Sometimes when you’re best friends with a spy, you have to keep an eye on him. Whether they’re too sick to see what’s standing in front of them or mooning over some little Irish dame who makes his moon and the sun rise, sometimes you have to stick out your own neck to keep ‘em all in one piece.
Lately, that’s been my job with Mikey; keeping his nose clean and his mind on-task. Which, in Mike’s case, means not shooting up a whole embassy before we get our intel. I’m so used to him being the most professional guy I’ve ever met in the field that when he goes loony toon on me out of the blue it gives me the creeps.
And there’s only one solution for the whole stinking mess – which is breaking Fiona’s blooming butt out of the slammer. The questions leftover are how, with what – and when…
“Mikey?” I’d been shaking his shoulder for about five minutes then, only to get the old moan-and-roll-over routine. “C’mon! Don’t make me get the hose.”
“Ugh. We don’t have a hose. Go ‘way, Sam,” he demanded, trying to pull the blanket closer to the top of his head.
“No way. We have to get to the State Department for our depositions. If we can convince them to re-open Fiona’s case as a favor to you for the Bolivian job….” Michael groaned and rolled over, and his forehead brushed against my hand. It was piping hot – I pulled back. “Damn it, Mike, when did you get sick?”
He muffled a cough, and then insisted, “I’m not sick!”
I had four brothers of my own, and knew exactly what to expect when someone was trying to pretend they were doing okay when, in the real world, they were dying of the plague. “Yeah, you’re sick,” I said. “Lemme load you up with some meds and then I’ll go straighten this out.”
The pillow suddenly shifted away, revealing Mike’s beet-colored eyes. “Sam, you have no pull at the state department.”
“I know,” I said, trying to yank at my lovely noose-tie, affording myself a little air. “But I know a couple of guys who know a couple of guys who do. Even after that little disaster Anson tried to cause.”
“But it’s not worth it,” Michael complained. “They’ll cut off your pension again, and I don’t make enough to feed you.”
“Just let Elsa worry about that,” I said, already picturing the little blonde, the way she rolls her eyes when I present her with a bill. But I know how to make her roll those baby blues in a different way, so in the end it all evens out. “Whatt’ve you got? Fever? Headache? Cough?”
“Yep.” He moaned and tried like hell to find his pants under the covers. “Just gimmie a minute, Sam – I’ll be along.”
“No you won’t. I’m not dragging your ass through the city when you’re burning up like this,” I said. He grumbled something, the bed creaking a bit as he flipped over.
“Thought so,” I said, shaking a bottle of Nyquil out of the kitchen cabinet (don’t ask why Mike stores his meds there, but anywhere else is better than that bathroom of his). “This should put your stubborn ass out for a couple of hours.” By the time I had a cup of the syrup measured out and turned around; Michael had his pants on and was staggering toward the closet. “Oh no way, pal!” I moved to cut him off at the pass, but Mikey was already starting to droop back against the cardboard dresser. He rolled sideways. “You’re staying in bed today,” I told Mikey with all the authority I could muster up.
“But I…” he tilted backward and fell onto the mattress with a groan.
“No buts, buddy,” I handed him the fingerfull of medicine and turned back toward the cupboard, where I poured myself a shot of vodka. The crap Fi keeps in there usually tastes like lighter fluid, but I wanted a nice buzz if I was gonna deal with a sick Mike and the Feds all damn day.
He eyeballed me, the meds pressed to his bottom lip. “Boooze before you meet the feds, Sam?”
“Better than Irishing up my drink at the table,” I cracked. “Everything’s gonna be just fine, Mikey. I won’t tell all the other little boys in spy school you’re home sick.”
He groaned and pulled the pillows over his head. “You’d better make it back in one piece.”
“Relax. No one’s making you put on your big boy pants today.” I swallowed the booze with a shiver, then slammed the glass down on the counter.
“My pants aren’t what I’m worrying about,” Michael muttered, curling up into a ball.
“Hope it stays that way”, I said, slinging my jacket over my shoulder and heading for the door.
“…So boys,” I said, finishing off my forty-buck steak, “that’s all I need from you.” I looked from one face to the other, my expression as sincere as I could possibly make it. “Spring me one little Irish carbomb from the clink and I’m all yours for the next ten months.” I rested my hands low against my stomach. “But only ten months.”
