Of course things changed after the Janek job (they all had different names for it, but Whistler preferred the Janek job because that's where it started). There were no reports to be made, but a huge mess had to be cleaned up.
By the time all their equipment had been moved back to the loft from Liz's apartment and set to rights so Whistler could find his way around unassisted again, the NSA had coughed up Mr Abbott's promises.
Crease was off to Europe (and Tahiti!) with his wife, not expected back any time soon. Mother had phoned in saying something about shakedown cruises not being something to rush. Carl was off to DC to find out if it was True Love or just Uzi- and adrenaline-fueled lust.
And Bish? Bish had been scarce. It turned out computer and bank fraud with flight to evade prosecution couldn't be completely swept under the rug. Community service beat the hell out of prison, Bish said.
Whistler meandered down from his apartment into the office each day. There might not be anyone around to do actual sneaks, but that doesn't mean the phone should go unanswered. Not that it rang all that often. And there hadn't been any walk-in clients since Cosmo's goons.
(The week after everyone else disappeared, Whistler's vigil was completely justified. Girl Scout Cookie Time was not something to be missed.)
In the middle of the third week, Carl called to check-in. Or not.
“Oh. Hey, Whistler. Is Mr Bishop... er... Brice... Bishop... uh... there?” Carl stammered.
“Hey, kid. Whatever you want to call him, he'll answer,” Whistler replied. “Only not now.”
“What? Huh?” Carl paused. “Why?” Whistler could hear Carl scratching his head, even over the nearby heavy traffic driving through slush outside the phone booth Carl was obviously calling from.
“He's not here, Carl.” Whistler replied, shaking his head. “Don't you check your messages?”
“Messages? What? No?” Carl sighed. “When is he going to be back?”
“Three months, give or take.”
“What? What? Why?”
“Carl. Check your messages,” Whistler said slowly. He wasn't about to repeat everything he had already taken the time to put into encoded messages in their go-to newsgroup. “Is it something I can maybe help you with?” He couldn't decide whether he wanted the answer to be yes or no.
“Carl! What are you doing?” A female voice, muffled by either distance or plexiglass.
There was the distinct sound of Carl's head making contact with the side of the phone booth. “Um. No. Thanks, Whistler. I gotta go.”
“Have fun, Carl.” Whistler smirked and hung up the phone.
He stood up with his coffee cup in hand. “I think I need some more coffee.” He stopped and winced. “And just maybe I should quit talking to myself.” Though if, as Mother had suggested, the office were indeed bugged, then he wasn't exactly talking to himself, was he?
Whistler shook his head and resumed his trip to the kitchen. “My sincerest apologies to anyone stuck listening to this.” He set his cup down on the kitchen counter and thought about it a moment.
“Actually, no. I retract my apology. If you are listening to me without my knowledge or permission while I am not out in public, then you deserve what you get. Even if you're just a mindless suit minion doing the bidding of the power that be.”
Whistler took a deep breath. “Okay, now I know I've spent too much time around Mother, and he can just stay out in the Winnebago as long as he pleases.” He stopped talking long enough to notice the sound of high heels coming up the steps. Whistler didn't know if he could pick out Liz's footsteps from an audio lineup, but the pace of the steps was that of someone not in a hurry, likely not doing business. The way they came up the odd main staircase spoke of familiarity. It had to be Liz.
He had just pulled down a cup for her when she came into the kitchen. He turned and held up the cup. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Thank you, Whistler,” Liz said, a fond smile in her voice.
Whistler poured and handed her the cup. “I'll just let you do the rest, “ he said, waving toward the refrigerator and the jars next to it, labeled in braille (and presumably actual printed words), “sugar” and “definitely not sugar.”
He listened as she poured just a splash of milk, added some not-sugar and stirred. He gestured to the lounge area. They carried their cups to the sofa and sat down.
“I don't mean to be rude,” Whistler started, “but why are you here?”
“Your forthrightness is always refreshing, Whistler,” Liz said. “ I have a question.”
Whistler shifted uncomfortably. “You came all the way here to ask me a question?”
“I asked Bishop, but he said he didn't know,” she replied. “He said maybe you would.”
“Oh. Okay.” Odd, but not weird. Whistler could work with that. “And the question?”
“I received my bank statement in the mail yesterday.”
“That's not actually a question.” Though he did indeed have an idea now what the question might be.
“A rather large deposit was made to my account a few weeks ago. I did not make any large deposits to my account.” She paused a moment. “I spoke with the bank. They said it was not an error. They said it was an electronic funds transfer. The couldn't say from where.”
Whistler took a long sip of his coffee. “And you want to know if I can find out where it came from?”
“If you don't already know, yes.” Liz said. “If you do know, would you please tell me.”
Whistler smiled. “What if I was sworn to secrecy? What if it were a matter of honor among thieves?”
“What if I move every piece of furniture in here? What if I litter the floor with cat toys? And a cat?” Liz countered.
He held his hands up in surrender. “I honestly do not know.” Liz made a disbelieving noise, and Whistler continued. “A few weeks ago my account also received a large deposit. Electronic funds transfer. And yes, I did try to trace it, but.” He shrugged. “No luck. Maybe if Carl were here he'd have some other ideas. But I don't know.”
“Money doesn't just magically appear.”
Whistler shrugged. “Apparently, sometimes it does.” He paused to take another drink. “Best explanation I can come up with is that since you and I didn't actually get anything from Abbott, he paid us off. Bought our silence with actual cash instead of a reduced sentence, vacation or recreational vehicle.”
“I don't know... it sounds a little... I don't know.” She certainly sounded unsure.
“You think Bish did it.” It's somewhere between a statement and a question. “You know about his previous life. Did he ever keep any of the money he.. uh... redistributed? Did he ever give it to someone he knew?”
Liz took a minute to think about it. She sighed and shook her head. “No. It always went to organizations, never individual people.”
“There you go. Now just be sure to send a Christmas card to Bernard Abbott in care of the National Security Agency, Fort Meade.” Whistler grinned. “He's on my list.”
“Well. That's settled then.”
Whistler nodded. Liz made no move to get up.
“Was there something else?” Whistler asked. “You could have asked about this over the phone.”
“It's too easy to lie to someone on the phone,” Liz remarked.
Whistler put his hand on his chest, mock wounded.
“You would lie to protect Bishop and you know it.” Liz said sternly.
“I know nothing,” Whistler said. “That's my story and I'm sticking to it.”
“Fair enough.” Liz laughed. “But there is something else. Just something I wanted to drop off for you. I don't presume to know how you like to spend your downtime.”
Whistler raised an eyebrow when Liz handed him a package. “You didn't... Um... Thank you.”
“I have to go. My students might actually be able to teach themselves, but they really do need supervision.” Liz stood up to leave, and Whistler followed her to the door.
“Thank you for your help. Take care.” She squeezed his hand and left.
“Huh.” Whistler went back to the sofa to retrieve this most unexpected gift.
It was rectangular, not very tall. Shirt box sized. Too heavy to be a shirt though. He shook the box. The sound of tissue paper, and definitely not the sound of a shirt.
Whistler carefully unwrapped the package and opened the box. He pushed aside the tissue. There were two magazines nestled inside. He ran his fingertips over the braille on the covers. Car and Driver. Road & Track.