rodney thought he saw. He claimed, and had from the first, that he saw a criminal mastermind. Did he see anything else? He certainly had the resources to discover much of John Sheppard's life, even the parts his father's money had tried to expunge. Obviously, it hadn't deterred Rodney from his stated goals nor from what Sheppard was beginning to think was his covert strategy of driving his quarry a little nuts. He shifted again and his foot slipped to brush against Rodney's. He jumped guiltily and gave a weak smile when Rodney grinned at him then moved a knight to defend his queen.
Tapping his fingers on the arm of his chair brought him no relief as he studied the board. He sprang up and crossed to the fireplace where he tossed another log onto the subsiding flames. Too aware of Rodney's sardonic gaze, he returned to the table, strolling around it, hoping to see another pattern in the game, one that would allow him to win.
Afterward, he would claim that it was the smug look on Rodney's face that had practically forced him to take those two steps toward him. His hand curled around a surprisingly firm bicep and he yanked Rodney to his feet. "Let's play something else," he said huskily.
Rodney's mouth curving beneath his almost felt like victory.
A few days later, McKay was in smug good humor. He punctuated his words with little stabs of his finger and he practically hummed with energy. Eddie just sat at his desk with his hands on top of a closed file, watching him as he paced circles around him.
"We've got to squeeze him, keep the pressure on. He doesn't know if I have anything or not."
"I've got watchers on him day and night, now. They're costing a fortune, so you'd better be right about this, McKay."
"I am, and you know it, Eddie. It won't be easy and it won't be fast, but we'll get him."
"Looks to me like you already have," Eddie said flatly. At McKay's questioning look, he slid the closed file from under his hands across the desk, then watched closely as McKay opened the file and studied the photos within. Although the good-humored smile had faded from his lips, McKay looked at every single photo closely. Eddie knew what he would see.
/Sheppard speeding like a lunatic across the dunes in Ipswich, Rodney McKay beside him, mouth wide with laughter and alarm/
/Sheppard and McKay having breakfast on the rooftop patio of Sheppard's Beacon Hill house, dressed very casually indeed in silk robes, Sheppard handing over one half of the Wall Street Journal/
/Sheppard pinning McKay at dawn against an alley wall on Beacon Hill, both men in rumpled tuxedoes/
And more. Pale limbs wrapped around tanned skin, wide hands skimming down a slender back, a dark head thrown back against a granite block wall, fingers clutched in fine brown hair…
McKay closed the file and tossed it back on the desk. "So?" he asked, chin coming up.
"Do you know what you are?" Eddie ground out.
"I know exactly what I am. Can you say the same thing about yourself?"
"Whaddya mean?" Eddie stood up abruptly, the Southie boy he had been coming to the forefront at the challenge in McKay's tone.
"Well, I'm not the one sitting in a dark room fondling dirty pictures, am I?"
"Jesus, you're really something, aren't you?!" Eddie found his fists curled again and flattened his hands onto the desk.
McKay's gaze flicked down at Eddie's hands, then back up to consider the flushed glare he was receiving. He turned, picked up his discarded jacket and was halfway to the door before abruptly turning back. He pulled a long, flat cardboard box from an inside pocket of the jacket and tossed it on the desk in front of the detective.
"What the hell's this?" Eddie made no move to pick it up.
"I was saving it for your birthday, but I think you need it now," McKay said over his shoulder as he left.
Scowling, Eddie left the box there for at least 30 seconds before grabbing it and yanking the top off. Inside rested a cheap plastic plaque with the words, "Think Dirty" engraved in solemn letters. "Son of a bitch," he whispered, then he was laughing helplessly.
The increased vigilance was beginning to get on Sheppard's nerves. Everywhere he and McKay went, he spotted watchers. Nonchalant birdwatchers on the streets of Boston where the only birds to be seen were pigeons and girls in their summer dresses; tourists with suspiciously expensive cameras pointed in his general direction; casual walkers always loitering near his house. When he had pointed them out to Rodney, the other man had merely shrugged.
"Following you is following me. I don't like it any more than you do."
