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The Dolphin Paradox

Chapter Text

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This was only his fourth week, but he was already starting to get a feel for the ebb and flow of their customer base.

Mornings were busy. They opened at ten, which was about the time the herd descended from their warehouse-converted offices in search of morning coffee. Inevitably about a third of them found their way into the store. Hipsters, Todd had discovered, loved records.

Or rather, they loved the idea of records. They certainly didn't love them enough to leave their triple venti soy no foam lattes outside. Todd hated each and every one of them.

Eleven o'clock brought a lull, one that lasted until just after lunch. That was when the collectors showed up. Todd used the lull to unpack Alfredo's new finds. The collectors seemed to know this. They showed up in clusters almost as soon as the last milk crate was unpacked. By day three Todd had it figured out that it was easier to leave the new stock on the counter than it was to file it away in the bins. He saved that job for the afternoon. There wasn't usually much left.

Afternoons were positively dead. Not that Todd minded. He was used to sitting around, watching the clock. He spent a good deal of his time at the Perriman Grand watching the clock. At least here he could put his feet up. Alfredo didn't even mind if he listened to the records, so long as he was careful with them.

Things picked up again after six, but by then Mara or Amir had shown up so unless it was crazy he mostly got to go home. All things considered, this was probably the best job he'd ever had. Certainly it was the least stressful. Except for the part where it was minimum wage.

"Look, I know it's not the best neighbourhood, but it's not terrible and the rent's reasonable."

That last part was the important part. The developers who had bought the Ridgely planned on upping his rent nearly two-fold. He wouldn't have been able to afford it on his bellhop wage, let alone now. He'd fucking liked that apartment, too.

"The rent's reasonable because there are crack houses across the street," Amanda countered. He could hear her puttering in the background. Doing dishes, he thought. He didn't bother telling her about Dorian. As far as she was concerned, his late landlord had had a heart-attack in his sleep.

"There's only one crack house," Todd said. He paused briefly to transfer his phone from one ear to the other. At 3:00, the store was dead, which meant Todd was sitting behind the counter with his feet propped on an overturned milk crate. He had a copy of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane sitting on his lap. Alfredo wanted $60 for it. Todd didn't really have the money, but...

"One crack house is one crack house too many, Todd," Amanda said. She wasn't wrong.

"It'd just be temporary," Todd told her. "Until I can find a second job."

And a third, though his prospects were dwindling faster than he could pay his bills. Not that Amanda needed to know that. She also didn't need to know that he'd lived in worse.

"Can't you just like... Get a roommate or something?"

Todd thought about sharing his space with someone else. He thought about dishes left sitting in the sink. He thought about strange, badly cooked food occupying his fridge. He thought about someone else messing with his stuff. The inevitable broken lamp.

"I'm not sure I could..."

"Or you could move back here. I mean, there's obviously enough room."

He wasn't sure what was worse. The thought of getting a roommate, or the thought of moving back into his parents' house. Technically, he supposed, it was his and Amanda's house now, but that didn't mean he wanted to live in it. Not when Amanda hadn't bothered replacing the furniture, the living room couch the same one he'd lost his virginity on.

He thought again about asking her to sell the place. Together they'd have enough for a small condo. Something decent without a yard to maintain. Instead he said, "I'll think about it."

In the silence that followed, he could picture her rolling her eyes.

But it wasn't a conversation he wanted to have--not today--so when the front door chimed he uttered up silent, non-denominational thanks and told Amanda he had to go.

"I'll see you tonight," he said. "We can talk about it then."

Hopefully by then he'd have a better solution.

A flurry of yellow from the front of the store announced the customer, Todd setting his phone on the counter just as the smiling face of Dirk Gently appeared before him.

"Hiii," Dirk said, seeming just as happy to see Todd as he had the first day they met. Todd fought back the sudden urge to grin.

"I didn't see you yesterday," he said, rising from his chair. Dirk's eyes grew wide, halfway, Todd thought, between embarrassment and genuine surprise.

