Todd Brotzman has had a long fucking day.
This long day is bringing up the rear of a long fucking week, which is the latest thrilling instalment of Todd's current very fucking long month, and as far as he can see, there's no end in sight.
This particular long day isn't even over yet. The setting sun is slowly ceding the evening to the orange streetlamps, the streets of Seattle are slick with rain, and Todd is sitting in his crappy office in his second best suit, having just about reached the twilight of his patience.
"I told you, Mr Holderness," he says, "I've looked into your claims, and I can't find any evidence that you are being harassed or followed. You could try investing in some CCTV cameras for your home if you want some evidence to take to the police."
"I hired you to get the evidence!" Sydney Holderness looks agitated, his wispy blonde hair vibrating on top of his head like he rubbed a balloon over it before he came in. "You need to catch the girl in the act."
"I can keep investigating if you want," Todd says, "but I charge by the hour, and I'll need the payment in advance."
In the early days of the agency, he might have been a little more tactful about this end of things, but Holderness reeks of the kind of wealth that hates to part with its money, and Todd's not about to make this wild goose chase a charitable endeavour.
"Okay," Sydney says, his hand drifting apparently unconsciously to his pocket before he tucks it away safely in his lap. "I'll talk to my father tonight. I'm sure money will be no object if we can get this settled. Dad's been losing sleep, you know."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Todd says, glancing out the window. It's going to rain again, of course, the one day he didn’t take the car.
"That girl has subjected my family to a campaign of harassment and slander, Mr Brotzman. We need to be able to prove that."
"Libel," Todd says, his eyes still on the sky outside the window. "Slander is spoken, not written. And by the way, you don't need me to establish libel. The stuff she wrote about your family is all online, in the public domain. She can't exactly deny that she wrote it."
"I know that," Sydney says stiffly, "but we need to have a complete case against her. It's bad enough that she's been spreading rumours about us, but she's been hanging around outside our house at night, showing up outside our favourite restaurants when we go to dinner. We feel haunted, Mr Brotzman."
"Well," Todd says, standing up, "like I said, I'll be happy to stay on the case if you're happy to continue paying my fee."
"Yeah, of course," Sydney says, scrambling to his feet. His suit probably cost about three times what Todd's did, but his tie is crooked and there's a coffee stain on his shirt. "Come by the house tomorrow at noon. I’ll settle your payment."
He shakes Todd's hand awkwardly and leaves.
Lydia Spring is 19 years old, studying journalism and sociology at Seattle University. She's an only child, both parents dead, who apparently came into a bundle after her father's death a year ago. She's also a straight A student, a pretty good soccer player, and a Gemini.
Todd has been following her for three weeks, as per his client's request, and he is bored out of his mind.
She buys a coffee every morning on her way to class, which she asks for in her own sustainable, eco-friendly travel mug. She attends her morning classes–goes to the library if she has a free–and then has lunch with some combination of the only four friends she seems to have on the entire campus. On Wednesdays she usually eats alone.
She then goes back to her dorm, eats dinner, and goes to bed.
There are some variations to this routine–she goes to her job at the college paper a couple of times a week, soccer practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and she sometimes attends humanitarian rallies and protests in the quad. She goes for frozen yoghurt on Wednesdays, and always orders butter pecan. She rarely goes to parties.
She walks like she's older than she is, with that particular self-assured air that teenagers only acquire through having wealthy assholes for parents.
Todd feels kind of sorry for her.
He can't see any evidence that she's been harassing the Holdernesses, although he can see how she would disapprove of them. Whatever his personal failings–and apparently he had a lot–Lydia Spring's father was a humanitarian and a philanthropist. The Spring foundation has a history of advocating for clean energy, sustainability, and ethical treatment of workers. Todd never met the guy, but as billionaires go he seemed pretty okay. The Holdernesses, on the other hand, made their money in tobacco, and along with a penchant for French cuisine and fine cigars (GQ interview, 2013), are fond of tax dodging, bullying their employees, and getting divorced once every three years or so.
He's read Lydia's blog - he's a thorough investigator. Some of it is veering into conspiracy theory territory, but a lot of it is pretty clearly well-researched. Lydia is convinced, among other things, that the Holdernesses are involved somehow in the recent disappearance of her classmate Tanya Weaver. Some stuff seems like it's straight out of a cheesy TV show: mysterious men travelling around in a black van, trashing public property who were apparently sighted in the area before Tanya Weaver's disappearance. The alleged links between the Holdernesses and certain government agencies. Some of it is chillingly plausible. Like the rumours about what happened to Claude Holderness's first wife. Todd is a skeptic by nature, but he's spent a lot of time sitting in his car thinking recently, and the more he thinks about his current clients, the more his feeling of unease intensifies. He drums his fingers on the steering wheel.
Todd sits up straight in the front seat of his car as Lydia Spring emerges from her last class of the day. She waves goodbye to a couple of classmates and walks to the end of the path leading from the lecture theatre. Then she hesitates. Todd squints at her. It's a Tuesday. She always goes to soccer on Tuesdays.
She takes a piece of paper out of her pocket–it looks like a business card–and stares at it for a second before she strikes out determinedly left. The opposite direction from her dorm.
After a moment's indecision, Todd gets out and follows her on foot.
When Todd first became a detective, he spent a lot of time lurking outside windows.
Mostly he was doing this for the obvious reason–taking pictures of desperate people kissing in cheap motel rooms. Sometimes it was something slightly more interesting. A small time drug deal. Fencing stolen computers or phones. On one memorable occasion, the transaction involved an illegal exotic lizard, which proceeded to bite the buyer on the thumb and attempted to escape by scampering up the curtains.
He's not sure what he's eavesdropping on this time, but the procedure is the same. When Lydia Spring goes into a shabby apartment block creeping with ivy, Todd stands at the bus stop across the street, takes his phone out, and prepares to inconspicuously freeze his ass off. As always, even though history is unlikely to repeat itself in this particular, he keeps his eyes peeled for runaway lizards.
There are three windows visible from the street that are lit up–one has its curtains drawn, and one has a blue, flickery quality that suggests its residents are watching TV. Todd glances up as often as he can while pretending to be absorbed in his phone, and feels a flash of satisfaction when the silhouette of a girl moves past the uncurtained window on the third floor.
He waits another ten minutes, stamping his feet to keep warm, ignoring the only bus that comes past. He watches from the corner of his eye as Lydia comes down the steps and sets off back to her dorm. He's about to follow her when the light in the third floor window clicks off. He pauses. About thirty seconds later, a guy in a bright yellow jacket emerges from the front door of the building and sets off down the street, carrying a satchel.
