THE FATHER'S SON JOB
. . . Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got a right
To kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do
But you ought to thank me before I die
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in your eye
Cause I'm the son of a bitch who named you Sue.
The morgue at Clifden District Hospital was quaint as far as morgues go.
Well, maybe quaint was too strong a word.
Rustic? No. Antiquated? Eh.
The rest of the hospital was freshly remodeled – slate tile floors, shiny new glass and steel atrium, TV screens in the elevators showing the inspirational stories of former patients. Some feng shui design consultant had made a bundle on that place.
The front desk was set in the middle of the atrium, an enormous polished birch half-circle, and the receptionist was pretty, perky, blonde. The second he cleared the revolving doors, she locked onto him like a guided missile, flashing him a smile so strident that he thought he saw her ponytail tremble.
He had just finished 12 hours in transit – cab to Logan Airport, overnight flight to Shannon, two hour drive to Clifden. He was tired, his legs ached, his back was stiff, and he was dried out from recycled airplane air and too many tiny bottles of Dewars. Perky was not exactly what he had in mind. But then he didn't have much choice either.
He sighed and trudged towards her, forcing the edges of his own mouth up.
A pair of doctors walked into his path, laughing and talking, so distracted that they almost ran him over. They were angling towards a nurse pushing a young mother in a wheelchair. The Mom had the newborn swaddled in her arms and the father was walking beside her making ridiculous wide-eyed, peek-a-boo faces at the baby. The baby which was most likely asleep. The doctors smiled and waved, and the nurse smiled, and the Mom smiled, and the Dad stopped making an idiot of himself long enough to smile, and the receptionist still had that plastered-on smile, and Nate half expected everyone to burst into song, elbows swinging, like he had stumbled into some cheery alternate Broadway musical universe.
It was irritating.
When he asked the receptionist the way to the morgue, she tilted her head to one side and furrowed her eyebrows, all exaggerated sympathy, a sad puppy with perfect cheekbones.
"Oh, I am so sorry for your loss!"
He felt his teeth clench.
To get to the morgue, one had to take the elevator to the basement (enduring 20 seconds of the triumphant story of Deirdre Collins' gastric bypass surgery on the elevator TV) and then follow the long, brightly-lit hallway past Radiology and Phlebotomy and then take a left down another long hallway past Linen Services, and finally hang a right down a short corridor that ended in front of the elevator to the sub-basement. An elevator that must have been part of the hospital's original construction.
I'm guessing no TVs in that one.
The metal grate doors were manual, closing in the center from the top and bottom, not the sides, and they were open, but not all the way. On the top and bottom, a good six inches of door jutted up and down, like spires on a fence, and how that thing had ever passed a safety inspection he could not fathom.
He tried to ignore the impression it gave him of rows of jagged teeth in front of dark, gaping mouth. It was probably just the jet lag.
The morgue was the only thing in the sub-basement, down a hallway that was not brightly lit. The front door drooped in its hinges, and the furniture was a hodge-podge of cast-offs from other departments. And there was a smell. An aggressive disinfectant smell hit him first, and once he adjusted to that, there was an undercurrent of dampness. And something chemical-y that must have been formaldehyde. And maybe also, there was rot.
He liked all that about the place though. Or, at least, he preferred it to the rest of the hospital.
The rest of the hospital had the modern finishes and the shine, but it was all a lie. Nothing shined in a hospital once you really got into it. Once it really got into you.
The morgue, at least, was honest. It was what it was. Kind of fucked up and kind of sad.
The attendant was a kid, eighteen or nineteen tops, with black hair that hung into his eyes and a cluster of acne on the right side of his chin. He was tall and paper thin, gangly, awkward. Nate repressed a cynical smirk. The hospital, apparently, saved pretty and perky for the front desk.
The kid stared at him for a long few seconds when Nate walked in and then seemed to catch himself and look away, pretending to busy himself with something on his desk. Nate went to the counter, a polite smile on his face, and he noticed with mild surprise that the kid was blushing, the cheeks and the tips of his ears a rosy pink.
"I'm, uh . . . I'm here to identify a body."
The kid nodded without looking up and then sat at his desk behind the counter, at a desktop computer that must have been twenty years old. "Your name?"
Nate narrowed his eyes. He was sure the kid had been the one who called him at McRory's the day before. Why would he bother asking him his name when he knew very well who he was?
The kid typed it in and hit enter, and then they both stared at the rotating hour glass icon as the computer tried to process. And tried. And tried.
The kid's blush seemed stronger now, the redness sweeping across his nose and chin, coloring his acne a dark purple. And his eyes darted, never fixing on Nate for more than a few seconds at a time. Something about him bothered Nate, tickled the back of his brain, teased him, nagging him for look, but he was too tired and too distracted to fully appreciate his own instincts, and he glossed right over them. The problem was obvious he decided. He intimidated the kid.
It was a mis-read, he would later realize.
And an arrogant one at that, Sophie would point out, just in case he had managed to miss that part.
When the kid finally verified that there was, in fact, a body to be identified, he showed Nate through a back door and down a short hallway that led into a long rectangular room with whitewashed cinderblock walls and green linoleum floors. There were two white exam tables in the middle of the room, each extending from a pedestal base. From a distance, they looked like body-sized sinks, and as Nate got closer, he saw that they were basically just that – shallow ceramic tubs with a table for a corpse in the center, and each table had grooves across it at regular intervals, to direct fluids into a trench that ran around the table.
The body lockers were antiques, too - cast iron coated in white ceramic instead of the more modern stainless steel. The edges of each locker were lined with black trim, and he was struck by how closely they resembled the top of his parent's kitchen table when he was a child.
The kid led him to locker 27 and pulled out the long metal slab, the wheels on it creaking in the otherwise silent room. Nate was surprised to feel his heart suddenly quicken in anticipation, and he chastised himself for it. This was just business, a pain in the ass you had to take care of, like going to the dentist or making Hardison file fake tax returns.
The body itself was covered with a paper shroud the color of hospital scrubs. When the kid pulled it back to reveal the man underneath, Nate heard the sound of himself sighing. He looked at the dead man for nearly a minute, until he became aware of the kid's eyes on him, and he forced himself to look away then, to look at the kid, and he gave his most casual shrug, like someone had just asked him if he wanted Chinese or Thai for dinner.
"That's him," Nate said. "That's Jimmy Ford."
Nate had never been the claustrophobic type, which was a good thing. He might not have survived the paperwork phase if he was. The morgue office was a glorified walk-in closet, with five foot tall file cabinets lining every wall and a too-large wooden desk stuffed in the middle of it. He had to shimmy just to take his seat opposite the kid, and the back of his chair hit file cabinet when he pulled it away from the desk. The only light was a banker's desk lamp, the green glass shade covered with a thin film of dust. Nate stared absently at it, trying to focus on not focusing on the image of dead Jimmy Ford.
The kid picked up the paperwork and fumbled through it, dropping his pen and then smacking his head on the pull-out shelf when he bent down to pick it up. Nate winced in sympathy and watched him contort himself practically in half to fish the pen out from under the desk in the tight space. He decided that he might like the kid. Or at least, he didn't dislike him. The clumsiness and nerves were sort of endearing, and how could you not feel at least a little sympathy for a guy who had to work in this place every day?
When the kid sat upright again in his chair, rubbing his head, he was surprised to find Nate staring directly at him, with an expression that was amused but not at all unkind.
Nate smiled. "So how long have you worked the morgue?"
They got to talking. The kid was hesitant, but Nate could tell that he was a bit starved for conversation, too. It was like turning a spigot on and off – words would pour out in a rush and then he would stop himself, then open up again, then stop. He fiddled with the paperwork as they spoke, ordering and reordering.
His name was Feichin Cleag, and he grew up on a farm in Claddaghduff before moving to the "big city" of Clifden, Connamera in County Galway. His did not like farm life, and he left as soon as he turned 18. He was working to save money for college, he and was planning to enroll at National University in the fall. He wanted to be a doctor, so he had taken the first job he could get at a hospital, and he didn't mind that it was in the morgue, really.
"The people are easy enough to get along with," he cracked, in a way that let Nate know it was not the first time he'd used that particular line.
Nate smiled and relaxed back in his chair a little. He was not normally one for small talk, but it was a good distraction under the circumstances, and he saw a lot of his own young self in Feichin Cleag - responsible, serious to a fault, determined to escape the boundaries he grew up in.
Feichin apologized about the weather, which was rainy and cold, even moreso than usual for March, and about the paperwork, which he knew must seem so inappropriate in a moment like this. He was especially apologetic about the cause of death, which was blunt force trauma and suffocation from strangling.
It was a homicide.
Nate had bitter laugh at that. "I wouldn't have thought he was here long enough to piss somebody off that bad. I should have known better."
Feichin got a tight look, somewhere between a forced smile and a grimace.
Too much information, Nate told himself, but goddammit, when were people going to get it? How many ways could he say that Jimmy Ford was a bastard – to Sophie and Hardison and Cora and a half-dozen old sentimental drunks that had known his dad back in the day and wanted to regale him with their fond war stories of Jimmy Ford? They all gave him that look, that infuriating, patronizing look, like he had issues. It made him crazy, and now he was tired and skewed enough that it set him off.
He leaned forward in his chair, pressing one forearm onto the desk while he gripped his chair with the other hand.
"You know what? Let me tell you a little something about Jimmy Ford. Jimmy Ford was not a nice man. He was a thief and a criminal, and he made a lot of enemies and he just kept making them." Nate tried to ignore the sarcastic voice in his head, the one that sounded an awful lot like Sophie. That doesn't sound like anyone we know. Oh no, not at all. "I didn't even like the man, and I was his son, so that should tell you a thing or two about Jimmy Ford. It's no great loss."
Nate forced himself to stop talking. He was breathing hard now.
He was a sophomore at St. Francis Xavier when he first read John Donne. His teacher assigned parts of Meditation 17 as a reference while they read For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Hemingway was good, but the Donne was stunning. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. Sitting crossed-legged on his bed, the street sounds humming outside his open window, he had read it and re-read it over and over again. It was the truth, and he had always known it, his whole life, but he had never realized that he knew it - or how it important that knowledge was - until he saw the words in print.
And how many times had he come back to them since? It had become like a mantra, especially in prison. Especially after prison, when he had set his feet on the muddy-slippery slope – Mr. Good Bad Guy - and started to climb. It was one of the many tricks he had found to keep his footing, so he didn't slide all the way down to the bottom. And he was always looking for those tricks.
But at that moment in the morgue office, he could find no sadness and no sympathy for Jimmy Ford anywhere inside himself. Just an odd, jangly anger that made him feel dizzy and sick.
He leaned back in the chair, trying to relax again. He rubbed his hand along the top of the desk. The room was hushed, and the kid was going a very nice shade of burgundy, and Nate could hear Sophie's voice in his head again, admonishing him. Nice job there. Maybe he's got a dog you could kick, too?
He focused on breathing, forcing himself to calm down, and then he turned to the forms with exaggerated interest. "So, where am I signing again?"
By the time they finished the paperwork, Feichin Cleag had become quiet and thoughtful. He stood and pulled a quart-sized Ziploc bag out of one of the desk drawers and handed it to Nate. "Your father's personal effects. We didn't save the clothes, I'm afraid."
Nate rolled the bag over in his hands. There was a brown leather wallet, a wedding ring, and a green matchbook with "Mackey's" written in simple white script across the front. This was Jimmy Ford, age 76 – three personal possessions and a forthcoming bag of ashes.
"Don't worry about it." Nate said. He stood and pocketed the bag.
"When the ashes are ready, someone from the crematorium will call you to pick them up." The kid hesitated and then asked, "Should they call your cell or the hotel? I, uh, didn't get where you were staying?"
"The Clifden Inn. Either is fine."
The kid stood and held the door open for him.
Nate waved his hand in the air absently, feeling the need to apologize but not quite sure of how to go about it. "Look, uh . . ."
Feichin shrugged and took his hand, giving it a firm shake. "Not at all. Really. My old man wasn't the nicest guy you ever met, either."
"Ah." Nate looked at the kid and - in an absolutely correct read - saw a mixture of longstanding anger and fresh regret.
"He pass away recently?"
They stood in the doorway, Feichin staring at the hall floor.
"You know what the priest said?" Feichin finally asked.
The kid adopted a gruff voice. "No matter what went between you, Feichin, you'll always be your father's son."
Nate shook his head. "What a fucking idiot," he blurted out.
He expected the kid to be shocked or appalled or maybe call security, but Feichin immediately snorted a short laugh in response.
"That's kind of what I thought, actually."
They stared at each other for a moment, the first time the kid had dared to make real eye contact, half smiles on both their faces.
"Well, I'll try to keep your priest's sage advice in mind," Nate finally smirked, pulling the Ziploc bag from his pocket and tipping it up in a salute before turning and heading out the door.
Had he looked back, he would have seen that behind him, Feichin Cleag's own smile had faded to a troubled frown.
When he checked into the inn, Nate was impressed to find himself in a two bedroom suite with a kitchenette. Floor-to-ceiling windows ran the length of the main room and the adjacent master bedroom, all overlooking the misty bay. He smiled and made a mental note to grab a little something for Hardison on his way home. Something suitably tacky and touristy so as not to appear too sentimental. Maybe a green shot glass. Or a leprechaun in a snow globe.
He brought his bag into the master bedroom and stood in front of one of the windows, rolling his shoulders to loosen the muscles in his back. The mist hid everything, but he wasn't looking at the scenery as much as staring in its general direction.
Jimmy Ford, murdered.
He fished the Ziploc bag from his coat pocket and started through Jimmy's wallet. There was a debit card and a single picture ID in the name of James Logue – just enough to access the "retirement fund" Hardison had set up. Everything else said James Ford.
Why the hell would a man with a price on his head use his real name when he had a perfectly good alias?
Nate shook his head and sighed. He pulled the ID from its plastic sleeve, and two photos that had been tucked behind it fell to the bed. He picked one up. It was an old black and white of Jimmy and Rose Ford, Jimmy in a leather blazer and turtleneck, hair slicked back. He had his arm around Rose, and she was leaning into him, her cheek against his chest, and they were both laughing.
Nate stared at it for a long time, and it occurred to him that he was trying to place these people. They looked like his parents, but this was no version of them that he had ever seen in the rooms of theirBostonbrownstone. Not that they fought. She was the person Jimmy was kindest to. But the more money Jimmy brought in, the more his mother worried, and then of course, there was the fact that he and Jimmy seemed to live with their fingers on each other's buttons. Nate could not remember a time when there wasn't an undercurrent of tension in the house. This relaxed, carefree happiness was not something he had ever seen in them.
The second photo was a Polaroid from his mother's instant camera, cut around the edges to fit into the picture sleeve of the wallet. It was his own younger self, fourteen, stick skinny, his shaggy hair parted in the middle and feathered back in a way that made him cringe. He made a mental note to never let the team see that picture. Ever.
He was wearing his school uniform, holding a plaque. It was an achievement award he had received at the end of his freshman year, the first of many academic awards he would win in high school. One student from each grade level received one, and the plaques had been presented by the principal at a special end-of-year assembly that Rose – but not Jimmy - had attended. Rose tried to convince Jimmy to go, but he'd waved his hand in the air and mumbled something about a prior engagement and gave her a look that said and let that be the end of it.
Then he proceeded to mock Nate for days. "Hey egghead, where's the sports section?" "Poindexter, get me a beer will ya?" And when his mother sent him to McRory's one evening to find out when Jimmy would be home for dinner, Jimmy – reeking of scotch and cigarettes – leaned close to him and poked a finger into his bony chest hard enough to leave a nickel-sized bruise. "You're so smart, you figure it out." Rose put a stop to it after that, after Nate came home flustered and angry and near tears, and she didn't talk about Nate's awards to Jimmy again.
So why did Jimmy have that photo in his wallet?
He threw the wallet on the bed. It was bad enough that Jimmy had gotten himself killed, but now Nate was actually starting to feel bad about it. And that pissed him off to no end.
He rubbed his hands over his face and considered his options. He was exhausted, but he was too wired for sleep. He hadn't eaten in nearly 24 hours, but he wasn't hungry. He checked the bedside clock. It was almost 1:57 p.m. local time, which meant almost 8 a.m. in Boston, which meant he could call Sophie.
Sophie who you left town without speaking to.
Sophie who would no doubt be worried and pissed and ready to wring his neck.
No, that was definitely not a conversation he was ready to have. Which really left only one option. He picked up the book of matches from the bed and read the address. It was time for a drink.
Nate walked in the fine mist for almost an hour, dragging out the distance with long detours. He concentrated on the weather and the architecture and the storefront displays, trying to clear his mind of Jimmy Ford. Just put it away, just for a little bit. For now, it felt good to get damp and cold and see the puffs of his breath in the air.
Mackey's Pub – unlike just about everything else in Clifden - was not particularly quaint. Older, rougher around the edges, it was precisely Jimmy's kind of place. The floors were scuffed to bare wood in front of the door and along heavily trafficked paths to the back room, where the dart boards and pool tables were. In the front, there was a line of wooden booths on one wall, a few scattered tables and a long, rectangular bar.
The bartender eyeballed him when he walked through the door, and Nate gave the guy his best fuck you smirk as he walked across the room and pulled up a rickety stool. The guy was huge, with a shaved head and a spider web tattoo on the left side of his neck. His thermal shirt was off-white with age, and his sleeves were pushed up to the elbows to show off two heavily tattooed forearms roughly the size of Christmas hams.
"Guinness and a Powers, neat."
The bartender stared at him for a moment and then slowly took a glass from behind the bar and started drawing the beer.
Nate planted his own not-exactly-ham-sized forearms on the bar. He continued to smirk in a show of -
Stupidity? He heard Eliot's voice in his head.
More like, you know, toughness, Nate thought back. Confidence. Stick-to-itiveness.
The Eliot in his head was laughing at him now.
Nate had to sort of admit he was right. Better to pick your battles, especially when you were flying solo. He downed his shot in one gulp and gave a slight nod to the bartender, losing the smirk.
He had introduced Eliot to Powers Irish Whiskey after their last con, as the team celebrated at McRory's. This led at some point to Hardison making a crack about drinking lighter fluid. Which led to Eliot harping on Hardison's own choice of fancy vodka mixers, which were exactly what Eliot would expect from someone who played with dolls. And then Sophie and Parker had laughed. And Hardison, ego bruised, snatched Nate's shot glass out of his hand and downed it in a single gulp . . . and very nearly spit it all right back up, coughing and sputtering as Eliot laughed and yelled to the bartender for a Shirley Temple for my bad ass friend here.
Nate smiled to himself thinking about it, and suddenly half-wished that that the team had come with him.
"Nate?" Sophie cocked her ear towards the door and knocked again. "Nate?" she said, louder now.
"Too bad," Eliot shrugged, mock disappointed. "Guess we'll just have to catch him back in Boston."
Sophie arched an eyebrow at him and glared. Then she threw a look at Parker, who stepped up to the door, smiling serenely, and in a single fluid motion, pulled a small pin from her hair, slipped it into the keyhole and turned the knob, pushing the door open.
"Ya'll, I got to be with Eliot on this one." Hardison said, standing in the hallway with Eliot as the girls waltzed in.
"Solidarity brother," Hardison said, holding his fist out to Eliot for a bump. "Nate's not gonna like y'all breaking and entering all up in here."
"Oh please," Sophie said, not batting an eye. "It's what we do."
Parker stood in the middle of the main room, and looked around, nodding in approval. There was a sofa and two arm chairs separated by a coffee table, and a rectangular dining table nearer to the kitchen that could hold six. "Nate's place is nice. And big."
"A suite? A harbor view?" Sophie was incredulous. "I'm overlooking the side of another building!"
Eliot surveyed the suite from the hall, frowning. "At least you got a window," he said. "My room used to be a closet."
"I've got a window," Parker chirped. "And a bay view."
Sophie and Eliot turned to Hardison, staring daggers.
"What? Luck of the draw, people. Luck. Of. The draw."
Eliot rolled his eyes and walked into the suite, leaving Hardison in the hall.
"Hey!" Hardison called after him. "I thought we were in this together. What happened to solidarity, man?"
"My solidarity wouldn't fit in my room, so I had to send it home." Eliot growled, while Parker made her way through the French doors to Nate's room and commenced bouncing on the king-sized bed.
"Hey now, ya'll better be glad you got rooms. This is what you get for giving me last minute notice." He looked at Sophie. "And I could have gotten nicer rooms, big rooms, in other places. But it had to be at Nate's hotel. I had to give away four "very special upgrades" to get those crappy rooms."
Eliot was peaking inside the cabinets in the kitchen. "Crappy being the operative word."
"We always stay in the same hotel." Sophie said defensively. "It was force of habit."
They dismissed her in unison: "Whatever." "Yeah right." "Uhhh-huh."
Sophie harrumphed and turned her back to them to look out one of the windows, all dramatic indignation.
Parker made her way back to the main room and flopped on the sofa, propping her feet on the coffee table. "So, what do we do now?"
Eliot shrugged. "We wait, I guess."
Four shots and two beers later, Nate stepped back outside the bar and into the night. He was feeling good now. Looser. More energized and alert. He decided to walk back to the hotel.
The mist had tapered somewhat, but the cold had not, and he pulled up the collar of his pea coat. The bartender – like any good bartender in a rough local place – was not exactly forthcoming with detail, but Nate cast himself as an old work friend of Jimmy's, and after a bit of gloating over various criminal exploits to make clear that he was no cop or other threat, the bartender decided that he might have remembered Jimmy, that Jimmy may have been "lookin' for a bit of action, maybe."
Retired my ass, Nate had thought, and also, why am I not surprised?
Nate stared at the ground as he walked, deep in thought. If his mis-read of Feichin Cleag was his first mistake of the trip, this was his second. As he approached the cross street at the end of the block, he had no sense of the impending threat until movement flashed into his peripheral vision. He flinched away instinctively, but it was too late, and he was grabbed by the collar, pulled down the side street, and swung around, tumbling into the alley that ran behind Mackey's.