"You noticed," Dirk said, sounding oddly pleased.

"Well, yeah. You're practically one of our regulars."

He'd asked Alfredo about Dirk once, but Alfredo was more interested in scouring ebay for vintage vinyl than he was meeting any of his customers, so the best Todd got out of him was a lecture on the importance of making the customer feel important. Dirk seemed like the type who might like feeling important. He also had surprisingly good taste in music. Sometimes Todd swore they shared the same collection.

"Speaking of which," Todd said, setting Ellington down on the counter. "This came in today. I set it aside. I thought you might be interested."

That wasn't entirely true, but $60 was money Todd didn't have and the only other person he thought might appreciate it was Dirk, so...

"You... You set this aside for me?"

In hindsight, it was probably a pretty weird thing to do. After all, Dirk was hardly their only regular. But he was the only regular who seemed interested in talking about music, even if sometimes he sounded like he was repeating someone else's side of a long forgotten conversation.

Still, he was interesting, and he'd asked about Todd's Mexican Funeral t-shirt, seeming genuinely interested when Todd told him about the band. It helped that he was cute, in a overly polished, vaguely eccentric, British sort of way. A little weird, but cute.

Not that Todd had noticed.

"All the good stuff's gone by two, and we were just talking jazz, so I thought..."

They'd had the conversation three days ago. Dirk seemed surprised Todd remembered. He also seemed genuinely touched, like no one had ever done anything nice for him before. Join the club, Todd wanted to tell him.

"If you're not interested, I can just put it out with the rest, I..."

"No!" Dirk said, very emphatically. "I mean, of course I'm interested. I'm very interested. It was very thoughtful of you, Todd. What do I owe?"

For one brief, hysterical moment Todd considered telling Dirk not to worry about it. The moment lasted just until he pictured Alfredo walking him out the door. Getting fired from two jobs in less than two months wasn't exactly something he could put on his resume.

"Sixty," Todd said, "though if it's still around at the end of next week he usually marks them down."

He could, he supposed, hide it under the front counter. There was a chance Amir wouldn't see it. Mara on the other hand...

What the hell was he thinking? He honestly had no idea what he was doing anymore. This, apparently, was what happened when you lost your job and your apartment and your car and then somehow wound up selling vinyl to kids who wouldn't know an LP from a 45 if it bit them on the ass.

"Sixty sounds perfectly reasonable," Dirk said.

It struck Todd then that he'd never asked what Dirk did for a living. He'd sold the man eight records now, none of them particularly inexpensive, and every time Dirk pulled out a wad of cash and then stared at it with an expression of absolute perplexion, like he honestly had no idea where it had come from.

Today was no different.

Today he riffled through the stack as though confused by the logistics of American money. For reasons Todd couldn't explain, he found the entire display oddly endearing.

"Ah, here you are," he eventually said, handing across three of the crisper twenties. Todd rang him through.

There weren't a lot of people Todd cared to socialize with. Mara was alright, when she wasn't venting about her two-timing girlfriend. And Amir was pretty cool if you caught him when he wasn't stressing over exams. Alfredo terrified him, but his musical knowledged surpassed even Todd's so Todd took every available opportunity to pick his brain. Aside from that there was really only Amanda. Certainly he didn't socialize with Alfredo's customers. Not even the regulars. Just Dirk, who sometimes seemed more interested in talking to Todd than he did perusing the store.

Come to think of it, other than that first day, Todd wasn't sure he'd ever seen Dirk look through the bins.

He certainly didn't seem particularly interested in his newly acquired album, Dirk ignoring it in favour of staring at Todd like he was waiting for an answer to a question he'd forgotten to ask. Todd cleared his throat. It earned him an arched eyebrow.

"Um... My dad was a big jazz fan," Todd said, gesturing to Dirk's record. "Actually, he was kind of the one who got me into music. Bought me my first guitar and everything."