Todd watches him out of sight and then looks up at the fire escape, biting his lip. This... probably isn't his worst idea ever.
He's peering in the window, trying to make out any details, when he notices it's slightly ajar. He pushes it up cautiously, and sticks a leg through, cursing as his jeans get caught on a loose screw.
He hears a door opening and a "What the–" before he tugs himself free, falls gracelessly through the window, and lands in a heap on the ground. A light flips on overhead, and he winces.
He scrambles to his feet, bracing himself against the windowsill, and sees the man in the yellow jacket staring at him. He watches warily as the guy cocks his head, looking him up and down.
"Oh, hello. Who are you?" the guy asks. He has a British accent, and looks more politely curious about Todd's presence than anything.
Hell with it, Todd thinks, straightening up and looking him in the eye. He's kind of backed into a corner here, and there's a chance this guy will be less likely to call the cops on a PI than a burglar.
"My name is Todd Brotzman. I'm a private detective."
The guy's face lights up.
"Really? Me too!" He looks Todd up and down, taking in his jeans and hoodie. "You don't look like a private detective."
"Neither do you," Todd says. The guy beams at him.
"Thank you," he says, sounding genuinely delighted. “One does one’s best.”
"Um," Todd says.
"Are you on a case?"
"That's none of your business," Todd says, reflexively. The guy tilts his head and makes a face like he and Todd are having a polite disagreement about what pizza to order.
"I think your motivation for climbing in my window in the middle of the night–and making a fairly bad job of it, I might add–is at least a little bit my business."
"A bad job?" Todd says. "What are you, some kind of burglary critic?"
"No," the guy says, setting down his satchel and dropping his keys in a bowl by the door. "But what a career that would be! Maybe I could teach a course on the side."
"I... you... what?" Todd says.
"Okay, let's try and move things along here," the guy says, moving towards him. Todd takes a step back, but stops short of actually jumping back out the window.
"My name is Dirk Gently." The guy holds his hand out, smiling encouragingly, and Todd shakes it, feeling a little out of his depth. He feels kind of like he’s been caught robbing a bank and offered the loan of a wheelbarrow.
"It doesn't seem to bother you that I broke into your apartment."
"I'm sure there's a reason," Dirk says, walking over to the counter and picking up an electric kettle. "And I'm sure it'll be revealed in time."
Todd, even though he knows that he's not a thief or a murderer, tenses up involuntarily at the sight of someone turning their back on their own burglar to make tea. This guy has no sense of self-preservation.
"What do you mean, a reason?" Todd asks. "Were you expecting someone to break into your apartment?"
"Not exactly," Dirk says, "but in my line of work you have to expect the unexpected. Or, at the very least, have the kettle on just in case it pops round."
"You mean our line of work," Todd says, moving away from the window to hover by the small kitchen table.
"No, I mean my line of work. We are both, strictly speaking, private detectives, but I am a holistic detective, which is quite a different thing. Unless you're a holistic detective, too!" He turns from where he's messing around with a teapot to look at Todd hopefully. "That would certainly be an interesting twist!"
"What's a holistic detective?" Todd asks, at a loss as Dirk sets two mugs and a jug of milk on the table.
"I'm glad you asked me that, Todd." Dirk carefully carries the teapot over to the table, and even though Todd has just met the guy, and he's the one who just bruised his shin climbing through a window, he has an almost irresistible urge to take the pot before Dirk injures one or both of them.
"The term holistic refers to my conviction that the solution to any problem can be found in the web and pattern of the whole." He leans forward and props his elbows on the table as if he's settling in for a friendly chat. Todd warily sits down opposite him. "The complexities of cause and effect..."
Todd tunes out a little as Dirk pours tea into the two mugs, rambling the whole time about invisible and mysterious connections. He tries to surreptitiously size up the apartment, but there's not much he can glean from it. Dirk hasn't been living here for long, that's obvious. The decor is impersonal and bland, nothing like Dirk's bright yellow jacket, or the polka dot teapot. In fact, Todd can pretty easily pick out the items in the apartment that belong to Dirk–the blue stripy umbrella sitting in a boring, wrought iron umbrella stand by the door, the pile of blue and yellow notebooks– and are those rainbow gel pens?–on the coffee table. The cheap, cracked photo frame with a picture of a woman and a young boy, proudly displayed in the middle of an otherwise bare shelf. He realises a second too late that Dirk has stopped talking. He looks back at him to see that Dirk has followed his gaze to the photo frame, his smile dimmed slightly.
"Sorry," he says, "I was just..."
"That's quite alright," Dirk says, turning the smile back up. "I understand. You never know what little details may be useful to your investigation. I once worked a case where the entire solution hinged on the murder victim's neighbour's brother's preferred brand of bicycle lamp."
"That... okay," Todd says, leaning forward. "I know this is maybe kind of rude since you've been pretty cool about me breaking into your apartment and all, but I call bullshit."
Dirk raises his eyebrows and opens his mouth like a comically outraged cartoon character.
"This... holistic stuff. It doesn't make sense."
"Does anything really make sense," Dirk says, "outside of the narrow confines of our own limited capacity for observation and understanding? Does an aeroplane, devoid of context, make sense? Does a microscope? What do you imagine an alien species would make of, to choose an example at random, a soufflé? Or a harpsichord?"
"What," Todd says, "the hell are you talking about?"
"I'm merely observing," Dirk says, "that things rarely make sense, at least not in the way people want them to. Reality is subjective, and we can never really be sure of the nature of any given thing, including reality itself. But we can be sure that all things, assuming they exist, are connected to other things, on a macro or a micro scale. It is in the web of connections that we often find the solution to life's mysteries."
He stops talking as if he just reached a natural, sensible conclusion, and takes another sip of tea. Todd goggles at him. He smiles benignly back.
"Are you alright?" he asks politely, when Todd doesn't say anything. "You look a bit peaky. Do you want more tea?"
"Have you ever... solved any cases?" Todd asks.
"Of course I have!" Dirk sounds indignant. "Loads! Have you?"
"Yeah, I just wrapped one up actually. Before that..." Todd trails off, feeling uneasy. "Before that, I guess I had kind of a dry spell."
"Hmm," Dirk says, eyeing him speculatively. "Well, I suspect we'll neither of us be bored for the near future. Shall we compare notes?"
He gets up and bounds over to the table, picking up a blue notebook and flipping it open. Todd twists in his chair to look at him.
"Compare notes on what? You don't even know what case I'm working."
"Well," Dirk says, squinting at the notebook and then hopefully turning it upside down, "It must be connected to my case, or you wouldn't be here. Did the Holdernesses hire you?"