"Is that the best you can do, Rodney?"
"I did worse yesterday."
"I'll bet you did," Sheppard said admiringly. "What now? Steaming open my mail?"
McKay's crooked grin got even more slanted. "I called Internal Revenue." His blue eyes watched Sheppard carefully. "Every penny you spend, they'll want to know where it came from. Full audits for the last 3 years and every year from now on."
"Wow, Rodney, that's evil." Sandy was going to have an aneurysm.
"I'm playing for keeps, John."
"So am I, Rodney, so am I."
They had made love three times that night, taking catnaps between couplings. If Rodney had sported a few bruises and John had bags beneath his eyes the next morning, neither of them had commented upon it.
But, no matter how much he admired Rodney's dogged determination, there was no reason to let the Boston Police Department have things all its own way. Sheppard turned off the lights in his bedroom and looked out the window into the dark. Down at the corner, leaning against the ironwork of his fence was the same man who had been there the last three evenings, looking everywhere but up at the house behind him. It occurred to Sheppard that the poor man probably needed a break and his grin flashed out sharply in the gloom.
In five minutes, he had changed into nondescript, dark clothing, pulled on sneakers and a ball cap and climbed out onto the roof. As a boy, he had perfected several ways in and out of the house without using the front door and alerting his father to his comings and goings. This particular path allowed him to scuttle across the second story shed dormer, shinny down a convenient copper drain-pipe and then drop a short distance into the alley between his house and the next.
He sauntered down the sidewalk in front of his darkened house, whistling softly. At the corner, he used a cosh to lightly tap the watcher behind the left ear and caught the man as he folded. It was the work of only a few moments to tuck the unconscious man into the front seat of his own car, douse him with the contents of a hip-flask of whiskey, then put the car into neutral and give it a sharp push to get it rolling. He slammed the car door, gave a little wave goodbye as the insensible watcher began his short trip down Beacon Hill then turned to stroll back up the sidewalk. As he stopped to light a thin cigar, he heard the car crash slowly into a tree across the way and the blaring of the car horn, followed by a siren. He grinned into the darkness and wondered what Rodney's next move would be.
"You're being had, Rodney," Eddie announced over pastrami sandwiches.
McKay was reading case notes and waved an distracted hand at him as he chewed. He didn't look up, so Eddie dropped the manila folder right on top of his plate and sat back to watch.
Shooting him an exasperated look, McKay put down the mangled sandwich in his left hand and reached for the folder. Flipping it open, he studied the pictures inside silently.
"Still taking dirty pictures, Eddie?"
"That's the third time this week he's seen her. Sometimes, he leaves you and goes straight to her."
McKay's eyes narrowed and he looked hard at Eddie. "And you're telling me this, why?"
"I just thought you should know."
"Because you're so concerned about my feelings?"
"Forget I said anything," he mumbled.
McKay sat back, closed the file and tossed it back across the table. "It's a job, Eddie. Nothing more."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Professional here, Malone. It's pity you aren't one, too." McKay stood up, tossed his napkin onto his half-full plate and walked out.
John stretched lazily in the slanting afternoon sunlight. The breeze was cool off the ocean but he and Rodney were protected in the lee of the chimney. It was the only piece of the beach house he'd gotten completed so far besides the decking on which they lounged.
"How long have you been working on this place?" Rodney asked drowsily. He sat beside John, a thick coating of sunscreen on his wind-reddened cheeks and nose.
"A few years, off and on. When I have time."
"Wouldn't it be faster to hire someone to do it?"
"It's not about getting it done, Rodney. It's about doing it myself."
Rodney hmm'ed in response and watched the waves for a while until he asked casually, "Did you ever bring anyone else out here?"
John turned to look at him. "My wife. She didn't like the beach."
"I didn't mean her." Rodney met his gaze without pretense.
"No one else, Rodney."
Rodney hmm'ed again, but there was a satisfied quirk to his lips as he lay back and looked out at the ocean. The specter of Claire blew away on the salt breeze.
Later, sitting side by side in John's steam room with white fog billowing around them, Rodney said suddenly, "You can't ever spend it, you know. Not yours, not the bank's… there'll be an audit every year."
