Jack drew back as though he'd been struck. He looked down at the printout in his hand and then back at the woman who sat across the desk from him. Her nameplate read "Edna Goldenblatt, HR Manager". Right at that moment, Ms. Goldenblatt was being a mighty big pain in his ass. Jack gave her what he hoped was his most effective glare but she only lifted a challenging eyebrow and adjusted her cat-eye glasses before folding her hands primly in front of her.
"As you can see, Sheriff Carter, you currently have 200 hours of vacation time on the books," she said. "According to current GD benefits guidelines, you have to use at least a quarter of it, in order to keep the rest."
"Come on, I've taken vacations before.,” Jack pointed out. “How the hell did I end up with 200 hours?"
Ms. Goldenblatt turned to her computer, tapped a few keys then and read off the screen. "You were duly notified two years ago when the vacation day accumulation policy changed."
"I was not," he began hotly only to let his voice drift off when the monitor was turned toward him with an officious snap. He looked down the screen and saw his scrawled signature. "Clearly this is one of those times when I really should have looked at what I was signing."
Ms. Goldenblatt turned the monitor back around then looked over the rim of her glasses at Jack. "Regardless, you did sign the paperwork during your benefits election period and you agreed to the policy change. You have too many hours. In other words, use 'em or lose 'em."
Jack rubbed his hand over his head and took his copy of the paper work and folded it up before sliding it into his pocket. "Anything else you want to let me know about that I'm responsible for?" Ms. Goldenblatt smiled up at him.
"Not right now. We'll be sending out the notices for the benefits election period in approximately three months. I suggest that you make time to make your choices carefully with regards to what you'd like to stay the same and what you'd like to change." She turned her attention back to her computer and promptly went back to work. Jack sat there for a few more minutes but from the way Ms. Edna Goldenblatt was ignoring him, he knew that he'd been summarily dismissed.
Allison and Henry had no pity for him. "You should read those messages from HR, Jack. They're usually important." She sipped her tea then looked at Jack who grimaced.
“You read all of those messages," he groused. “Of course you do.” Allison nodded as Henry manfully tried to cover his snicker with his hand.
"I do otherwise I'd end up in the same situation you: sitting across from Edna and explaining myself."
"Well, according to Edna I've gotta use those hours or lose them. He looked balefully at his sandwich. "I'll just hole up at my house for a week or so and that should do the trick.”
Henry chimed in. "Oh no, standing GD HR policy says you should leave town so that you can 'rest and recharge'." His fingers made the appropriate air quotes as he watched Jack's face fall in distress.
"You all hate me."
“No one hates you, Jack, but you do have a hard job and more often than not, any plans you make to take time off get interrupted,” Allison offered reasonably. “We need you in top condition which means, getting out of this fishbowl and back into the real world." She looked down and checked her watch. "I have to pick up Jenna." She slipped off her stool then straightened her clothes before she leaned over and pecked Jack on the cheek. "Look at this as an opportunity. Go have fun." Gathering up her things, she waved to Vincent and was out the door.
Jack took a bite of his sandwich and swallowed before he mused, “Am I making too big a deal about this?” Henry's answering smile made Jack's stomach flip flop a little.
“Eh, maybe a little but making a big deal is what you do, Carter. It's a thing.”
He was about to say more when Vincent placed a plated scone in front of him, his face alight with anticipation.
“You're going to love this, Henry. Apple current scones with a touch of cinnamon." Vincent said eagerly.
Henry picked up the scone and took a small piece off one end. He smelled it then popped the morsel in his mouth. Jack sat back and watched the proceeding with no small amount of amusement.
"Well?" Vincent asked impatiently.
"It's good. Nice flavor and texture," Henry said. He looked over at Jack. "Tasting scones is serious business." Jack waved a quelling hand at his friend.
"Far be it from me to get between a man his scone."
They shared a companionable chuckle before Henry said, "I may have a solution to your vacation time problem.”
“If it saves me from having to face Edna Goldenblatt again, I'm there.” Jack said
Henry finished off his scone and then turned to Jack, resting his arm on the counter. "Road trip."
Since those were the last words Jack expected to come out of Henry's mouth he could be forgiven for his lack of comprehension. “Say what?”
The older man leaned forward conspiratorially. "I have to go to JPL down in Pasadena. I was going to drive myself but I'm willing to share the driving duties and gas if you are."
"I don't know," Jack said doubtfully. "I mean, I haven't done a road trip since, well, since I came up here with Zoe. I'm a little out of practice." He thought about it again. "Oh what the hell, why not? When's you're meeting?"