My team shared a quick look. Now, I’d known these guys since before the Falklands, and every single one of them owed me something; I’d saved Bertrand from a firefight in Kuwait, helped David duck the IRS, and introduced Xavier to this wife. They were all mid-level bean counters now, but they still had their little problems, most of which couldn’t be solved with a steak and a trip to the Spearmint Rhino.
Bertrad coughed and tried to yank on his tie. “How do you know she’s innocent?”
I tucked my hands against the table. “Fiona doesn’t have an innocent bone in her body. She’s tougher than nails and eats them for breakfast. But as screwed-up as she is, the girl doesn’t go around killing innocent civilians. Her sister was one – got caught in the crossfire shopping in Dublin during the Troubles. She got shot through the neck during the troubles.” I looked again from face to face. “You get why she wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about bombing a couple of security guards to death.”
“And you can vouch for that how?” scoffed David. “She’s still on the FBI’s most wanted list, Axe. She’s accused of blowing half the banks in Ireland sky-high.”
“Twenty years ago,” I said. “We all did things we weren’t proud of twenty years ago.” And even though I hated whitewashing Fiona’s past, and I knew there were certain things she’d never ever try to do.
I leaned against the table and said, “I spent thirty years in the trenches with you guys, fighting my ass off. With every ounce of blood I’ve got left in my body, I can tell you that Fiona Glenanne wouldn’t take an innocent life. To this government? In the big picture? She’s just small potatoes. We all know there are bigger, scarier fish we need to fry up before her.”
“What are you trying to offer us?”
“I’ve got a few names,” I said. “For instance, there’s a cocaine dealer I know. Now that bastard deserves to go down; he’s peddling his junk to six year olds. All you have to do is forget about Fiona and I’ll tell you where he’s hiding his little warehouse.” I was bullshitting them – none of them quite knew it yet, thank God, but I was. The tricky part was that I was describing Carmello, and he was too valuable to put in the clink. Mike and I’d have to convince him to roll over on somebody, pronto. But that would come later on.
Another round of shared looks. A few phlegmy coughs. “You always were too nice of a guy,” David said.
“Nice gets you places mean won’t go,” I responded logically. “You boys know that.”
“Is she really that important to you?” David asked me. “You’re going through all of this grief to get her out of the hoosegow and the files say she’s Westen’s girl.”
Joanne came around with our bill and I shot her a wan smile, pulling her tip from my wallet. The look I gave these guys let them know I meant total business.
“She’s a little sister to me,” I said, slipping a twenty under the bill, “but to my best friend she’s everything.”
I found Mike flat on the floor when I got back to the loft. “Toldja not to move, Mikey,” I growled, dragging his stubborn ass back to bed.
“Just wanted a glass of water.” He grunted as I took him up from the ground and into a fireman’s carry. “I’m fine. We’ve got clients to meet….”
“No clients today, no nothing but quiet and rest.” I heaved him onto the bed and reached for his blanket. “I may have let you convince me to drag you around Miami when you almost died after that accident, but a fever’s different – wipes your mind, keeps you from keeping your cover together and being quick on the trigger. You’re not going anywhere.”
“You’ve gotta leave sometime,” He muttered into the mattress.
I stared at him. Why the hell would he even bother trying to hoodwink me after knowing me for so damn long? “You’re acting like an irresponsible jackass.”
He gave me a glassy-eyed grin and rubbed his eyes against his sleeve. “I skipped one flu shot. Would you call that irresponsible?”
“No, I’d get a buttful of lead if I did.” I said, tucking the blanket around his chest. Mike let out a groaning, wheezy cough against my shoulder.
“But you just…” he coughed again and groaned. “The water?”
I walked off to the kitchen and snagged it; he swallowed down the entire glass in a gulp and slumped against the pillow. “I’m gonna go pick up Jesse and meet with Linda and Betty….”
Michael opened one drowsy eye. “Fine. Take one of the bugs and turn on the radio before you go.”
I knew Mike would never entirely give up control; I couldn’t stop myself from shaking my head. “I can stay for a minute.” And I wanted a beer before dealing with the questions Jesse was more than likely ready to throw at me after Mike missed the meeting we’d both gone to great lengths to set up.
He squinted up at me through the bright gleam of sunlight pouring in through the kitchen windows. “How did the meeting go?”
“Depends. When you get better, how does fishing info out of a couple of big-time cocaine dealers sound to you?”
