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truth deceived

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The whole thing only happened at all because of Dot.

Which meant Henry owed her—aw, heck, flowers or perfume, maybe jewelry.

Something big, for sure. He'd figure it out.

 

 


 

 

They'd been lucky to land at Crawford House like they had. It would have made Henry feel easier to get a little further from New York than Boston—but as Johnny'd pointed out, Boston Charlie didn't give a fig for Lonnegan or his racket, and wasn't about to let any of his boys come prowling around in Boston territory. And Lonnegan's guys had no reason to push it; as far as they knew, Henry and Johnny were a solved problem, not hanging around in Boston. So it would be safe enough for a while.

And half the reason the landing had stuck was Dot. She'd noticed them at the bar talking, trying to work out where to go from there, and had cut in to say there was a room free right at the Crawford. Two beds and everything, and she'd even argued Mr. Schwarz down to something reasonable as a rate. Turned out she knew Billie and had heard about them, and her first thought had been to give them a hand, even when they couldn't pay her back for it.

So it wasn't like they were going to say no, when she asked to talk.

"Sounds like your guy's got himself in a pickle," Johnny observed when she was done.

"Hasn't he ever!" She threw up her hands. "He's only at Harvard at all because his uncle's paying for it—if the old man finds out about Frankie and me, he'll be done for sure. And he's a real sweet guy, Johnny," she added, "polite, and clean, and he always pays upfront—"

"Okay, okay," Henry said, so she wouldn't feel the need to go into any more detail. "And you're certain he's not kidding you about this mess? This guy coming up to him and saying he's got photos?"

"He wouldn't," Dot said, earnest and round-eyed, "oh, he wouldn't," and either this Frank really wouldn't or else he had Dot turned around hard, because she meant it.

Henry glanced sideways at Johnny, and found Johnny looking right back. He was pretty sure he could guess what Johnny was thinking. No way would Boston Charlie—or anybody else with real business to manage—waste anything on a small-time game like some Harvard student's uncle. Which meant whoever this was who had pictures of Dot and Frank, he had to be independent. Just somebody who thought he was a tough guy, trying to make a buck off other people's lives.

They'd been doing their best to live quiet in Boston, keeping their heads down. But sorting this out hardly counted as raising 'em, did it? That was what Johnny's face said, the half-raised eyebrow, the slant climbing across his mouth, as he looked at Henry. And Henry kept his face blank, thoughtful, not giving an inch. But—

But he could almost feel it in Johnny, across the space between them. A hankering to do something, to run a smart sweet con and get away clean after. It had been weeks—and Johnny probably hadn't gone half that long without talking somebody into something stupid in the whole rest of his life, Henry figured.

Truth be told, Henry was panting after the same thing himself, even if he hadn't put it all over his face like Johnny. He'd started to think maybe he'd lost his taste for the whole thing, back in Chicago, but it turned out it had only taken working with Johnny to light the spark again: it had all of a sudden been easy to remember how much he loved the rush of it, the planning and the picking and the set-up just so, and none of it worth a damn if you couldn't think on your feet—

"Okay," he said aloud, and he gave Johnny the nod and watched Johnny's grin come up, bright and hot like stage lights. "All right, Dot, might be something we can do. Where'd your guy get held up by this clown, anyhow?"

 

 

Not much of a surprise, in the end. If you wanted to catch somebody relaxed and happy and doing something they shouldn't, there wasn't anywhere better to be in the whole city than Scollay Square.

It had been off at the far side, Dot told them, the Old Howard—and showing them, trying to pick the guy out for them, was the least Frank could do since they were helping.

So they got themselves swanned up a little, ties and all, and then took Frank out for a night at the theater.

Frank was lean and tall and his ears stuck out some, but he had a nice face and was just as clean and polite as Dot had said. Which might've made Henry a little leery, except he also didn't seem ashamed or embarrassed—he liked Dot a lot and hadn't minded saying so right off. He was more sore at being stuck owing his uncle, and needing to care what the old man thought, than he was at Dot.

Almost made up for the way he kept calling them both "mister".