He found himself lying on his belly on wet cobblestones, staring up at two sets of legs in front of him. Two sets of legs that belonged to two men standing between him and his only exit. He pushed himself up, wondering how his day could get any worse.
Then two more men filed into the alley, and the two that had grabbed him circled behind.
Annnd that's how it gets worse.
He held up his hands, placating. "Look fellas, what's mine is yours, okay? I've got credit cards, debit cards, cash . . ." he reached for his wallet, perfectly willing to part with it in light of the odds.
A few of the men smirked, and Nate heard the footsteps of yet another man approaching. The two in front of him parted to allow the fifth man to take a place in the center. Nate recognized him immediately.
"We're not after your money Ford," Mark Doyle said, "but I do fancy a little payback."
Sophie sat on the sofa in the main room and stared out the window. The mist had receded enough that she could see the town lights reflected in the water. Eliot and Hardison had gone for supplies and were busy unpacking – microwave popcorn, cereal, milk, smoked fish, brown bread, cheese, dandelion greens, beer, a bottle of Bordeaux and an aged Irish whiskey for Nate, to placate him since he was now officially going to deal with his father's death with company, whether he liked it or not.
Parker was roaming the edges of the rooms, growing more restless by the second. She circled Nate's bedroom in loops, looking out the windows, slipping in and out of the bathroom, bouncing on the bed, over and over, the same pattern. She finally stopped at the dresser and ran a hand over the edge. Nate's suitcase was on the floor by the window, still packed by the looked of it, which meant that there was probably nothing inside the dresser. But still. A good thief could never be too sure. She ran a finger over the handle of the top drawer and pulled it open a crack, craning her neck over to peer in.
"What are you doing?"
Parker slammed the drawer closed and turned to slide in front of it. Sophie was standing in the doorway, eyeing her suspiciously.
"Nothing." She waved her hand at the room and shrugged. "You know, just standing around."
Parker stared at her blankly, busted and not sure if she was really in trouble or not.
"Well, don't just stand there. What did you find?" Sophie demanded.
Parker grinned with schoolgirl enthusiasm and whisked a wallet out of the top drawer. "Score!"
"Shouldn't he have that with him?"
Parker cracked it open. "It's Jimmy's. Ew, dead guy's wallet. Creepy." She passed it off quickly to Sophie.
"Tell me you are not actually going through Nate's drawers," Hardison said from the door and then cringed. "That did not come out right."
"Oh, don't act so indignant. You just wish you had thought of it," Sophie said, looking through Jimmy's wallet.
Hardison leaned against the door frame, crossing his arms over his chest, refusing to agree or disagree with that.
"What's everybody –" Eliot walked into the doorway and stopped midsentence when he got a look at them. He looked at Hardison and they shook their heads at each other. "Nate's gonna kill you guys."
"Well, he has to get here first," Sophie huffed.
"Or we could take the party to him," Parker smiled, pulling the Mackey's matchbook out of the dresser.
Eliot and Sophie decided to grab a cab to check out the pub, while Parker and Hardison stayed behind – just in case Nate showed up back at the inn. The pub was something of a long shot. A pack of matches in his room didn't mean Nate was actually there, as opposed to any of the dozens of other places in town that would serve him liquor. But it was a lead, and the only one they had, and Eliot was more than willing to waste a trip. A pint in a pub in Ireland was infinitely superior to being trapped in a confined space with an antsy Parker. Unless you were Hardison, who happily volunteered to stay behind.
They were halfway there when the cab was nearly run over by an ambulance speeding in the other direction. The cab driver swerved, and Sophie and Eliot were tossed to the side in the back seat. Sophie lunged for the head rest on the seat in front of her, and Eliot grabbed the armrest on his door. They exchanged wide-eyed looks while the cab driver shouted obscenities. Then they turned in unison to look through the back window at the ambulance now veering around a corner behind them.
As the cab dropped them off, Eliot noted the flashing lights from an Irish Garda car down the closest side street. He looked around and saw a few rough looking men hanging around the corner, watching whatever the officers were doing. Nate had picked a shady place to get a drink, if he had in fact decided to come here.
Eliot took Sophie's elbow and guided her inside. It was still relatively early. There was a man at the bar with his back to them, and a few people were scattered here and there at tables. At this hour, probably regulars getting started for the night. Eliot noticed a second room off behind the bar.
"Order me something dark and Irish," he told Sophie. "I'm gonna hit the head and check in back."
Sophie slid up to the bar, and the bartender, who had been so suspicious with Nate, looked her up and down with an overly-friendly smile.
Sophie was not impressed. "All done there, sparky? Think you could get a few drinks then?"
She heard a snort off to her right and turned to it, one eyebrow raised. It was the man that had his back to them when they entered. Sophie got a look at him now and made a quick read. Cute. Not particularly bright. Trouble.
He was grinning at the bartender, who he clearly knew. "Better watch out, Donal. I think she could take ya."
"Smart boy," Sophie smiled at him casually.
Without a word, he slid two bar stools over, so he could sit next to her, and the hairs on the back of her neck pricked up.
He held his left hand out to her. The knuckles of his right one were wrapped with a bar rag and ice. A bruiser, then.
"Mark Doyle. Smart is just one of my talents."
"Celine Duval," Sophie said without missing a beat.
"And what brings a nice girl like you to a place like this Miss Duval?" The Miss was a question unto itself that Sophie chose not to answer.
"Hmph, wouldn't you like to know?" She reached out and playfully poked at his forearm, and Doyle smiled around the rim of his glass. The alias and flirting were automatic. It was in her nature to play.
The bartender placed Eliot's beer and her shot of whiskey down in front of her.
She had been thinking of Nate when she placed her order. Now, it gave her a way to casually toy with Doyle. She lifted it swiftly to her lips, downed it as if she was drinking water, and slapped the glass upside down on the bar. Doyle raised his eyebrows, impressed.
"I'm from Hollywood," she said. "My assistant and I are here scouting for film sites."
Over Doyle's shoulder, Sophie saw Eliot returning from the back, and she saw how Eliot's gait slowed and his body tensed when he saw Doyle's face. He was on high alert. Now what's all this about? She waved him over. "There's my assistant right there," Sophie said loudly enough for Eliot to hear. "Evan, this is Mark. Mark Doyle."
They shook hands, and Eliot smiled, but his eyes were completely devoid of warmth.
"So, you two are from Hollywood, eh? What kinda film are you scouting for then?"
Sophie opened her mouth, but Eliot quickly interjected, "Irish mobster film."
Doyle raised his eyebrows, and Sophie raised hers, too, catching Eliot's meaning.
"You don't say," Doyle smiled.
"Yes," Sophie said, running with Eliot's prompt. "Sort of a Miller's Crossing meets the Godfather."
"Well, if there's one thing I like it's an Irish mobster," Doyle smirked.
Eliot sat down on the other side of Sophie and sipped his beer. He appeared casual, relaxed, but Sophie noticed that he had positioned his bar stool well away from the bar, and sat on it sideways, leaving himself room to move quickly. Doyle ordered another round for he and Sophie, and he was so focused on Sophie that it was easy for Eliot to send her a text – chk hm w H.
Sophie peeked into her purse when the phone buzzed and excused herself under the guise of checking on an important message.
As she ducked into the other room, Doyle watched her backside depart. "So, you two are a couple then?" he asked Eliot.
"Naw, man, it's strictly professional. We just work together."
"You don't say," Doyle downed his scotch and motioned for another one, grinning.
Eliot resisted the urge to knock his teeth down his throat. He made himself think of one of his own go-to types, the earnest hard-working nice guy. He gave Doyle a self-deprecating smile and definitely did not think about the fact that he could crush his windpipe with his thumb.
They drank in silence for a couple of minutes, Eliot replaying the evening – ambulance, police car, Mark Doyle and no Nate. It all fit together all too well, and it left a pit in his stomach. He had half a notion to take out the entire fucking bar, every single one of them. It was better to play it cool, though, he knew. If Doyle had done something to Nate, who knew what or if he was in that ambulance or somewhere else? No, they needed to stay calm and get the lay of the land at this point.
Although he really would have preferred taking everyone the fuck out.
"How's your hand, man?" Eliot said, with a tone much sharper than he had intended, and he had to resist a grimace.
It was definitely not the tone of an earnest hardworking assistant, and Doyle heard the challenge in it, his eyes narrowing.
"I'll live." He laid the bar rag off to the side now, and Eliot made a point of noting the scrapes along his knuckles, the kind you got from punching someone in the mouth.
"Looks like you got a few good ones in." Eliot smiled.
Doyle stared at him, really looked at him now. Eliot was digging, and Doyle knew it, and now his hackles were up. Out of the corner of his eye, Eliot could see the bartender watching their conversation, too. Eliot reminded himself to stay cool. He smiled and tried to seem nervous. He was perfectly harmless after all.
"I don't mean to pry, man. It's kind of a movie scout thing, you know. I'm always checking things out." He forced an uncomfortable laugh. "It's a bad habit really. I should probably quit."
Doyle downed the other shot and visibly relaxed. Eliot's show of nerves had made him feel like the alpha again.
"No worries, Evan." He lifted his hand and flexed the fingers open and shut. "Let's just say I gave better than I got."
Eliot was just re-thinking the pros and cons of knocking Doyle's teeth out when Sophie came striding over, full of purpose. Doyle saw her, too, and as he turned his head to admire her, Eliot gave her a look that he hoped read something along the lines of Take over right now or I'm going to wrap a bar stool around this asshole's head.
"That was our fearless director. His flight's here, the driver's late, and he's not a happy camper. We better get going."
"Can't your filthy assistant take care of that?" Doyle asked nodding towards Eliot.
"We're all filthy assistants to the director, unfortunately." Then she smiled winningly and placed her full open hand on Doyle's hand, skin on skin.
Eliot raised an eyebrow. That was not a move she would make lightly. She was officially on the grift now.
"We'll be in town for a while. Maybe we'll see you here again?"
"Best bar in town," Doyle smiled back, and Eliot knew she had him wrapped around her finger.
As they headed for the door, Sophie gave Doyle a flirtatious wave and smile over her shoulder, but when she turned away from him, the smile dropped like a stone, and even after all these years of watching her work, Eliot could not help but be a little amazed at how easily she could flip that switch.
When they stepped outside, Sophie turned to him, her face grim. "Hardison started checking around when I told him about Doyle. Guess who just got admitted to the ER?"
Twenty minutes later, they were all in the rental car on their way to Clifden District Hospital.
"Man, this place is like the dark ages," Hardison groused from the back seat, focused on his tablet. "They got the admission record uploaded but that's it. No ambulance report, no ER assessment, no nothin'. He's there, but that's all I know."
"What about police records?" Eliot asked from the driver's seat.
Hardison shook his head without looking up. "What part about the dark ages do you not understand? We're talking Middle Earth here people."
Parker, sitting next to Hardison, quirked her mouth to the side. "You know, Middle Earth and the Dark Ages are two totally different things."
Hardison did a double take, blinking at her, suddenly torn between the crisis at hand and an immense geek excitement over the fact that Parker knew the difference between the Middle Ages and Middle Earth. He looked back and his tablet and then at Parker and then back at his tablet again, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand.
Parker, meanwhile, had already moved on to other things. She could see Sophie's reflection in the side window, her mouth pressed downward in a deep frown, nostrils flaring. Her whole body was rigid. Eliot was grumbling under his breath, and even Hardison was punching away at his keys with unusual vigor.
"Wow. You guys are, like, really tense."
Hardison looked at her. "Ya think?"
Eliot was shaking his head now. "I shoulda snapped that guy in half the minute I saw him."
"Don't worry," Sophie said quietly. "We're not done with Mark Doyle. We are far far from done with him."
Parker didn't love going in alone, but they'd been burned in small towns before. It would be just their luck to rush in together and run straightaway into some cousin or friend of Doyle's, and there you go, sayonara, con over, the end.
Hardison pointed this out in the hospital garage, as they were piling out of the car, and when he caught the look that flashed across Sophie's face, he held out his hands, palms up, an apology plastered all over his face. "I'm just sayin'."
Sophie smiled and squeezed his forearm. "No, you're right. Absolutely." She took a deep breath. "We'll have to split up then. "
So Parker was visiting the ancestral homeland with her "father," while Sophie, Eliot and Hardison were going to con Doyle into . . . something. They had no idea what, but this wasn't exactly their first con on the fly either. And the specifics of the con could wait, at least for now. For now, the three of them sat in the car in the garage, waiting to hear what Parker could find out.
The ER was quiet, to be expected on a Tuesday evening. The only patient in the waiting area was a young girl in full football kit, muddy from knees to chin. Her father sat next to her, her forearm across his lap. He was icing her wrist with one hand and rubbing her back with the other and looking quite a bit more shell-shocked than she did. The girl had a defiant look on her face, despite the tear tracks on her cheeks, and Parker couldn't help but smile at her as she made her way to the nurse's station, to the short, grey-haired nurse on duty.
The nurse peered at her over the top of her glasses, and Parker cleared her throat.
"I'm looking for Nathan Ford. I heard he was admitted here?"
"Are you relations dear?"
Parker stared at her, drawing a complete blank until Sophie practically yelled in her ear, "Parker! You're his daughter, remember!"
"Right! Yes! I'm his daughter." She nodded at the nurse.
And then found she could not stop talking.
"Which makes him my dad. Of course. I mean, since I'm his daughter, what else would he be, right? So. Yeah. Nate Ford issssss. My dad."
In the car, Hardison's eyes popped open, and Eliot banged his head on the steering wheel, while Sophie stared straight ahead, mortified.
The nurse didn't seem to notice, though. Well, not much. She gave Parker a look but seemed to chalk any oddness up to emotional trauma. She came around the counter to take Parker's arm. "Oh my, you poor thing. You come with me, I'll take you right back."
She led Parker down a corridor behind the nurse's station, toddling as fast as her stout little legs would carry her, while Parker kept nearly even pace with a slow, loping walk. The nurse looked over at her, smiling and apologetic. "Your da' took quite a knock, I'm afraid."
The hallway was lined on either side by curtained-off examining areas that gave way towards the end to a cluster of private rooms.
"We're waiting on the orthopodaedist to come in," the nurse told Parker. "That's a bone doctor. He was out in the country for a wedding, wouldn't you know."
Parker hmmed gravely, as if that meant something to her. She was still looking for her bearings, and it was at least a relief that the nurse seemed content to do all the talking.
When they reached the last private room, the nurse took the door handle but then something seemed to occur to her. She stopped and turned to Parker. "He looks a bit rough, dear, but . . . well, we think nothing permanent. The orthopod can tell us more when he gets here."
Parker stared at her, wondering what to say to that.
"Parker," Sophie whispered in her ear. "Ask her what happened. Tell her you split up for the day and he never came back to the hotel."
The nurse clucked her tongue sympathetically when Parker asked. "You'll have to talk to the police dear. I know one officer said it was probably a mugging. Or hooligans just out to cause mischief." She shook her head. "The world is so full of crooks and criminals these days, I swear."
"So true," Parker nodded earnestly.
When the nurse swung the door open, the first thing Parker saw was the bed in the middle of the room, inclined to a 75 degree angle "to keep pressure off the face." Nate was laying with his head tilted to the right, away from the door. His left side was clearly visible, though. The line of his jaw and cheekbone were both puffy and distended. His left arm was encased in an air cast, two fingers in temporary splints.
The room itself was dark, lit only by the green light of a heart monitor and the soft fluorescent glow of the x-ray box mounted on the wall across from the bed. There were two x-rays fixed in the box – one of a forearm that showed a clear break in the big bone surrounded by several smaller cracks, like a busted sidewalk; and the other of a hand, with the middle and ring fingers bent sideways at the middle joint.
"The generalist will be in on her rounds soon. She can answer any questions for you dear. If you need anything in the meantime, just ring us with the buzzer, right?"
Parker nodded as the nurse left, but she hardly heard what the woman said. She had never been in a hospital for anything but a job. This was different, seeing someone she knew attached to machines, seeing broken bones displayed on the x-ray box, listening to the mechanical sounds of equipment measuring vitals in beeps and clicks. It was unsettling, but it was also fascinating the way everything worked together like a well-planned con.
"Weird," she said to herself, too softly for the others to hear. Even weirder than usual.
"Parker, how is he?" Sophie asked.
"What? Oh. I don't know. He's sleeping." She walked around the bed to get a better look at him. He had an IV in his right wrist and a heart monitor clip over his left forefinger. The right side of his face lacked the general puffiness of the left, but there were scrapes along his cheekbone, like road rash. A gash ran through the right eyebrow that must have required a good dozen stitches.
"That's gonna leave a mark," she said.
"Parker, is there a chart?" Eliot asked. "On the end of the bed?"
She found it and opened it up. "Yeah, but it's all in some secret code."
"What does it say?" Eliot asked.
"If I could read code, I could tell you," Parker rolled her eyes. "Duh."
Eliot squeezed the steering wheel. "Parker! Just tell me exactly what it says, alright?"
"Sheesh, okay. It says Intake Report. A bunch of circled stuff and boxes checked – caucasian, male, 48, blah blah blah. Then there's some writing in the notes section. F-backslash-x. L in a little circle. Then o-r-b, then n-slash-d. Then h-backslash-l, f-backslash-x again, the 'l' in the circle again and an m-x-l." Parker shook her head. "This is like that secret message in the cereal box that you could never get decoder for."
"It's medical shorthand, Parker." Eliot barked. "That's fractured left orbital, non-displaced, and hairline fracture of the maxillary, non-displaced. He's got a broken eye socket and broken upper jaw."
Hardison and Sophie both looked at Eliot pointedly.
"What? Haven't you people ever read a hospital chart before?"
"Apparently not to the level you have," Hardison said with raised eyebrows.
Thirty minutes and a significant amount of irritation for Eliot later, they finished going through the chart. Stable fractures to the eye socket and upper jaw on the left, multiple fractures in the left forearm and middle and ring finger on the left hand. Broken ribs, but no associated lung punctures. A small lung puncture into the top left lobe from a break in the collarbone, but Eliot had informed them matter-of-factly that that was a common and often minor complication of a splintered collarbone and had probably already closed on its own.
"They'd have a chest tube in otherwise," Eliot told them. And then when Sophie and Hardison started staring at him again: "What!?"
"You know, really, this is not that bad." Eliot continued. "He got his ass kicked, but he's not leaving Ireland in a body bag. Probably nothing permanent. Things could be a lot worse."
Sophie stared at the white fog of her breath on the car window. She had a sudden urge to grift a private jet and a nurse and fly everyone back to Boston, where they could all be home and safe. But then she thought about Mark Doyle, sitting at the bar at Mackey's with his scraped knuckles and his insufferable smugness. This was no time to lose focus. Parker and her taser could watch Nate until they were done. Right now, they had a score to settle.
"This is crazy," Hardison said. "Nate comes to ID his dad and runs into the one mobster in all of Ireland that we conned back in Boston?"
"That is an awful lot of coincidence." Eliot said.
Sophie took one last deep breath and found her game face. "Well, whatever the case, we're going to find out."
When Sophie arrived back at the bar, it was nearly midnight. Doyle was still there as expected, but now he had friends. One of them had a rather prominent black eye, his white t-shirt smudged with what appeared to be a shoe print. Another sported a busted lip.
Nate, it seemed, had put up a fight.
She took a deep breath and stormed up to the bar, Doyle's friends parting like the red sea on either side of her. She threw down her purse on the bar next to Doyle's pint. "Oh my God, what a nightmare!"
An amused – and pleased – look played over Doyle's face, and she saw him wink at one of his friends. "Well, fancy seeing you again, my dear."
Sophie moved to face him directly; narrowing the distance she had kept between them earlier. It was a slight but unmistakable gesture. "Care to buy a girl a drink? I could use it."
Doyle waved for a round, and Sophie sensed his friends moving off to give him space. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw two of them look back at the bar, exchange a few words and laugh.
Go on, then. Laugh it up boys. Laugh it up.
Outside the bar, Eliot huddled under his hooded jacket and noted her progress over the comms. This part of the con required Sophie to be on her own, in the bar, but he had insisted on lurking outside just in case, while Hardison had gone back to the hotel to set up a proper remote command post. Eliot had also hoped to listen in on the doctors when they came through Nate's room, but Sophie had asked Parker to take her comm out, and Parker had only pouted a little. She and the rest of the team knew very well that the only time Sophie had ever blown a con was when Nate got hurt, and the only time her focus ever waned was when one of them got into real trouble. This was the key to the whole con, and overhearing a doctor talking about Nate's injuries was probably not what she needed to stay focused.
Eliot peppered Sophie with questions, hyper-protective. Did Doyle have friends? How many? Did she want him inside? She seamlessly wove the answers into her conversation with Doyle – of course, four give or take, not at all.
Eliot sighed and began casing the area, staying within range for a quick return to the bar if necessary. At the end of the block, he caught a glimpse of flashing lights from the Garda car he had seen earlier. He ambled down the side street and followed it to a dead-end alley that ran behind Mackey's. There were two detectives poking around in navy slickers with silver reflective stripes.
The taller one saw Eliot watching them and turned on him. "Can we help you?" His tone was polite-but-not-really. Clearly, he did not want to be bothered.
Eliot brought out his innocent look and weaved a little, putting on a bit of a drunk act. "Sorry, man. I was just gonna walk back to my hotel, get some fresh air. Clear the head and all."
"Yeah well, you better get yer fresh air someplace else. This is a dangerous place for tourists."
"Whoa, seriously? Dude, what happened?"
"American walking around in an area he had no business in. Sound familiar?"
Eliot played dumb. "No shit, man. Wow! I didn't know this was a bad area! The pub 'round there was in my tour book."
The detective exchanged an exasperated look with his shorter partner, who was deeper in the alley. "Yeah, well, you can rip that page right out."