Todd was not, by any estimation, the kind of person who openly shared the personal details of his life with relative strangers. And yet he found himself constantly sharing little tidbits with Dirk. Talking to Dirk felt natural, easy in a way talking to other people wasn't. Dirk, for his part, offered an encouraging smile that Todd took as an invitation to continue.

"When I was a kid, he had this old Grundig console. It actually had an 8-track player in it. Anyway, he had all these records and on the weekends we'd listen to them for hours."

Later, if someone asked him, he'd have no idea why he thought to share any of that, though if Dirk's expression was any indication he hardly found it strange. Maybe that was just Dirk, Todd decided. Maybe he was just one of those people whose mere presence encouraged other people to share their life stories.

Or maybe it was just the way Dirk held himself so impossibly still, like doing so took every ounce of his effort: like if someone gave him permission he'd start rambling and probably never stop. Sometimes Todd started talking just to fill the void.

"Records weren't really big back then--everyone was busy transitioning over to CDs--so they were hard to find, but he used to take me and my sister flea market shopping and he'd always find something to bring home. I'm honestly surprised I didn't end up working in a shop sooner," Todd concluded, as though Dirk had asked him how he got here--as though that was the question he'd forgotten to ask.

"Are you still close with your father?" Dirk asked, Todd not at all prepared for the question.

Not that it wasn't a perfectly normal question, especially given the topic at hand, but talking about his parents in the abstract was one thing. What Dirk was asking was something else entirely, the answer too long, too complicated, and too painful by far.

The Grundig console now occupied space in the back of Amanda's garage. The last time he saw it it was covered in empty beer bottles.

"Anyway, I put a few other things out, if you wanted to look around," Todd said, clumsily avoiding the question. He watched Dirk's expression shift, confusion momentarily displaced by concern. After a minute, Dirk nodded.

"I think this is probably all for today. Until tomorrow, then?" he asked. Todd shook his head.

"I'm off tomorrow, but I'm back in on Monday."

Saying as much felt oddly like agreeing to a date. Dirk smiled broadly at him.

"Monday it is. Until then. And, um, thank you, Todd."

He seemed on the verge of saying something else, and then just as quickly seemed to think better of it. Todd watched him pivot, Dirk hovering in suspended uncertainty before he remembered the album and spun back around. Todd handed it over with a barely concealed smirk. Dirk offered a sheepish grin.

And then he was gone, Todd left staring at the vacant space he'd left behind and wondering why Monday felt so far away.

~*~

"Maybe he likes you," Amanda said. Todd refrained from rolling his eyes. It was a near thing.

"Yeah, cause I'm so likeable," he said, not bothering to check his sarcasm. Amanda shook her head.

"I admit, you are kind of an ass sometimes, but that doesn't exactly preclude someone from liking you."

She punctuated all of this by kicking her legs out and then letting them fall back so that her heels drummed against the base cabinet. Her hands, withered beneath her scars, were curled around the lip of the counter she sat on.

The same counter Todd had chipped a tooth on when he was six.

He hadn't meant to tell her about Dirk, but she'd asked about the job and one thing had led to another and now he was stuck dodging pointed questions he didn't want to think about let alone answer.

In hindsight, he probably shouldn't have used the word attractive.

"When was the last time you dated, anyway?" Amanda asked, like they didn't both already know the answer. Clearly she'd been cooped up too long. Maybe now was a good time to bring up selling the house.

"I don't know, a while," he said, starting in on the next zucchini. Roughly sliced cubes soon joined the pot. He could feel Amanda's gaze boring into the back of his skull.

Still, he wasn't about to say since the accident, since the entirety of his life came to a crashing halt in the form of two dead parents and a sister who deserved far better than a life of constant pain.

"I'm just saying, if a cute British guy kept showing up at my work to talk to me about something I was interested in...."

"Look, can we drop this? I'm not interested in the guy. And he's not interested in me. He's just weird and oddly familiar and... I don't want to talk about it, okay?"

She was making that face. The one she made when she was feigning annoyance but was actually hurt. Todd deflated.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." Amanda waved his apology aside.

"Like I said, you're only sometimes an ass."