They couldn't go in and sit with him, of course. If this blackmailer they were after got a good look at them elbow-to-elbow with Frank, the whole jig would be up before they even got started. Henry and Johnny got seats off in the back instead, in the dimmest part of the whole place, and then sent Frank to see if he could spot the guy again. "And then you come back," Henry explained to the kid, low, "and if he's here you let us know what he's wearing, and we'll take it from there."

"Okay," said Frank, who had a look on his face like he wanted to salute or something.

Henry shooed him off before he could, and then sat down in time to catch the tail end of Johnny chuckling.

"Nice kid," Johnny said.

Henry snorted under his breath, which made Johnny chuckle again; and then Johnny leaned back in his seat, flicking idly at his ticket, and said, "So how are we going to play it?"

"Well, we can't pull it like Chicago," Henry said. He could almost feel his brain lurching into motion, like Billie's carousel: a little out of repair, a little noisy, but not rusted through—grinding back to life. "Better just be me and you, kid. The fewer people know we're here, the better, and this job won't take a full crew anyway unless we screw it up."

"So let's not screw it up," Johnny murmured.

"Yeah," Henry said, dry. "Good thinking."

Johnny grinned down at his ticket and didn't offer up any more sass.

"We need something he can catch us at," Henry went on, business-like again. "Something he can think he's got on us the same way he has something on Frank, so we'll know when he's going for photos and we can find out where he stows the negatives. Between the two of us, and nothing we need to be obvious about—he's got to notice without us making him, just thinking we're careless—"

"I think I know something like that," Johnny said.

Henry looked at him and raised an eyebrow, just asking, because he'd never begged for Johnny's wisdom before and he wasn't about to start anytime soon; and Johnny didn't answer.

Didn't say anything, at least. He did answer after a second. He turned his head, locked eyes with Henry through the thick dimness, and then set his hand just above Henry's knee and squeezed, slow.

It was one of the rules of running a con with a partner, enshrined, sacred: you always said yes. Whatever your partner did, you said yes to—didn't contradict his story or show him up; didn't turn your back, no matter how hairy things got. You ran with it and you said yes. Even saying no could be saying yes sometimes, if you were setting up for an argument. But whatever it was underneath that your partner was giving you to work with, you took it and you said yes.

So Henry didn't jerk away, and he didn't stand up, and he didn't pop Johnny one and demand to know what the heck he thought he was doing. He didn't even tense up. He'd been doing this stuff too long not to know better.

He held Johnny's eyes instead, held them and relaxed his leg under Johnny's hand, and shifted his foot sideways until his ankle was pressed to Johnny's. There was something funny in Johnny's gaze—or maybe it was his whole face, how he'd tilted his chin up just a little, the flat steady way he was staring. There was a challenge in it, and Henry couldn't peg why. If Johnny was just trying to trip Henry into making a rookie mistake, he was out of luck.

Because Johnny touching Henry like that was a surprise, but not quite the way Johnny thought it was.

"Hey—hey, mister—"

"Yeah?" Henry said, evenly; Johnny was the one who jerked and looked away, though he covered it up pretty good swinging his eyes right around to Frank. Henry only knew how much he'd startled because they were still touching.

"He's here!" Frank whispered, leaning in over the backs of their seats, and then had to wait through a wave of laughter over whatever was happening on stage before he could keep going. "He's here, off on the left. Nice felt hat—it's pretty dark in here, but it looks just like what he was wearing the other day, and that one was red."

"Funny color," Henry murmured.

"Yeah," Frank said. "Other than that—dark hair, kind of short. Mustache, but no beard. That enough?"

If the hat really was red, then it probably was enough. "Yeah, sure," Henry said. "We need more, we'll let you know," and then he tilted his head back toward the exit. "Go on already, or you'll blow the whole gig."

"You got it, mister—"

"Oh, and one other thing," Johnny said, and took his hand off Henry's knee so he could catch Frank by the elbow. "You got a ring on you, by any chance?"

 

 

The rest of the show was all right. The parts Henry caught, anyway—slapstick, mostly, with half a striptease partway through to keep the burlesque regulars happy.