"I–how... no," Todd says. Dirk looks up at him, eyebrows raised.
"Yes," he says dryly, "very convincing. Obviously you already know Lydia Spring has been to see me. Look, clearly we're working the same thing from different angles, it makes sense for us to pool our resources."
"You don't even know who I am," Todd says. "Do you offer to show your confidential case notes to everyone who breaks into your apartment?"
"Believe it or not," Dirk says, sitting down opposite him and offering him the notebook, "you're my first. But I have a good feeling about you, Todd."
Todd stares at him, and Dirk looks steadily back, still smiling in a vaguely gormless way. Todd reaches for the notebook, and then stops, pulling his hand back.
"No," he says. "If we're going to do this, let's do it right. Can you come by my office tomorrow?"
Dirk's smile widens like Todd just invited him to go on a Caribbean cruise.
"I'd be delighted!" he says.
Todd is already regretting every decision he's made today, but he nods.
"Okay," he says, handing Dirk a business card. "I'll see you tomorrow, three o'clock?"
"Perfect," Dirk says, peering at the card before tucking it into his inside pocket. "I can already tell we're going to be great friends."
He hands one of his own cards back to Todd, who accepts it automatically before registering Dirk's words and blinking.
"Um," he says. Dirk smiles at him expectantly.
"Never mind," Todd mutters.
He stands up and makes his way to the door.
"Nice to meet you," he lies, hand on the doorknob.
"It was a pleasure being almost burgled by you," Dirk says, with apparent sincerity. Todd lets himself out and stands in the hallway for a minute, staring at the business card Dirk gave him.
Dirk Gently – Holistic Detective – Missing Cats and Messy Divorces a Specialty.
"What the hell," he says aloud. There is, as expected, no answer.
Todd arrives at the Holderness house the next day at a quarter before twelve, wearing his best tie and his shiniest, most uncomfortable shoes. He only has one car, unfortunately, and there's not much he can do to make it look less crappy, so he parks it on the road and walks up to the wrought iron gates on foot.
When he pushes the buzzer, a voice says, immediately,
"Um, yeah. Yes," Todd says.
There's silence for almost a whole minute, and then the voice says, grudgingly, "Come in."
There's an ugly buzzing sound from the speaker and the gates swing slowly and silently inwards. Todd trudges up the long driveway past exotic looking plants he doesn't know the names for, until he rounds a curve in the path and the house is suddenly in front of him.
The guy who opens the door looks too well-dressed to be a bodyguard, and too flashy to be a butler. Head of security, Todd thinks.
"Morning," he says politely. They guy folds his arms and sends him a look that's not exactly a scowl, but definitely in the same neighbourhood.
"I have an appointment with Mr Sydney Holderness," Todd tries, after about thirty seconds of this devastating silent treatment.
"I know," the guy says.
"Is he ready to see me?"
"No," the guy says. "There's been a change of plan. You'll be meeting with Mr Holderness senior."
“Okay,” Todd says, frowning. He wonders what happened to Sydney.
“Wait here,” the guy says. “I’ll let him know you’re here.”
He saunters off down a hallway off the left-hand side of the foyer.
Todd’s been standing there for about thirty seconds when Sydney Holderness scurries past, taking about as much notice of Todd as if he were a piece of furniture. Todd blinks, but Sydney’s already disappeared down another hallway by the time he gathers his wits. He looks around, and cautiously starts after him. When he rounds the corner into the plush, carpeted hallway, he sees Sydney, about ten feet away, fishing a key out of his pocket and unlocking a door with unsteady hands.
"Hi," he says, and Sydney jumps, spinning to face him. He looks at Todd without a hint of recognition, his eyes darting up and down his body like he's hoping for a clue.
"Hello," he says, politely.
"Mr Holderness," Todd says. "It's me. Todd Brotzman?"
"Right," he says, looking none the wiser. "Good to see you again, Mr Brontzman. If you'll excuse me, I have some things to... one or two business matters..."
He edges through the door, still muttering, and slams it after him. Todd hears the sound of the door being locked again from the other side. He stares, perplexed, at the door, and then shakes his head and turns to go back to the foyer.
He nearly runs right into an elderly woman, standing in the middle of the hall.
"Oh!" he says, drawing up short. "I'm sorry, I'm looking for Claude Holderness. I didn't mean to..."
"You're not related to me," she says, looking him up and down. She's tiny: five foot nothing, with a slight build and small, sharp features. Her lips twitch slightly when she looks at his tie.
She's dressed like Todd's late grandma, in a crisp white blouse and slacks and sensible shoes. She smells like fabric softener and liquorice.
She's... kinda terrifying.
"No, ma'am," he says, straightening his shoulders. "Todd Brotzman, private investigator. It's nice to meet you."
"Hmm," she says, looking amused. "You can call me Mitch."
"Uh, okay," Todd says.
"I'm Claude's aunt," she continues. "He puts me up in the house, but he usually keeps me hidden away when visitors come around."
"Oh," Todd says. "I, um, I don't know why he would..."
"He says people find me off-putting," she says, peering matter-of-factly through Todd's eyes and into his very soul. "Still, you know what family is like."
"Yes, ma'am," Todd says, reflexively. "You're very... I'm not off-put."
"Tell me," she says casually, "was it Claude or Sydney who hired you?"
"I spoke to Sydney–uh, to Mr Holderness junior–but I've been told I'm meeting his father today."
"I see," she says. "Well, I hope you're more persistent than you appear."
"What do you mean?" he asks, startled out of his unease.
Her eyes flick towards the door that Sydney Holderness just locked behind him, and then back to Todd, appraising.
"You strike me as a rational, sensible young man," she says. "That's not going to help you much in the coming days."
They both look around at the sound of a door opening in a nearby hallway. Quick footsteps are moving towards them. She moves towards him, looking suddenly urgent.
"Learn to trust your gut," she says, softly, glancing over her shoulder. "It's the best tool you have right now."
"Okay," Todd says. "Yeah. Thank you."
She sighs and steps back, just as Claude Holderness rounds the corner.
He looks between Todd and the old lady with a frown.
"Aunt Kate, what are you doing out here? Good afternoon, Mr Brotzman," he adds, nodding at Todd.
"Mr Holderness," Todd says politely. Holderness looks just like his picture on wikipedia–tall and broad in his well-brushed expensive suit, bald as an egg with the exception of bushy steel-gray eyebrows.
"Relax, Claude," his aunt says, rolling her eyes like her billionaire nephew just spilled grape juice on the carpet. "I was just saying hello to your guest on my way to get a snack. I suppose that's allowed?"