“It sounds,” she said, “like you’re trying to turn Carmello in.”
“I’m not that dumb, Mikey. I’m just trying to give the feds what they really want and get Fi out in ample time.” I cracked my knuckles. “Which means getting Carmello to roll over on one of his friends.”
He groaned. “Sam…..”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’ll be okay. All we need is to get a drug dealer of equal or lesser value in the clink, and then they’ll find a way to spring Fi.”
“But Anson’s case….it’s airtight. He’s killed anyone who who’d be willing to stand up for Fi. Except for us, and you know how much water our words hold.”
I cringed at his downbeat voice. “Don’t give up the faith, Mikey.”
“I won’t. Not as long as she’s alive.” He closed his eyes. “But until she’s out, I’m not gonna call the mission a success.”
I could only stare at him when he told me that one. “If it gets Fi out and stops you from crying and bellyaching every two minutes, then I’ll call it a success.”
Michael curled into a ball. “You don’t get it, Sam. She’s the only woman I’ve ever been in love with. You’ve never….”
“Amanda.” One name, the only one that meant the world to me.
“You slept around when you were married to Amanda,” he pointed out. “Which is why she went to bed with your ex-best friend.”
“I was young and stupid,” I said. “And it’s no answer, but I needed to burn the edge off, take my mind off the things I’d seen and done the first time out. Mike, when I was a kid, I thought I was GI Joe; always on guard defending the people’s rights. So I tried to deal with it quiet – in places and ways Amanda wouldn’t see. I don’t think you and Fi have undiagnosed PTS. You won’t be making the mistakes I did. But I have been in love, Mike. My heart’s been broken a few times, and I know what it’s like to walk around pretending you’re numb.”
His eyes were glazed from the fever as they tracked me moving across the room. “Bring me some ice,” he said.
I gave him that and a bowl of soup. “Gotta go. I’ll be back soon,” I promised.
And I would, even if Fi couldn’t.
Jesse kept sipping his overly-milky latte while we went over the plan for Anna Macintosh. “She’s twenty-one, 5’6”, and she’s been missing from the Miami-Dade County area for two years.”
I eyeballed him over my straight black brew (no chaser). “And please tell me you have some leads hidden in your pocket.”
Jesse gave me one of those cocky grins of his as he leaned over the table. “Her cellphone,” he said, pulling open a manila folder overloaded with very official-looking documents, “pinged off a tower in Jupiter four hours ago. It’s the first sign of life her folks have had in years.” Then he slipped a picture across the checkerboard-print cloth to me; a brunette with sparkling blue eyes smiles back, her arms thrown around the plump waist of a grey-haired, stylish-looking woman in her fifties. Their eyes were the exact same shade of blue – my heart lurched up into my throat.
When I looked back up, Jesse was wearing that hardass expression he puts on every time we’re about to run into a firefight. The one that lets me know this is personal business, and we’re not going home until he finds a solution to this girl’s disappearance. I could come or stay back home with Mikey, but Jesse’s forty steps behind, already kicking ass and taking names in his mind.
I rested the pictures on the table and picked up my beer. “I have a HK in my trunk and two scope lenses,” I said. Didn’t need to tell him that I had my goggles and recon gear in the glove compartment with my insurance and a half-finished bag of tortilla chips. “Are you ready to roll?”
“Always, brother.” As he shelled out for the morning meal, he asked, “so how’s Mike feeling?”
“Poor bastard has the flu,” I winced. “Made sure he was hydrated and fed before I left.” I felt pretty guilty about leaving Mike by himself, but thanks to Ma Bell we could call each other in an emergency.
“He’s an adult,” Jesse reminded me. “Y’know he doesn’t want us around when he’s thinking about Fi.”
“I know,” I said, pushing away from the table.
I could see him fighting a smirk. “Right. So why’re you sweating about this?”
I shook my head by way of response. “You know that Mike and me go back a million years.”
“More than,” he replied, looking our waitress up and down as we left Carlito’s.
“It’s like that. He’s like a brother to me, man.” I explained. “We’ve got a lot of history. Did I ever tell you I took a bullet for him?”
“Nope. But I read it in your file. Cairo, right? Extraction gone bad?”
I shook my head. “You’ve spent too many years behind a desk.” I slid my shades down my nose and gave him a grin. “If you wanna know what’s going on with someone you ask questions, rookie.”