Frank had indeed had a ring, silver thing from his dad; he'd worn it on his middle finger, but he was skinny enough that it fit all right on Henry's fourth. Henry moved it around, eased it one way and then the other, until he had a feel for the weight of it, for the way somebody who wore it all the time would end up fiddling with it.

And his other hand had to stay where it was on Johnny's thigh.

Johnny had upped the ante on him, after Frank took off, and Henry couldn't do anything with that but call. If he asked, he was pretty sure Johnny would just smile and say he was working their cover, like Henry'd taught him; so he didn't bother asking.

Johnny's hand had settled almost immediately back into place on Henry's leg, and his foot against Henry's, and they'd gone on from there. Leaning in, brushing shoulders over the armrest between them, Johnny laughing and tilting over so far with it that his hair brushed Henry's ear—Henry caught Johnny's gaze a few times in the dimness and always looked right back and smiled.

Neither one of them had ever liked to fold.

 

 

When the show was over, they stepped out of their seats long enough to let half the row past, and then went down it instead of out, so they would be on the left.

Halfway through the crush in the lobby, Henry saw with a jolt that there was red felt ahead of them. He caught Johnny's wrist, made eye contact and then looked deliberately in the right direction; and Johnny followed the look, as Henry'd known he would, and saw it too.

He couldn't keep his hand on Johnny outside—that was exactly the kind of obvious that might spook anybody with a brain in their head. But he walked a little too close to Johnny, chuckled a little too warmly, as they made small talk about the act and followed that red felt hat down the street.

A couple blocks south of the park, Red Hat turned into the Cocoanut Grove. Lucky for them, a small stream of people had come the same way from Howard Street; Henry and Johnny got into half a conversation with three of them about the show and then held the door for them, and Red Hat didn't even turn around.

He wasn't short, really—though maybe he was to Frank, Henry thought—but he had the hat, and he turned his head to smile at a waitress and had the mustache, too, and dark hair just like Frank had said.

"Here, come on," Johnny said, just a little too close and just a little too low, and tugged Henry over to a table.

It was right at the edge of Red Hat's line of sight—he wasn't going to notice them unless they wanted him to. And judging by the look on Johnny's face, he had something in mind.

 

 

Henry had to wait until Red Hat got up to find out what it was. He had time to think Red Hat was probably going for a restroom; he'd been knocking back drinks a little faster than Henry and Johnny.

And then Johnny stood up too, with one last nudge to Henry's knee, and said, "See you in a minute."

So that was how he wanted to play it.

Henry duly waited the minute, and then followed—the Grove had its bathrooms tucked back demurely down a hallway along the far wall, which made a nice dark corner right at the bend. Johnny was there, and oh, it was stupid, but it gave Henry a quick zing of delight to be right: this little scheme of Johnny's might be harebrained, but that didn't mean it wasn't going to work, and Henry met Johnny's eyes in that hallway and felt Johnny being—being with him, right there, connected, focused and intent and together in it, so every shift of Henry's weight might as well say a paragraph.

There was a sound down the hall, running water. Henry saw all at once how it could go, and how he could do Johnny one better; he grabbed Johnny's arm and swung him around, and Johnny went with it because that was what partners did. And when Red Hat came out and tried to pass them there, he caught himself on Johnny's heel.

"Whoa there, friend," Henry said, not slurring it but just loose, and he reached out and steadied Red Hat with what had become his nearer hand, since he and Johnny'd swapped places—his left.

He could see the split second where Red Hat's eyes went wide. Cataloguing: yeah, Henry and Johnny could've been talking, but weren't they standing a little close? Wasn't it a little dark? Why come back to this hallway for that anyhow?

"Sorry," Red Hat said, belated. "Sorry—thanks," and when Henry waved it off, the generosity of a guy having a good evening, Red Hat's eyes snagged for just a second on his left fourth finger, and the glint of silver on it.

 

 

Maybe he was getting frustrated with Frank's uncle; or maybe he just didn't have all that many fish on the line, and was eager to hook himself a new pair of suckers. Whatever the reason, it didn't take ten minutes after they came back out and sat down for Red Hat to come up with his hands full of drinks.