"Wednesday morning. We can take our time going down if we leave early Monday."
Jack slipped off his stool and waved at Vincent who walked over with a thermos full of coffee. "Thanks, Vincent." He nodded at Henry. "I need to talk to Jo and get things set up but we should be good to go. Call me later and we'll work out the details."
Monday came quickly. They opted to take Jack's Crown Victoria (which the Marshal's Service graciously allowed Jack to keep) since it had epic legroom.
Jack looked up from where he was packing the last bags into the trunk to see Henry holding up the battered Panasonic boom box that lived in the house most of the time.
“You still own a cassette player."
"Yeah, I do.” Jack replied somewhat defensively. “I happen to have a lot of music on tape that I either haven't gotten around to replacing on or it's completely out of print. I still like to listen to them.
Henry ducked back into the car then came back up with a well worn cassette in his hand.
Jack rolled his eyes. "It's a classic." He hummed a little of the chorus to “Africa.” Henry stared at him till Jack's humming died away. "If you have some music you want to bring along, I'm totally open to it. Philistine," he said that last bit under his breath.
Henry's eyebrows went up and Jack was about to say something more when suddenly he saw the edges of the other man's mouth twitch.
"I'm only messing with you Jack." Henry said, his smile kind. "I might have a few cassettes floating around my garage. We can check on our way out of town.”
Eureka, Oregon → Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena CA (I-5 → CA-134 → I-210)
The drive down was easy enough. Even with swinging by Henry's to pick up the aforementioned cassettes (Jack promptly pounced on Barry White's Greatest Hits), they were on the road and on their way in record time.
Jack took the first stretch, popping in Herb Alpert's Fandango. As the first song began, he looked over at Henry. “So what's the meeting about?”
Henry adjusted himself in his seat before answering. “They're helping to suss out some of the data collection issues for the Astraeus mission. Since we're getting close to the launch date, a face to face meeting was definitely in order.”
“Uh huh.” Jack kept his eyes glued to the road, his mind working until something clicked. “Edna busted you!”
He turned his head just enough to catch Henry's grimace. “I knew there had to be a reason you needed to get out of town. I mean, okay, you have a meeting but driving down? You?”
Henry tried to glare but only ended up chuckling. “Yeah, well, I would have driven down in a week or so. Considering I'm the one who called for the meeting in first place, I could have set it for anytime.”
“How many hours on the books do you have?” Jack asked.
Jack's mouth opened and closed with a snap before he said, “Are you serious? Edna busted my balls for 200 hours and you have 300?”
“Being mayor has it's perks, Jack.”
Good natured grumbling eventually subsided into the give and take of a long car ride. The adjusted time line meant that in many ways, the two were closer than they had been before. Given the nature of their respective positions, it was hard to spend time that wasn't dependent on the job.
But that was life in Eureka. Things, and sometimes people, got put aside for the work. That fact was what eventually derailed Jack and Allison. He loved her but it had faded into the love of a very close friend in the wake of Stark's death. He'd meant what he'd said that fateful day: he'd always be there for her as well as Jenna and Kevin. She was a constant in his life, as were Jo and Fargo.
As was Henry.
Pasadena, CA → Cabazon, CA (I-10 E)
Henry's meeting took the better part of Tuesday. Jack busied himself with a quick trip to the local Marshal's office. It had been a few years since he'd been down and there were a few people that he'd missed when he'd transferred out of Los Angeles and up to Eureka. It wasn't as though he expected things not to change but it was still surprising to see Dave Lupine’s office occupied by someone new. "He retired about a year after you left, Jack." Tom Vickers had been part of one of the other teams in the office. "He figured if you could get out maybe he could too. Last I heard, he moved to Arizona."
Jack pretended not to hear the subtle censure about not keeping in touch.
When he got back to JPL, Henry was already waiting. "Okay, enough of that," Henry said. "Drive away. Drive away very fast."
Jack did a donut and smoked out of the parking lot much to the surprise of the scientists who'd come looking for Henry. Jack grinned at him. "Fast getaways are my forte." He checked his watch then looked over at Henry. "Got any other plans for the rest of the day?"
Henry shook his head. "Nope, that was it for me."
"So you're my prisoner." Jack let his voice drift into a cheesy villain mode. Henry snorted amused.
"Should I be worried?"
They pulled on to the I-10 east and Jack brought them up to the speed limit. "I thought since we're down here and this is a road trip and all we should see a few sights."