"No area's a good area for a drunk tourist," the partner yelled gruffly from the back of the alley. Then, "Check this out, Terry." He was pointing his flashlight to a boarded-up door.
The ground was soaked, the water washing everything into the grooves between the cobblestones, but on the plywood board, protected from the rain by a slight overhang of the roof, there was a runny splotch of red that would have been about cheek height on Nate. Eliot got a sudden image of Nate being thrown face first against the plywood and held there while they worked him over.
He felt a familiar coldness in his stomach that crawled outward over his whole body, making his nerve endings tingle, making him feel detached and exquisitely focused all at once. If Doyle and his friends had any idea of what was in store for them, they would have run to Dublin or Belfast or some other farther away place as fast as their Citroens and Renaults and motorbikes could take them.
"Hey!" Terry's partner yelled.
Eliot jerked back to attention, and while he tried to quickly shift into "aw shucks" mode, he could tell from the sudden look of uncertainty on the cops' faces that they had caught a look at that other side of him. "Uh, sorry guys. Got a little creeped out there, I guess."
"Head out," Terry the Cop said, unconsciously taking a step back from Eliot. "And call a cab! We don't need any more punched up Americans around here. It's bad for tourism!"
Eliot nodded and slipped back outside the alley to look for a better place to wait for Sophie.
Parker was dying of boredom. She was sure of it.
Sophie made her take out her comm, and now she was on guard duty, forced to sit in a hospital room with no con to listen to and Nate being no company at all.
She had already lifted the nurse's key card twice, tossing it on the floor and playing innocent when the nurse came back looking for it.
"How on earth did that get there?" the nurse said the first time, and "I must be losing my mind," the second.
Parker just smiled and shrugged. That was good fun for all of about 30 seconds.
She cased the room. Air vent – check, but too small for anyone to get into. Window – check, but permanently sealed. Drop ceiling – nope. No egress or ingress there. She was half-inclined to explore the rest of the floor but didn't dare leave Nate until they knew Doyle wasn't going to try to finish what he started.
She heaved a sigh and flopped in the arm chair and wondered how many times she could pull the key card trick before the nurse started to get suspicious. She was just getting desperate enough to find out when she heard a hitch in Nate's breathing. She eased up by the bed and leaned over him. She had an urge to poke him that she resisted.
She was used to seeing him hyper-alert. Or hyper-drunk. Or sometimes both. She had once watched him win a chess match against Eliot after downing an entire fifth of whiskey, and Eliot was a pretty good chess player. She was not, however, used to seeing him like this.
Shades of purple were up on the left side of his face now, and he had managed to knit his eyebrows into a frown despite stitches and swelling and several milligrams of morphine. "Are you thinking even when you're asleep?" she whispered to him, her face right over his – so close that she nearly jumped out of her skin when his right eye cracked open.
His left eye was swollen shut, but the right showed blue, albeit glassy and not exactly hyper-alert. He squinted at her for a long moment before he seemed to . . . not really understand why she was there but at least accept that he didn't understand and leave it at that for now. He started looking around the room but stopped with a flinch when he turned his head too far to the left.
Seconds ticked off. His silence made Parker nervous. Maybe he had brain damage. Or amnesia, like some character on a soap opera.
"'Ahs go' ah?" he croaked out finally, his voice whispery and hoarse and muffled, his jaw immobile when he spoke.
"Uhhh . . . come again?"
Nate swallowed and tried again. "Wha's goin' ahn?" he managed this time.
"Ooooh," she nodded, getting it now. The she added enthusiastically: "Mark Doyle broke your face!"
He closed his eye and brought his good hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose – a familiar gesture that Parker found both surprising and comforting given his current state. "I know that, Parker." He said, enunciating more clearly with obvious effort and irritation. He looked at her and seemed to ponder a hundred questions before he finally asked, slurred but intelligible: "Why are you here?"
"We followed you. Sophie didn't think you should be alone, you know, in your time of need." She emphasized those last words, in a way that told him that she was parroting the exact words Sophie had used to get them to Ireland in the first place.
He groaned, and Parker wasn't sure if it was in exasperation or pain. Or maybe both.
She grabbed the button for the pain medication, and held it up to his line of sight. "I've got morphine."
He waved her off and started to shift in bed and froze mid-move, with a sudden, "Ah!"
He eased gingerly back into his original position, and Parker raised the morphine button again for him to see, waving it back and forth with raised eyebrows and an annoying exuberance. Part of him began sifting through terse responses.
Then the other part reminded him that he felt precisely like he'd been pummeled by five guys in a cobblestone alley.
"Okay. Yeah, okay. Hit me."
Parker pushed the button, and Nate sighed and rested his head onto his pillow, eyes closed, waiting for the effects.
"Sophie?" he asked without opening his eyes.
Parker grinned her best evil grin. "Putting the hooks in Doyle."
"Mmm." Nate's thoughts drifted languidly over Sophie's favorite aliases until he landed on the Annie Kroy role she liked to pull out with a certain criminal element. "Gun runner?" he asked, but his enunciation was slipping with the morphine, and his words were slow, so it came out more like "Gu' wunna?"
Parker snickered a little, but quickly composed herself when Nate's good eye cracked open just a slit and fixed her with a glazed but unmistakable glare.
"Nope," she said. "Hollywood producer."
Nate looked at her blankly, trying to work out the con. Parker shrugged. "I know, I know. Long story. They're here scouting for an Irish mob film, yadda yadda." She waved her hand in the air. "Whatever, we're stuck with it."
She thought about it. "Maybe we'll need emergency financing and we can bleed him dry?"
Nate closed his eye again and visibly eased a little more into his bed. Just as Parker thought he was asleep, his right eyelid slid open again, and he stared at nothing in particular.
"Irish mob movie." He said absently, his –r turning into a –w in his mouth.
"Uhhhhhh . . . . excuse me?"
"I know what we can do with it."
In the pub, Sophie had subtly directed the conversation, first allowing Doyle to brag about himself, all the while acting suitably impressed. He hinted, but never quite said, that he was a mobster. He threw money at the bartender, buying rounds for his "boys" and Sophie, who discreetly managed to avoid drinking much, usually by tipping small amounts into other people's glasses. When the fellow with the split lip was leaving, Doyle called him over and slapped a hundred euro note in his palm.
"Good work tonight, Liam. It was worth the wait, even if we got pulled up a bit short."
"Oh, I think we got our point across," Liam smirked.
Sophie watched him leave, and just then, a series of texts came through on her phone. They were from Parker. She read them without giving any hint at what it really said, then rolled her eyes in an act and threw the phone back in her purse.
"Ugh. That man." She looked at her watch and then to Doyle. "Oh God. I've got to get going."
"Oh come on," Doyle leaned in, his nose almost touching hers, and she could smell the whiskey on him, and her stomach churned when she realized that it reminded her of Nate. She resisted a rather strong urge to slap the smug look off his face.
"Believe me, I'd rather stay. But it's an early day with the dictator, I mean director, tomorrow," she said sweetly, and Doyle smiled at her joke.
"I'm so not looking forward to it," Sophie went on. "Our guide cancelled, the director hates Irish food –"
"Yeah. A fellow from the Irish film board was going to show us around. You know, help us find places an Irish mobster might use for Irish mobster things."
"A fellow from the Irish film board was going to do that?" Doyle said scornfully, just as Sophie anticipated he would.
Now to cast the line.
"Well, that's how it usually works. Now I guess we'll have to pay some local and hope for the best. Do you have a tourism office in this town? Maybe we can get someone from there."
Doyle ran his tongue along the inside of his bottom lip. This was shaping up to be one of the best days of his life.
"You want to pay someone to help you find Irish mob hangouts and hideaways?" He smiled.
He leaned in to whisper in her ear. "Well, how about a real Irish mobster?"
Sophie leaned back quickly and made sure her face showed just the right mix of uncertainty and attraction. Celine Duval liked the dangerous type, after all.
"What exactly are you saying, Mark?"
"I'm saying, love, that I just finished a big job I've been planning for weeks, I've got a few days here in town, and I think I could be just the right thing for you."
Sophie laughed heartily at the double entendre. "Oh, could you now? Well, we would have to pay you for your services. Film scouting services, I mean." She smiled, wide and alluring.
He smiled. "I'm sure we can come to an agreement."
And with that, the hook was in.
They went over the plan in the rental car for what felt, to Hardison, like the hundredth time. He was the l'enfant terrible director while Sophie and Eliot were the executive producer and her assistant trying to appease him and protect the film. Or as they liked to call it, The Jerk - their name for any set piece where one team member played over-the-top and annoying. Also known as The Gabber, The Barnum, The Barker, The Gong and The Rolly Polly Flim Flam Man.
Sophie was especially looking forward to it here. For one, it was a great distraction – the mark got so focused on the irritant right in front of him that he never noticed the rest of the team sneaking around the back. It also left the door wide open for a little "good cop, bad cop." Hardison would annoy, and then a little flirtation by Sophie or some commiseration over beers with Eliot, and Doyle should be more prone to open up. And of course, Sophie couldn't resist the poetic justice of it. After all, The Jerk was one of Nate's best roles, so what better con to use to get revenge on Doyle? Especially since Nate - doped to the gills – had come up with the rest of the plan.
They were going to let Doyle talk himself into trouble again. Hardison had hacked into the systems of some of Ireland's bigger law enforcement agencies - the ones that actually had computerized files - and it appeared that Doyle and his father were carrying on business with zeal if not always subtly or style. They were suspects in a number of robberies and heists, but they had apparently been just effective enough not to leave anything too damning.
So the team would "scout" for a location for storing stolen goods or holding ledgers and cash – or, say, ambushing some unsuspecting foe – and let Doyle take them to all the scenes of all his crimes and brag about them to boot. With a the right massaging and a little luck, they would have enough specifics on Doyle to feed to the authorities, local and otherwise, by the time they had finished scouting their little film. The key – and the tricky part - would be getting him to give up something concrete enough that the Garda could actually use it.
Sophie and Eliot met Doyle first, so Hardison could make a dramatic late entrance. Doyle was in the back corner of the restaurant when they arrived, drinking black coffee, smoking a cigarette and reading a football magazine. He gave Sophie a feral grin, ignoring Eliot.
"Celine," he stood and took her hand as she approached, leading her into his seat. "I hope this is worth me being up at the crack of dawn."
Sophie smiled. "Oh, we'll make it worth your while somehow."
Eliot extended his hand to Doyle, the bland smile of a harmless assistant on his face, but Doyle sat without a glance in his direction. He was too focused on Sophie and their flirty small talk. Eliot rolled his eyes and noticed with scorn that Doyle took a chair with his back to the door and the rest of the room, without giving it a thought. He was either the most confident mobster in Ireland . . . or the stupidest. Eliot was betting on the latter.
When Hardison walked in, Sophie leaned into Doyle and whispered conspiratorily, "Oh boy, here he is," continuing to lay the groundwork for bonding over herr direktor.
Doyle stood and turned. And raised his eyebrows in surprise. Clearly, not what he was expecting for an Irish gangster film director. Hardison was feeling smooth, though. He knew Doyle would be looking for some middle-aged white guy to be directing a big film about Irish mobsters – so he had planned his own little special twist.
"Top 'o the morning to ya, boyo," Haridson said, whipping out an accent that was apparently intended to be Irish but was possibly even more appalling than the faux-cockney accent he had used in their diamond con two years earlier.
Doyle stared at him, aghast, and Sophie stiffened ever so slightly. Eliot's eyes flew open and then narrowed into a murderous glare.
"What about ye'? Ready for some mighty craic in the pictures?"
In Nate's room, Parker facepalmed.
They had moved him to a regular room overnight, after the orthopedist had come in and examined his x-rays for exactly 20 seconds before announcing him fit for a regular cast and finger splints. The accommodations were much nicer for longer-term patients. Parker was sitting on the back of a plush, synthetic leather arm chair, feet planted on the seat, listening in on the comms.
Nate, groggy and half-dozing, glanced over at her. "Uh?"
She pulled the comm from her ear and pocketed it. "Hardison."
"He's pulling out some crazy accent again," she shook her head.
Nate held his good hand out and motioned for her comm.
"Oh no, uhn uh. I'm not even supposed to be listening. If Sophie hears you listening, she'll freak."
He motioned again, this time giving her his best I'm serious face, and Parker decided that his I'm serious face did not seem nearly so serious when his face was lopsided and half-purple.
She was about to protest when there was a knock on the frame of the open doorway. She looked up to see a dark haired kid in a lab coat, looking uncomfortable.
"Mr. Ford. I just, uh – I heard about what happened with you at Mackey's, and I just wanted to stop by." He smiled weakly. "You know, make sure you were still in one piece."
"Who are you?" Parker said, popping up from the chair. This, she hoped, was an opportunity for the taser.
"Feichin. Feichin Cleag."
Parker blinked, not sure why he suddenly felt the need to speak to her in gibberish. "What's a Feichin?"
"Parker, stand down," Nate slurred. "He's from the morgue."
"Oh." She said. Then added, "ew."
Feichin stared at her oddly for a long beat, before turning to Nate. "I didn't know your daughter was traveling with you."
"Who's daughter?" Parker demanded.
Nate rolled his eye and fake coughed - rather painfully-and Parker stiffened, suddenly remembering her role. "Ha! Just kidding. I'm his daughter. Obviously."
Nate sighed and rubbed his hand over the right side of his face. He didn't have the energy to salvage his morphine button from its just-out-of-reach spot on his bed, let alone salvage Parker's best attempts to blow her alias. He was trying to decide whether he cared when the morning shift nurse bustled in, all-business, and waved her arms at Feichin and Parker, shooing them out so she could do the a.m. assessment. Nate thought about protesting, but Parker snuck him an exaggerated wink and a thumbs up and was out the door behind Feichin before he could say anything.
Oh sure. That doesn't look like disaster waiting to happen. Not at all.
The nurse was talkative, which Nate – in his brief stay at an Irish hospital - was beginning to think was a prerequisite for employment. She prattled on about Robert Downey, Jr. and the Obamas and Lady Gaga – apparently the three things she knew about America. Nate was doing his best to tune her out, when he remembered something Feichin had said, and a sudden alarm bell went off in his head.
How did he know you were at Mackey's?
At breakfast, Hardison made a big show of high maintenance ordering. When he asked the waitress what they had that was organic, macrobiotic, vegan and gluten-free, she snorted at him, much to Doyle's amusement.
"Charmer that 'un," Hardison rolled his eyes after she left.
"So tell me," Doyle said, intentionally blowing smoke in Hardison's direction, "what exactly do you know about Irish mobsters?"
Hardison waved at the smoke and coughed. "Ever seen a little flick called Miller's Crossing?"
Doyle scoffed. "What are you? Daft? There's not a self-respecting gangster in all of Ireland who hasn't seen that movie."
"Seriously right? Albert Finney, that big Thompson blarin' away-" Hardison mimed a shooting motion, air Thompson machine gun in his arms - "O Danny Boy playin' in the background. That's some mighty craic right there!"
"Yeah, so what's that got to do with you?"
" I wrote my thesis on it, I did. And I made a series 'a shorts based on each character's life, you know, like outside the movie and such. Won me quite a few awards, it did."
"What kind of awards? Oscars?"
Sophie leaned in. "Oh, you know, festival awards. That kind of thing. The Oscars are coming for this film!"
Hardison beamed at her, but Doyle was overtly unimpressed. Sophie could feel their line slipping away between their fingers, and Eliot silently promised to take it out of Hardison's hide if he oversold them out of the con.
"Mark, can I speak to you outside a moment?" She purred.
As they walked out, Eliot leaned towards herr direktor, stabbing his finger at him. "You're doing it again!"
"What? I'm playing the part."
"If you lose this guy, I'm gonna wring your neck, you got that?"
"Man, I'm supposed to be obnoxious."
"Yeah, obnoxious. Not unbearable."
Hardison shook his head. "Dude, I got this. I am not losing this guy."
"He's out the door, Ice Man."
"Hey now," Hardison flinched at having that particular con thrown in his face, "we got that one done, didn't we?"
Eliot rolled his eyes and looked out the windows, at Sophie and Doyle talking outside.
Sophie bummed a cigarette. "I'm trying to quit, you know, but with that one." She nodded back to the restaurant, indicating Hardison.
"That guy's a joke," he growled. "People gave him money to make a movie?"
"Yes. A lot of people. And I'm one of them."
Doyle shook his head and lit a cigarette of his own.
"What can I say? Our director is a nuisance, but he's got buzz. And buzz will get you a long way in Hollywood. How else could we have gotten Liam Neeson to commit?"
Doyle perked up. "Liam Neeson? Seriously?"
Sophie shrugged as if it were the most insignificant detail she could think of. "Oh, didn't I tell you that? He's playing the mob boss. Cillian Murphy is playing his son." Doyle's eyes widened in appreciation, and Sophie – seeing that she was gaining points – pushed on. "And we're in talks with Daniel Day-Lewis to play the cop that pursues them. "
"Gah! Are you serious?" He pointed his finger back towards the restaurant. " That guy got . . . those guys?" Doyle was incredulous but intrigued.
"It's all about the buzz," Sophie blew smoke from her cigarette and tried not to cough. Filthy habit. "That's how we got the actors and that's how we got millions of dollars to make this movie. We couldn't pay you what we're paying you to scout locations without some serious backing, you know."
Doyle regarded her. He did like the money. And the idea of getting paid to basically flirt with a beautiful woman. And maybe if he played his cards right he could get an introduction to Liam Neeson. Or Daniel Day-Lewis. Maybe show some posh actors some real Irish mobsters.
He imagined sitting at the bar with his own da' and Liam Neeson doing shots, unaware that Sophie was watching him closely, reading almost every thought in his head to the letter.
"Come on Mark," she coaxed, leaning into him, ready to put him back on the hook. "I'll make sure you don't have to spend too much time with the brat."
Doyle smiled, eyes half-lidded as he thought of all the things that could come from this new association with Celine Duval.
When Parker and Feichin returned just over an hour later, Nate was out of bed, walking around the room in stiff, tiny steps like his ankles were shackled together. He was half-pushing and half-leaning on the rolling IV stand with his right hand, the cast on his left arm pressed tightly to his side.
Parker gave him a look. "Are you supposed to be up?"
Feichin moved to help him, but Nate gave the kid a murderous glare that froze him – and Parker – in their tracks.
"So tell me something," Nate said, and his words were muffled, but Parker distinctly heard that tone.
Oooooooh, she thought. She knew that tone. That tone was specifically reserved for criminals, marks and other various and sundry lowlife. Even Feichin, who couldn't have known when Nate used that voice, could tell that it was not a good thing. He hesitated, looking at Parker and then back at Nate.
"What's that?" he asked.
"Did you at least get enough to get you through med school?"
Feichin was stock still. A deep, almost purple blush rose to his cheeks and ears. It was all the reaction Nate needed to confirm his suspicions. The kid had worked with Doyle to set him up.
"Get out," Nate said.
Feichin looked at Parker again, and he had such a look of shame on his face that she actually felt a little bad for him.
"I said get out," Nate repeated. He wanted to sound venomous, but he felt suddenly much too tired for that, and it came out as more of a sigh.
The kid backed up two steps, straight into the door jamb, before turning and bolting down the hallway.
Nate backed up himself and leaned against the bed.
"Uh, what just happened here?" Parker asked.
"Doyle paid him. Paid him to call me and get me to come here to ID Jimmy."
Parker mulled this over before she came to a question. "How did Doyle know Jimmy was dead?"
"Because he killed him."
"We're not after your money Ford, but I do fancy a bit of payback."
The two men who had pulled Nate into the alley circled behind him, leaving Mark Doyle and the two others lined up in front of his only exit. Nate's adrenaline, which had started flowing at the thought of dealing with a couple of muggers, was now running at a whitewater pace.
His mind began ticking off options and scenarios, possible escapes, while on another level, he was replaying the trip in his mind, the phone call from the morgue looking for Jimmy's next of kin, the long trip, trying to work out where Doyle started tailing him, when the set-up began, and yet still at another level, he was thoroughly brow-beating himself for missing it all like a complete idiot.
And of course, he had to give Doyle a good show. He brushed his palms together to get the fresh dirt off of them, and then brushed the front of coat and jeans. "Doyle. Fancy meeting you here."
Doyle smirked. "Depends on your definition of 'fancy' I guess, Ford."
Nate snorted a little laugh at that. He couldn't help but be amused. Doyle was dying to tell him how he set the whole thing up. He hadn't learned a thing from the Boston con. He still had a million dollar mouth and a two cent head.
Doyle had absently drifted closer to the man on his right as he spoke, and Nate was careful not to look at the space they created.
When Nate remained quiet, Doyle decided to needle him a little more. "How's your da'?" he asked, his voice full of menace.
"How do you think?"
"I can't tell ya how excited I was to hear that the great Jimmy Ford from Boston was here in Ireland looking for some action. I was thinking I was going to get to settle that old score with you, so you can imagine I how disappointed I was when I met the real Jimmy Ford."
Nate glared. He knew where this was going.
"But it's a funny thing. He started talkin bout his old neighborhood and his old turf. Place called McRory's. Maybe you've heard of it? Or maybe you've heard 'a the bloke that runs it now? Fella named Nathan Ford?"
"So, you used my dad to get to me? I got news for you Doyle. I didn't even like the man."
Doyle laughed. "That's funny 'cause that's the exact same thing he said. Right before I broke his neck."
Nate channeled his surge of anger into a tunnel-like focus. He could sense the goon behind him on the left moving in closer, and the space at the mouth of the alley had grown maybe the tiniest fraction of an inch.
"No one cheats a Doyle, Ford," Doyle said, a tone of finality creeping into his voice, and Nate knew his time was up. It was now or never.
He threw an elbow back into the face of the man moving in, catching him in the mouth, and then ran for his exit. If he could get past the one guy on the left, before Doyle and the others caught him . . .