"Hope you'll let me buy you a couple," he said with a smile, "after knocking into you back there."

Not the worst excuse Henry'd ever heard to check out a mark.

"Oh, sure, sure!" Johnny said, with easy good humor, and snagged a glass before Red Hat could even start setting it down in front of him.

"Ray Livingston," Red Hat said, turning to offer a glass to Henry.

"Michael French," Henry returned, taking it, and shook the hand Livingston offered after. "And this is Adam Warner. Don't mind him, he was raised in a barn."

"Hey there," Johnny said with a nod, and did shake with Livingston after all, giving him a sheepish look for having gone for the drink first.

Livingston gave him a nod back. "No hard feelings—pleasure's mine," Livingston said, and probably he even thought it was. Probably he thought it was his lucky day, tripping over them like this when he hadn't even had to plan it. Good thing they'd dolled themselves up for the Old Howard; Henry looked sharp enough to maybe have some money. No point in squeezing guys who couldn't afford to pay you off.

Livingston had come over to check out the bait. And he had no reason to be skittish or think they suspected him, but they had to keep it that way.

So they drank and laughed, and drank some more—bought Livingston's next, and then he returned the favor. Henry talked the burlesque act up a little, as if Johnny's hand hadn't gone somewhere under the table where Livingston couldn't see; he got drunker, or at least Livingston thought he did, and put his arm around Johnny's shoulders. Nothing a pal wouldn't do, and yet—and yet—

And he could see in Livingston's face, in the quick flicker of his gaze down to where Johnny's arm disappeared beneath the table, and up to Henry's hand on Johnny's shoulder: he was filling in those and yets for himself, all right. He was filling them in and he liked what he was coming up with.

By the time they said good night, there was a greedy smug light in Livingston's eyes. Johnny held the door to the Grove for Henry and set his hand for just a second at the small of Henry's back, and Henry didn't look to check but could almost feel Livingston smile.

It had been hot in the Grove—felt good to step out into the cool again. Henry sucked in a deep breath of fresh air, and then turned to Johnny at the same time Johnny turned to him, and they said to each other: "We got him."

"We could pull it a little like Chicago," Johnny added, as they ambled on back toward Crawford House.

Henry tilted his head back and looked at the stars, considering it, and then said, "Yeah."

 

 

Livingston couldn't actually make the approach until he had something real on Henry, and he couldn't get something real on Henry if he couldn't find them.

So they went back to the Old Howard on the regular for a while. Not too regular, of course—just the way anybody new in town who'd found a place they liked might go. And once or twice they just left after. But more often they went back to the Grove.

Michael French and Adam Warner got on pretty well with Livingston, who they were always happy to buy a drink for. But they didn't always get on so hot with each other.

Johnny tucked away that wide careless smile one time, once they were far enough along, and the difference was so clear that Livingston would've caught it even if he hadn't been looking for it. Henry—Michael—was patient, good-tempered, like nothing was wrong at all even when Adam was short with him; and after a few rounds, Henry easing a hand onto Johnny's back and not getting it shaken off anymore, Johnny let Adam thaw a little.

Another week on, they figured it was about time to give Livingston an opening. Michael and Adam were easy enough with each other right after the show, and then Livingston got up to get drinks and came back to an argument.

Not a real shouting match—that would've been too much. Just Michael saying, "Come on, I promised I'd call her. I'll be right back. She'll get on my case if I don't, pal, you know that—" and Adam grim and silent; just enough to make Livingston think of last time, Johnny's stiff unhappy face.

And then Adam saw Livingston coming and cut it all off, said, "Fine," and let Henry get up.

Better to carry it through, just in case Livingston asked around later. Henry got himself directed to the public telephone by a waitress and even put some coins in, talked low into the handset for a minute before he laughed and hung up—actually talking to the operator about this was probably one or two steps further than Livingston would bother going.

When he got back to the table, Johnny was leaning toward Livingston. His face was plastered with all the ugly relief of a man finally getting to say something he'd been bottling a while. And then he made his move and did it perfect, textbook: jerked his eyes up over Livingston's shoulders and caught sight of Henry, finished what he'd been saying in a rush and then smiled a little too wide. Livingston caught the hint and turned around to welcome Henry back to the table, because he was an amateur who thought he knew what innocence looked like.