Jesse raised an eyebrow. “I think I’ll take the lazy way out. Y’know prying info out of Michael’s like trying to argue with a rock wall.”
I turned away, laughing. “Brother, you don’t know Michael.”
Michael was puking his brains out when I came back through the door. Luckily, by the time I got to the doorway of his wreck of a bathroom he was already finished.
When he shifted away from the bowl, I handed him a clean washcloth. “Okay, what happened?”
He glared at me, sweat dripping down the bridge of his nose as he wiped his face. “Shouldn’t’ve tried the last of the sashimi…” He sat back on his haunches, flushed, and groped for leverage against the back of the toilet tank. “How did it go?” I grabbed his limp arm and pulled him into a standing position, then started walking him back toward the bed.
“Went well. We’ve got some leads on the case. Jesse’s doing surveillance by himself.” I’d had a hunch that Mike wasn’t doing so hot when he didn’t answer my repeated calls, so I’d left him alone and come home.
“Is it safe for…”
“…Perfectly,” I said. “Everything’s okay, Mikey. Just rest and heal up.”
“But I just need to…”
“You’re gonna run yourself around in a hundred and four circles just to find the right answer,” I said. “The problem is there isn’t one. So what you need to do is plant your butt and not move for a while, got it?”
He collapsed back with a weak moan, and I flicked on the tiny portable tv Fiona had bought a few months ago. Scanning the channels, I found an old black-and-white romance flick and turned up the volume. Hours ticked by while the TV droned on. I stepped out to take a call from Jesse, learned that none of his leads had panned out, and had dinner out on the back steps so the smell of my food wouldn’t set him off again.
By the time I came back from dinner, Mike was curled up into a ball on the bed, his body occasionally shaking as he coughed. I thought about bunking upstairs for the night when he spoke up.
“Sam?” his words came out in a soft, pathetic whimper. “Can you stay here, Sam?”
“Here?” I asked. “You don’t have to ask twice.”
“No,” he said. “Here. In this bed.”
My face screwed up. “I’m flattered, Mike, but I don’t think I’m your type.”
“Not like that…I’m just…I’m cold,” he whispered. But in reality he was burning up, his skin feeling like fire against my shoulder as I took up the other half of the bed, the place where he used to snooze with Fiona.
Maybe I’m the world’s biggest sap when it comes to this guy. I just know for sure that there’s no limit for him when it comes to me, just like there’s no limit for him when it comes to Fi. So I slung my arm around his sweaty side. “We’re gonna bust Fi out Mike. Even if we’ve gotta break into the prison.”
“What if we don’t get there?” he whispered. “What if she gets hurt or the guards decide to kill her? How the hell can we protect her from out here?”
“We can’t. But Mike, this is Fiona. She could kick the asses of every guard in that prison in two seconds flat.”
“You don’t know her like I do,” he whispered. “You don’t see her when she’s at her lowest point, when she’s tired and when she’s in pain.”
“I’ve seen her stare at you like you’re a five-ton box of dynamite,” I said. “She killed Carla for you, Mike. I don’t think she’s going to just lie down and take it from these jackasses.”
That quieted him down for a minute, and his shoulders sank as he relaxed. “We’ve come so far, Sam,” he mumbled. “Hate to lose it all now.”
“No one’s gonna lose anyone else, brother,” I swore.
His arm tightened up around the back of my neck, and I felt like the dad he’d never had – and like a dad, an uncle, I had a smaller, more innocent creature to protect. Mike’s never been a real innocent; I never knew the kid he was back in Miami, but I remember Poland and ’92. He was half my age and twice as cynical. I saw him shoot a guy in the back of the head in the middle of some dank café in the middle of Russia, then order a pavlova two seconds later with a shit-eating grin on his face. That’s the kinda guy Mikey is, the kinda guy he’d probably always be.
“You only fake it,” I said out of the blue. He mumbled something, his eyes falling closed. “You wish you were an ice-cold, unstoppable SOB. But when you really give a damn and it all comes down, you fall apart just like any other poor bastard.”
“S’why I need you,” Michael said.
I tried to think of something witty to say, but it would’ve been wasted on his little sweaty head. The guy passed out cold in my arms. That was when my cell started to buzz.
“Axe. It’s Bertrand,” my old friend said. “I’ve got a deal for you…”
I smirked against the mouthpiece. “Yeah? Wanna meet for another business martini?”