"I've got all I need."
"Let me make a deal for you." Rodney's eyes gleamed at him through the steam.
John shook his head, uncomfortably touched; Rodney should know better. He poked at a panel in the wall and a phone rotated toward him. John picked up the receiver and held it out to the other man. "Call your man, see what he says," he suggested.
Rodney muttered to himself as he dialed, "They can't make you testify… if all the money is returned and there's no actual damage…"
John forbore to mention the man who had been shot in the leg during the robbery and they sat listening to the phone ring.
"Eddie? Listen, he wants to make a deal…"
John could hear Eddie Malone's outraged squawk from where he slouched beside Rodney.
"Deal?! I'll give him a deal -- prison! Who the hell does he think he is…"
John reached out, took the receiver from Rodney's hand and hung it up. Rodney said nothing as John poured more water on the heated stones in front of them.
"I'm thinking Brazil is nice in the autumn. Samba, Sugar Loaf, the jungle, piranha…" John recited in a musing tone. At Rodney's quick, irritated glare, he said, "I'm all boxed in, Rodney. There's no way out. You're too good at your job."
Rodney's stricken look was enough. John leaned over, kissed him deeply and set about making him forget for a while.
Later that night, lying wrapped in cool sheets beside Rodney, John said up into the darkness, "I did it once, I can do it again."
"What?" grumbled Rodney.
John poked him in the ribs. "The bank. I bet I could do it again."
Rodney sat up and stared at him. "Are you out of your mind? It can't be done!"
"Why not? You've only got descriptions of five men… and who's to say that's all there are?" John's grin sliced the air between them.
"What would it prove? You don't need the money." Rodney's hands flailed in the air and the sheet fell to his waist. John began toying with it as he tried to explain.
"It's not about the money. It's me and the system. The system," he repeated.
"Why not just be honest and admit that it's about your father and be done with it?"
The breath stopped in John's lungs for a heartbeat, and then another. Even Rodney was stilled by the sound of too much truth between them.
"See, Rodney? You are good at your job."
Rodney's hand fumbled between them and John grasped it to pull Rodney down beside him again. With a sigh, his head came to rest on John's shoulder and they both stared up at the ceiling.
"What about me?" Rodney asked quietly.
"You let me try. After all, it's my funeral. You're just along for the ride."
A small snort choked its way out of Rodney's throat, then another. Then they were both laughing. Their merriment had a bitter sound but was no less real for that.
McKay stood beside Eddie Malone, both of them staring resolutely at the dirty water of the Charles River flowing beside them.
"So, when's it gonna be?"
"I don't know yet. I talk about it, he talks around it."
"Talk! Are you sure you find time?"
McKay glared at the river but said nothing. That worried Eddie more than anything else he'd seen or read that week about Sheppard.
"I say we pick him up."
McKay shook his head. "Wait him out. He'll make his move soon."
"Christ, this is a fiasco! I'm running a sex orgy for a couple of freaks on government funds!"
McKay looked at him coolly, meeting his eyes for the first time that morning. "Feel better now you've got that off your chest, Lieutenant?"
"I'll feel better when this is all over," he grumbled. He'd feel a hell of a lot better when John Sheppard was in jail and Rodney McKay was gone from his life.
"It'll be soon. Just wait."
Rodney was more right than he knew. The next evening found him sitting on the sand in front of John's unfinished beach house, staring into the flames of a small fire built beside a larger pit covered with steaming seaweed. John poked at the seaweed one more time, tucking it in more firmly over the lobsters it cradled as they cooked.
"This is going to be good." He dropped to the sand beside Rodney and picked up his wineglass. His shoulder bumped Rodney's companionably as he stared into the flames.
Rodney took a gulp of wine. "What is it, the Last Supper?"
John turned his head to look at him, eyes dark in the firelight. "It's tomorrow," he said quietly.
A tiny smile quirking his lips, John said, "I'll tell you where the pick-up's going to be. You can meet me there, OK?"