And over his shoulder, Johnny met Henry's eyes and dipped his chin, just a little.

"Hey, what'd I miss?" Henry said aloud, clapping Livingston on the shoulder. "Not having too much fun without me, huh?" and he swung around the edge of the table and sat down, and let Johnny's hand settle back into place on his thigh, wide and warm.

 

 

"Just checking me out," Johnny said later, when they were back in their room at the Crawford. "Asked me what was up, real casual and all—I told him you were calling Mrs. French, and I let him know I wasn't happy about it. Pretty sure he got the picture."

"And you didn't spook him," Henry pressed.

"No, I didn't spook him," Johnny said, stretching out from where he was lying on his bed to kick at Henry's foot for asking. "He didn't try anything. I don't think he would've even if you hadn't come back right then. But he'll ask," Johnny added, insistent. "He'll ask."

 

 

And Johnny was right: he did.

Took another two trips to the Grove for it to happen. Which meant another week of Henry lying grimly alone in his bed, telling himself it was the job; it was the job, and there wasn't any point in getting worked up over the weight of Johnny's hands on him, the hot close press of Johnny's thigh—

But, in the end, Johnny was right. Livingston asked.

Henry, of course, missed the whole thing, because Livingston was never going to make the offer except to Johnny alone. But Johnny swore it had gone just like it was supposed to.

"He did a fair job," Johnny evaluated. "Started off saying he knew—waited just enough to get me panicking about it, so I'd be grateful when he said he wanted to help me." Johnny looked off sideways, face neutral, and added, "Said he saw how it was for me, how rough I had it; with you and your wife, and that ring on your hand all the time. Offered to cut me in if you paid out, and went on a little about if you didn't, how he'd send the photos along if I just told him where to—that your wife would probably leave you if he did. Showing me how I'd win something either way."

"Not bad," Henry agreed. "And he bought it?"

"Oh, sure," Johnny said, and nothing about his look changed but Henry could feel something rolling up underneath it like a storm, black and ugly, just barely covered up. "He bought it all right. Sick in love with you and desperate enough about it to be mean—hell of a test of my acting skills, you understand," Johnny added, "but I pulled it off."

His voice, Henry thought, that was what was different: it had gone sharp, precise, pricking like a needle. He tilted his head back to look up at Henry from under the edge of that plaid cap of his, and his eyes were sharp too.

As if he had anything to be sore about, Henry thought. If Johnny felt like a fool, he had nobody to blame but himself. He was the one who'd had the idea in the first place—and he was the one who'd said they should pull it like Chicago. Playacting their way all over again through Henry not treating Johnny right, not caring about him enough—

As if that were the problem; as if it ever had been.

"Well," Henry said, cool and even. "You set it up, then?"

Johnny kept looking at him for a long second, and then let out a breath through his nose and turned away again. "Yeah, just about," he said, a little more quietly, and then cleared his throat and added, "Going to need Dot's help, though."

 

 

Dot couldn't get them another room, of course. But she could tell them which of the nicer suites upstairs was going to be free, and when—and, more specifically, which one was the lucky winner that would be empty long enough for one of the girls to show Livingston up into it and let him find a place to hide with his camera.

They got it squared away with her first. And then the next time they saw Livingston, Johnny found an excuse to take him aside and lay it out for him: that a girl would be waiting at the back of Crawford House to let him up, and which room it was, and when they'd be there.

After that, all that was left to do was make sure they were in 319, on Friday, by eleven o'clock.

 

 

They didn't just pop up there on the dot. They laid down tracks: went for supper at the Hub Barbecue and then to the Grove like usual, even though by ten o'clock Livingston had to be at the Crawford's back door. They didn't have to talk like Michael and Adam, when Livingston wasn't there to hear them—they could talk like they would any other night, telling stories or laughing about Chicago, about how all that fake blood had tasted in Johnny's mouth and whether Henry'd really looked as stupid dying as Johnny said he had.