"Mitch," he says, smiling tightly, "you're making me sound like a tyrant. Of course you can go where you like in your own house. I just thought you were resting."
"I'll rest plenty when I'm dead," she says, grinning at his wince. "Right now I'm hungry. Do we have any Doritos?"
Todd looks down, trying to hide his smile.
"I don't know," Holderness says with a sigh. "Why don't you ask one of our three professional chefs?"
"Good idea," she says serenely. She looks back at Todd. "Nice to meet, you Mr Brotzman."
"You too," Todd says.
Mitch salutes Holderness, who grimaces in return, and shuffles off down the hallway, presumably towards the kitchen.
"She seems like an interesting lady," Todd offers, when Holderness shows no sign of unclenching.
"Yes," he says, jerking his head and starting back down the hall. Todd hurries to catch up. "She is. Her name is Kate Mitchell–an aunt on my mother's side. I apologise for her... manner. Mitch was never one to beat around the bush."
"That's okay," Todd says. "In my line of work you can't be too sensitive."
"I imagine not," Holderness says, stepping through an open doorway and waving Todd in after him. Todd was expecting some kind of office, but they look to be in a living room. Or something too fancy to be called a living room: a drawing room, maybe. Holderness closes the heavy wooden door and crosses the room to sit down on a couch that is probably too fancy to be called a couch: a sofa, Todd thinks, or a chaise longue. There's a crystal whiskey decanter and two tumblers on a tray on the polished wooden table. Todd perches on the chair opposite and watches Holderness pour them each a generous measure.
He didn't know clients really did this outside of old movies. He probably should have had lunch before he came here.
"Thank you," he says, accepting the glass and clinking it against Holderness's.
"To your good health," Holderness says.
"To you and your family," Todd replies, vaguely conscious he's not supposed to just parrot the other guy's toast. Holderness's mouth tightens again, but he takes a healthy swallow of his drink, and Todd does the same, trying not to visibly pucker at the taste.
"So," Holderness says, settling more comfortably in his seat. His eyes are piercing in much the same way as his aunt's are, but colder, Todd thinks. Flat. "Mr Brotzman. I understand you've been speaking to my son about Lydia Spring."
"Yes," Todd says. "Your son was... concerned about Ms Spring. He said she's been following you. Harassing you."
"Oh, hardly," Holderness says lightly. "She has some strange ideas about us, but then she is her father's daughter. Highly imaginative, and doggedly persistent."
Todd stares at him.
"So you deny she was following you?"
"She showed up a couple of times at restaurants where we had reservations–harmless little tricks like that. She probably had friends on the wait staff." He takes another drink of his whiskey, and Todd mirrors him. "I'm used to being in the public eye, it's nothing I can't handle. My son overreacted."
"Okay," Todd says, slowly. "So you're saying... you don't need a detective."
"No," Holderness says, "we most emphatically do not. The last thing this family needs, from a PR viewpoint, is a feud with a nineteen year-old budding philanthropist. I will reimburse you for your time and expenses, of course, but your services are no longer needed. I'm sorry my son inconvenienced you."
"That's fine," Todd says, frowning.
"If you leave your details with my head of security Mr Jackson on your way out, I'll see that you're paid in the next couple of days."
He leans forward and sets his glass down on the table and then stands; Todd does the same, reflexively accepting the hand offered to him. His hand squeezes Todd's in a way that's not at all painful, but somehow no less intimidating for that. He lets go slowly, his eyes sweeping over Todd’s face.
"Thank you for your understanding," he says, putting his hands in his pockets.
"No problem," he says. "Thanks for your time, Mr Holderness. Have a good day."
He pokes his head back into Head Security Guy's office on the way out–the asshole is playing video games on a handheld console, his feet propped up on his scuffed desk.
"Got a minute?" Todd asks, and Jackson looks up, scowling.
"Just about," he says, putting his game aside and dropping his feet to the floor like it's a great inconvenience.
"Mr Holderness told me to leave you the bill," Todd says, taking the envelope out of his jacket pocket. "He's expecting it, so make sure it gets to him."
"I know my job, kid," Jackson says, taking the envelope and dropping it on his extremely messy desk. Todd glances down and glimpses what looks like a federal logo before Jackson flips it over, glaring at him.
"Sorry," Todd says, smiling blandly. "I'm professionally curious."
"Get the hell out," Jackson says, and Todd gladly complies.
After the heavy front doors close behind him, he stands for a moment, fingering his keys in his pocket, looking up at the imposing facade of the house. A flash of movement catches his eye in one of the windows, but when he looks around, in true Big Creepy House fashion, there's no one there. He shrugs and turns to begin the long trudge back to his car.
He tries to feel relieved, but he can’t banish the image of Sydney Holderness’s darting eyes.
He almost forgets that he agreed to meet Dirk, until he gets back to his office and finds him standing on the sidewalk outside, wearing his yellow jacket and smiling at passersby. His face lights up when he sees Todd.
"Todd! You came! I was worried you wouldn't make it."
"Sorry," Todd says, looking at his watch. He's forty minutes late. "Oh shit, sorry. Have you just been standing here for forty minutes?"
"Closer to an hour, actually," Dirk says, still smiling. "I'm normally very bad at being on time for things, so to be safe, I made sure to get here fifteen minutes early."
"Well, sorry I kept you waiting," Todd says, pulling his keys out to let them in.
"Oh, pish," Dirk says, waving Todd's apology away. "Time is a tricky thing. You don't have to tell me."
Todd stops, his key in the lock, and glances back at Dirk.
"Hey," he says, "I've had a hell of a day. How would you feel about doing this over a drink?"
Dirk grins even wider, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
"Sounds good to me!"
"Great," Todd says, putting his keys back in his pocket. "Come on, I know a place."
Todd takes Dirk to Malone's, a non-descript bar he uses to meet clients, and slides into his favourite booth–away from the bar and the men's room so there's not a lot of foot traffic, but not too far from the door if he needs to make a quick exit.
Dirk slides into the booth opposite him, bouncing experimentally on the leather and looking around with polite curiosity, as if he's a member of an alien species observing human drinking establishments. When the bartender brings over their beers, he picks his up and looks at the bottom of the glass before he takes a sip.
"This is a nice place," he says. "Do you come here often?"
Todd chokes on his beer and starts to cough.
"Oh," Dirk says, "here–"
He fumbles some napkins out of a dispenser and hands them to Todd, who is still wheezing.
"What is it?" he asks, his hands hovering anxiously like he can't decide whether to get up and thump Todd on the back. "What did I say?"