Of course he couldn't. He knew even before he threw the elbow that he had almost no chance. The space was too small, the goons were still too close, and he was no Eliot Spencer. But you had to take what you could get, and he wasn't about to sit back and wait for Doyle to kill him, like he had killed Jimmy.
As it was, he got farther than he expected. The Left Guy, surprised by his charge, was on his heels when Nate punched him, and his backward momentum pulled him to the ground. He landed with a grunt, right in Nate's path. Nate tried to get over him as best he could, which given all the angles meant planting a foot directly on the guy's chest and using him as a step stool, but the guy managed to get a hand up, slapping at Nate's foot just enough to throw him off balance. He cleared the alley at a stumble instead of a run, and that cost him.
One of Doyle's men threw himself at Nate, tackling him from the right, and then there were two other sets of hands on him, dragging him back into the alley. Nate's eyes darted about as he struggled. He thought he saw someone at the mouth of the alley across the street, but any thoughts of help were dashed when the figure receded back into the shadows.
Where was a good Samaritan when you needed one?
He lurched against them, side to side, trying to pry himself lose, but they held him fast and wrestled him towards the back wall, Doyle trailing behind them with a predatory look on his face, eager to get to work.
Nate remembered very little after that. But there was something that kept coming back to him when he replayed the scene, something Doyle said . . . or maybe said. The whole moment was so surreal and foggy in his head that he could not say whether it was real or some narcotic-fueled dream he was mistaking for memory.
He had been laying face down on the cobblestones, and Doyle knelt down over him, planting a knee in his back, pressing what little air he could get into his lungs back out of them. He took Nate's left wrist and rested it against the edge of the curb, leaving the elbow on the ground and the forearm exposed across wide open space. Nate knew what was coming next, but before Doyle did it, he leaned down and spoke in Nate's ear in a low hiss.
"No matter what, Ford, you'll always be your father's son."
"Nate?" Parker asked. She was staring at him, with her lips pursed in that way that made her look 10 years younger than she was. "You okay?"
Nate gave her a one-shouldered shrug. "Fine."
"You don't look fine."
Nate ignored her. "I need you to go break into my hotel room."
Parker raised her eyebrows and tried hard not to look conspicuous, which of course, made her look entirely conspicuous.
"You already broke into my room?"
"You didn't answer when we knocked!"
At one point in his life, years ago, Nate would have been irritated and exasperated by that response, but he had reached the point where that was a completely plausible and acceptable explanation. "Fine. Then I need you to break into my room again and get me some clothes. And then I need you to come back and break me out of here."
Parker hesitated. She was entirely game, but Sophie, she knew, would not approve.
"Come on," Nate said with a smirk that made his swollen face look ghoulish. "It'll be fun."
As it turns out, breaking Nate out of the hospital was anything but fun. There was absolutely no rappelling or any duct work of any kind. It was just signing some special paperwork about leaving against medical advice and getting scolded by a nurse in such a heavy brogue that Parker would have needed a translator to understand her.
Then she had to drag Nate to the cab and half-carry his sorry ass up three flights of stairs at the hotel. On the way up, he lurched away from her, an uncertain look on his face, like he was trying to decide if he was going to throw up. He put his right hand against the wall to brace himself, half pale and half green, taking slow, deliberate breaths.
Parker inched away from him, just in case. "Oooookay. Maybe the crazy Scottish nurse was right?"
"Irish." Nate gasped, but it came out more like "Ahwis."
Parker snorted. "You sound like a two year old."
He hardly noticed. He was too busy trying to will the stairwell to fucking stop spinning.
"What floor?" he finally asked.
"And we are?"
"Just finished the first."
He uttered a few choice words that Parker did not need a translator to understand. Then he took three quick breaths to ready himself and pushed himself away from the wall. "Alright. Get me to bed before I pass out on these stairs."
He woke to the sound of voices outside his bedroom and the clink of silverware on plates.
He was in his hotel – that much he knew – but there was a gaping hole in his memory in that place where How I Got Here should have been. It was like a black out, except without the satisfaction of drinking a lot to get there.
He blinked to clear his vision and got a hazy recollection of collapsing fully clothed on the bed, Parker standing at his feet, yanking his jeans off by the cuffs. Then it all started to come back to him – the team, Doyle, the con. Jimmy.
He brought his hand to his face, covering both eyes.
"Goddammit Dad," he mumbled, his voice thick as mud and inaudible even in his own ears.
Why couldn't you just retire? he thought.
And then: That's not fair, though, is it?
His mind immediately went to McRory's two years earlier, to the wire in the bottle job, and God, hadn't it felt good to introduce himself to Doyle as "Jimmy, Jimmy Ford"?
And what a mistake that had turned out to be. It was grifter code: you never used the name of someone you knew. It was too reckless and too dangerous, for the grifter and for the alias. He knew it - knew it now and knew it then - and yet, he couldn't have stopped himself from using his father's name if he tried.
He told himself then that the the thrill was in the deception, that there was a special exhilaration about telling a lie in the very house of truth: playing Jimmy in a bar where everyone - everyone except Doyle and his men - knew Jimmy.
Even then, he knew that wasn't the real reason. The real rush wasn't because it was a lie. It was because it was a confession. An admission that some part of him wanted to be just like Jimmy Ford.
And look where it had gotten him, where it had gotten Jimmy.
He closed his good eye and frowned, and when he felt the movement tug at the split in his lip, he pushed harder, until he felt the scab pull from the skin and tasted blood.
It was a pointless line of thought, he knew. It was done now, and it could not be undone, not for all the regret in the world. That was one lesson he had learned very well.
He dabbed at the swelling in his left cheek and eyelid, and the skin felt very un-skin-like. It was closer to the rubber on a Halloween mask, and the pain – in his entire left side, from head to hip – was intense enough to make him queasy. Not some throbbing pain, either, which would have at least involved some ebbing, if only for short beats. This was just as flat and solid and nonstop as a Midwestern prairie. He thought back to his last dose of pain meds, sometime after the morning shift nurse but before they left the hospital, several hours ago given the sounds of people eating and the pale light from outside.
He was about to call for Parker when Sophie slid into his line of sight.
She had planned to be hard on him. She had her speech all ready. She had started in the cab in Boston on the way to the airport and tweaked it almost non-stop for the entire six hour flight, and it was a good speech - full of excellent, salient points about his selfishness and his inability to trust and his flight-first approach to anything even vaguely resembling an emotional discussion. She was really going to let him have it. Even after she found out he was in the hospital, she held onto the notion that he was going to get no sympathy from her until she gave him a piece of her mind.
Then she saw him.
Her whole speech was right there waiting to pour out of her, and she had taken the deep breath she needed, but he looked so terrible, and clearly, he felt terrible, too, and his father had been murdered, and she knew thanks to Eliot that he had used Jimmy's name to con Doyle, and she could only imagine the war he was waging with himself about that (it was grifter code, for Pete's sake!), and so what came out of her mouth was not at all what she intended, but instead and wry and teasing:
"You do realize that this means you can never travel alone again."
So much for letting him have it.
Nate gave her an uncertain half-smile, surprised by her tone and not at all convinced he could trust it. Their teasing was a language unto itself, and there were unspoken rules about when they used it and what it meant. They used it to flirt, and they used it to fight, and occasionally, Nate used it to say something meaningful that he didn't have the nerve to utter without a smirk on his face. And Sophie, ever so often, used it to shift gears in the middle of an argument or some other tense moment, to lighten the mood and let him off the hook. It certainly seemed like that was what she was doing now, but it wasn't what he expected, and he hadn't entirely ruled out the possibility of a trap.
He decided to play along for now.
"You're not gonna hit me, are you?"
"Oh, I think Mark Doyle did a bang-up job of that, don't you?"
Nate gave her a one-shouldered shrug and a look that said, Yeah well, what can you do?
She turned on the bedside lamp and took a glass of water with a straw from the table. Nate cringed at the sight of it, recoiling as much as he could. His tongue felt like a roll of gauze in his mouth, but he wasn't sure he could tolerate anything either.
"Look you, the only reason I didn't haul you back to the hospital myself is because Eliot says you probably won't die if you stay hydrated. Come on, now. Just a bit."
Sophie guided the straw to his mouth, and he took a reluctant sip. His stomach flipped, but the water stayed down, and the feel of it in his mouth was something close to heaven. Like a hot shower after a long bender. She helped him to a little more, leaning over him, her hair falling in loose waves to tickle his right cheek, his ear, his neck. She was staring very intently at the glass and the straw, carefully avoiding eye contact.
She was the first person he thought of when he got the news. He was sitting at the bar at McRory's, reading the paper and nursing his first drink of the day. Well, his first whiskey of the day. It was late afternoon, and the early after-work crowd was starting to arrive. Cora was tending bar, and she had turned to him, face pale, phone clutched to her chest, and for one terrible moment, as she extended the phone to him, the bar took on a surreal tilt, and his heart stopped, and he was sure something had happened to one of the team.
"It's Jimmy, Nate," she said, and his first instinct was relief, and yet the bar did not seem to fully right itself, and yet he still felt short of breath.
It was Feichin Cleag on the phone, he now knew. He told Nate that he found the bar's number in Jimmy's wallet, and was he a relative? Would he claim the body?
Nate made the arrangements, voice calm and flat despite the fact that his half-finished whiskey seemed to be going straight to his head. He handed the phone back to Cora and laid his palms on the bar and stood there, looking at the people drinking, smiling, talking. People who had no idea that the former King of McRory's was dead. A man who would have ended any one of them without a thought. It seemed ludicrous that they could be there, standing in Jimmy's bar, and Jimmy was dead, and they were laughing and talking like nothing in the world had changed. He could feel Cora's hand on his shoulder, and she was saying something to him that he was not listening to.
He reached for his cell to call Sophie. Then he put it down again. She would be sorry, and she would be concerned, and she would insist, he knew, on a very important talk about very important things, like how he was feeling, and what he was thinking, and that was a talk he could not even fathom having at that moment. Or maybe ever.
So in the end, he shrugged Cora off and called Hardison and snuck out of town as fast as he could. He told himself he would call her once he got to Ireland, even though he knew it was a lie.
And she had followed him all the way to Ireland and brought the team with her.
Sophie watched him finish the glass of water. "Hardison and Parker are going to get you something more substantial," she said. "Protein drinks, broth, that kind of thing."
Nate did not look enticed by those options, and Sophie could see his mind working. "And just in case you've forgotten with all your trauma, Scotch is not substantial. And protein drinks do not make good mixers."
Nate gave her an exasperated roll of his good eye, and Sophie could not help but smile a genuine smile.
She pulled a medicine bottle and an eye dropper from the table. "Parker got your prescriptions filled. They're all liquid until your jaw loosens up a bit."
She gave him painkillers and antibiotics, and pulled a chair up beside his bed.
"You didn't let Hardison blow the con?" he murmured, a faint smile on his face.
She scowled at him and arched an eyebrow, not dignifying that with an answer.
"Try to get some rest, Nate," she said, "there'll be plenty of time to talk shop tomorrow."
She ran her fingers through his hair to soothe him, tracing at a streak of grey along his temple and grimacing at the flakes of dried blood she came across.
He leaned into her hand and closed his eye, and Sophie listened to the sound of his breathing, as it gradually slowed and deepened. She turned to glance over her shoulder out the window, and it was dark now outside, and she could hear the muffled sounds of the team in the next room, clearing the table.
Then something came from Nate. She turned back to look at him and realized that he had murmured something, eyes still closed, and at first she thought she had missed it, but then as she replayed the sounds in her head, she caught the words in them.
He had said, "I really am sorry."
It took her by surprise, and she almost teased him, shot back with a "you should be," but there was such a rawness in his tone that it occurred to her that he might not be talking to her at all. He might be talking to Jimmy. Or to Maggie or Sam for that matter, he sounded so pained.
She leaned in closer and placed her hand on his forehead. "Sorry about what, Nate?" she whispered, but he was fast asleep.
When she returned to the main room, there was a single plate on the table that Eliot had no doubt set out for her - salad with the smoked fish and bread he bought the day before, and a glass of wine. Hardison was on the sofa, working on his tablet, while Eliot and Parker took care of the dishes. Or more precisely, while Eliot washed the dishes and Parker stood nearby and generally annoyed him. She was clearly not interested in her official job as dish dryer. He would hand her a dish or a piece of silverware, and she would carelessly brush the towel over it and put it, still half-wet, in any random cabinet or drawer that caught her fancy.
"Parker, that's not where the glasses go," Eliot barked.
"How do you know? You don't live here."
Eliot was about to say something when he noticed Sophie enter the room. She sat at the table without a word and took a sip of her wine, aware of how quiet the others were. She caught Eliot and Parker exchanging a look.
Parker leaned over to Eliot and elbowed him and said in a too loud whisper, "Guess the sex didn't help after all."
"Parker!" Eliot hissed.
Sophie raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
Parker shrugged. "You know. You. Nate. San Lorenzo."
Sophie looked at them. Eliot was slowly turning away from the sink, towards her, wiping soap suds off his hands with a towel, but Hardison seemed to have suddenly become absolutely fixated on whatever he was reading on his tablet, refusing to look away from it. They looked nervous. Parker looked oblivious.
Sophie thought about denying it, but she knew a blown cover when she saw one. Which left one very important question.
"And just how did you know about that?"
Eliot and Hardison both opened their mouths to offer an explanation, but Parker cut them off. "Hardison told me." Then she snorted a laugh. "And he thought you guys wouldn't be weird if you just did it! So much for that theory." She tossed the kitchen tongs she was drying into the dish towel drawer.
Hardison's eyes widened. "Parker!"
"Hardison!" Sophie yelled.
He stammered incoherently and then, panicked and blurted out, "Eliot told me!"
Sophie turned on him. "Eliot!"
"Dammit Hardison!" Eliot growled, throwing his dish towel on the counter.
Hardison stood and pointed at him. "You know what, that's what happens when there's no solidarity among men!" He pounded his chest. "You wounded me, man! You wounded me!"
Eliot rolled his eyes, while Sophie stormed across the room with dramatic flourish, grabbing her bag and twirling to face them all while she pulled the strap over her shoulder.
"I'm going to my room. I'll be ready 8 a.m. sharp tomorrow." She raised a finger and then glared at all of them one last time for full effect "Do not make me wait." Then she turned on her heel and walked out, chin up, eyes narrowed.
Eliot shook his head and went to the fridge, grabbing two beers. "I'm outta here. I'm gonna go have a beer in my closet."
He was halfway out the door when something occurred to him, and he turned around.
"Oh, and Parker? Next time you want to know how people are supposed to act after sex, why don't you ask somebody who’s had it?"
"Hey!" Hardison called after him, aware of Parker's raised eyebrows, without even turning around.
He looked at the closed door, then turned sheepishly to Parker. "He was just kidding, you know. I've had sex. A lot of sex."
"Why are you telling me that?" Parker asked, confused. "That is weird."
"I just . . . you know . . ." he opened his mouth for that good excuse or snappy retort but nothing came and he slouched his shoulders, deflated, and shook his head, "no reason. No reason at all."
He sighed and started packing up his own things, and muttered under his breath. "Damn, I want my solidarity back."
The first location they needed was a place to hide stolen goods. Doyle had suggested an old, abandoned farm about an hour outside town.
Rocking back in his chair in the cafe, puffing on a cigarette, Doyle had winked at Sophie. "Lots of nooks and crannies, secret spaces. If I had a few . . . special things to store away, that's where I'd be storin' 'em."
"Farmhouse it is then," Sophie had purred.
So the piled into the rental, Doyle driving, Hardison in the passenger seat, prattling on and on about the movie and Hollywood and Ireland.
The first half hour was all rocky hills and tall brown and yellow-green grass, with the bay on their left shining in the sun like silver. Eventually, though, they curved away from the water,and the hills gave way to tidy squares of brilliant green pastureland and black-brown soil in plowed fields.
Sophie ran interference on Hardison and Doyle and ignored Eliot, pretending to be enthralled by the scenery whenever he so much as glanced in her direction. Which Eliot found annoying but also - he had to admit - a little justified, so he amused himself by watching Doyle's knuckles on the steering wheel. They were a very distinctive mood indicator. Pinkish meant all was relatively normal. A bit of yellowing, and Hardison was starting to get to him. And bone white. Heh. Eliot liked bone white. That meant Doyle was out-of-his-skin pissed, and the only thing keeping his head from exploding was the lure of drinking with A-list actors and sleeping with Celine Duval. They were bone white for a good fifteen minutes when Hardison jabbered on in his over-thick accent about running with "his boys" as a "lad" in Dublin, and in the back seat, Eliot hid his grin behind his closed fist. That was the most fun he had had since they left for Ireland.
When they reached the farmhouse, Doyle parked in the grass just off the road. There was no driveway to speak of anymore – just an ash-grey stone house in the middle of a field with gaping holes where the windows and doors had been. Doyle and Hardison walked ahead, Hardison talking up a storm, while Eliot took Sophie's elbow and held her back, so they could pull up the rear.
Sophie didn't resist him, but she didn't speak either, and they walked in silence for a few seconds, Eliot knowing full well he was in trouble and in trouble big.
"Look Sophie, if you-"
Sophie gave him The Hand. "Uhn-uh."
"We're kind of a –"
"Things have a-"
"Eliot," she warned.
He moved in front of her, blocking her path. She crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows.
"Alright, you know what, who cares?" Eliot growled. "You slept together and everyone found out. Big deal. That's not exactly a secret you can keep forever. And you two haven't exactly been acting normal around each other lately."
Sophie rolled her eyes and stalked around him, and Eliot dropped his head, exasperated. Then he turned and jogged after her.
"Maybe you oughta still be sleeping together," he said, coming up beside her.
She didn't break stride. "Oh, is this where you give me relationship advice? Because I'm sorry sweetie, that's not exactly your cup of tea is it?"
"I'm not in a relationship, Sophie, because I don't want to be in a relationship."
"Well maybe I don't want to be in a relationship either."
"You don't know me, Eliot."
"I don't need to know you to know you're in love with Nate. Half the people off the street could tell you that."
"Okay, Eliot, you've got me. I'm in love with an alcoholic control freak with anger issues! What a fool I am for not rushing into a relationship with one of those!"
Eliot started to speak but stopped. He raised his eyebrows and started to speak again but again, he stopped. The woman made a good a point.
Up ahead, Hardison and Doyle were walking through the house, Hardison going on about some fictional studio head who was apparently trying to wrap him up into a ten picture deal. Sophie was walking with her arms crossed again, eyes fixed straight ahead, and Eliot sighed.
"For what it's worth, Sophie, you're good for him."
She didn't stop walking, but her eyes lost their focus for a moment and drifted just a tiny bit, before she caught herself and focused forward again.
"Trust me. The man's definitely less of a control freak with anger issues when you're around."
Sophie said nothing, but Eliot saw her exhale a big breath, and her shoulders loosened, and he decided to risk an impish dig.
"You know, not a lot. I mean, the man is still an enormous prick, and a raging alcoholic. But he's maybe a tiny bit better. I mean, probably . . ."
Sophie rolled her eyes, the anger replaced by a wry exasperation. "Oh well, I feel much better now. I am so glad we had this little talk."
Eliot chuckled to himself and watched Doyle bolt out of the house, putting as much distance between himself and Hardison as possible.
"Does that mean you accept my apology?"
"You call that an apology?"
"It's as good as any one I ever got from you," he smiled and ducked out of the way as she punched at him.
"Is that so?" She arched an eyebrow at him and started walking up ahead, so she could deliver her last line over her shoulder for dramatic effect. "I hope you like tea, Eliot, because you'll be pouring mine for a year."
Nate slept until almost noon and woke to find Parker dangling upside down from a set of suspension boots mounted in the doorway between his bedroom and the main room. Her back was to him, blonde hair skimming the floor, and he blinked several times to make sure he wasn't having a narcotic-fueled hallucination.
"Parker," he rasped.
She lifted her head and arched her back until her head and chest were facing him, the crown of her head even with the backs of her knees. Nate raised his eyebrows as much as he could, impressed.
She let herself swoop down and curl up at the waist, nose to knees, unfastened herself from the bar and bounced out of the room. He could hear her knocking around the kitchen, cabinet opening, tap running, before she strode back into his room with a glass with a straw. She stood next to the bed, watching him while he drank.
"I still can't believe that kid set you up. He seemed so nice."
Nate sighed. Tell me about it.
"He gave me a tour."
"Sounds like great fun."
His words were still slurred and imprecise, but Parker was used to it now, could understand him better than anyone else on the team. As Hardison liked to say, she now spoke Broken Jaw. Nate handed her the glass back, and she put it on the bedside table and stood over him in a lack-of-personal space kind of way that made him feel awkward. He shooed at her with his good hand, scowling, and she took one giant step backwards, like she was playing a game of Simon Says.
"Yeah, he took me down to the morgue, which was creepy, but you know, I had to pay my last respects."
"You paid your last respects to my father?"
"Well I am his granddaughter." She crossed her arms across her chest. "It was kind of weird, you know? I mean, he was an old guy, but he was pretty spry back in Boston."
Then she added after a beat. "Dead bodies are weird."
Nate had a bitter half-laugh at that. "Yeah, dead bodies are weird."
He glanced up at her and saw an unusual, faraway look on her face, and something occurred to him.
"That wasn't the first one you've seen?"
"Yep, the first. Numero uno."
"I thought - " Nate started but hesitated, not sure how to broach the subject of her brother. Parker understood exactly where he was going.
"Nope, never saw him. I mean, they had an open casket I guess. So I heard. They didn't let me go, since it was my . . . you know . . ."
Nate watched her mouth shrink into a tiny circle, and she turned her head away from him, a lost look coming over her, and his heart swelled with a fierce protectiveness that he hadn't felt since Sam's death.
"You listen to me, Parker," he said, enunciating every word with special effort. "What happened to your brother was an accident."