Like any other night, except they still sat like Michael and Adam. Booth at the Hub, table for two at the Grove; knees pressed together either way, Johnny leaning in close and smiling.

Getting himself in the mindset. Henry didn't need the help—but if Johnny did, that was fine. Henry didn't mind.

Wasn't likely to get another chance to sit this close, was he? To run his hand up to the back of Johnny's neck and squeeze, and not move away after; to slide his knee between Johnny's and leave it there. And Henry hadn't gotten where he had in this business by letting opportunities go to waste.

Maybe he'd be sorry for it later, lying in bed alone and remembering it, thirsty with a wanting that wouldn't be slaked. But with Johnny right here grinning at him—Henry wasn't in the habit of not taking what he could get.

 

 

It was easy to be Michael, hauling Johnny back to the Crawford in the dark, the barest tiny flakes of snow just starting to fall. It was easy to be warm and glad and a little clumsy, stumbling and letting Johnny laugh at him for it, weaving through the packed bar to the stairs.

And Johnny didn't seem to be having any trouble being Adam, either. As soon as they were out of anybody else's line of sight, he had a hand low on Henry's back—real low, too low to look decent. He crowded Henry close the whole way up the stairs, still chuckling under his breath now and then, some part of him touching some part of Henry every which way Henry turned. By the time they were at the door to 319, Henry's heart was pounding, and it wasn't because he was worried about Livingston.

It was for the job, the way Henry tugged Johnny through that door and then pressed him up against the back of it, the way he shoved his hands up under Johnny's suit jacket and caught Johnny's mouth with his own. It was for the job, how he hitched himself up as close as he could get between Johnny's thighs and dug for the edges of Johnny's waistcoat, his shirt—

It was for the job, but it was a little bit for Henry, too. And the best part—the worst part too, maybe—was that Johnny didn't ever have to know it.

Johnny made a noise into Henry's mouth and pushed at him, laughed breathlessly and said, "Hey, slow down there, mister, I ain't that kind of guy," and Henry—Michael—grinned at him and backed up, pulling him along, and thought he could almost hear the click of a camera when he did.

And Dot really had made sure it would get done just like they'd asked, because two more steps backed Henry into a chair with a clatter.

"What the—" Henry said, with Michael's befuddled confusion; and then he caught the chair and put it to rights, and let Michael's expression sharpen up. "This wasn't here before."

"Aw, c'mon," Johnny said, soothing, "probably a maid moved it when she was cleaning or something. C'mon, Mike—"

Henry let Johnny draw him in, smooth his hands up Henry's lapels and smile that way Johnny had, hot and confiding like sharing a secret—because Adam would do his best to distract Michael, and Livingston would be crouched down in the dark and praying it would work.

And then he caught Johnny's hands and said, "No, no, they were up to clean this morning while you were out. There wasn't supposed to be anybody else by today," and he shifted back a step. "Somebody's been in here, Adam—"

"Now, hang on," Johnny said, but Adam wasn't going to be fast enough: Mike had something to hide, after all, and that made a man quick to suspicion.

"Somebody's been in here," Henry insisted, pulling away and picking the chair up by its back. "This wasn't here, it was—by the side table, wasn't it?"

The side table, which was next to the wardrobe. Henry worked up to it, Michael going for the lights first and then getting more and more agitated as he checked for signs anybody had been through the drawers or the papers on the side table. As he was working his way along, he bumped the side of the wardrobe, and perfect: Livingston had braced himself somehow, trying to hold the wardrobe door shut, and the noise Michael's elbow made hitting the side of the thing was all wrong.

"There's somebody in here," Henry said, low and rushed, and went for the knob.

"Mike, wait—"

"There's somebody in here!" and Henry tugged hard, and what could Livingston do about it? Jack squat, that was what.

He ducked back, reflexive, and put his hands up, so when Henry hauled him out of the wardrobe it was by the elbow. "Hey, hey," Livingston said, and winced when Henry's grip tightened.