“Don’t need to. What I’ve gotta say is short and sweet, and I don’t want it to be traced back to me.”
“Lay it on me,” I requested.
“I’ve got a lead I’ve been sitting on for the past few weeks,” he said. “Anson had another supplier. He tried to make contact with several paroled and incarcerated bombmakers in the Miami Dade area. One of the guys is named Drake, and he’s been cleaning out in your neighborhood. Looks like he’s ready to turn state’s evidence.”
Nice, right? And totally generous, too. Which means he’s sitting on something and he doesn’t wanna tell me about it. “What’s this gonna cost our team?”
“A couple of local coke dealers you’ve used to help out your clients,” he said. “They’ve got just enough prestige attached to their asses to make a trade worth our while. Give us the names now. We’ll give you your dealer tomorrow.”
“Sounds fair.” But I chose to send them the names in encrypted files, compressed with the kind of computer gobletygook only Jesse and a few other people knew. “Hope that’s not too hard for you boys to figure out,” I said.
“We’ve still got our ways. Lucky you, Axe.”
I grinned at the air – hey, who else did I have to brag to right at that moment? “Lucky is my middle name.”
Mike chose that exact moment to blow his nose against my shoulder.
The following day, he had the chills. “Just lemme alone,” he said, wincing while his muscles involuntarily contracted on the bone. ”Ugh, my head hurts.”
“Nothing doing, brother,” I said, pulling up a chair. “Until your fever breaks, Jesse’s doing the heavy lifting.”
I handed him a glass of water, two off-market aspirin, and a bendy straw. Thanks to some miracle it all stayed down and he fell back to the pillows with a grumble, sweat dripping from his brow. “It’ll break after this,” I said. Too much experience at field hospitals watching good men rot told me that much.
“Hope so. Hate lying here,” he muttered, kicking back the blanket. “Why is it so hot?”
It was no hotter in the loft than it usually was, which meant it was only hot enough to fry an egg instead of an entire armadillo. Less swamp-set-out-in-the-sun, more desert after a rainstorm. “Just a warm front Mike,” I said. “The one in your head.”
“Damn it.” He closed his eyes, rubbed a hand against his temple. “Tell me you’ve got better news.”
“Jesse is knocking on the door of a flop house in Santa Domingo,” I said. “As we speak, he should be talking to the guy who supplied Anson with the materials he used to make his incendiary with. My guys came through, and they also have a report that says the stuff Anson used burned four degrees hotter than the stuff Fi used for her little smoke bomb.” I grinned proudly. “If he has any of the original material he used before sending the stuff down to Anson, we’ll finally have enough proof to send him to the state pen.”
Mike scooted upward in his bed. “You have a witness? How in the hell did you find a witness?”
“Good luck and great timing. Uh, it does come with a couple of strings attached. Not the big, fat Carmello-labeled one, but a couple of big ones ,” I must’ve been grinning too widely, because Michael’s expression turned suspicious and he kept eyeing me from his cold little bed. “I’m not lying brother. Everything’s right here and in black and white.” I gave him the folder; it vibrated in his hand as he parted it and scanned the document with sleepy eyes. “If we can crack this guy, we save the world.”
He took a deep breath and closed the folder, resting it on his chest. “Don’t exaggerate, Sam.”
“Don’t ruin this for me, brother,” I said.
“Just because you’ve always wanted to be Robin Hood doesn’t mean I need to buy this…” He closed the folder and rubbed his temple. “I want this to be over. I want that bastard in prison and I want Fi out of it.”
“And now you sound like a kid,” I teased him. “Y’remember what the Stones said: you can’t always get what you want.”
“But sometimes you get what you need.” He reminded me. That’s my favorite song – the words were stuck forever in my brain, but hearing them come out of Michael’s mouth automatically made me feel better; I knew that meant his brainpower was in recharge mode, and he was starting to finally rest up. “That was on the jukebox,” he said, lying back down, “when we met in Krakow.”
“And I was eating a big plate of curly fries.” I glanced down at my gut, which was a huge reminder that I couldn’t burn off fat the way I used to back then.
“And my handler said, ‘Westen, this is Sam Axe…”
“…You have my deepest condolences.” I cackled. “Christ, it was like he was sending you down to your own funeral.”
“Tom thought he was,” Mike said. “You weren’t exactly known for having it all together back then.”
“I had fifty percent of my marbles rolling around in my skull. And that’s all you need to do covert ops.” Less would be even better.