She looked at him and looked away again.
"Did you run him over with a car?"
Parker looked at him, stunned and not a little horrified by that question.
"I mean it, Parker. Did you?"
"Of course not."
"Did you push him in front of a car?"
Parker uncrossed her arms and put her hands on her hips. "No."
"No. Of course not. You taught him how to ride a goddamn bike. That's it. Anything after that was an accident. And if your parents or step-parents or whoever said anything to you, Parker, if they said anything to you to make you feel like it was your fault, then those people are not worth the dirt you walk on."
She stood still, fastened to the floor by his intensity. She re-crossed her arms again, and stared at the wall on the other side of the room. Nate thought her eyes looked wet, and he had a sudden sinking feeling that she had misunderstood his point, that his anger had been too much, and he had gone too far, and he felt like a heel, and Sophie was really going to kill him now.
But then Parker looked at him, and her mouth stretched into a tiny little Mona Lisa smile, and he felt suddenly very relieved.
"You know that right?" he said in a softer tone he worked hard to get to after working himself up so much.
"Yes," she said after some hesitation. She did know that. Even though it sometimes felt like it was her fault, she could honestly say that she knew better, and she could not have said that before the five of them.
"I'm not just saying it Parker. It's a fact."
She rolled her eyes, mock exasperated now. "I know."
He watched her for a moment, and then a knowing smile crept across his face. "You must be kind of bored."
"Oh my god!" Parker waved her arms and flopped in the arm chair. "Yes!"
"Want to break into something?"
"Am I going to get in trouble?"
"Only if you get caught."
Parker pulled her knees up to her chest and narrowed her eyes, all interest. "What are we talking about?"
"Police station. All the files on Doyle – Mark or his father. The stuff Hardison couldn't get online."
A devious grin spread over Parker's face. "I like it."
She was out the door in a matter of minutes. "Oh, and hey!" Nate called as she was on her way out.
She turned back to him.
"Get anything they have on my mugging."
The team finished with Doyle in the late afternoon, after he showed them one other hiding place in a vacant storefront near Mackey's. Hardison did not oversell them out of the con, Eliot restrained himself from physical violence at least twice, and Sophie successfully resisted Doyle's advances while keeping him interested.
But Doyle didn't give them any specifics about any jobs either.
He seemed close at times. Tantalizingly close. Outside the location, as he pointed out the alley access to Sophie, his lips parted, and his eyes softened with the faintest faraway look of a prideful memory, and she leaned in, holding her breath, knowing it was on the tip of his tongue . . . and then he closed his mouth and his eyes hardened, and Eliot and Hardison came around the side of the building, and just like that, the moment was gone before she could grab it again.
The man liked to puff himself up, but maybe he had learned a lesson in Boston after all. And worse, he put them on a deadline. Two more days of scouting, and he was done.
"Sorry doll," he smiled over Sophie's protests. "No ifs ands or buts about it."
And then, to top it all off, he turned down Sophie's dinner invitation.
"Otherwise engaged," Sophie grumbled, trudging down the hall at the Clifden Inn. "I'll give him otherwise engaged."
"It's probably the Ice Man there," Eliot said, stabbing a finger at Hardison.
Hardison grabbed the doorknob to Nate's suite and pushed the door open with his shoulder, turning to jaw at them as he walked backwards into the room. "Look, I don't know about ya'll, but I'm working it here. It's not my fau-OH!" He was cut off mid-sentence as he fell over a cardboard file box on the floor a few feet inside the doorway. "What the hell?"
There were at least a dozen other boxes scattered around the living and dining area. Parker had one open on the dining table, leafing through it, and Nate was sitting in one of the arm chairs in flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt, using the cast on his left arm as a paper weight for a pile of file folders in his lap. There were three boxes stacked next to his chair, so that he could easily reach into the top box without bending or stretching or otherwise moving more than a few inches, and he was walking the fingertips of his good hand over the top of the files, reading the labeled tabs and pulling out anything that interested him.
"What's all this?" Sophie asked.
"Poweef fies," Nate said and cringed at his own lisp.
Eliot turned to hide his grin and noticed that Parker's chin was suddenly buried in her neck, as she put her head down to do the same. Hardison was too busy counting boxes to notice. He turned in a circle ticking off each one. Then he looked at Parker, stunned.
"You walked out of a police station in broad daylight with twelve file boxes?"
"Pfft, no," Parker rolled her eyes and dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "I had to photocopy them all first."
Hardison felt his jaw go slack, and he was quite sure that his look went from stunned to full-on gobsmacked.
"Parker's helping me with research," Nate said. And then he couldn't resist adding a dig. "Kind of an important part of any con wouldn't you say?"
Sophie raised her eyebrows at that, and Eliot stared at him before shaking his head and going to the kitchenette for a beer.
"You know, sometimes the direct approach works wonders," Sophie said.
"Is it working wonders now?"
"Look, you know I love me some research," Hardison said, "but the time for files is done. Doyle's cutting us off day after tomorrow."
"Didn't say." Hardison shrugged.
Eliot cracked the cap off of his beer, a crisp tchk sounding through the suite. Nate put a finger to his lips, thinking, and Sophie started to seriously reconsider her decision the day before not to wring his neck. Or to at least give him that speech she had worked on. In her head, she was somewhere between of all the arrogant, ungrateful things and I'd like to see where you'd be on this con without us – with your ass in a sling, that's where! when there was a knock at the door.
They all looked at it.
"You expecting anyone?" Eliot asked.
Nate shook his head and then gave a slight head jerk to Parker. She nodded and strode to the door, squinting through the peephole.
"It's him," she said.
"Who's him?" Eliot asked.
"The morgue kid. The one that set Nate up."
"Oh yeah?" Eliot asked. It had been three weeks and three days since his last fight, and he was getting twitchy. He put his beer on the counter and cracked his knuckles. "I'll get the door."
"Wait." Nate held up a hand to stop him. "Parker, let him in. Let's see what he's got to say."
Feichin Cleag wasn't sure what he'd get when he got to the hotel. He didn't expect a warm welcome, but he tried to imagine as many grim scenarios as he could, too, so he could plan out his responses. He knew Nathan Ford would be there, and maybe his daughter. Maybe even the Garda. A room full of people and paper and boxes was nowhere on the list of things he envisioned. It looked like a political war room, not a tourist's hotel suite
He stood in the doorway, dumbstruck. They were all staring at him – Ford in a chair, a few days' growth of beard on his lopsided face, and he looked paler than he had at the hospital. There was a dark-haired woman standing possessively next to him, her hand on the back of his chair, and she was gorgeous, in an exotic, intimidating way that reminded him of the pin-ups of Sophia Loren or Raquel Welch that he had seen in his Uncle Finbar's workshop when he was a boy.
Ford's daughter was standing next to a tall black man near the door, both of them with their arms crossed over their chests. The man looked young, probably not much older than him, and even with his tough stance, there was a warmth about him that made Feichin think he was probably a pretty nice guy.
And then there was a shorter guy with long hair who frankly scared the shit out of him.
He was looking at Feichin like he wanted to rip his spine out through his abdomen, and Feichin got the distinct impression that he could. The short one did not look like a pretty nice guy.
What on God's earth have I gotten myself into now? He thought and cursed the day he met Mark Doyle.
He took a deep breath and gave them an awkward wave. "Um. Hi?"
"Friends of mine," Nate said by way of explanation. "What do you want?"
"I came to talk, just the two of us." Fehichin said firmly. Then he looked at Eliot and decided that maybe flexibility was the more prudent path. "You know if that's okay with you."
"Anything you can say to me, you can say to them."
Feichin sighed. He really was not keen on an audience, but he supposed he didn't deserve that choice. He took another deep breath.
"Look, I, I just . . . I came to tell you that I'm sorry for what I did. It was a terrible, stupid, selfish thing to do, and I shouldn't have done it, and I'm sorry. Truly I am."
Nate was silent, and Feichin didn't miss the way the others looked at him, taking their cues from him on how to react. Feichin pressed on. "I gave the money back, all of it, every last euro, and when I leave here, I'm going to go to the Garda to tell them what happened. I'll testify if I have to."
"You're going to the Garda?"
Nate considered him for a moment. "Come in and close the door."
Inside, Eliot motioned for Feichin to sit on the sofa across from Nate.
"That's okay. I'll stand," Feichin said.
Eliot raised his eyebrows in a look that said, What the fuck did you just say to me?
Then Feichin decided he might sit after all.
"That's what I thought," Eliot mumbled under his breath.
Sophie took the arm chair next to Nate's, and Hardison pulled up a chair from the dining room table, spinning it around and straddling it, his forearms resting on the back. Parker stood just behind Nate, and Eliot – beer in hand - stood directly behind Feichin, where the kid could not see him, only feel his presence, and Feichin could honestly say that he had never felt more uncomfortable in his life.
"You think Doyle and his people are going to let you live to testify?" Nate asked.
"I made my bed, I'll sleep in it."
Sophie raised her eyebrows and casually put a hand to her mouth to hide her smile. She liked this one. He was intense and serious and absurdly naïve. It was adorable, really. She glanced at Nate and saw the slightest crook of a smile playing at the corner of his lips as well.
"You don't have to worry about Doyle," Nate said. "I have plans for him."
Feichin wasn't sure he wanted to know what that meant.
"Look, I don't want to be privy to any more violence."
"Don't worry, it's not going to be violent," Nate said.
Eliot choked on his beer at that, and when Feichin looked up at him, Nate snuck a reassuring nod to Eliot that said Don't worry, it's going to be violent.
The kid looked around the room, a dozen questions on his tongue, until he finally decided on the one to ask.
"Who exactly are you people?"
Nate invited Feichin for dinner, and Eliot used the leftover smoked fish to make a cream sauce for pasta, topping it off with fresh herbs and some peppercorns that he coarsely crushed with the flat side of his knife. Nate sat at the head of the table, and watched everyone ooh and ahh how good it looked and how good it smelled and how good it tasted, and for the first time in two days, he felt his stomach rumble. Then he looked down at the single canned protein drink in front of him, a bendy straw sticking out of it at a jaunty angle. Like it was taunting him. Fucking straw.
Feichin told them everything he knew. Doyle showed up at the morgue on the same day as James Ford's corpse. Or James Logue's, depending on which ID you looked at, and Feichin had had no luck locating any next of kin for a man with either name. Doyle came in with information, and quite a bit more.
He told Feichin the man was James Ford, an American, and he offered Feichin a ridiculous sum of money to do two simple things. First, call a bar in Boston, where he'd find Jimmy's next of kin to ID the body. Then, slip a Mackey's matchbook into Jimmy things, something Doyle had apparently forgotten to do. Doyle seemed sure that Nate would go there. What else would a man do if he knew his father had been murdered and that was the only clue he had?
Nate and Sophie shared a look at that piece of information. It was a good move, a grifter's move. No oversell, just the right seed planted at the right time, and the confidence that the mark would do the rest of the work – and end up on Doyle's turf, away from tourists and crowds and anyone who might interfere. It might have been the most clever thing Doyle had ever done.
"But then when I met you," Feichin said and he trailed off and shook his head. " I mean, you were an asshole for sure - "
"No doubt," Hardison agreed and Parker snorted.
" – but a lot of people are assholes when someone dies. It's a tough time, you know?" Feichin said softly, looking down at his plate, and Hardison and Parker grew silent, and Nate knew that Feichin was thinking about his own father's death.
Feichin ran his fork in long lines through the last traces of pasta sauce on his plate, and he remembered the deep pit of dread in his stomach when Nate walked into the morgue, and he realized he'd been duped.
"Doyle had me expectin' . . . I dunno, someone like him. Worse than him. He really talked you up like . . . like you were the devil himself." Feichin said, still staring at his plate. Then he shrugged. "But to me, you were like . . . like someone who just lost his da', I guess."
The room was quiet, and Nate replayed the morgue visit in his mind – Feichin's furtive glances at him, the nerves. He remembered the alley outside Mackey's, too - the dark figure receding into the shadows across the street, and –vaguely - the sirens in the background as Doyle and his friends took off, leaving him on his back on the wet cobblestones. As the Garda car pulled into the alley, its headlights shining on him, he could just make out its blue and white lights on building walls above him, rotating around and around until he felt like he were in the center of a whirlpool, and he was swirling down farther and farther away from the light, until all that was left was the dark.
After dinner, Eliot made coffee in the French press while they moved into the sitting area. Nate brought up the rear, straight-backed and bent just enough at the waist to look like an old man with a bad sciatica.
Sophie helped him into one of the arm chairs and sat in the chair next to him while Feichin sat across from him on the sofa, next to Parker. Then Nate led the kid through question after question to fill in any gaps, until Feichin decided that he knew what a Garda interrogation must feel like.
The deal was five thousand up front plus another fifteen the day after Feichin's work was done. Of course, that turned out to be the same day that Feichin saw Nate and Parker in the hospital, so by the time he met Doyle in the tiny office upstairs from Mackey's, he was burning with shame and anger and regret, and he had already made up his mind about what he had to do.
Doyle could have cared less. It was just more money for him.
But he made sure to mock Feichin about it – "what kind of a fuckin' pantywaist are you?"- and to threaten him, tapping his pack of cigarettes on the desk and warning Feichin that no one – no one - ratted on a Doyle.
"Who was there?" Nate asked him.
"Just me and him."
"What was he doing?"
Feichin shrugged. "Looking through some papers I think?"
"I dunno. I saw something that looked like a drawing of a boat, maybe. You know, like one of those maps of the inside of it."
Nate nodded at that. That was promising. "What else?"
Feichin remembered one other piece of paper, but it had seemed so innocuous. He couldn't imagine it was important. "There was something that looked like a big receipt or purchase order or something like that, on like a regular sized sheet of paper, but that's it."
Nate's good eye brightened, a thin smile on his lips. "The Bill of Lading."
Hardison, standing behind the sofa with Eliot, did a double take. "The What of What? The Thrill of Waiting?"
"No, no," Sophie said, waving a hand at him. "The Bill of Rating. I think."
"I heard Chill of Bacon," Parker said matter-of-factly.
"The Chill of -" Eliot scowled at her. "What does that even mean, Parker?"
Nate heaved a sigh and bowed his head, and the others turned sheepish, like a bunch of schoolchildren who had pushed their teacher farther than they meant to.
Nate took a moment to rub the bridge of his nose and then looked up at them. "All done?"
"A Bill of Lading. It's an acknowledge of receipt of goods for conveyance to a place certain." He spoke very slowly, to get the words as clear as possible.
They stared at him blankly.
"How do you even know that?" Hardison asked.
Nate looked at him. "You said Doyle's cutting you off day after tomorrow, right?"
"Now we know why. He's planning a heist. And that Bill would tell us the ship he's going after, and what it's carrying." He nodded to himself, excited now. Now they had him. He looked back to Feichin. "Do you remember anything about that Bill? Anything at all?"
Feichin stared off at the wall as he tried to recall it, but then he shook his head. "No, I'm sorry, I didn't really pay attention, you know? It just looked like a receipt."
Parker raised her hand in the air and bounced on the sofa. "Oo, Oo, I have an idea."
Nate glanced over at her, knowing full well that any idea Parker had was going to involve Mackey's office and lock picks or harnesses. Probably both.
Then Feichin said, "You know, there was a name at the top, but it wasn't, like, part of the Bill. It was just something somebody wrote on it."
"Maria Evanston? Maria Edgerston? Maria Something-With-An-E, I think."
"Maria Edgeworth." Nate said.
Feichin brightened and pointed a finger at him. "Yeah, that's right. Maria Edgeworth." Then Feichin shook his head a little. "How did you know that?"
Nate pointed at a stack of files on the coffee table, and Feichin leaned forward to pick them up and hand them to him.
"You know who Maria Edgeworth was?" Nate asked Hardison, taking the files from Feichin.
"Do I look like I know who Maria Edgeworth was?"
"She was an Irish writer, early 19th century. Big on social issues. Wrote a lot about how the upper classes take advantage of the lower classes."
Hardison stared at him.
"Know what else?"
"I think it's safe to say that I'm firing blanks on Maria Edgeworth, Nate."
"She's a ship."
Nate leafed through the files that Feichin had given him until he found the one he was looking for. He held it up, and Eliot walked around the sofa and snagged it, cracking it open. It was a history of the daily arrivals and departures at Galway Harbor.
"There've been two stolen shipments from the yard at Galway in the last year," Nate said. "The Maria Edgeworth wasn't one of them, but that yard is on her regular route. I've seen that name on the schedules." Nate pointed at the file folder still in Eliot's hands. "The Maria Edgeworth is Doyle's next target."
He looked around the room. "That's how we're going to get him."
It did not take long for Hardison to run through the shipping records, and sure enough, the Maria Edgeworth was scheduled to dock in Galway in two days.
"What's he stealing?" Sophie asked.
"Cigarettes?" Eliot asked. "Liquor?"
"Money?" Parker guessed, hopeful.
Hardison had a sly grin on his face. "Guess again."
They looked at him.
"What?" Eliot demanded.
Nate was leaning back in the chair, elbows on the arm rests. He was looking in the general direction of the door, but he clearly wasn't seeing anything. "DVDs are big business," he said absently. "The black market for stolen DVDs was worth over 50 million last year, and that's just the legal copies."
"You're just totally making stuff up now," Hardison said.
"Hmm," Sophie murmured. "Framing a DVD thief using a movie con. It does have a certain symmetry to it, doesn't it?"
Nate looked over at her and smiled. "Oh it does. And it gets better."
"How's that?" Hardison asked.
"Because your star just dropped out of your picture."
Feichin looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to explain that. Then Nate motioned for Eliot to help him up, and it dawned on Feichin that Nate wasn't planning on saying anything else at all. He looked around the room and noticed that none of them seemed nearly as confused as he was.
He leaned over to Parker and whispered, "What does that mean exactly?"
"No idea." She said to him out of the corner of her mouth. Then she patted him on the head. "He does that a lot. Just run with it."
And so plan A morphed into plan D. Or plan C version 2 depending on your perspective.
"Hey, as long as it ain't plan M," Hardison said, tappng at the keys of his tablet.
Eliot was circling the room for errant coffee cups. "We can always hope."
Sophie had gone to her room to freshen up, because dinner rejection or not, Mark Doyle was seeing her tonight. And Eliot. Because they had trouble. Big trouble. Kill the project kind of trouble. Cillian Murphy had bailed on them, and they needed a new lead and fast if they were going to stay on schedule and keep the other investors happy.
Feichin flipped his hair off his forehead. "You really think Doyle will give a . . . a . . ."
"Screen test," Nate said. He was back in the armchair with his files, not bothering to look up when he spoke. "And yes, I do. Sophie'll get him there."
Feichin sighed. He hoped Ford was right, but the whole thing made him nervous. The plan seemed so impossible. That Doyle would stand in front of a camera and give up his whole operation, willingly - who would do that? - and that it would give them everything they needed to bring him down. And yet they were all so confident. Like they had no doubt that all the pieces would fall together like they were cut to fit.
Parker brought his field coat from the spare bedroom and tossed it to him.
Feichin caught it and looked at her, and she was smiling at him, that pleasant blank smile he'd come to associate with her. Nate and Hardison were working, oblivious to him now. Nate had a file open on his lap, using his cast to prop it up at a better angle, and with his good hand, he balanced a now-cold cup of coffee, straw sticking out, on the arm of the chair. Eliot swooped in for the cup without a word, and Nate lifted his hand out of the way, never breaking his concentration.
Feichin couldn't help but be impressed at how well they worked together, how comfortable they were with each other, and he was suddenly reluctant to leave, even though he had no good reason to stay.
"So, see you in three days then?" he asked, to no one in particular.
"Yep," Nate said, lifting his head just long enough to give Feichin a polite smile and grab another folder.
Feichin walked to the door, and Eliot, walking past on his way to the kitchenette, opened it for him with a short nod. Feichin smiled and nodded back, feeling a little less now like Eliot was going to disembowel him. As he was almost out the door, Feichin stopped as something occurred to him. He turned back and looked at Nate.
"You know, I almost forgot to mention . . ."
"Doyle was pretty excited when I saw him. I guess his da's in town. Probably for the heist, right?"
Nate looked up then, looked straight at Feichin for the first time since he had interrogated him earlier in the night, and he seemed to go so still that Feichin wondered if he was breathing.
"His father's here? In Clifden?" Nate asked.
Eliot and Hardison looked at each other, some shared knowledge passing between them, and Parke's eyebrows were raised, and Feichin wondered if he had said something wrong.
"That's what he said."
Nate nodded at him, but his eyes were drifting, and his mind already seemed to be wandering in some other direction.
Eliot sighed, one hand on the door knob, Nate's coffee cup in the other. He gave Feichin something that might have been called a tight smile. Or maybe a grimace. "Thanks for the tip."
Feichin threw one last wave in the general direction of the room, and then Eliot closed the door, and he was left alone in the hall.
And he was four years old, left at the school house door for the first time, his father turning away and starting down the lane without a word. He cried and strained after the old man, the headmaster holding him back, and he remembered how the headmaster's hand was big enough to cover his arm from the crook of his elbow to his armpit, and his grip was painfully tight, and Feichin called out again and again - "Da! Da! Daaaaa!" – and all he got in return was the sight of his father's broad back getting smaller and smaller as he walked away.
Feichin shook the memory away and took a deep breath.
It's just nerves.
He hoped so. Better nerves than some premonition of bad things to come.
By the time Sophie and Eliot made it back to the hotel, it was nearly 1 a.m. Eliot headed for his room, while Sophie went to check in on Nate. When she reached his floor, she was surprised to see Parker and Hardison walking down the hallway, Hardison jawing at her about something, his voice low and a smile on his face. He stopped talking and gave Parker a raised eyebrow look, and Parker slugged him in the arm.
"What's all this?" Sophie asked.
"Parker got the night off." Hardison grinned.
"What's Nate doing?"