"Sorry," Todd says, getting his breath back. "Just, in any other context, I would think that was a ridiculously uninspired pick up line."
Dirk goes bright red.
"Oh," he says, fiddling with his beer. "I didn't... I'm not very good at..."
"It's okay," Todd says, starting to feel kind of bad in the face of Dirk's obvious discomfort. This guy may be a tinfoil hat wearing weirdo, but he probably has information that Lydia Spring didn't publish on her blog, and Todd's not going to get it out of him by being a sarcastic dick. He tries to smile at him reassuringly. Dirk smiles tentatively back, and Todd coughs again, even though he's not choking on beer anymore.
"Okay," he says, looking down at his hands and feeling weirdly out of his element. "So. Lydia Spring."
"Yes," Dirk says, looking relieved. He reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a small, black moleskine notebook. "I tidied up my notes a little in anticipation of this meeting."
"You realise there's a conflict of interest here, right?" Todd says, as Dirk opens the notebook. "I was hired to tail your client by someone who's trying to get a restraining order against her."
"And then you broke into my flat," Dirk says serenely. "Yes, I remember."
Todd raises his eyebrows. "Are you... blackmailing me?"
"Of course not," Dirk says, his eyes suspiciously wide and guileless. "But I can tell that you're a man who listens to his gut, and who's not afraid to cross some lines in pursuit of the truth."
"Really," Todd says, flatly.
"Yes," Dirk says, "really. I also don't think you trust the Holdernesses any more than Lydia does. If you really want to get to the truth, then I don't think you'll let a conflict of interest stop you."
Todd stares him down for a few seconds, and Dirk looks back at him, open and challenging, and just a little bit excited, like he's holding his breath for Todd's answer. Todd looks away.
"Well," he says, already regretting the words as they're coming out of his mouth, "the Holdernesses fired me today, so technically I'm in the clear."
Dirk brightens, practically squirming in his seat.
"They fired you?"
"Yeah," Todd says. "Honestly, the whole thing was kind of... weird."
"There we are, then! Todd, we have to work this case together! With our combined experiences and resources, we are in a unique position to–"
"Whoa," Todd says, putting a hand up. "Hold on a sec. I didn't agree to–"
"We could be partners!" Dirk says. "Like Cagworth and Lacefield!"
"Do you want to be the good cop or the bad cop? I suppose we could decide on a case-by-case basis..."
"Dirk," Todd says, feeling his headache return.
"...you don't have ties with the CIA, do you? Because honestly, I'm done with them. Very unpleasant people. Very restrictive dress code."
"Yes," Dirk says, "to be fair, they've got me out of some pretty sticky situations in the past, but I don't think the game's worth the candle, if that expression means what I think it means. I'd rather go to prison than be tailed by mysterious black cars all my life, thank you–"
"Prison? How likely are you to go to prison?" Todd asks.
"Oh, not very likely at all," Dirk says, waving his hand dismissively. "The whole thing was a laughable misunderstanding–bad timing, mostly. Anyway, back to our partnership."
"I don't want a partner," Todd says, firmly.
Dirk shoots him a look of confusion tinged with amusement, as if Todd had just told him that he's not interested in that winning lottery ticket, thanks.
"Why not? Aren't two heads better than one?"
"Depends on the head" Todd says. "Look, if you have information worth sharing, I think we could help each other out. But I'm not looking to go into business with you. This is just two professionals, sharing their resources."
Dirk cocks his head at him and smiles.
"Well," he says, "for now, anyway."
Todd closes his eyes, and exhales in frustration.
"Can you just..." he gestures at Dirk's notebook on the table. "Take me through what you have so far."
Dirk picks up the binder and flips open the cover, peering at the first page.
"Alright," he says, "Well, first of all, Lydia Spring believes the Holdernesses were involved in the disappearance of Tanya Weaver."
"Yeah," Todd says, "she's been pretty vocal about that.”
Dirk flips to the next page of the binder.
"Secondly, the Holdernesses were obviously involved with the CIA."
Todd closes his eyes. "What?"
"Look at the evidence!" Dirk says urgently. "Their family has a history of being on the fringe of high profile scandals and strange occurrences! Look up any major government conspiracy theory of the last seventy years or more, and I'll bet you there was a Holderness nearby!"
"Which is, in itself, a conspiracy theory," Todd points out, "and not something you have any evidence for."
"Well..." Dirk says, "not exactly, no. But look at this!"
He holds the binder up to Todd's face, so close that the printed blurs in front of his eyes. He grabs Dirk's wrist and steadies it a reasonable distance from his face, blinking at the page in front of him.
"The Holderness family were involved in a series of experiments in the 1950s intended to establish beyond a doubt the existence of individuals with extra sensory perception," he reads. "The study was expensive and inconclusive, and the project was abandoned. So?"
"So," Dirk says, "That was when the family started to gain a reputation for being reclusive. That was when they disappeared from the public eye and cut ties with several prominent business partners. That was when they pulled out of most of their charitable commitments, and when people started to level accusations of tax evasion–which, by the way, were never adequately investigated. It's all here! Lydia was very thorough."
"So, you think what? The Holderness family was involved in some kind of government cover up of... psychics?"
Dirk winces. "That's not exactly the word I would..."
"Wait," Todd says, as things start to fall into place. "Wait. All that stuff you were saying yesterday–the holistic stuff. Is that the same kind of thing?"
"Yes," Dirk says. "In a manner of speaking. Tanya Weaver is a journalist for her college newspaper, just like Lydia. And she has an uncanny knack for happening on the most interesting stories, for being in the right place at the right time, in short."
"So you think she's a holistic journalist," Todd says, not trying particularly hard for diplomacy. "Like you're a holistic detective."
"Do you know how I got involved in this case, Todd?"
"Lydia Spring hired you?"
"I was walking down the street one day, and I had a sudden craving for frozen yoghurt," Dirk says, seriously.
Todd takes a swig of his beer. He sets it down, sees Dirk still looking at him solemnly, and takes another swig.
"I never eat frozen yoghurt normally," Dirk says, looking into the middle distance and talking like he's narrating a great historical tragedy. "I like milkshakes, but frozen things hurt my teeth."
"Are you working towards any kind of point, here?"
"I'm getting there," Dirk says. "So, I walk into the frozen yoghurt shop, and Lydia Spring is standing there."
"Six thirty on Wednesdays," Todd says.
Dirk blinks at him. "Yes, probably. Timekeeping isn't really my forté."
Todd completely fails to act shocked by this news.
"I didn't know who she was, of course," Dirk continues. "But I had an urge to introduce myself. We were the only two customers in the place, and I didn't want to make her uncomfortable, so I walked up to her and asked her if she thought was being followed by anyone."