Henry held up his hands in surrender. "I don't know..."
"Henry, It's not like I'm driving us into LA. Trust me."
Which is how Henry found himself standing in front of a dinosaur in the middle of the desert. He looked up, the creature rose in the air silhouetted against the late afternoon sky. Jack was walking around it grinning. "Isn't this great?"
Jack stuck his hands in his pockets grinning. "I used to bring Zoe out here when she was really little. Father daughter time. I thought I'd bring Jenna a souvenir." He walked over to Henry and put his hands on the other man's shoulders. "It's Americana, Henry. It won't bite."
Henry reached up and rested his hands on Jack's, holding them in place. They stood still looking at each other until they heard, "Hey, you boys looking to get into the gift shop?"
That broke whatever spell was being woven between them. Jack stepped away to talk to the proprietor and Henry was left with the impression of warm hands on his shoulders.
They stayed in Cabazon for an hour, pouring over every inch of the gift shop located in Dinny the dinosaur's belly. Henry stood back from time to time to watch Jack. He was a little less buttoned up than he was in Eureka. At the best of times, he managed to forget that Jack hadn't always just been there. At the worst, when things were going wrong it felt as though there was a wide gulf between them. Jack would be the first to say to anyone that he was just a guy who happened to end up in the right place at the wrong time. Watching this Jack Carter, the one in the short sleeved shirt and jeans with the ready smile, Henry found himself wanting to know this one a little more. The one who was just a guy.
Cabazon, CA → Littlerock, CA (I-10 W → CA –38 W)
"I figure we can work our way back up towards the Five," Jack said. They'd slid back into the car and headed back out on the 10 W. "I'm not in a big rush to get back."
"Miss Goldenblatt would frown if we showed up any earlier than Thursday," Henry offered. He reached behind him and pulled up the boom box. He settled it on his lap then rummaged through the tape box until he came to one of the one's he'd brought. Popping it into the player, he turned up the volume then set it back on the back seat. The sweeping strings of Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra filled the car. Jack looked at him.
"It's a favorite," Henry replied. Jack nodded then turned his attention back to the road. "Love's Theme" seemed very appropriate right at that moment.
"You are not actually going to eat that."
Henry pointed to the golden brown mass sitting on the dessert plate on Jack's tray. The remains of a very eclectic lunch sat around them. They'd come up through the high desert on the 38, passing age old tourist stops as they drove. miles and miles of scrub and hills that glowed brown and green in the sun.
Jack had pulled into the parking lot the minute he saw the sign coming up on his right. "Charlie Brown Farms." Henry looked at Jack. "Dare I ask?"
"It's a thing Henry." Jack replied and held the door open for Henry to walk through.
Clearly, Jack's version of a road trip included a roadside store in a little bit of a town that literally contained everything from a diner to every possible piece of pop culture kitsch known to man. That and a full selection of exotic meats in the freezer. "If we had a cooler, I'd totally bring home some kangaroo," Jack said, rubbing his hands together.
They opted for lunch instead; 1/3 lb. ostrich burgers and sweet potato fries. Milkshakes to finish it all off. Or so Henry thought.
Jack picked up the sugar dusted confection and smiled devilishly. "You know you want a bite." Henry shook his head and held his hands up.
"Oh no, that's all you."
His companion took a bite and chewed slowly, his eyes closing in bliss. "You have no idea what you're missing," Jack said after he'd swallowed. He held up the deep fried Twinkie and held it out. "C'mon. Try it."
"Vincent would be appalled."
Jack shook his head and his lips quirked in a half smile. "Indulge me."
Henry sighed. "Anything for you." He leaned in and took a bite, fully prepared to hate it. He chewed once and then again, looking over into Jack's eyes that were dancing with amusement. He swallowed. "That's good."
"Uh huh, what'd I tell you?" Jack replied. He took another then held out the last bit to Henry who clasped his hand to bring it closer so he could take the last of the sweet. Henry licked his lips as Jack's nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed.
They spent the night a few miles down the road in a little motel that was barely worth the name but had two beds, clean sheets and limited satellite television. Jack sat outside while Henry was uploading additional notes from his meeting. His beer was ice cold, the condensation chilling his fingers. He took another sip and thought about lunch with Henry.
Even though he'd focused much of his affection on Allison, Henry was Jack's best friend. His best friend who flirted with him at lunch. Jack laughed at himself. Intimate relations were not his strong suit, a fact which Jack's ex could attest to. He had a tendency to miss a lot of cues.