Parker shrugged. "Sitting in a chair he can't get out of, reading files."
"And whatever you do, do not make light of him being an invalid." Hardison said.
Parker nodded gravely.
"Lead balloon." Hardison added.
Next to him, Parker pantomimed a bomb dropping, arcing her hand upward and then down in a swoop, complete with a high pitched, tapering whistle and dramatic two-handed BOOM effect at the end.
Sophie decided that maybe Parker did need a little play time. "I'll try to restrain myself. Just be discreet. You never know who might know Doyle."
"The soul of discretion." Hardison promised, hand over his heart.
Sophie moved down the hall and slipped into Nate's suite without a sound. He didn't hear her come in.
He was right where she left him – in the arm chair, in his flannels and t-shirt, surrounded by papers. He pulled a file from the box by his chair and held it up and to his right, so he could see it better out of his good eye. Sophie leaned against the door frame and took a good look at him. His entire left eyelid was a dark reddish purple and puffed out liked an oversized walnut, and the left side of his face was still puffy, and there were softer splotches of purple along his cheekbone and jaw, all set off by the waxy paleness of his skin.
What a mess you are.
She closed the door and dropped her purse on the sofa, flopping down next to it. "I hear you're in a foul mood," she said.
He didn't look up. "How'd it go?"
All business, then.
"We're screen testing tomorrow morning."
"And where're they closing the deal?"
"Mackey's of course."
Nate put the papers he was reading back in their file and dropped the lot of them next to his chair, his "discard" pile.
"Doyle told me he had dinner with his father tonight," Sophie said.
Nate nodded. "He's in on it, you know."
"I would imagine so."
"And he's going down, too. Doyle, his dad, the buyer, the whole fucking thing, top to bottom."
"Well, why stop there? Maybe we can take down every criminal in Ireland while we're at it?"
Nate gave her a look that told her he did not appreciate the sarcasm. He opened the file on his lap, but stopped short of picking up any of the papers in it. He yawned and rubbed his good eye with the heel of his hand.
"I hope you don't plan to stay in that chair reading files all night."
He ignored her, leaning forward for a glass of water wedged between stacks of paper on the coffee table, but he pulled something mid-move and hissed, leaning back quickly.
"Nate," Sophie said exasperated, reaching for the glass and holding it out to him. "Why don't you just tell me what you want?"
"And what Sophie?" He spat, his tone suddenly venomous. "You'll get it for me? You'll take care of everything if I just let you help me?"
Sophie raised her eyebrows, slightly stunned. She put the glass back on the table, in the exact out-of-reach spot it had been in. "What has gotten into you?"
"What's gotten into me? What's gotten into me? Seriously? Look at me, Sophie. What the hell do you think has gotten into me? I can't eat, I can't move, I'm stuck in this room all day and night and my - " he sucked in a breath and forced himself to stop talking.
"What?" Sophie demanded, even though she knew. "Your what Nate?"
He grabbed the file on his lap and threw it across the room, but it was too light to go far, and the scant handful of papers flitted out of it, and the whole mess fluttered to the floor not three feet from where he was sitting almost delicately, like leaves falling from a tree. Which was very unsatisfying and not at all what he intended. He glared after it.
"And here I thought you didn't even like the man," Sophie said. It was a low blow, but she also knew – had learned the hard way – that when he got this way, he did not want or need sweetness and coddling. He needed a right good slap to the face.
And just as she expected, it drew him out.
"No, Sophie, I didn't like him. But I never wished him dead either. Never. Even when I was a kid, and he-" Nate waved his hand in the air. Where to even fucking begin on that particular issue? "I didn't want him dead, but now he is, because . . " he shook his head and looked away from her.
"Because he was a career criminal, that's why! Because he couldn't stop looking for a score! Doyle wasn't out looking for a way to get back at you. Jimmy went to him, Nate. Jimmy went to him."
"I used his name, Sophie. Did you know that?"
"Eliot told me, and it doesn't matter." She left the sofa and knelt in front of him and placed a hand on each knee. "If it hadn't been Doyle, it would have been someone else. You know that."
"But it wasn't someone else, was it?"
"Listen you. Eliot told me everything about that wire job, and if I had been there, there are probably ten things that I would've wanted to throttle you for, but using your father's name is not one of them."
"Yeah? And when's the last time you went as somebody you know? Hm?"
When Sophie said nothing, he answered for her.
"In Devonshire, when you were after that Austen manuscript. You pretended to be Wilhelmina Helm, and so when you took it, her name was all over the job. Isn't that why you go as someone you know, Soph? To set them up? To screw 'em over? Or because you don't care if they get set up or screwed over?"
"You didn't use Jimmy's name to screw him, Nate. No one could have predicted all this. And we both know that you never would have used his name if you thought this might happen."
They were silent. Then something seemed to occur to Nate, and he let out a short, exasperated laugh.
"You do realize that you're arguing that I didn't do the wrong thing? You understand that, right?"
Sophie half smiled and half scowled at him. "Well maybe you really didn't." She rocked back on her heels and stood and couldn't resist adding with a hint of flirt: "For a change."
She reached down and tilted his chin up, so they could look at each other. His good eye was red with emotion and fatigue, and she stepped closer to him, standing between his knees. He could smell the perfume on her skin, the 24 Faubourg she only used on the con when she wanted to signal money and status.
She used her free hand to push back a stray bit of hair from his forehead, and she gave him a sad smile and sighed.
"Nate, Nate," she said.
He had an urge to lean forward, to lay his head on her stomach, that he resisted.
"I didn't like him, Soph, that's true. But he was still my father."
And you'll always be your father's son, won't you?
"This-" Doyle waved the script in the air, "is shite!"
Sophie and Eliot looked at each other.
They were in the abandoned flat Hardison had set up as their local office – a wide open loft-like space with a small kitchen and bathroom. It was unfurnished except for a table and a few chairs that they had pushed against one wall, and in the cleared-out center of the room, they had duct-taped an 'X' on the floor and set up a digital camcorder on a tripod to catch Doyle in all his glory.
Sophie and Eliot stood behind the camcorder, watching Doyle pace circles around the X as he went over the script pages they had given him. The pages that Hardison and Parker had written together the night before, after they had returned to the hotel . . . after many many drinks.
Needless to say, the pages were awful, and Doyle was seething.
He threw them to the floor and pointed at them.
"It's one Irish cliché after another! It's a miracle I'm not searching for me gold and eating Lucky Charms!"
Eliot smiled his Harmless Assistant smile. "Well, they are magically delicious."
Doyle glared at him, and Eliot raised his hands in Harmless Assistant apology. "What can I say? It's a work in progress."
"That's putting it lightly, innit?"
Sophie jumped in now, playing her part. "You're right Mark. It's not real, it's not authentic, but it could be. It could be with you in the lead."
"The best actor in the world couldn't sell that."
"Exactly!" Sophie said, and then she lowered her voice, and added with a conspiratorial wink: "That's why we're going to change it. With your help."
"I don't follow."
No shit Sherlock, Eliot thought.
Sophie placed her hand over the top of the camera. "When we start recording, Mark, all you have to do is speak from experience."
"He won't change anything if he has to, but if it's his own idea," Eliot said and let his voice trail off, so Doyle could fill in the blanks.
Doyle crossed his arms over his chest. Filling in blanks clearly was not his forte. He squinted as he tried to work out what Eliot was trying to tell him, and Eliot fought an urge to roll his eyes.
Don't break anything.
"So you're telling me that I'm gonna tell some stories about my life, and he's going to see me talking and just re-write the whole bleeding script?" He finally said.
Sophie strode over to him, all confidence and purpose.
"Trust me, Mark. He's going to see you on that screen, he's going to hear your words, and then you know what happens? Later that day, or maybe the next day, an idea will come to him. He'll be struck by the best idea for a scene he's ever come up with.
"All of a sudden, he'll have the inspiration for a little nip here, little tuck there, and everything Mark, everything he writes is going to be what he hears from you, but in his mind-" she tapped a finger to her temple "- it'll be his own idea."
Doyle scowled at them.
"You think that's crazy, wait until you meet the actors." Eliot added, throwing the pitch Sophie had coached him on. "You'll be sitting in a trailer on set, and Liam Neeson will pop in and be all like, 'So Mark, how can I make this more, you know, authentic? How would you say that line?' Man, you will be an absolute king. Seriously. Nothing makes an actor feel cooler than hanging out with a real mobster."
"It's true," Sophie said. "It's the paradox of Hollywood - one of the most artificial places in the world, and it loves nothing more than the real thing. And you are the real thing, Mark."
"Scorsese always puts a few real mafia types in his mob films. There were a few in the Sopranos, too," Eliot said.
Doyle narrowed his eyes at Sophie. "And so what do you get out of this?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Sophie shrugged. "I get the Best Picture Oscar." She stepped even closer to him and put a hand on his forearm. "At the end of the day, Mark, this is my movie, and I will do whatever it takes to put out the best film possible. You in this picture – your life in this picture - is going to help me make it the best film possible. And if that means I have to manipulate the brat a little, then so be it."
"And what do I get out of this?"
"Paid, Mark. Handsomely."
"That's right, man," Eliot said. "You think you got green for being a scout, just wait until you see the paycheck a star gets. And the fringe benefits . . ." Eliot leaned in and winked at him. "The girls are insane."
Doyle looked at Eliot and then turned to Sophie and looked at her for a long moment.
If he was a subtle man, or if he understood his own instincts even a little, he might have realized that there was a reason for his hesitance, and he might have listened to it. But he was not a subtle man, and Sophie had read him well enough to know that with absolute certainty. She looked at him, waiting. She had no doubt where he was going.
Then, as if on cue, Doyle smiled. "You are the little vixen aren't you?"
Sophie smiled right back. "Hmm, wouldn't you like to know?" She moved a little closer, almost nose to nose, and draped her forearm over his shoulder. "Come on, Mark, this is a win-win for all of us."
Doyle looked at them both, and his last bit of hesitation evaporated.
"And what exactly do I have to do again?"
Sophie walked back over to the camera and pushed the play button.
"Just start talking."
Parker opened the hotel room door to find two Garda officers standing in the hall, looking very much like Laurel and Hardy. The tall one was thin, with pale orange hair and a long nose, and the short one was dark and thick with a face like a pug. That they wore the same Garda slickers and nearly identical polite smiles only highlighted the effect.
"Morning," the taller one said, in a voice as soft as a ball of cotton. "I'm Officer Francis."
"McGrady," the other one barked, the way Eliot yelled "Fuck!" when he cut a finger in the kitchen.
"We understand your father's ready to give his statement," Francis said, full of calm.
"Parker!" Nate yelled from behind her.
"Ooooh right," she laughed and slugged Francis in the arm. "Crazy couple of days, you know? I mean, sheesh, right?"
"And that," Doyle said, "is how you steal shipments without hardly trying."
Sophie shook her head in awe. "That was amazing, Mark."
"Awesome dude, really," Eliot added.
Doyle grinned, obviously pleased with himself. "Well, it's not exactly rocket science is it?"
"But it's brilliant in its simplicity," Sophie said.
"It was my da's gig, really. He's been doing it for years. He's had his finger on so many ship heists in the last decade, and they never once caught him," Doyle smirked. "Never even got close enough to get a warrant for surveillance."
"You don't say," Sophie said. "Sounds like he's quite the . . . mastermind," she smiled, and her voice lilted up at the end in a question, an open invitation for Doyle to talk more about his dear old da.
"Oh yeah," Doyle said. "The man's a beast. Let me tell you about this heist in Dublin last year."
And as Doyle started laying it all out, all the names, all the places, Sophie felt the moment slow down and sharpen into perfect focus. This was her runner's high, her zone: holding the strings of a mark like a puppet master, coaxing just the right movements and just the right words out of him at just the right time. She looked at Eliot, and he had the just the slightest bit of a Cat That Ate The Canary look on his face. When he sensed her eyes on him, he turned to her and gave her a little nod, and she smiled from behind the camera as if to say: Oh, this is good, isn't it?
Nate was sitting at the table, carefully sipping coffee through a straw. He waved for the officers to join him and then looked at Parker.
"Uh honey, why don't you help these nice officers with their coats?"
Francis and McGrady handed their slickers to Parker, and Nate watched her disappear into the spare room with them, his face carefully blank. He ticked Plant Button Cams on Coats off his mental checklist.
The officers sat across from him at the table, and he pushed his hair back with his good hand.
"Yeah guys, I don't know. I'm afraid I don't remember that much."
Francis pulled a small and dog-eared notepad and pen out of the inside pocket of his sports coat and smiled sympathetically.
"What were you doing at Mackey's t'begin with?" The shorter cop, McGrady, asked.
Nate shrugged. "It was in my tour book."
Francis snorted. "So we hear."
"Yeah, so you know, I had a few drinks and then I started walking back to the hotel."
"Why not take a cab?"
"I don't know. I was a little buzzed I guess. Thought the fresh air would do me good."
"Well, the next thing I know I'm getting jumped by some guys and drug into that alley."
"But they didn't take your wallet or your watch or anything?"
Nate shrugged again. "I guess you guys got there just in time."
Parker came out of the back room and began pouring coffee for the officers.
"It was a good thing you happened by," Nate said.
"We didn't happen by. We got an anonymous tip that somebody was getting murdered."
Nate glanced over at Parker at that. He checked How Did The Cops Get There? off the list in his head. Now he knew that the figure in the alley across the street must have called the police after all. And he had a very good idea who that was.
"Huh," Nate said. "I guess there are a few good Samaritans left in the world."
When Doyle was done laying out his father's involvement in the Dublin heist, right down to accomplices and fences, Sophie and Eliot fawned over his brilliance and his father's brilliance and his absolute unbelievable brilliance in front of the camera.
"Really Mark, you're a natural."
Eliot shook his head in disbelief. "It's amazing, man." He turned to Sophie. "I feel like we're making a real discovery here."
Doyle pulled out a cigarette and made a face, dismissive over the praise. But Sophie could tell that he was pleased, despite whatever cool he tried to convey.
"You know, I'd like to have a little more, though, so we've got more to feed to the brat," she said.
"You know what scene's gonna need re-writing?" Eliot asked Sophie. "That payback scene."
"Oooh, yes. If we had something good to lay out for the payback scene. . . "
Doyle cocked his ear towards them, as if he hadn't heard what they were saying. "What payback scene?"
"There's a scene near the end," Eliot said, "where your guy gets revenge on the guys that set him up."
"What do you think, Mark?" Sophie asked. "Do you have a good revenge tale to share with us?"
Doyle rubbed his chin thoughtfully. The a slow smile spread over his face. "Well, there was this one guy. A guy named Ford."
"So, uh, yeah," Nate shrugged his one-shouldered shrug. "That's really about all I know."
Francis and McGrady looked at each other, clearly disappointed.
"Nothing else?" Francis prodded. "Anything they said to each other, maybe?"
"I mean, there was one other thing, but it's probably not important," Nate said, borrowing a line from Feichin Cleag the day before.
"You let us be the judge of that," McGrady said gruffly.
"There was one that seemed to be in charge. I think I heard someone call him Mark."
Francis and McGrady exchanged a significant look, and then McGrady looked at Nate, eyebrows raised expectantly.
"Yeah, and, uh – well, I don't know, it's probably nothing, but I think he was meeting a girl."
"How's that?" Francis asked.
"He said something about going to Galway to see . . . I dunno, it was weird. He said the Maria Edgeworth. Must be a pretty important girl."
"Hmph." Parker said, a little too robotically. "Or perhaps not a person at all."
She stared meaningfully at the officers, and Nate resisted gripping the table with his good hand. They gave Parker a long, uncertain look, but the message got across.
"Hey Terry," McGrady said. "Isn't there a boat-"
Officer Francis raised his hand to stop him, apparently not wanting to get into too much detail in front of civilians. But he had a twinkle in his eyes. "Let's talk in the car, Sean."
Nate smiled, and in his mind, he saw Drop Maria Edgeworth Info to Cops on his list.
"I was in Boston, just minding my own business," Doyle told the camera. "I had a little money from . . . uh, a little job my dad brokered. So just a little courier job, right?"
Riiight. No loan sharking involved at all. Eliot sneered inwardly.
"And I was in this neighborhood, see, and there was this bar right there, a place called John McRory's. And I had a little time before I had to get to the airport, so I'm thinking, maybe have a little nip to celebrate.
"And this guy who called himself Jimmy Ford, he and like four other guys jump me and take the money!"
"Five on one. Not very fair odds is it?" Sophie asked, and Eliot could hear the slight change in her tone, the frost around the edges that Doyle missed.
"That's right. I never had a chance. And he tells me if I ever set foot in his bar again, it'll be the last time." Doyle shook his head. "I was lucky to get out of there with my life, and my da' was pissed let me tell you. Losing that money screwed a deal he had just about in the bag."
Yeah, you were the victim, Eliot thought.
"So I'm back here in Ireland, and I'm getting some boys together for this ship deal, you know, and I hear that there's some guy who wants to join the crew, a guy named Logue, Jimmy Logue. And so I bring this guy into Mackey's for a little job interview as it were. Have a few drinks, get his story a bit. He was an old guy, and he wanted some action pretty bad.
"And I don't know, I wasn't too keen on him at first. Not the kind of guy I'd normally have on board."
Too smart for you, no doubt, Sophie thought.
"And then he started talking himself up, you know. Trying to sell himself. It's like I say, this fella wanted a job something fierce. And he started talking about his old hood in Boston, and the bar he used to run numbers out of." Doyle paused for dramatic effect, pulling his cigarettes from his inside pocket. "A little place called John McRory's."
Sophie feigned surprise, and ignorance. "Did he know the one who jumped you, this Ford fellow?"
"Oh you could say that," Doyle lit a cigarette and exhaled a mouthful of smoke, smiling his smug little smile. "Turns out, Jimmy Logue was really Jimmy Ford - the real Jimmy Ford. And the guy at McRory's, who'd called himself Jimmy Ford, was really his son."
"Whoah! Are you serious?" Eliot asked.
"That's amazing," Sophie said. "What are the chances?"
Doyle shrugged. "Not as slim as you'd think. They're Irish, still have relatives here as I understand it, and thieves tend to run in the same circles.
"So anyway, I take this guy in, and I take this guy out." Doyle's tone grew more dangerous. "Then I go to the morgue, and I give the morgue worker a little incentive-" Doyle rubbed his fingers together in a way that indicated money "-and he does all the work for me."
"So you lured the other guy here?" Eliot said, wishing more than ever that he could knock the guy's teeth down his throat.
"Oh, that I did Evan. And me and my boys gave him a little lesson of our own."
They were silent for a moment, and then Sophie spoke, continuing to play up their ignorance, continuing to add layers to the con. "You killed him."
Doyle shrugged. "Let's just say we taught him a right good lesson and leave it at that."
Parker showed the officers out the door, clicked it shut behind them and then turned and leaned against it, grinning at Nate.
"So you think they'll grab him tonight? During the heist?"
No, they'll wait, make sure they get the whole operation."
"So the closing with the buyer. At Mackey's. With his dad."
"Exactly." Nate smiled, but he was on to the next thing in his head already. Things were starting to fall into place now, and he felt a surprising anxiousness to make sure everything went without a hitch.
"Call Hardison. Tell him I need him to get into the TV feeds at Mackey's."
"You know, there is one other thing," Eliot said. They were packing up the camera to leave their "office" for the night. "You wouldn't happen to know some guys who'd make good extras? Tough guys, you know, mob types."
Doyle laughed. "I might know a few of those."
"Yeah?" Eliot smiled. Earnest, he reminded himself. Hardworking. "You think they could be here tomorrow? You know, more screen tests."
"Do extras get paid?"
"Oh yeah. If they can look tough, we'll pay 'em ridiculous green to stand around and do it."
"I think I've got just the fellas for you, Evan." Doyle cracked Eliot on the back with the palm of his hand, a big smile on his face, and Eliot smiled right back even though, in his head, he was snapping all of Doyle's fingers.
Eliot wiped the counter down in slow, deliberate circles – once, twice, three times – before folding the damp dishtowel and threading it over the oven door handle. It was 5:30 a.m., and it was quiet. The calm before the storm.
He was the first one to Nate's suite, which was no surprise. He was always up before the rest of them, and last night had been a late one. He didn't expect to see any of them before the official 10:30 meet time.
The sitting area was still in disarray. Furniture in odd places, laptops and tablets all over: the remnants of their little viewing party the night before, when Hardison had tapped into the button cams Parker had planted - and every security camera from Clifden to Galway Harbor - to give them a complete play-by-play of Doyle's heist.
They were sitting around the living area, staring at the computer screens. Hardison and Eliot on the sofa, Nate in one arm chair, Sophie in one of the dining chairs pulled up next to him. And Parker laying across the other arm chair, her back against one arm rest and her knees crooked over the other, a bowl of popcorn as big as a steering wheel in her lap. They moved the coffee table and lined it with computers, so everyone could see them, and used a few stacks of bankers boxes as computer stands as well. All the papers they had already reviewed were organized into a system that existed only in Nate's head and carefully lined up on the dining table. Sophie had a glass of wine, Eliot and Hardison had beers and Nate had a pissed off look on his face while he gripped his third protein drink of the day and obsessed over the smell of Parker's popcorn.
Hardison had the whole set-up running through his own tablet, his mission control, and he used it to change the feeds on each computer screen to get them the best footage at all times. When McGrady hid behind a row of oil drums, and the feed from his button cam showed nothing but metal, Hardison switched to the dock security camera that showed Doyle and his crew loading boxes off the Maria Edgerton. When Doyle and his boys moved outside of the range of the dock security cameras, Hardison found a security camera from a nearby warehouse that showed Doyle's men loading the boxes into a small moving truck. He even managed to get an awfully good shot of Doyle picking his nose from the camera at the gas station where they stopped to buy cigarettes.