"You did that to make her comfortable?"
"Well," Dirk says, "it maybe wasn't my best ever decision. Anyway, she looked very suspicious of me, so I just gave her a business card and told her she could call me if she needed the services of a private detective."
"Yes," Dirk says, "that's it. I lingered only long enough to order a mint chocolate chip before leaving. The next day she came to see me, and a few days later she came back to update me on her research."
"Which was the day I followed her to your place," Todd finishes.
"Exactly!" Dirk looks excited. "There's no way my meeting her was a coincidence. The universe wanted it to happen that way!"
"Kinda sounds like you just wanted mint chocolate chip," Todd says, doubtfully.
"The world took me where I needed to go," Dirk says, leaning forward. "Just like it took Tanya Weaver."
"Look," Todd says, "if you think the Holdernesses are like... kidnapping psychics, then by your own logic, shouldn't you stay away from them?"
Dirk shrugs, the excitement fading from his face slightly.
"This is how my cases work, Todd. I'm involved because I'm meant to be. If I don't find her, no one will."
"And you think I'm supposed to help you?"
"I think we met because we were meant to," Dirk says, "and I think you want to get to the bottom of this as much as I do. That's good enough for me."
"There's no such thing as meant to be," Todd says, flatly. "People make their own decisions, and they're responsible for the consequences."
"Well," Dirk says, "I don't know about you, but I'm making the decision to trust both Lydia Spring, and my own gut on this one."
"So what do you want to do next?"
"I think we should break into the Holdernesses' house."
He looks at Todd expectantly.
"...Okay." Todd says. He drains his drink and stands up.
"Where are you going?" Dirk says, anxiously. "I thought we were comparing notes!"
"Sorry," Todd says, "I don't think this partnership is going to work."
He leaves a five on the table before he walks out.
Todd arrives at Jenny Packard's house at eleven o’clock on a sunny Wednesday, and–as usual–sits in the car for a solid ten minutes before he can psych himself up enough to go in. Jenny's neighbourhood looks just the same as the first time Todd was there, nearly a decade ago now: a neat little suburban chocolate box, with pretty houses and perfectly manicured lawns. A couple of kids ride their bikes past his car, the little boy yelling at the girl to wait up, his tiny legs pumping the pedals frantically as she laughs ahead of him. Todd's stomach lurches inexplicably, and he waits until they ride by before he gets out and walks up the gravel path to Jenny's front door.
She answers the door, as always, wearing a polite smile and soft pastel sweater. Todd thinks she looks a little older than the last time he was here, although it's only been a few months. Her grey hair is set in the same perfect curls as ever, but the lines around her eyes seem to be carved a little deeper.
"Todd!" her smile broadens into something genuine. "How nice! Please, come in."
"Hi, Ms Packard," he says, just like he always does.
"Todd, If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times: call me Jenny," she says, just like she always does. Todd resists the sudden, bizarre urge to cry.
"Sorry," he says, by rote. "My memory's not what it used to be."
When he emerges from Jenny's house about forty minutes later, he walks back down the gravel path, lets himself out, and latches the white painted gate behind him. He walks out of sight of her front window before he lets himself stop and breathe a little, trying to shake the clinging smells of Folgers and potpourri.
He's not sure why he stands there for so long, staring at a tree in a garden across the street. He only knows that it tickles at something in the back of his brain–a memory that he can't quite grasp. It's a cherry blossom tree, the branches heavy with sickly sweet pink flowers, and Todd stares at it and thinks, for no reason that he can discern, seahawks. He takes his keys out of his pocket and fingers his seahawks keychain, but whatever is hovering at the edge of his consciousness drifts frustratingly out of reach.
He turns around, still disturbed, and almost walks right into Dirk Gently.
"Jesus!" he yells, jumping back. "Dirk! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
"Sorry!" Dirk says, backing up with his hands raised defensively. "I wasn't trying to sneak up on you. You looked... preoccupied."
"Yeah," Todd says, glancing back at the cherry blossom tree. "I guess I was."
Dirk looks at the tree, and then back at Todd.
"Is that tree significant in some way that I'm failing to grasp? Is there some kind of underlying tree motif to this case that has escaped me entirely? This is the kind of thing I would know, if you would just agree to work with me. I wouldn't have to stand here guessing about important, tree-related clues–"
"The tree's not important," Todd interrupts, rubbing his temples. "I was just... I was just thinking. How did you even know I was here?"
"I followed you," Dirk says blithely.
Todd stares at him.
"You... followed me?"
"Yes, of course."
Todd opens his mouth, can't think of a thing to say, and closes it again. Dirk smiles encouragingly at him.
"Why the hell did you follow me?" he settles on, after shuffling through the ever-expanding mental list of things he wants to say to Dirk and deciding to start with the one that has the least swearing.
"Well," Dirk says, "I've often found, when I hit a wall in a case, a good strategy is to find someone who looks like they know where they're going, and follow them around for a bit. You set off with great purpose this morning, so I followed you. Did you have any luck? With whoever lives in that house?"
"I'm not working with you," Todd says, pushing past him and heading back to his car.
"Why not?" Dirk calls, jogging to catch up with him.
"Because," Todd says, "I can handle this investigation by myself, and I don't need help from some kind of fortune-telling, conspiracy theorist weirdo masquerading as a detective."
"Hey," Dirk says. Even though he's known the guy for two days, Todd can tell without looking that he's pouting. "That is both inaccurate and hurtful."
"Listen," Todd says, stopping to look at him. Dirk immediately puts on a theatrical listening face, turning his head slightly and cocking his ear. Todd sighs and forges on.
"This is what I do. For a living. I help people track down their family members, or missing pets, or scumbag tenants who ran out without paying their rent. Nine times out of ten the outcome is exactly as mundane, and cheap, and depressing as I expect it to be. It's not like in the movies, but that's fine. Anyone who is in this business for real already knows that."
"Maybe," Dirk says, in that annoying sing-song way he has, "things are about to change for you, Todd! Have you considered that? Maybe this case marks the beginning of a new and exciting era in your life!"
"I seriously doubt that," Todd says. "It's definitely shaping up to be more trouble than I thought it would be, and I'm officially not getting paid by anyone anymore. Which is why I'm going to pass my notes on to the police, and let them handle it. Those guys in the van are above my pay grade."
"Guys in the van?" Dirk looks suddenly fearful. "You don't mean the Rowdy 3? Oh, I should have known they were caught up in this."
Todd stares at him.
"You know them?"
Dirk looks around furtively, and then leans towards Todd, lowering his voice.