It was forgiveness, but it was also permission to abandon the conversation. If he was halfway to a decent person he'd refuse the offer, let her point out the obvious because clearly Todd was incapable of doing so for himself. Instead he offered a weak smile in place of thanks.

"This needs like an hour." Todd, said, gesturing to the sauce now simmering on the stove. "You wanna jam?"

As consolations went, it wasn't his best, but it was obviously the right thing to say, Amanda's eyes lighting up the way they used to when they were kids. He swore sometimes she'd chosen the drums just to have an excuse to join Todd in the garage. But that was years ago, Amanda no longer the unwanted younger sibling trailing in Todd's wake.

He owed her, he realized, an apology for that. The first, he suspected, of many.

~*~

"You bought another record," Farah said, though how she knew with her back towards him Dirk couldn't begin to guess. He glanced briefly to the record in his hands, and then back to Farah, narrowing his gaze.

"A hunch?" he asked, coming fully into the room. His hunches were few and far between these days, the universe thrown entirely out of sorts.

"More like I know you," Farah said, turning to meet his gaze. Dirk offered a sheepish grin.

"Well, yes, but he'd set it aside for me so I could hardly..."

The look Farah shot him suggested she clearly didn't believe a word of it. He wasn't entirely sure he did either. It was hard to say no to Todd when Todd was looking at him like Dirk was maybe his favourite person, which, now that he thought about was decided odd given that this Todd had only met him four weeks prior...

Then again, their relationship had progressed fairly quickly the first time around, so...

Very carefully, Dirk set Todd's record down on the stack that occupied the chair they sometimes used to jimmy shut the door. He was beginning to amass a somewhat impressive collection. Todd would certainly be impressed, anyway. Well, his Todd. The one Dirk didn't buy the record from. Although technically his Todd and the other Todd were one in the same, which meant...

It didn't matter what it meant. Dirk was going to fix everything.

"Look," Farah said, rising from her side of the room's only desk. Without the bulletin boards, and the filing cabinets, and Dirk's thinking couch, the Agency office felt sterile and uninspired. "It's not my place to question your methods. This is your case, after all. But I fail to understand how stalking Todd is going to help us solve this."

"It's not stalking!" Dirk said, affronted. "It's surveillance. Plus, every time I talk to him I learn something new. If I can piece together the differences between this timeline and ours then I can fix it!"

He moved as he spoke, crossing to where Farah had taped bristol board to the far wall, a displaced alternative to the whiteboard Farah refused to let them purchase anew. On it were two columns:

Things that are the Same

And:

Things that are Not

Picking up a pen, Dirk wrote uncomfortable talking about parents under Things that are the Same. Farah came around to read it over his shoulder.

"There's something you should see," she said, Dirk piqued by the seriousness of her tone. He set the pen down on the desk and then followed her around to where her laptop sat open, countless tabs open in her browser.

"Is that a newspaper article," Dirk said, bending down to get a closer look and in doing so feeling rather like a real detective.

Sure enough, it was, though the article wasn't at all something he was expecting. Dirk read it through twice. And then a third time just to be sure. He glanced to Farah, half hoping for an explanation that would make this slightly less painful. Instead her expression only served to drive the point home.

The article was ten years old.

"Wasn't that around the time Todd's band fell apart?" Dirk asked. He vaguely remembered this Todd mentioning something to the effect, and certainly Dirk had heard the story from his Todd.

"And around the time Amanda first manifested symptoms," Farah said.

Dirk glanced again to the bristol board.

"And you still haven't found anything on pararibultis?"

"Nothing," Farah confirmed.

That, Dirk decided, was decidedly strange. If only he could figure out how it was all connected. Still, new information was good information so Dirk crossed to the bristol board and wrote:

Parents died in car accident, 2007, Amanda injured under Things that are Not.

"We're going to figure this out, Farah," he said. "We're going to get Todd and Amanda back." He turned then to face her, feeling certain for the first time in a very long time.

"We are going to fix everything."