"How do you like that?" Hardison said, doing a little dance in his seat. Then he started splicing the fields like crazy, changing the display on every screen, rapid-fire. "Oh yeah, baby! I was born to direct!"
Eliot rolled his eyes, remembering Hardison's antics as he filled the kettle with water.
Everything had gone according to plan, though.
Thanks to the tip Francis and McGrady just happened to stumble across while investigating an apparently unrelated assault, they were able to get the warrant they needed for surveillance. And thanks to the warrant, the Garda had gotten footage of the whole operation – Doyle's crew offloading the boat, driving through the country and unloading the DVDs into one of Doyle's trusty farmhouses.
When Doyle and his buddies went to Mackey's for drinks to celebrate, Hardison moved to turn off the surveillance.
"Leave it." Nate said.
The security camera from the pawn shop across from Mackey's gave them a view through the front windows of the pub, to Doyle laughing and drinking with his boys.
Nate had that look on his face, that intensely focused and angry look he got, and Eliot knew that he was stewing.
Hardison obviously recognized it, too. "You want to sit there and watch Doyle celebrate?" He shook his head. "Man, that is not healthy. Not. Healthy."
Tim Doyle had been nowhere to be found, but that would be remedied today. Doyle and his da' were going to be at the barn in the country at around noon to meet their buyer for an inspection, while Eliot finally got to bust some heads at the "extras" screen test. Then, Doyle, his da' and the buyer would close the deal at Mackey's, with Hardison, Eliot and Sophie waiting in the wings. That was at Doyle's request – he had big plans to introduce his da' to them after the deal went down.
What Doyle did not plan for was the dozen or so cops that were waiting to lower the hammer as soon as the deal closed. They were getting Doyle, his buyer, and the mastermind of the whole scam, one Tim Doyle. Not to mention that the cops were going to have solid leads – thanks to the screen test they would be getting – on every heist the Doyles had pulled in the last 10 years.
What had begun as a single-target revenge operation was going to net the good country of Ireland about 30% of its gangsters, hoodlums and ne'er-do-wells. Eliot shook his head, but he smiled.
Go big or go home, right?
He was scooping coffee into the French press when Nate's door swung open and out he hobbled, casted left arm pressed against his side and a tight look on his face. He shuffled over to the kitchenette, raising his chin in Eliot's general direction, his morning hello. Eliot looked him over with a raised eyebrow.
"Good thing you don't spar," he said. "I'm not sure I could handle that blistering speed."
Eliot reached for Nate's pain meds, but Nate waved him off.
"Right, cause you're doing so good without 'em."
Nate made it to the counter and gripped the edge with his right hand. Then he looked at Eliot, eyebrows raised. It was intended to be a rebuke, or a challenge, but his eyes were bloodshot, his hair was sticking out in ways that hair just shouldn't go, and he looked like he was about two seconds away from falling over.
Eliot smirked. "I don't think that's having the effect you think it's having."
Nate scowled at him, but he didn't argue. The he gave up on the look.
He watched Eliot work. "We got any plastic wrap in this place?"
"I think I saw some in one of the drawers. Why?"
"I need you to wrap this," Nate held up his cast, "so I can take a shower."
"You got a hot date?"
Nate smiled, a gleam in his eye. A gleam that Eliot knew far too well.
Sophie was, of course, fashionably late. By the time she arrived, Eliot was gone to prep their screen test space , and Hardison and Parker were cleaning the breakfast dishes. She walked in, tossed her purse on the sofa and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Nate standing at the kitchen counter in dark jeans and a white button down, trying to find a safe angle to sip coffee straight from a cup. He was showered, if not shaved – he had decided that wasn't happening the second he pressed the razor to the left side of his jaw got a jolt of pain so sharp and bone deep that it made his eyes water. (The only plus was that he had the forethought to start with the injured side. He looked awful enough without adding a half-shaved face to the mix.)
"Well, look who's all cleaned up." Sophie said. Then she narrowed her eyes at him. "Why are you all cleaned up?"
Nate was on his third approach with the coffee cup, but his jaw was still stiff, and he wasn't at all confident he could get more coffee in his mouth than on his clothes. He put it down with a growl of frustration and waved his hand absently at her.
"You know, I don't know. . . clean is better than dirty?"
"I would have to agree," Hardison said over his shoulder.
Sophie eyed him, and Nate pursed his lips (rather sheepishly she thought) before shifting his focus to the counter, looking for the box of straws. He found it, fished one out and speared his coffee with it, pretending not to notice that she was still looking him over. Scrutinizing. He lifted the coffee cup and sucked on the straw and tried to stare casually at the far wall. Like he wasn't up to something.
She was not impressed. Or convinced.
Hardison handed the last washed cup to Parker for drying and wiped his hands on his jeans and looked at Sophie. "I do hate to break up this interrogation, ya'll, but we've got Daddy Doyle in T minus 60. We gots to go."
Sophie kept her eyes on Nate as Hardison moved past her towards the door. She glared at him. "Don't get any funny ideas, you. You can listen on the comms."
Nate pulled the comm unit from his shirt pocket and made a show of putting it in his ear.
Then she looked at Parker. "Don't let him get any funny ideas."
Parker nodded solemnly and gave Sophie a salute.
Then they watched her out the door, Sophie throwing one last suspicious glare in Nate's direction as the door closed.
When she was gone, Parker snorted a little and elbowed Nate on his better side. "She totally thinks you're up to something!"
"Yeah," Nate said.
"I mean, where are you gonna go?"
"I know. It's almost like she thinks we’re going to Mackey's."
"I know, right?" Parker scoffed. Then she realized what Nate had just said. "Wait. What?"
He smiled at her. "So what do you think is faster? Hailing a cab or calling one?"
Eliot held the door for them as they filed into the "office."
Five of them he knew. There was Donal, the burly bartender from Mackey's, and also the four guys that had been with Doyle when he jumped Nate – Nate had ID'ed them from covert photos Sophie and Eliot had taken with their phones at Mackey's.
The other two were just a bonus.
Once Eliot got them inside, he moved them where he wanted them. He put Donal on the duct tape X in the middle of the room, in front of the camera. His build and demeanor made him the biggest threat, so he would be first.
One of the guys from the alley would be second – he had a wary, suspicious look about him, and Eliot could see the bulge of a gun handle under his t-shirt, right at the waist of his jeans. He would be the first one to react when it started, and Eliot had him stand off to the side, where he could get to him quickly. Eliot told him he'd be the second one to test.
He asked the rest to wait for them in the adjacent kitchenette. None of the others were clearly packing. He'd take them on as they came.
Eliot went back to the front door of the office, which still hung open. He gripped the knob and pushed it shut, and then he bolted it, the sound of the slide lock a jolt in the otherwise quiet room.
He turned on his heel to face them, and he clapped his hands together and smiled. The Harmless Assistant smile he was becoming quite good at.
"Alright gentlemen. Ready to start?"
What Eliot did was he annihilated them.
Normally, the goal on any take-down was efficiency – expend the minimal effort necessary to neutralize the threat. He wasn't looking anymore to kill or seriously injury anyone, and he almost never did.
But this was different.
This was personal, and this was payback, and above all, this was a message.
You touch any person on this team, and I will make you suffer.
Donal was first.
Eliot was friendly and pleasant as he took his place stood behind the camera.
"Okay now, just look right here," Eliot said and pointed to the camera lens. He leaned over, pretending to look at the view screen on the back of the digital camcorder.
Then, still smiling, he slapped the tripod legs together, wrapped one hand around all of them, took a step forward and thrust the camera straight ahead, like a pool cue on a break, right into Donal's face.
He had carefully measured the distance between the camera and the X on the floor. The tripod and camera was exactly 4 feet 8 inches tall, and so he made sure that the distance between the camera and the X was 3 feet 6 inches. That way, when he pushed the tripod into Donal's nose, he got an exceptional force on impact.
There was a dry crack, like plywood snapping, and Donal's head popped back. He let out a strangled urk!, eyes wide, hands flying to his face to cover his bleeding nose.
Eliot never broke stride. As Donal staggered back, he kept moving forward, swinging the tripod in an arc over his head, down behind his back and straight up between Donal's legs.
Eliot thought that Donal's eyes couldn’t get any wider than they were after the broken nose. He was wrong.
Donal squeaked and went down, face first.
The others in the kitchenette were looking out, too stunned and confused to quite react yet, but the Suspicious One was coming at him now, just as Eliot had expected. He came at Eliot fast, gun coming out from under his shirt, and Eliot shoved the camera into his chest. The goon stumbled back, gasping for breath, and Eliot whipped the tripod to the right and sent the gun sailing out of his hand.
Then Eliot took two steps forward and swung the tripod like a baseball bat right into his face.
"See how you like a broken jaw," he grumbled as he stepped over him to face the other five men.
They stared at him from the kitchenette doorway, with a mixture of awe and fear and violence in their faces. Eliot held the tripod loosely in his right hand and raised his left, beckoning to them.
"Come on boys. Whaddaya got?"
"Where the hell is Eliot?" Sophie murmured, looking at her watch.
They were sitting at a table near the back room at Mackey's, the perfect position to keep an eye on the place. They could look straight across the bar to the front door, to the left to watch anyone in the line of booths along the wall, or to the right to the back room. They had arrived early, and Hardison – in full director mode – had commandeered the office upstairs and spliced into the pub's entertainment system. Now he was sitting next to Sophie with his tablet, cueing up the video that he would feed into the TVs at just the right moment.
"Seriously?" He asked, without looking up. "Do you know how long it's been since he's hit somebody?"
"Hm. You make a good point."
"Damn straight. He's making up for lost time. You do not want to be auditioning as a movie thug today."
Sophie rested her forearms on the table, scoping the place for the twentieth time. The two couples at the big table in the middle of the room had their cameras and tour books laid out in front of them as they drank their pints and debated the virtues of Galway versus Leenane. Sophie smiled. They were good. If she hadn't spotted the slightest bulge of a holster under one of the men's jackets, she might not have realized they were Garda. The one at the bar, reading a newspaper and drinking coffee, was not quite as good – he had shifty eyes and hadn't turned the page of his newspaper in a twenty minutes. But the only person in the room who might be on Doyle's side was the back-up bartender, who was too busy texting to notice anything.
"Hey," Hardison said, jerking his chin towards the door.
She looked over as a distinguished-looking man in his sixties breezed into the room, overcoat billowing behind him. Sophie made a quick assessment and hmmed. He was impressive. Cashmere overcoat, impeccably tailored, just like the grey wool suit underneath; blue dress shirt that was unmistakably Hilditch and Key. (Which reminded her, with no small degree of irritation, that Nate still had two in a box on his closet floor from her most recent trip to London.)
He had dark eyes and a thick head of white hair, and his skin was tanned and weathered. And he had an air of casual confidence, easy power. He could have been a playboy billionaire or a boat captain (and not the meth-addicted, bad-teeth kind; more the dignified Hemingway-esque kind who stared meaningfully at the horizon). But she knew he was neither. That was Tim Doyle, and she knew it even before Mark Doyle came clomping in behind him, clearly playing the beta to his father's alpha.
They were followed by a red-haired man in his fifties, in a much cheaper suit and garish teal parka. That was no doubt their buyer. Mark Doyle scanned the room and nodded to Sophie and Hardison, before signaling to the bartender for a round and guiding his father and the buyer to booth in the opposite corner, where they could conduct their business in private. Or so he thought.
Sophie was watching them settle in when she saw the pub door open out of the corner of her eye. She glanced over, casually, and nearly fell out of her chair in surprise. It was Parker . . . with Nate. Sophie stared at them and blinked, to make sure she was seeing right, but there they still were: Parker. And Nate!
She instinctively looked at Doyle to make sure he hadn't seen them, but was sitting with his back to the door (again). Parker and Nate made their way slowly to the bar. Nate pulled up a stool at one corner of the bar, near the Garda officer with his newspaper, and Parker helped him get seated before backing away, against the windows near the door.
"I know Parker and Nate did not just walk into this bar!" Hardison hissed at her.
Sophie stared daggers at Parker, who pointed at herself and then shook her head. Then she pointed at Nate and mouthed TOTALLY HIS IDEA.
Sophie shifted her glare to Nate, eyebrows raised, and he gave her a smile and shrugged. What?
Sophie shook her head. "I am going to kill him," she said to Hardison. Then she stared at Nate and mouthed I AM GOING TO KILL YOU.
"If Doyle doesn't do it first." Hardison said. "Where the hell is Eliot?"
"Oh, now you want to know where Eliot is!"
Sophie was just considering ways to get Nate out of there without making a scene or otherwise attracting Doyle's attention when the shit hit the fan.
The Garda's surveillance people must have heard what they needed from the booth, because the two couples at the big table leapt up, drawing their guns at the Doyles and their buyer, yelling "Freeze!"
Then Francis and McGrady stormed into the bar from outside, guns drawn. The officer reading the paper dropped it, and nearly collided with Parker trying to move back beside Nate. She backed up quickly, hands up, chin tucked into her chest, a look on her face that said Whoah! until she was closer to the back room than she was to any of the action. Or Nate.
The Doyles and their buyer had their hands up now, and Nate had turned on his barstool to watch the bust. He smiled watching the polite and reserved Officer Francis grab Mark Doyle by the collar of his shirt and yank him out of the booth, dropping a few choice expletives along the way. McGrady followed suit with the buyer, but the minute an officer moved towards Tim Doyle, the older man shot him a look that could cut a diamond.
"I can do it meeself," he said with a whispery growl that Eliot would have been impressed by.
Mark and the buyer were thrown against the bar, on the side opposite Nate and forced to lean there, palms down, legs spread, while Tim made his way calmly over, hands raised the whole time. He assumed the position on his own, standing between Mark and the buyer and giving Francis - the nearest officer- a dirty look.
The other officers stood between the "civilians" and the action, and Parker found herself herded towards the back room, while another officer ordered Nate and the bartender to stay in their spots by the opposite end of the bar.
The buyer was just getting frisked when Hardison hit a button on his computer, and the two TVs over the bar flickered dark for a moment, and then there was Doyle, staring into the camera, bragging about how his father had planned the whole heist.
The bust lurched to a stop.
Everyone looked up at the TVs. Mark was slack-jawed and stunned, but Tim looked somehow not quite as stunned. More angry, and a little resigned. Like he had somehow known that his son would one day do him in. The Garda officers watched with surprise at first, but then faint grins spread over their faces.
Hardison leaned back and crossed his feet on the empty chair across from him. Parker grinned at him and flashed him a discrete thumbs up, and he nodded, while Nate focused on Mark Doyle, waiting for Doyle to feel his presence, to look over at him, to realize he'd been played.
"Nice work," Quinn, the buyer, snarled at Tim Doyle. "You're through, Doyle. D'ya hear me? Through."
Tim didn't look at him. He was too busy watching the confession that his son was making about every major heist they had pulled in the last six months, adding up the jail sentence each one could cost him in his head, his face growing redder by the second, his air of calm confidence giving way rather quickly to an air of barely-bottled rage.
"Hey!" Mark yelled at Quinn. "You're as big in this as us."
"Shut it, you fucking eejit!" Tim suddenly yelled, spit flying from his lips. "Don't you see what you've done? You've fucked us all, you – you- you . . . worthless knob!"
Sophie raised her eyebrows. As refined as he was on the outside, he sounded even more coarse than his son, and it occurred to her with some surprise that Mark Doyle might actually be a step up from the old man on the evolutionary chain.
"Quiet the lot of you!" McGrady yelled.
Mark Doyle looked up at the TV screen again, as one of the cops started frisking his father. For a moment, he looked as if he might be physically ill, and then he forced himself to lower his eyes and look away, and he found himself staring right into the smirking face of Nate Ford. Nate Ford, positively beaming at him with a malicious smugness as good as anything he had ever mustered in his smuggest of moments.
Doyle turned to Hardison and Sophie's table, appalled and wounded, and they could read exactly what he was thinking.
"You set me up," Doyle hissed.
Hardison turned his head, as if he thought Doyle was talking to someone behind him. "What? Me? Are you talking to me?" The bad Irish accent was completely gone. "Man, I never seen you before in my life. I'm a tourist."
Next to him, Sophie shrugged and smiled.
Doyle stared, gobsmacked, for one long minute, before he finally turned back to the bar, in what looked like utter defeat. He bent his elbows and lowered his head and chest towards the bar, almost like he was doing a push-up against it or maybe resting his forehead against the flat surface.
Then he sprung.
Sophie gasped, the whole room moving in slow motion as Doyle made a break for Nate. Doyle had been at the edge of the bar, so all he had to do was take a handful of lunging steps to get to the opposite corner where Nate was. His quick move caught the Garda unprepared, and Sophie knew they would not reach him before he reached Nate. She was standing now, and out of the corner of her eye, Hardison was kicking himself free of the chair he had his feet on, and Parker was moving, but she was too far out of the way and had to get past the Garda officer in front of her, and fast as she was, Sophie knew she wouldn't beat Doyle to Nate either. Something metallic glinted in Doyle's hand, and Nate was still sitting, a look of faint surprise on his face but also defiance, and Doyle was barely a step away, and Sophie couldn't help but be reminded of the foolish courage of Feichin Cleag.
Oh no no no.
She didn't see Eliot until he had Doyle on the floor.
He came through the door just as Doyle made his move, and to the casual observer, it looked like Eliot accidentally stumbled into him. None of the officers caught how Eliot used Doyle's momentum to slam him nose first into the floor.
"Oh dude!" Eliot said, adopting his aw shucks mode. "You okay?"
He wrapped his hands around Doyle's neck and bicep, and jerked him up and whipped him around, using their momentum to drive Doyle mouth-first into the bar, and the way he did it, it looked like he and Doyle had gotten tangled up and had accidentally fallen that way.
Eliot took a step back as the cops rushed in, although at that point, Doyle was dazed, half-standing and half-slumped, blood pouring out of his mouth and nose. Not exactly a threat.
"Whoah, Dude, my mistake! I am so sorry!" Eliot gushed.
McGrady and another officer pulled Doyle's hands behind his back while Francis walked over. He looked Doyle up and down, and then bent to pick up a four inch knife he had pulled from a thick leather band on his forearm.
Then Francis looked over at Eliot, and recognition dawned on his face as he remembered running into Eliot in the alley the night after Nate had gotten jumped.
"Hey! You're that tourist! Didn't we tell you to stay away from here?"
"Yeah, I know man, it's just, you know," Eliot shrugged, and he and Francis looked at the bleeding Doyle, who was too stunned to say a word, "it's in my tour book!"
After re-securing Doyle, the Garda made a point to really segregate all the "civilians" from the "criminals." Nate and Sophie and Parker and Eliot and Hardison were corralled by a far booth while the Garda handcuffed the others and stood guard over them, waiting on the prisoner transport. The team had been given the all-clear to leave whenever they wanted, but Sophie spoke with Francis and made sure they could stay, playing it like a group of tourists who were excited to watch the bust finish up.
Nate drifted along the wall towards the back room, so that he had a better view of the bar. So that Doyle had a better view of him.
The screen test had finished up on the TVs – a smartly edited version that removed any hint of Sophie and Eliot and played like a reality-show confessional – and looped back to the beginning. The officers were taking their time to really enjoy it this time around. Especially after they realized that every single one of them had also received an email version in their work accounts (from a dummy account, they would later learn).
"I can't believe that was you in that Dublin heist Doyle," Officer Francis said, coming up right behind Tim Doyle, chuckling and slapping him on the back. "I've got a buddy in the Garda there. He's going to love this video."
Hardison leaned over to Sophie. "You know, I didn't get a chance to research that video. I don't know if it'll stick in court."
"I wouldn't worry about that. They've got plenty of evidence to put the Doyles away for a long time, even without the video."
Eliot stepped up on the other side of Hardison. "And even if they don't use it in Court, they'll use it. You give a good interrogator ammo like that? Game over."
If Nate was listening, he gave no hint of it. He rested his back along the wall and focused on the Doyles.
"Anyway," Sophie said, "that video wasn't about any evidence. It was about making sure that Doyle's father knew that his son was the reason he got caught."
Parker was sitting behind them, on top of the table in one of the booths, legs crossed. "So no Doyle family dinners anytime soon."
"An eye for an eye," Sophie said, her voice a little distant.
Nate was starting to lean rather heavily against the wall now, and Sophie could see a thin sheen of sweat on his upper lip, beneath the grey and brown stubble.
"Here!" McGrady yelled, jerking his head towards the door as a Garda van pulled up outside.
Officer Francis yanked Doyle by his cuffed hands and the scruff of his neck back away from the bar.
"Hey Doyle," Nate called.
Francis stopped, and Mark and Tim Doyle looked back at Nate. Doyle made a big show of spitting blood on the floor, and Nate smirked. McGrady, who had Tim Doyle in the same hold, also turned back, so that the four of them had their eyes on Nate.
"You were right," Nate said. "I always will be my father's son." Nate looked at Tim Doyle and then back at Mark. "You on the other hand . . ."
"You sonofa-" Mark began.
"Language!" Officer Francis said and slapped Doyle on the back of the head. "Let's go now!" He jerked Doyle towards the door, and McGrady did the same with Tim Doyle, although Francis took a moment to look back at them, to really look at Nate and Eliot, eyes narrowed.
Then he gave them a little nod and shoved Doyle out the door to the van.
The pub was quieting down again. The Garda van and cars outside were mostly gone, taking the sirens and lights with them, and only a few officers remained, to wrap up the scene.
On the screen, Doyle was starting to talk again about Jimmy.
. . . an old guy, and he wanted some action pretty bad. Said he needed some cash to work on a score he had.
Nate was watching it with close attention, and Sophie realized that he had never seen the video before this afternoon. She separated herself from the others and walked over to him, easing up beside him, elbow to elbow. "I suppose there was no way you were going to miss the gloating?"
He smiled without looking at her, kept his eyes on the TV, and there was a look of sadness underneath the victory. She looped her arm around his lower back, sliding it between him and the wall, couldn't resist the urge to comfort. She expected him to withdraw or maybe even lash out, like an oversensitive cat touched one too many times, but he leaned into her embrace and let out a soft sigh that she felt rather than heard.