"They were in the same CIA program as me," he confides, and Todd resists the urge to scream.
"Great," he says, turning back around to open his car door. "I'll be sure to mention that to Black and Estevez when I hand over my notes. Have a nice day, Dirk."
"Todd, please! Listen to me!"
Dirk darts around him, holding his hands up to physically block his path.
"I am done listening to you!" Todd is suddenly furious. "All you ever do is talk complete garbage and then act like a kicked puppy when I don’t believe you! Do you have any idea how crazy you sound?"
"Look," Dirk says, still holding his hands up. "I understand that the things I'm saying, without any context, might sound a little... strange, but–"
"A little strange? You're saying you solve cases by making wild guesses! You're asking me to break into a client's house with you based on a hunch!"
"Technically," Dirk says, "they're no longer your clients, and I don't see the issue! You were perfectly happy to break into my flat not two days ago!"
"Dirk, you don't live in a mansion with ten foot high walls and a private security team!"
"We need to go to that house," Dirk says, ignoring him. "It's the centre of everything, Todd! They've been holed up in there for years, hardly ever venturing out, and you said yourself you thought there was something suspicious when you went there yesterday! If they're hiding something, that's where it is!"
"We don't even know that they're hiding something," Todd says. "All we have is the word of one teenage journalist and a funny feeling."
"That's ridiculous," Dirk says. "The Holdernesses have been at the centre of several high profile scandals, even if nothing has ever been concretely proven against them. If you had read Lydia's research–"
"I did read it," Todd says, and then immediately regrets it when Dirk's face lights up in hope.
"So you know!"
"I know she has her suspicions! And I know that Mr Holderness senior was a business rival of her father's, so she probably grew up hearing all kinds of crap about him."
"You don't really think that's why she's suspicious of them," Dirk says. "You've read the folder, you know the Tanya Weaver case."
"That's a serious accusation," Todd says. "You can't just–"
Dirk makes a noise like a frustrated cat, turning away from him. Todd folds his arms, and watches him warily. For all of Dirk's apparent dumb cheerfulness, he's proven himself to be pretty invested in his whole conspiracy theory bit. He could still be dangerous.
Dirk turns back to him, looking calmer, and says,
"Look. The bottom line here is that Lydia Spring's research was convincing enough to make both of us suspicious. I think you're a good person Todd, despite this whole cynical, hardboiled private investigator gimmick you clearly got from some film or other–"
"Hey–" Todd says, but Dirk presses on, ignoring him.
"–and because you're a good person, I don't think you're going to let this lie. Someone needs to look into this, and the only people listening to Lydia are you and me. So I'm going to that house tonight, and you can either come or not. If you don't hear from me tomorrow morning, please give the police a hint about where to find my gruesomely murdered body."
"Could you reschedule your gruesome murder? I have a brunch date tomorrow."
Dirk gapes at him.
Todd takes advantage of Dirk's momentary speechlessness and climbs into the car. He looks up at Dirk's crestfallen face and adds, "No more following me," before he slams the door.
He doesn't look at Dirk in the rearview mirror as he drives away.
He tells himself that it's not guilt that keeps him from getting any work done that afternoon–at least, not guilt over Dirk Gently. A certain amount of guilt always lingers after his visits to Jenny, even on the good days when she actually remembers who he is.
He gives up on the pretence of doing work when he finds himself staring out his office window for the fourth time, and decides to go home for the day.
It's not as gloomy out today, and if Todd was of a sunnier disposition, he might even appreciate the beginnings of spring starting to show around him. As it is, he finds himself focusing more on the shady figure lurking outside the drugstore across the street. A faint alarm bell rings in his head and he realises with a start that he saw that guy reading the paper in the coffee shop next door to his office three hours ago. At the time he was wearing a baseball cap pulled over his face, and is now angled so that Todd can only see the side of his head, but it's definitely the same guy. Same too-casual stance, same green shirt. Todd very deliberately doesn't turn his head towards the drugstore as he walks to his car.
When he gets into the car, he makes a show of checking his phone, frowning and pretending to reply to a text, trying to track the guy's movements out of the corner of his eye. He eventually puts his phone down and pulls on his seatbelt. He sees the guy move around the corner, and he gives him a minute before he turns the key in the ignition before he pulls out into the slow trickle of traffic.
After a couple of blocks he notices a battered black Chevy tailing him, with only one car between them–this guy is an amateur. He takes a sudden left, veering off to get gas he doesn't really need, and when he pulls back onto the road home, the Chevy reappears one car behind him two minutes later. Damn it.
In the end, Todd goes to the Wendy's a few blocks from his house and sits near a window, figuring he can wait and see how long it takes Mr Chevy to get tired and go home. He can clearly see the car across the parking lot from where he's sitting. This guy is really, seriously bad at tailing people. Todd almost feels bad for him. He thinks of Dirk's ramblings about the CIA, and for a second actually considers calling him. On second thoughts, the CIA would probably be a little more subtle than this. He pulls out his phone and calls his friend at the Post.
"Hey, Marcus," he says, when he finally gets through. "It's Todd."
"Todd!" Marcus is, as ever, one of the few people who sounds happy to hear from him. "What's up, man? Are you calling me about a mysterious, sordid case? Involving an underground smuggling ring, a missing jewel, and a beautiful but deadly movie star?"
"You gotta stop watching those Humphrey Bogart movies," Todd tells him.
"I'm a romantic at heart," Marcus says. "One of these days you'll be calling about something exciting, like a diamond heist, or a murder. What is it this time? Teenage runaway?"
"Kind of," Todd says. "It's about the Tanya Weaver case."
There's silence for long enough that Todd pulls the phone away from his ear and checks the screen to see if they're still connected, and then Marcus says cautiously,
"Are you on that case?"
"Not exactly," Todd admits. "I'm looking into something... related. I read the article about the van that was seen in the area before she disappeared, and I was wondering if there were any more details."
"On the van?" Marcus sounds, if anything, even cagier than before.
"Well, yeah," Todd says. "Look, I don't want to get you in any trouble, Marcus–"
"No," Marcus says, "No, it's fine. Hold on a sec." He pauses again, and Todd can hear paper being shuffled and keyboards clacking in the background before a door clicks shut and the office noise is cut off. Marcus comes back on the line, speaking a lot lower.
"I can't tell you much," he says. "We were warned off."
"Warned off? By the police?"
"No," Marcus says, "it wasn't even about Tanya Weaver. It was the van. Those Rowdy guys."
Todd's heart squeezes ominously in his chest.
"Rowdy?" he asks, remembering Dirk's words from earlier.