"You!" Henry said. "You—was it you this whole time? Abbie paid you, huh? Abbie paid you to follow me around, to watch me and take pictures—"

"No!" Livingston said, but Mike wasn't up to listening anymore. Henry grabbed for the camera, yanked the strap roughly off over Livingston's head—some model of Leica, looked like, and Mike wouldn't know where the film was any better than Henry did, so it was all right to scrabble at it furiously until something came loose. "No, there's a whole roll in there—"

"Well, now there isn't," Henry said savagely, unspooling a whole mess of the stuff out in the light and watching Livingston wince. He dumped it all on the floor and went for Livingston again, grabbed him hard enough to bruise and shook. "Come on—come on, what else have you got? How many pictures?"

"Nothing! Nothing, I swear," Livingston said, cringing, and he shot a desperate glance at Johnny.

"You—sneaking around up here; trespassing, that's what it is, I should call the police—"

"Whoa, hey," Johnny said, quick, and stepped in, shouldering just a little way between Henry and Livingston. "Hey, Mike, slow down. Let's just think about this."

"He was taking pictures—"

"Yeah, yeah, I know he was," Johnny said, calm like he was gentling a spooked horse. "But you don't want the police in this room any more than he does, come on."

And Michael was angry, but not so angry he couldn't listen to sense; that was what Livingston had to be hoping, anyway, and Henry looked from Johnny to Livingston and back again and then let his grip on Livingston's arm ease up just a little.

"You got the camera," Johnny added, "and you got the film. Guy says he doesn't have anything else—"

"Yeah, like I'm taking his word for it," and Henry spat this and tensed like Michael was about to blaze up again.

And so it was Livingston, Livingston and his healthy sense of self-preservation, who yelped, "I'll show you! I'll show you. Swear to God. Just come with me and I'll show you, I don't have anything else."

"Yeah?" Henry said, leaning in. "Because if you're holding out on me—one single solitary negative—"

"I swear!" Livingston said; and Henry didn't blow it by turning to grin at Johnny, but damned if he didn't want to.

 

 

It was all downhill from there, easy as a walk in the park on Sunday. Livingston was downright grateful for the chance to show them to his place, and the crate he kept under the floorboards. Envelopes—mostly just more negatives, Henry thought, but a couple with looseleaf sheets; letters or telegrams, maybe, where somebody'd said something they shouldn't to somebody they shouldn't.

And Livingston hadn't thought it through enough to realize that Michael French wasn't going to patiently look through it all. He let out a strangled shout when Henry tossed a match in. But Johnny caught his arm and raised an eyebrow—reminding Livingston that they were both getting off easy, considering Mike's temper; and Livingston caught his drift without Henry having to belabor the point.

They'd blindsided him pretty good, and he wasn't big-time enough to need more than one stash anyway. Not that Henry didn't keep an ear out—but nowhere else he walked in Livingston's place made any sort of hollow noise under the boards, and it didn't look like there was room between Livingston's wall and the next place over for a safe or anything.

So Frank was in the clear. In more ways than one, since Livingston had no idea Henry and Johnny even knew him at all, and no reason to start thinking it was Frank who'd brought him down.

"Good day," Johnny summarized, on the walk back up to the Crawford.

"We did all right," Henry allowed, and let himself smile out at the dark street when Johnny chuckled.

 

 

They had done all right, and Henry felt pretty good about it. Dot would be happy—they'd tell her in the morning, and Frank too if he was around, and if they were lucky maybe their breakfast pancakes would have a little extra syrup on them for the rest of the week. Dot was friends with most of the kitchen girls.

He felt pretty good about it right up until they snuck back into Crawford House and went for their own little room. And then as they were coming up to the door, Johnny hustled up close behind Henry and put a hand on Henry's back; and every drop of gladness drained out of Henry like he was a sieve and left him there, feeling cold and tired.

It had been hard enough getting through this job and keeping his head on straight—more than hard enough, without Johnny teasing or pulling jokes or doing anything else to make it harder.

Henry stepped through the door and went on for a few more paces, quick, to get out of Johnny's reach. And they hadn't been partners that long, but heck, even that was enough: Henry could hear Johnny go still for a second and then move slow, closing the door carefully tight, already seeing he'd gotten himself on thin ice.

"Haven't had enough of your fun yet, then," Henry said evenly, turning around.