Michael sighed. “I’d like some chicken soup. And find something on the radio – there has to be a game on somewhere.”
With the scanner recording everything and all our phones on, we knew Jesse wouldn’t be stuck without help. Everything’d turn out okay, no matter what we did – for once. As I went to heat up a can of Campbell’s, I noticed one more thing about the way Mike was sitting up in his bed, sipping water and ordering me around like a tyrant.
He’d finally stopped shaking.
Mikey’s fever broke that afternoon, which meant he was sweating like a sinner in a revival tent. He wanted a shower, but – even with a meal in him and another four hours of rest – he couln’t force himself to stand up and take it. Guess who had to break out the ol’ bin and rags?
“This is purely a medical procedure,” Mike said, staring blankly at the ceiling.
“I know, Brother,” I replied, staring at the wall while I swiped his body with a cool sponge. “So how do you wanna spend the next hour ‘til Jesse checks in? Crosswords? Parcheesi?”
“…No one plays Parcheesi anymore, Sam.”
“That’s where you’re wrong! There are plenty of guys who happen to play Parcheesi! There’re whole LEAGUES of ‘em that gathers at Carlitos every week!”
“Under the age of seventy?” he raised an eyebrow at me and shot me a smart little look.
I squeezed out the sponge and carried it away. “I oughta make you drink this.”
“But I’d just get sick again,” he said, rolling over.
“That’s not how…” I started, but at that point the phone rang. Damn it, Jesse must’ve gotten himself into trouble. I pulled out my cell and flipped it open. “Tell me you’ve got good news, man.”
“You’ve got good news,” he said, the sound of automatic gunfire filling the air.
“Jesus, what the hell’s going on?”
“Remember those trackers we put on Anson’s boat? He found them. He’s not happy we’ve got the last link that connects him back to the bombing, so he set up a roadblock on the highway and tried to blow up my car by shooting the gas tank.” A bang and a cry, and the sound of a shotgun shell falling. “Do you need me to draw a road map?”
“I’m coming,” I told him right away, tossing my half-finished beer into the sink.
Michael was crab-walking his way to the end of the bed. “I’m going with you,” he insisted.
“No, you’re not,” I said, pushing him back onto the bed. All it took was my palm jabbing him once in the chest to make him fall back and groan. “Finish resting up.”
“We’ll be fine, brother.” I stared him right in the eyes and added, “I’m gonna bring them all back alive. I promise.”
“Just for me?” he asked, the smallest hint of humor entering his voice as he slunk back to the mattress.
“And me,” I admitted. “To be honest, I kinda like Jesse. And I even miss having the little banshee by my side during those long nights of surveillance.”
“You’re a real friend, Sam,” he declared, letting out a long, deep, hacking cough.
I tossed him a bag of cough drops and ran for the door, shoving Mike’s SIG Saur into my belt loop. A few minutes later, I put the Porsche into high gear and burned rubber out of the parking lot.
I’m getting used to the smell of burning car upholstery, I realized, as I abandoned the Porsche by a huge grassy embankment and snuck up to the scene of the firefight. Miami’s finest had cordoned off the on-ramp, which meant I would have to get creative to bring Jesse a little back up.
Older thankfully doesn’t mean ‘magically forget how to swim’ in my case; my lungs are still deep. I could breast stroke my way through the Channel in my birthday suit if I had to. Thankfully all I had to do was cut through some shallows and climb up a cement pylon. Easy peasy.
Five minutes later I was ducking behind Jesse’s overturned car and offering a little of the Axe specialty – return fire.
Jesse barely looked up, or realized I was sopping wet. “How the hell did you get here?” He kept firing until he ran out of ammo.
“I bribed a seagull to drop off a little of the Axe charm.” I said sarcastically, then shot a confident look at Anson’s little buddy and the subject of our file, who had curled into a fetal position near the rear axle of Jesse’s flipped Hyundai. “Nice tie,” I said, jamming a clip into my automatic. Two seconds later, I got a headshot in on the goon Jesse had winged earlier, and he put two holes through his little buddy. We hot-wired their van after taking a minute to sweep it for bombs and bugs.
“Is he okay?” I asked, as Jesse drove us backwards across the bridge and down an unguarded side-ramp. He’d gone scarily quiet, which made me incredibly nervous.
“I peed my pants,” he moaned.