Well. What do you know?
They met Feichin Cleag for the last time at a car park on the Sky Road, overlooking the Atlantic.
It was their seventh day in Ireland.
The two rental cars were loaded down, filled with packed suitcases and computer equipment and Parker's souvenirs: a hand-knitted wool sweater, a wooden tackle box filled with brightly-colored fishing lures, three bottles of whiskey, linen sheets, Irish bagpipes, three yards of grey tweed, a set of leprechaun salt-and-pepper shakers and a life-sized stuffed toy sheep. How she had managed to acquire all those things after spending most of her time in a hospital or hotel room, no one knew. And no one was asking.
They had pulled the cars along the low stone wall that separated the parking area from the scenery, Parker, Hardison and Eliot easing out of one car, while Sophie helped Nate shift and lean and pull and push his way out of the other.
This was the last thing.
They had one last package to pick up, and one last package to deliver.
Sophie helped Nate get settled, leaning against driver-side door of the rental car, and he took in the view. The drive up had been beautiful, but this was something else. The parking lot was at the top of the highest point on the road, and from there, the hillside tumbled through three geographies, from the craggy rocks and long green and brown grass at the top to the lusher green pasture around the white homes nearer to town and then into the glistening black rocks and grey-brown sand at the shore.
When he was married, before Sam was born, Maggie had arranged exactly two "nature" vacations – one to a small island near Puerto Rico and one to a cabin in Big Bear, California. There were no televisions, no computers and no phones in either place. No access to news or sports or – gasp - work. Maggie loved it . . . for about thirty-six hours. Which was exactly the amount of time it took for Nate to drive her crazy. He got fidgety staring at sunsets on the beach and truculent about taking hikes in the mountains. The man who could walk the entire island of Manhattan without a peep, could not stop complaining about spending two hours on a trail. Oh look, there are more trees around this bend. Wow, who knew?
It was the curse of an overactive head, she decided, and Sophie saw it, too, on their visits to museums and galleries. There was no doubt that he "got" art – he could speak intelligently on it, and she saw that certain pieces stirred something in him – but she could also sense a restlessness coiling in him the longer they stayed in front of a painting. He always struggled to enjoy anything that actually required him to stop thinking, to just relax and be.
But the night before, Eliot had made potato-leek soup and chocolate mousse for the team dinner, and even though Nate couldn't open his jaw wide enough to wrap his lips around a glass or a coffee cup, he found that he could slide in spoonfuls of soup and mousse, and he was so touched and happy that he could have wept. After his first hot meal in a week (not to mention five Advil and three glasses of whiskey), he had slept for fourteen hours straight and woke feeling . . . good. When Sophie had finally come in to nudge him awake, he was sore and stiff, but as he rubbed the sleep out of his right eye, he felt surprisingly refreshed. Alert. Optimistic even.
Now, he could almost focus just on the sun against his face and the cool breeze against his back, on Parker and Hardison playing rock-paper-scissors or Eliot sitting on the stone wall with a faint smirk on his face as he listened to them and stared out at the ocean. On Sophie at his side, her hair floating in his periphery, her arm touching his arm, one expensive boot pressed against the side of his worn sneaker. He could almost just relax and be.
"Wait, I – Parker! I didn't even put it down yet!" Hardison barked, staring at the fist of a rock in her palm. "How'd you know I was throwing scissors?"
"I told you, man, you got a tell." Eliot said, without looking away from the view.
"I do not have a rock-paper-scissors tell."
"Oh you totally do," Parker said.
"Seriously, Hardison. When's the last time you won a round? Never." Eliot said.
"Actually, I let him win sometimes."
"Excuse me?" Hardison barked, appalled.
"Almost never," Eliot amended. "Do the math, Einstein."
Hardison looked around and noticed with consternation that Sophie and Nate were smiling to themselves, clearly eavesdropping.
"Oh, what? Now you two? You're telling me I've got a rock-paper-scissors tell?"
"Tell," they said in unison.
"Man, fine. If that's-"
"Guys," Nate said, nodding his chin towards the road.
Feichin came on a bike, laboring to crest the hill. He was lunging over the handlebars with every downward push on his pedals, leaning so far forward that his dark hair swayed and danced just over the front tire. He reached the top, panting, and nearly fell over when his leg got tangled on the bike frame as he tried to dismount. He stumbled and caught himself and waved breathlessly at them, and Nate didn't even have to look at Sophie. He could feel her smiling.
Feichin pushed the bike over to them, cheeks red, chin acne flaring purple, hairline dark with sweat. He was carrying a canvas knapsack on his back, and he shrugged it off as he walked up, and put his kickstand down. He reached under the flap and pulled out the front section of a newspaper, rolled into a neat cylinder.
"You did it!" He panted, handing it to Nate.
Nate unfolded the paper and looked down at the front page, and his eye immediately fell on one of the biggest headlines: Ten Nabbed in Theft Ring Bust, More Arrests Expected. He skimmed the article, picking up the key details – how the officers cracked the case while investigating what appeared to be an unrelated assault; how several suspects were found in an abandoned warehouse and had to be hospitalized (police suspected an attack by large group of rivals given the extent of their injuries). His favorite part, though, was a rumor the journalist had uncovered that the Garda would neither confirm or deny: that they had obtained a video of one of the criminals bragging about all the past thefts the ring had engineered, and some other crimes, too. Possibly even a murder.
While Officer Terry Francis could not speak to the specifics of their investigation, he did state that incriminating videos were not uncommon.
"People will video just about anything these days, won't they? You'd be surprised at the stupid things people do and say when someone puts a camera on them. It's like they can't shut up!"
Nate folded the paper in half, handing it over to Eliot with a satisfied look on his face.
"I was pretty nervous there, I have to say," Feichin gushed. "I can't believe it worked!"
"He does seem to have a knack for that sort of thing," Sophie said, looking over at Nate with a smile.
He smiled back at her and then turned to Feichin. "You have something else for me?"
"Ah. Yeah." Feichin nodded, and reached into his knapsack again. As it turns out, Feichin knew someone at the crematorium and offered to pick up Jimmy's remains, so that the team could focus on closing out the con and getting out of town. The kid pulled out a cardboard box, no bigger than a toddler's shoe box, and handed it to Nate.
It fit in one hand, and they all stared at it, quiet and solemn.
For a few seconds, at least.
"That's it?" Parker demanded loudly. "That's all of him?"
"Parker!" Eliot hissed.
"What? He was regular . . . you know, human sized. And that box is not."
"You know, why don't we go for a walk," Sophie said taking Parker by the elbow and gesturing towards the downward slope of the hill over the stone wall.
"I don't get it," Parker said. "I mean, I know it's ashes but shouldn't there be, you know, more of them?"
Sophie ignored her and cast a pointed look at Eliot and Hardison. "The boys can come, too," she said.
They did as they were told, Eliot rolling the newspaper and sliding it into the back pocket of his jeans. Nate and Feichin watched them cross the stone wall and walk down the hillside, watched Hardison come up beside Parker and saw her say something to him, and Nate smiled when he heard Hardison's response - all earnest support - floating back up to him on the breeze.
"No, you're right. Absolutely. That is a very small box."
After the others walked some distance down the hill, Nate shifted stiffly, looking for a good place to put the box of ashes. One that didn't involve little complications like, say, movement. Standing was not too bad now, and he could lean against something like a champ, but twisting and bending and getting up and down were still painful enough to elicit the occasional string of curses.
"Oh, here," Feichin said, stepping in. He took the box and set it on the car hood, and when he moved back to stand in front of Nate, Nate was holding a check out towards him.
Nate smiled. "Feichin Cleag College Fund."
Feichin scoffed and shook his head, holding both hands up in front of him.
"Aw, come on. You earned it."
"Did I now? And when was that? When I set you up to come here or when I set you up to go to Mackey's?"
"How 'bout when you called the Garda when I was getting my ass kicked," Nate asked, mild as milk, the edges of his lips quirked up with just the slightest smugness.
Feichin looked surprised.
"Didn't think I knew about that did you? Or how about when you gave us the information about Doyle's plans?"
"I was just trying to make up for what I did," Feichin said.
"And you did, Feichin. And this is just, you know, a token of our appreciation."
"I don't deserve a reward."
Nate clenched his teeth at the word deserve, a sudden anger flashing through him. He almost lashed out, but he fought the urge to be venomous, an urge that had everything to do with a kid, just not this particular one.
"Deserve has nothing to do with it," he said firmly.
Feichin shook his head and looked away, and the anger boiled up in Nate's stomach, pushing its way up the back of his throat with a bitter vigor, bubbling into his mouth.
"You know what, Feichin?" He started, but the kid kept his eyes on the ground.
"Look at me," he said, and the venom was there now, and kid's eyes snapped up at the force of the command, and somewhere beneath the anger, Nate felt a twist of guilt at the hurt look on the kid's face, but he ignored it. "How many people come through your morgue every day? You think all those people deserved it? The guy who got murdered? Some thirty year old with a heart attack? The kid-" Nate stopped, a sudden lump in his throat that he pushed through – "the kid who got a disease?
"You think some asshole who wins the lottery deserves it? Or some trust fund baby that never has to work a day in his life? Things happen, Feichin, no matter what we do, and sometimes they're good and sometimes they're bad, and you can't go through life turning away every good thing that comes your way because you feel like you don't deserve it."
Nate took a deep breath – took several deep breaths to calm himself - and tried not to think about the irony of him delivering that particular piece of advice. He looked off towards the hillside and saw Sophie and the others making their way back now, and he thanked his lucky stars that she wasn't there to hear him, because he never would have lived it down.
When Nate looked back at Feichin, the hurt was gone, and the kid was looking thoughtful, and for a split second, Nate expected him to take the money. Then the kid divested him of that impression.
"You're right, I know, Mr. Ford. I know. But I can't take your money, and I'm fine with that."
Nate sighed. He had known there would be some resistance, that the kid's pride would kick in, but he and Hardison had crunched the numbers to get a bare bones estimate, just enough for tuition and fees and supplies, no other expenses factored in. The kid would still have to work to pay rent, to pay his other bills, and Nate had been certain that if the gift was not extravagant, the kid would accept. There was a finality, though, in Feichin's tone - in his entire bearing - that made Nate realize he'd been wrong.
He stared at the kid, flabbergasted. If he had had both arms free, he would have been waving them.
"Yeah? Well, I'm not fine with that! You're hurting yourself, here. And, and why Feichin? For what?"
Feichin shrugged. "I've thought about this whole mess a lot, Mr. Ford. An awful lot. And you know, my dad was an asshole, but he worked hard his whole life, and he earned everything he ever got. I think that's the one thing he did that I admired about him. And things were working out fine for me - slow, you know, but fine - until I got antsy and I tried to take a short cut. I'm not going to take any more shortcuts."
Nate breathed a laugh, half-bitter, half-exasperated.
"Look, I promise you that even if you take this money, life will still kick you in the teeth many, many times, okay? I'm serious. You'll need dentures by the time you're thirty."
The kid chuckled a little, but he shook his head. "It's no big deal, you know. People work their way through school all the time."
"Oh come on."
"This is the way I want it, Mr. Ford. I do. I want to do it the way I should have been doing it all along, and I will be a doctor. I have no doubt about that."
Nate sighed. "Seriously?"
"Come on, seriously?"
Feichin smiled but said nothing. Nate opened his mouth to protest but stopped. In the short time he had known Feichin, the kid had never seemed particularly at ease or confident until this moment, and he knew it was pointless to argue. Part of him wanted to shake the kid for being so prideful and naïve, but another part of him understood it, and the parent that was somewhere in him still understood that he had to let the kid do his own thing here, even if he thought it was a mistake.
So that was it.
Feichin's dark eyes were on him, kind and determined, and Nate gave him a little nod.
They stood in silence, Nate pulling his casted arm across his ribcage as they watched Sophie and Eliot climb back over the wall, Eliot springing on top while Sophie hopped up onto her bottom with her back to them and swung her legs around and over. Parker and Hardison were lagging behind, Hardison talking up a storm to Parker, and Nate could tell from his arm movements and the way Parker's mouth quirked to the right that Hardison was pitching something, and she was thinking about it.
When Sophie and Eliot approached, Feichin watched Nate purse his lips and give them the slightest movement of a shoulder. Sophie raised an eyebrow at Nate, a question in her eyes, and Nate's good eye narrowed, and the right side of his mouth moved, the edge of his lips pushing back into his cheek.
Shall I grift him into it then? Sophie had asked, without Feichin understanding.
No, it's his decision, we'll respect it. Nate had answered, as Feichin stared at him, clueless.
Feichin wasn't sure what was worse – being look-talked about while he was standing right there or the loneliness that opened up in him at seeing how easily they carried on their silent conversation.
He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his head, drawing their attention. It seemed like a good time to change the subject. "So where are you off to?" He asked Nate.
"I can't fly for a while, you know, because of . . ." Nate gestured at his face. "So Sophie's giving me the driving tour of Ireland."
"You've never seen her drive," Nate smiled.
Sophie arched an eye at Nate. "I am an excellent driver."
Eliot coughed then, three sharp barks, and Nate swore he heard the words Sure Rain Man buried in the middle.
Sophie apparently heard it too. "Excuse me, Eliot?"
"Nothing. What?" He coughed one last time. "I got something in my throat. You know-" he gestured at the hillside-"Irish ragweed . . . or something."
Feichin chuckled, and then they were distracted by Hardison, yelling off to the side. Parker was turning cartwheels along the stone wall, coming in their general direction like a windmill that had fallen off its spoke and gone spinning. Hardison was running along the grass beside her, yelling, "Whoa, now! Look out! . . . PARKER!"
Feichin watched her for a good half a minute before he finally said, "She's not really your daughter is she?"
Nate and Sophie laughed, Nate smiling so broadly that the left side of his face hurt.
"You're adorable," Sophie said, shaking her head.
"Well, I guess that does it," Feichin said. He dug his hands into the pocket of his corduroy pants and looked around at them - Parker sitting on the wall, kicking her feet, Hardison standing next to her, Sophie back by Nate's side at the car, and Eliot between the two pairs. Feichin sighed. "I better get going."
"No time like the present," Hardison agreed.
"Carpe Diem!" Sophie added.
"A handsome shoe often pinches the foot!" Parker chimed in.
Eliot rolled his eyes, and Nate rubbed his forehead, but Feichin smiled, accustomed now to Parker's non-sequiturs.
"I saw it in a fortune cookie," she told Feichin. She hopped down from the wall, covering the space between them in two bounding steps. Feichin kept smiling, expecting a hug or maybe a handshake. Then she slugged him in the bicep hard enough to leave the beginnings of a very impressive bruise.
"Thanks for the tour," she beamed.
"You're welcome . . . I think," he said, rubbing his arm.
She twirled, with a flourish of blonde hair, and bounced back to the wall next to Hardison, and like that, Eliot was filling the space she left. The hitter was glaring at him, eyes like slits, his whole body rigid, and Feichin felt his stomach flip up into his diaphragm and flop back down again.
For a brief second, he was wracking his brain to figure out what he could have done wrong when Eliot's glare melted into a grin.
"I'm just foolin' with you," he said and gave Feichin a strong, solid slap on the back. "Take care."
Feichin gave him a queasy chuckle, half-wondering if violent goodbyes were some kind of team rule, but then Hardison stepped up and politely shook his hand.
"Hey, good luck in school, man."
From Sophie, he got a warm, genuine smile and a hug. She patted his back and said into his ear, "Goodbye, Feichin. Good luck. With everything."
"Thank you," he whispered back.
He pulled away, and saw how bright her eyes were and felt a prick at the corners of his own eyes. He turned away, quickly, thinking there was nothing more embarrassing that crying in front of five people you knew just well enough to know you wanted to impress them, and he found himself staring at Nate, who had moved behind them while they were hugging.
The look on his face was inscrutable, his eyes intense, and Feichin wasn't sure if he saw sadness there or if he was just projecting what he, himself, felt.
"Well, if your old man was honest," Nate said, "then I guess you really are your father's son."
Feichin let out a small, wistful laugh and kicked at the dirt with the toe of one Converse. "I guess I am. But that's not all I am, right? Now I've just got to figure out the rest of me."
They shook hands, and Feichin stepped back and gave Nate a small salute before climbing on his bike again and starting off back down the road towards town.
They watched him go. As he approached the top of the hill, with nothing but smooth sailing ahead, he glided into the glare of the sun, and Nate lost him for a moment, and he almost gasped at the sudden, unexpected illusion of the boy disappearing into the bright sunlight.
But then Feichin sailed out the other side again, and with a casual pedal, he was over the top of the hill and out of sight.
They lingered for a while, stalling. They were in that weird let-down period that came after the emotional high of a job well done. Listless and restless at the same time. If they were in Boston, Nate would be planning the next one now, standing at the work table in his apartment, surrounded by stacks of bank records and news articles and blueprints, assigning Hardison the preliminary work-up. Now, they were on a forced sabbatical, and as much as they (i.e. everyone but Nate) wanted it, it was too strange to embrace right away.
Nate had his arms crossed again, cast pressed against his ribs, when Eliot took the box from the hood of the car and held it out to him.
"You want to take care of that here?" Eliot asked, nodding towards the scenery.
Nate looked at hillside and tried to imagine sprinkling Jimmy's ashes there, giving his father to the earth with his only family all around him, but that picture felt wrong. He tried to imagine his father taking in a landscape like this, standing on any hillside or beach in Ireland, and he couldn't do that either. The images that came were the same as always – Jimmy breaking the fingers of deadbeat gamblers; Jimmy sitting in a corner booth at McRory's, laughing and drinking and scheming; Jimmy reading the Sunday paper on the stoop, his coffee cup leaving a ring on the concrete beside him, and everyone who passed waving their hellos.
Jimmy Ford, King of McRory's, King of the Neighborhood.
"No," Nate said. "Not here."
"You sure?" Hardison asked. "It's a nice place, man."
"I know. It's beautiful. That's . . . part of the problem."
"Oooookay," Hardison said, perplexed.
Nate shrugged. It was hard to explain, especially since even he wasn't sure if it felt wrong because it wasn't what Jimmy would want or if it felt wrong because he didn't want Jimmy to have it. Or because he didn't think either one of them should have it.
Sophie looked at him, at the narrowed lips and darkening eyes and sensed a brood coming on. She turned to Hardison and Parker. "So what are you two up to, now?"
"We're going to London," Hardison announced, beaming.
"What are you stealing?" Nate asked, his insurance investigator's instincts kicking in.
"Nothing." Parker said, and she looked at Hardison and smiled, and Nate suddenly had a strong suspicion about exactly what Hardison had been pitching to her on the way back up the hill. "We're going to be tourists."
"That's right. And Eliot's going to meet a girlfriend - "
"Friend," Eliot corrected, sternly.
"Girlfriend," Hardison said again, "in London."
"Well, I guess we've all got a few off weeks, then," Sophie said.
Nate looked at her, at the humor and warmth in her eyes and her wide smile, and as much as the word "vacation" triggered a flee and fight response all at the same time, he decided at that moment that he would try to enjoy it.
Although he still could not resist a little dig.
He opened his car door and then called out to them over the roof: "And when we get back, I better not hear any complaints about vacations for at least a year!"
From the Sky Road, they drove Northwest towards Leenane. Sophie drove slowly – possibly as slowly as she had ever driven on a deserted, open road - trying to avoid rough patches and keep things as smooth as possible. Nate was partially reclined in the passenger seat with Jimmy's ashes on his lap. He was quiet, and Sophie focused on the macadam and the hillside, letting him sit and be to himself, until finally, when she couldn't take it any longer, she peaked over at him. He was staring up through his window, watching the clouds roll by above them.
"You okay over there?" Sophie asked.
In fact, he had been thinking about what Feichin had said about his father's good qualities, and Nate had been trying to find things he could admire about Jimmy. It was not easy. Every path seemed to run straight into a dead end, or worse, into some perilous obstruction. Jimmy's loyalty to his friends led to Jimmy going to jail and leaving his sick wife behind. Thoughts of Jimmy's toughness led to memories of the quick hands that came out so often when they argued and sometimes when they didn't, when Nate's mere presence seemed to rankle Jimmy. At those times, the way Nate set the table or drank his milk was likely to result in a slap or a shove.
Of course, Jimmy had been intelligent, too, although his was a particularly predatory intelligence that honed in on others' flaws and weaknesses, on the ways that he could intimidate or threaten or manipulate someone to his will, and thinking of that reminded Nate of the ways in which his father had scared away everyone from competitors to any of Nate's friends that he disapproved of and scared Nate himself and forced him to escape in the only way he knew how, through the Church.
And yet, hadn't he used that exact same predatory intelligence to take Doyle down, to take down Tim Doyle and the buyer? Didn't he use it every time he picked up a new folder with a new mark inside?
And for a moment, he was back in the alley behind Mackey's with Doyle's breath on his ear.
You'll always be your father's son.
Nate sighed. It was true, in many ways, but like Feichin had said, maybe not all of them.
He got a sudden notion and grabbed the arm rest on the door to pull himself forward, so he could bring the seat more upright. He rolled the window down. Sophie looked over at him, half intrigued and half worried he was about to be sick.
"Nate, what are you doing?"
He carefully opened the cardboard box on his lap, and pulled the Ziploc bag from inside. He opened the seal. Then he tipped the bag out the window.
Sophie gasped at the wispy puffs of grey that materialized in the rear view mirror and were gone.
"What? I'm giving him his final resting place."
"In the middle of nowhere? Out of a car window?"
"I could think of worse places."
She shook her head at him, but she smiled. "You're incorrigible."
He gave the bag a vigorous shake, emptying it, and leaned back in his seat again, a smile on his face when he looked over at her and realized that he felt more like just being than he had in a long time.