The screen door shut behind him and then Henry sat down beside Jack on the stoop. Jack put aside his beer, opened one for Henry and handed it to him before taking up his own again.
“Got everything done?”
Henry nodded. “They've already started running the data that I sent earlier. This was just supplemental material.” He took a long pull on his beer before he nudged Jack with his shoulder. “Thanks for doing this with me.”
“No problem. Allison was right, I needed to get out of Eureka for a while.” Jack looked out into the darkness, his thumb rubbing against the peeling label of his beer bottle. “Can I ask you something?”
“Are you, ah, I mean...do you...like me?”
He cringed a little at how his voice sounded but it was too late to take back. Henry shifted next to him and Jack went to get up. “Y'know what, forget I asked.”
Henry's hand on his arm stopped him. “Don't go just yet, okay, Jack?”
Jack hunkered back down on the stoop. “Okay.”
They both drank their beers, the silence stretching between them until Henry said into the deepening dark, “I do like you.”
Littlerock, CA → Mojave Air and Space Port, Mojave, CA ( CA-138W → CA-14N)
Living in Eureka meant that you had to be prepared for anything, a lesson that was sometimes lost on people in the outside world. This was never more clear to Henry when a quick visit to one of the hangars at the Air and Space Port turned into a Thing.
“I'm not entirely sure how this happened, Dr. Deacon,” the young man who'd been showing them around the port said. “Normally, the test engines on the shuttle turn off on the first try.” He flipped switches frantically while the rest of his team ran to try and disengage the test engines from the main grid.
“Then you've got yourself a problem, son, because these are not,” Henry snapped back.
The shuttle in question was the latest iteration of a privately owned space shuttle being built by one of the six civilian contractors at the port. The scientists at GD kept a close eye on the efforts here with the hope of doing further work in conjunction with whomever got the closest to getting another working model off the ground and into the mesosphere.
Given Henry's extensive experience with the Space Shuttle, he was a favorite around the port so it made sense that the team from Argosy Aeronautics wanted him to check out their latest shuttle engine.
Unfortunately, the glitch that caused the engines to misfire then stay on meant that the entire port could be in danger unless they could be turned off.
He checked the gauges and fished for his ear piece. Once he slipped it in, he clicked it on. “Fargo, it's me, Henry. Listen, I'm going to have,” he looked over at the hapless tech. “What's your name again?”
“John Cowell, Dr. Deacon.”
“John Cowell from Argosy is going to send you some data. See if Zane can run through the program to see where the glitch is in their program is. Yes, yes I know you've all got your own work to do but this is kind of important.” Henry rolled his eyes and snapped, “Fargo, if we can't get the engines that are roaring in the background to turn off then it won't matter if it's inconvenient because I won't be standing here.”
He was about to say more when the engines flared white then cut off abruptly. “Okay, that's weird. Fargo, I'll call you back.” Henry cut off the call and looked over at John. “What did you do?”
The younger man shook his head. “I didn't do anything. It was edging toward critical and then it just cut out.”
“They must have been able to shut down the grid. C'mon.”
The two men rushed out of the hangar and over to the crowd that had gathered outside. Fine tendrils of smoke floated away from the burned mass that had once been the transformer. Jack pushed his way through the crowd, a large rifle in his hands which was in turn connected to a batter pack on his belt.
Jack pushed the protective goggles to the top of his head with a grin. “Remind me to thank Jo when we get home.”
Henry folded his arms and said, “She gave you a portable particle laser for our road trip?”
“Nah, she gave it to me months ago. I thought it might come in handy.”
Mojave, CA → Points unknown
“The 58 will take us to the 99 and from there we can hook back up with the 5 near Tracy” Henry said, smoothing the map on the hood of the car. He looked over to where Jack stood, hands on his hips. “Jack?”
“It's only Friday,” Jack said thoughtfully. His eyes met Henry's and he smiled. “I'm not ready to go home yet.”
Henry folded up the map and walked over to stand next to Jack. Trucks heading north turned toward the 58. “The 14 will take us into the desert.”
“We've got tunes, snacks,” Jack countered then bumped Henry with his hip.
“Road trip,” Henry said. “No rules.”
They got into the car and Henry turned them towards the desert. Jack grabbed a tape and put it in. Marvin Gaye's sultry voice filled the car. Henry spared Jack a glance. “Let's Get It On?”
Jack put his hand on Henry's thigh. “I'm nothing if not subtle.” And Henry laughed, his foot pressing down on the accelerator, taking them towards the horizon.