“Just shove a paper bag under it,” I suggested. It wasn’t my car, and wasn’t my problem. We could throw him into a fresh pair of Fruit of the Looms at Mike’s place.
The bomber moaned and curled into a small ball in the back seat. Jesse drove us quickly toward the relative safety of Mike’s place.
With a quick stop off to buy a six-pack of Rolling Gold Moulsen.
Hey, I’m not made out of stone.
Mike debriefed the guy from his bed, and considering the circumstances we were in he did a damn good job. With his word added to the general evidence Pearce had stacked up against Anson, the likelihood we’d end up with a captured bad guy and a freed Fiona looked pretty solid. Jesse kept an eye on the dude while he changed himself into a pair of Mike’s pants, and then we ordered pizzas.
“I feel like I’m in the Brady Bunch,” Michael complained. His grouchiness was a great sign that he was on the mend, and I smirked over my beer.
“I call Greg!”
Jesse shoved a slice into his mouth. “You guys must’ve been totally bored when you were stuck here. Everything’s cool now?”
“My fever broke yesterday,” Michael added.
I slapped my palm over Mikey’s forehead. “Yep. He’s cooler than an icecube. Maybe you should be Greg, Mikey.”
“I can break that wrist in at least forty ways.”
I pulled back and stared at him. “And not two days ago, you were begging for someone to talk to.”
“I never beg, Sam.”
“Oh,” I said serenely, “you begged.”
Michael grumbled and took several huge bites of his pizza. Everything stayed down, and he looked more energetic by the second. “We need to strike now. The justice department never closes. We should take him to the…”
“Uh uh. You need one more night in bed,” I told him.
“I’m FINE,” he insisted.
“You’re ALMOST fine. Or you will be in another day. I’m not gonna let you run around Miami and get yourself a nasty case of pneumonia.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “You’re a real friend, Sam.”
“I’m the best friend you’ve got,” I said. “How does everyone feel about a little shut-eye?”
“Can we listen to something other than a bunch of Russian radio bands?” the bomber complained.
We ended up listening to the Mariners lose instead, my back cramping up against that lousy couch of Mike’s while we stared at the walls ahead and waited for the morning to come.
And the morning brought craziness – something I should’ve predicted last night. Mike was jamming his gun into his back waistband and Jesse was halfway out the front door by the time I hauled my butt downstairs; our little friend the psycho terrorist had decided to take a long trip off a short causeway. I threw myself into the front seat of the charger and gunned it down the walk, but Mike wanted to go on foot, running faster than I could track, forcing me to chase him.
Jesse watched out for Michael while I watched the streets, desperate for a sign of some kind that the dumb schmuck hadn’t decided to take a concrete swan dive. But I was in for a surprise – though, since I’ve known Michael for years, I shouldn’t have been shocked. Three blocks later, Michael had our mark by the collar – they were hanging off the ledged of a building, and Mikey had him by the lapels and was shaking him like a rag doll. I had to climb a fire escape with my gun in my teeth to finally reach him.
Not that Mikey heard me, or cared if I heard hm. “….know what you almost cost me?” he shouted. “You’re my last shot at getting the only woman I’ve ever loved out of prison. Do you know. What your life. Is worth. To me? ”
“MIKE,” I shouted. When I grabbed him by the shoulder his fists unclenched; he took a step back and the target slumped back against the cool bricks and gasped at us helplessly. “Calm down, both of you,” I said. If he blew it now, we’d probably end up with one dead asset and a world of trouble.
“They’re gonna get me,” he whimpered. “You don’t know how big they are?”
“What?” I asked.
Our informant’s eyes rolled around wildly in his head. “The roaches, man! They’re everywhere!”
Mike lunged forward and grabbed his arm. A line of bright red track marks explained everything.
Mike and I looked at each other. It was one of those creepy moments where we knew – without sharing another word – what each other were thinking. The shared thought was simple: we’d have to dry him out the old fashioned way. “Prussia,” he said through his teeth, trusting that I’d know what he meant. And I did, because it was Mike, and because we had so many years of living between us, I knew what what he meant.
I went low and he went high.
Soon enough, we had our own bomber burrito, locked up and tied in a bundle in the Charger’s back seat. Jesse drove us to the drop-off while I literally sat on the dude to keep him from hurting himself.