Johnny was still standing there, just inside the door—light from the street coming in and not much else, but it was enough for Henry to see the way his shoulders tensed up, the mulish set to his face. "My fun," he repeated.

"We got him, we're done—I don't need any of your kidding around, pal," Henry said.

He was trying to keep calm about it. Johnny didn't know what the real problem was, after all, because he couldn't, and Henry wasn't going to tell him. But Henry didn't feel calm: a sour sick resentment had been curdling up in him since the start, since that very first second Johnny's hand had come down on his knee in the Old Howard. Having to do all this pretending, like he wouldn't leap at the chance to touch Johnny that way six times a day and eight on Sundays; having to say all this to Johnny so carefully, with the taste of Johnny still in his mouth from pressing Johnny up against that hotel door and kissing him.

"Who's kidding?" Johnny said quietly.

Henry scoffed, shook his head, and then went and sat down on the edge of his bed, craning over tiredly to ease his shoes off. "Don't give me any of that, kid," he murmured. "As if you ever took a thing seriously a day in your life—"

"Who's kidding?" Johnny said again, louder.

Henry looked up. Johnny had come forward a step, two, and his face wasn't mulish anymore but—but wrecked, cracked open and twisted up in a way Henry'd never seen it before.

"Who'd kid about stakes like this?" Johnny said. "You've got me on the line here for—for everything I have. You could clean me out any time you wanted, Henry, and there's not a damn thing I could do about it."

He looked like he meant to keep going, but his voice broke toward the end; he rasped the last couple words out and then shut up, and didn't move.

Henry didn't either. They stared at each other in the dark for a minute, like that. And then Henry—he hardly even knew what he was doing, only discovered he'd decided to stand up because that was what happened. He stood up and he reached out, settled his hand against Johnny's chest just at the top button of Johnny's waistcoat, and he felt the rough hitching breath Johnny sucked in when he did.

"What kind of con man are you, anyhow," Johnny croaked out, hoarse and stubborn, "got somebody hooked that good and you don't even know it—"

"A stupid one," Henry agreed, low, and couldn't wait: leaned in to press his mouth to Johnny's before he'd even gotten that first button undone.

 

 

It was funny, how different it was.

Henry'd been doing most of it, in 319. Because it had made sense, because Mike had been the one with something to lose and had needed a reason to think he might; and—

And maybe because Henry had thought he'd better, somewhere underneath that. Because he'd thought Johnny wouldn't care to, when it came down to it—because Johnny might think it was a grand old time to play at this in front of Livingston, but that wasn't the same as kissing somebody like you meant it.

So he'd done it himself, and he'd known Johnny would at least let him, because that was the play. That was the rule, when you were running a con with a partner, and Johnny knew it as well as Henry.

But there wasn't a play going anymore. It was Johnny's own desperation tightening his hands like that on Henry's sides, Johnny's own want making him gasp sharp into Henry's mouth. Henry knew it—and Johnny had to know that the way Henry'd tipped his hat off, the hand Henry'd slid up through Johnny's hair, the way Henry was nudging his knees apart, was all Henry's own, too.

Johnny broke away from Henry, panting, to shove Henry's shirt off his shoulders. "Oh, Mike—Mike," he said, when Henry tugged him close again, and Henry slapped him in the back of the head and then drew him down onto the bed.

 

 

Henry woke up a little while before sunrise, and then again a little while after, with Johnny warm and pliant against him both times, and snoring a bit too. He didn't wake up for real until even later, when finally somebody knocked sharply against their door.

"Hey, Henry—Johnny?"

"Hey, Dot," Henry called, and Johnny made a low grumpy sound into the pillow and then rolled over.

It was almost hard to look at him—flushed with sleep, hair going every which way, eyes half-open and so goddamn blue it was unfair.

"We got some good news for you," Henry added, still to Dot, and watched Johnny blink twice and then flash that smile of his, bright like a new penny.

"Bet you we get syrup on our pancakes today," Johnny said.

"Bet you we do," Henry agreed, and then leaned over to lift Johnny's shirt off where it had landed on the lamp, so he could drop it on Johnny's face.