"John…" Rodney's voice trailed off. It struck John suddenly that Rodney was the one person close to him who never called him "Johnny". He felt the wonder and the gratitude of it thickening in his throat.
"Moral support, that's all I need from you."
Rodney looked at him directly, the tilt of his head showing his anger. "Why are you testing me like this?"
"I have to know you're on my side."
"I'm right here."
"I know," John soothed, and reached his arm around Rodney's tense shoulders. Slowly, almost unwillingly, Rodney relaxed against John's side. "No regrets, Rodney. Not for us. We're a pair, no matter what happens tomorrow."
"Even if… we never see one another again?"
John nodded, rubbing his chin on the top of Rodney's head, and they both watched the colored sparks crackle up from the burning driftwood.
The next morning, the security guards at the Boston Mercantile Bank felt a hideous sense of déjà vu as they watched the bank's latest cash delivery disappearing with five men in dark glasses and gloves. Wreaths of green and red smoke belching out of grenades bowled down the marble hallway hid their exit.
Outside, each man dropped his bags into the open rear compartment of a Ford station wagon, then split up to go their separate ways, melting into the foot traffic without missing a step. The station wagon, driven by a sixth man in sunglasses and gloves, pulled smoothly away from the curb and into morning traffic. Without realizing it, this driver followed the hapless Erwin's route from several months ago; onto the Turnpike, off at the Brighton tolls, then along the river and across to Mt. Auburn Street, turning west toward the cemetery.
The station wagon turned in at the gate and drove the twisting lanes at a sober pace. It stopped on the peak of the same grassy lane as its predecessor. From a car tucked behind a cenotaph on the far side of a grove of elm trees, Eddie Malone and Rodney McKay watched as the driver dumped the bags of money into the wire trash basket, added his false Delaware plates and then got back into his car, whistling. Eddie spoke into the radio microphone as the Ford drove past. "He's pulling out. Pick him up at the gate."
"Roger," the radio crackled, then went silent.
"Now we wait," Rodney said, staring at the piled up money.
"Are you sure he'll come?" Eddie demanded. "He's had a full two hours to himself."
"He’ll come," Rodney said.
They sat in silence, listening to the breeze whisper through the leaves above them. The chapel clock began to toll, striking long, harsh notes into the hot air. As the sound died away, Eddie exploded.
"All right, where is he?! Did you tell me everything?"
Rodney didn't even turn to look at him. The radio crackled to life again, and a voice tight with excitement said, "Car coming. It's the Rolls."
Eddie grabbed the mike and bit out, "All right, move in and box him up."
The Rolls made its stately way through the monuments and past the stones, turning up the grassy lane without the slightest hesitation. Its smoked glass windows gave away none of its secrets as they flashed in the sunlight. Three police cars screeched in to block off both ends of the lane, even as Rodney and Eddie got out of the car and strode up the hill.
Rodney seized the door handle of the Rolls and yanked it open with a desperate energy. "You said it was your funer…"
The driver, a liveried boy of 20, said hesitantly, "Are you Mr. McKay? I have a message for you." The boy held out a cream-colored envelope, hand shaking slightly as he saw the drawn guns of the policemen standing around them. At a sharp sign from Eddie, the officers lowered their weapons and began to pepper the driver with questions. Left to himself for a moment, Rodney tore open the envelope and pulled out the single sheet of note paper inside.
"Left early. Please come with the money or you keep the car.
All my love, John."
There was a quiet roar from overhead and Rodney tipped his head back to watch a jet far overhead, leaving a contrail behind in the high empty air. His hands carefully and meticulously tore up John's note and let the summer breeze carry the pieces wherever it willed.
Leaning back in the first-class section of a mostly empty jet headed south, John Sheppard sipped his gin and tonic and grinned out at the blue, blue sky.
John Sheppard went swinging up the steps to his cottage, taking them two at a time. He had spent the day at the small airstrip in the hills above overhauling a maltreated bi-plane and had jogged into the surf to cool off on his way home.