There were chains and handcuffs waiting for us back home, and time enough for me and Mikey to have a little chat while we hog tied our pal up. “I know what your life is worth to me,” I said, the metal cuffs jangling around violently against a lovely exposed pipe in the loft’s living room.
“Yeahh…I think you’ve shown me more than once, Sam,” he said, kneeing the squirming guy into quietude while doubling down on his knot.
“There’s nobody else I’d spend the night with, Brother,” I declared.
Our little helper popped open one eye and, confused, asked, “you spent the night together?”
“It was a fever thing,” I said. “An he-was-shivering-with-the-chills-thing.”
“Right,” Michael muttered.
Our little friend laughed hard, smacking his head into the pipe. “The cockroaches think you’re gay.”
“YOUR cockroaches are gay!” I blurted out, which made Michael cover his ears.
“Just order some pizza, Sam,” Michael grumbled, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
We spit a couple of cheese slices under the heat of the nighttime sky. Mike ate twice his weight in solid food for the first time in days and collapsed into bed.
I took the floor; Jesse took the Charger back home.
And our friend – stuffed with cheese pizza, finally stopped complaining out loud about the cockroaches.
Jesse swung by with a jug of coffee while Mike loaded our hog-tied friend into the backseat of the car. He turned down my offer of a yogurt, of water – he was getting this done, getting the over with and Fi out of the hoosegow, and anyone holding him up was gonna be left sitting on their cans in the dust.
We gave him a minute to finish up, enjoying our coffee, the coolness of the morning. Jesse seemed distracted, but before I could ask he spoke up.
“Y’know…” he started, watching Michael watch me from the front seat of the Charger.
“Yeah, Jesse?” I asked, dunking my donut and swallowing it down.
“The two’ve you have something special together,” he said. “A real, true-blue friendship.”
“Tell that to the FBI,” I cracked. Even Jesse knew the backstory – knew I’d been informing on Mike to them for around six months when he first came back home.
“You ot over that, right?” he smirked. “No weird bullshit going on I don’t know about?”
“I’ll stick a knife in his back if he doesn’t get into my car,” Michael said, sounding weirdly reasonable in that crazy way of his.
“Nah. We’ve been working together for so long it’s like second nature to us,” I explained. “I remember when Mike was a weird kid brother who was way too eager to kill Ruskies.”
“And now he’s the weird kid brother who’ll kill anyone for his girl.”
“Or for me,” Sam acknowledged.
“You’d do the same for him. You kicked ass playing nurse for him this week.”
“I just wish I coulda done more,” I admitted.
“You kept him alive, man,” Jesse said. “That’s the most important thing you could’ve done.”
“Yeah,” I said, a grin spreading across my mug. “I guess I did.”
Mike honked the horn impatiently. “Duty’s calling, brother,” I laughed, holstering my gun. We were all in for a short ride down to the courthouse, but I wasn’t gonna keep Mike waiting any more than he already had.
Twenty minutes later, we were in a shootout and Anson had a bullet through his forehead. I was hiding behind a giant column of marble while firing and reloading my Glock at top speed; Jesse and Mike were behind me, and Fi – in leg irons, was trying to kill an assassin with her own handcuffs.
“Relax, man – just a typical Monday, right?” Jesse called over the noise. He knew enough to joke and keep going, until we were all in the clear. Took us longer than I’d predicted, but we ended up putting Management down like a sick dog.
Two minutes later, Mike and Fi were hugging over the corpse of Anson. Only those two could make something like that look cute.
“Feel like you’re coming down with Mike’s Flu?” Jesse mocked.
“Yeah,” I said, wiping my eyes. “The sniffles or something.”
That night, Madeline took Fi off on a little shopping trip, and Mike and I spent the day trying to clean up the loft from his little trip to sicktown. He looked up from the pile of pizza boxes we’re mounted up in a pile on the floor of the loft and said, “Thanks, Sam.”
I chuckled and shoved them deeper into the mouth of the plastic trashbag. “No need to thank me, brother,” I said. “All in a day’s work for Westen and Axe.”
“You could’ve left me to freeze to death while you helped Jesse figure out who Anson’s supplier was. Only you would have come back to the loft and made sure I didn’t throw up on myself. Appreciate it more than you know.”
I grinned. “Any time you need me, brother….” I just saluted him with my glass of beer.
Any time. And he knows it.
Being friends with a spy can be a huge pain in the ass, but it can also mean you’ll always have someone looking out for you, watching your back in the darkest of nights.