He checked himself at the top of the stairs, saltwater drops splashing onto the wood at his bare feet. A linen suit jacket was folded over the top of one of the rattan chairs on his porch. It wasn't time for one of Sandy's cautious bimonthly visits and John had deliberately avoided any interaction with anyone he had known before. The people he dealt with now tended to wear thin shirts of native cotton smeared with engine grease or gritty with sand and salt.
The man standing at the far end of the porch staring at the water turned at the sound of John's voice.
"I spent a solid week sitting in the foyer of the Copacabana Palace, waiting for you to show up. Do you have any idea how much that place costs?!"
John grinned. "Yup. That's why I'm living here, Rodney. A little matter of frozen assets, remember?" he prodded maliciously.
Rodney's eyes flickered, but his chin came forward. "I'm not the one who got bored and decided he wanted to start robbing banks in between real estate deals."
John picked up the towel hanging on the rail of the porch and scrubbed it briskly over his hair and face. "So, why are you here?"
Rodney walked over to his suit jacket, rummaged in the breast pocket, then pulled out a thick envelope and tossed it to John. He watched silently as John opened it and riffled a curious finger across the bills inside. The total came to a substantial figure and he whistled softly before looking up at Rodney.
Rodney nodded shortly.
"That was yours, Rodney. A finder's fee."
"You'll need it. Just because there's no extradition doesn't mean Malone's going to give up any time soon."
Actually, Rodney was mistaken. John had millions tucked away in off-shore accounts that the Internal Revenue Service would never find, let alone be able to touch. He lived this simply because he found he liked it, like the uncomplicated rhythm of life as an eccentric expatriate beach bum. That his father would have hated it went without saying.
"How is Eddie?" John smirked.
"I tried to get him to drop the charges, once we knew there was no chance of getting you."
John was toweling off his chest and arms. "I take it he said No?"
He already knew that; Sandy had reported it to him on his last visit.
"He punched me." Rodney rubbed a thumb over a spot on his jaw, then caught John's gaze. "Then he kissed me."
John wasn't prepared for the cold stab in his gut from Rodney's words. That cheap Boston flatfoot touching Rodney in any way…
"Then he turned tail and ran," Rodney continued blithely ignoring the glare on John's face. "Haven't heard from him since."
"Not even when the money showed up?"
Sandy had arranged for the return of the original two million and change. His account of the Swiss bankers' dismay and Malone's subsequent near-coronary at finding a large cardboard box full of money on his desk had kept John chuckling for hours.
Rodney just shook his head. "The insurance company paid me a 'kill-fee' and cancelled the job."
"So, it's all over then," John said and bent to dry his legs.
"Not quite. You're still a wanted criminal and I'm out of a job."
"We both knew the risks." John slanted a glance up at him.
Rodney's lips tightened and he took a single step forward. "It's not over," he said stubbornly.
John straightened up with military exactness. "You had your chance, Rodney. I beat you, fair and square. Let it go."
"You said we were a pair."
"And then you turned me in!"
"You knew who I was from the start, John. I never once pretended with you."
Which was true. Rodney had always played a straight game, whereas John couldn't claim that. He'd never been able to claim that.
He dropped the towel on the back of the chair beside him, then sighed. "What do you want, Rodney?"
A warm lick of breeze ruffled Rodney's hair and curled around John's damp back. Then Rodney took the last three steps. His hands burned on John's cool shoulders but his mouth was disconcertingly gentle on his salty lips.
"Now I'm on your side," he said when they parted.
John let his hands drop to Rodney's waist, where they began to gently ease his starched shirt out of his waistband. Rodney pulled back just enough to look John in the eye.
"But no more tests, John."
John nodded, one hand moving to the buckle of Rodney's belt.
"And no more bank robberies," Rodney said, voice hitching a little at the clink of the metal.
"Now you're just being petty," John murmured, then slipped his hands up to begin unbuttoning Rodney's shirt.
"John," Rodney said breathlessly.
"Rodney," John said happily as he slid Rodney's shirt off to fall in a heap on the porch. He grinned and bit Rodney's collar bone, delighting in the rich moan he got for his trouble. Sure, the man in his arms had cost him two million dollars, but he was beginning to think it might have been worth it.