"The van had Rowdy 3 spray painted on the side," Marcus says. "We tried to look into it, but we were shut down."
"Shut down by who?" Todd asks, as patiently as he can.
"I'm not sure, exactly. NSA? CIA? All I know is that some guys in black suits came into the office, and Helena–that's our editor–was pretty shaken up afterwards. And she used to be a political correspondent in Iraq. I've seen her eat government officials for breakfast. Whoever these guys were, they were serious."
"Shit," he mutters.
"What?" Marcus asks. "Todd, are you mixed up in this? This isn't a joke, dude. This is for real."
"Yeah," Todd says, glancing back at the Chevy. "I'm starting to figure that out. Look, I gotta go, Marcus. Thanks for the help."
"Any time," Marcus says. "Watch your back."
Todd hangs up and sits for a minute, trying not to look directly at either the Chevy or his own car. Then he surreptitiously leaves a couple of notes under the ketchup bottle for the waitress, stands up with the casual air of a guy who needs to use the bathroom, slips out the back, and calls a cab. He needs to go and see Dirk Gently.
He gets to Dirk's place without seeing any black Chevys behind him, telling the cabbie to take the scenic route, to be safe. When he gets out, Dirk's window is dark in the twilight. It's also locked this time. Todd curses and stands on the sidewalk in the gathering darkness, trying to decide what to do. He could go back to the Wendy's–the guy tailing him has probably realised he's gone by now, and is either waiting for him to come back for his car, or has given up and gone home.
Either way, he needs his car. If Dirk is gone to the Holderness house, he might be in real danger. After a moment's indecision, he gets back into the cab.
"Back to the Wendy's," he says to the driver, fishing in his pocket for his phone.
No messages from Dirk. His thumb hovers over Dirk's name in his contacts list.
The car pulls away from the curb and he shoves his phone back in his pocket. If Dirk is in trouble, then for all he knows, calling could make it worse. He seems like the kind of guy who would sneak into someone else's house and forget to silence his phone.
When they get back to the Wendy's, the Chevy is gone. Todd throws some money at the driver, jumps out of the cab, and runs over to his own car. He laughed at Dirk's theatricals earlier, but now he has a feeling in his gut that if Dirk goes to that house by himself, something terrible is going to happen.
It's getting dark as he leaves the lights of the city behind him, and it's the first dry night they've had all week. The traffic thins as he gets closer to the Holderness house, until he starts to feel like he's the only person on the planet. He hates the country.
He parks his car about a half mile down the road from the house, in a lay-by mostly screened from the road, and walks the rest of the way, his heart pounding. When he arrives at the house, the gates are open. He stares at them for a moment, confused, and then jumps and run through as they start to swing closed.
He creeps up the drive, keeping to the bushes, and he's practically at the front door when he sees the cop car. He curses quietly, and stands, frozen in place as he tries to work out what to do. This is stupid, Dirk might not even be here–
"Hands where I can see 'em."
Todd jumps, and very slowly raises his hands in the air.
"Farah," he says, still not moving, "it's me."
Farah Black moves around to stand in front of him, still pointing her gun at his chest. When his face comes into view, she makes a noise of disgust and shoves her gun back in its holster.
"Brotzman, what the hell are you doing?"
"I'm here to see my client," Todd says, lowering his hands. "Or... former client. They fired me yesterday, but they haven't paid me, so–"
"How did you get here?" Farah looks around. "Where's your car?"
"I parked it outside," Todd says, like this is a totally normal thing to do when visiting a house with a driveway a half a mile long. "It's a little scruffy for this kind of client, you know?"
Farah raises her eyebrows, letting her eyes travel slowly over Todd's plaid shirt, ripped jeans, and chucks.
"Um," Todd says. "My suit's at the cleaner's."
"Black? You okay?"
Todd sighs inwardly as another figure appears in the doorway to the house.
"Fine!" Farah calls over her shoulder.
"Who is that?"
"Hi, Detective Estevez," Todd says.
Estevez comes to stand by Farah's side, crossing his arms and looking unimpressed.
"Todd," he says, in that tone that suggests that Todd's name is a syllable too long for his liking.
He turns to Farah. "What's he doing here?"
"He's here to get some money from his former clients," Farah says, not taking her eyes off Todd. "They fired him yesterday but they haven't handed over his cheque."
"Hmm," Estevez says, raising his eyebrows at Farah. She looks over at him and shrugs.
"You know a guy called Dirk Gently, Todd?" Estevez asks.
"Yeah," Todd says immediately. People will have seen him with Dirk. Dirk has one of his business cards. There's no point in lying about knowing him. "British guy, claims to be a detective, kind of a pain in the ass. He was hired by Lydia Spring, tried to persuade me to work the case with him, even though we were hired by opposite sides of the dispute."
"But you said no?" Farah asks.
"Yeah," Todd says, "Guy kept talking about government conspiracies and bicycle lamps. I told him I wasn't interested."
Black and Estevez exchange a look. Todd tries his hardest to look like a guileless, money-grabbing PI.
"Okay," Farah says, "well, you'd better go back to your car and–"
She's interrupted by the sound of shattering glass, and both she and Estevez whip out their guns immediately, Estevez running to the car to yell into the radio for backup. Farah runs up the steps and disappears into the house, and Estevez follows her a second later, looking back at Todd long enough to yell,
"Get the hell out of here, Brotzman!"
Todd waits for the sound of their footsteps to fade, and then creeps up the steps to peer in the front door. He looks over and sees the door that Sydney Holderness disappeared through the day before. It's slightly ajar. He looks around cautiously, and ventures further into the foyer of the house, creeping over to the door and nudging it open.
There's a large mahogany desk on the opposite side of the room–the kind of desk that is strategically chosen and displayed to create an impression of grandeur and presumably scare the shit out of any visitors. Under any other circumstances Todd, whose desk is a small and unimposing symbol of his professional standing, would take a moment to appreciate it. The curtains are the same kind of deal–red velvet that reach all the way down to the springy carpet, covering what is presumably a large French window behind the desk.
All the light in the room comes from two standing lamps in opposite corners, behind the desk. Well, one of them is standing. One of them has been knocked over and is sending a beam of light drunkenly tilting across the room, illuminating everything from below like a kid shining a flashlight under their chin by a campfire.
But the thing that really catches Todd's eye is Sydney Holderness' body lying in a pool of blood on the floor, with Dirk Gently standing over it.
"Dirk," Todd says, before he can really think about it. If he'd really thought about it, he would have turned and run back out the front door, and done his best to erase this entire night from his memory. At least that's what he tells himself.
Dirk looks up at him with a start, as if he's coming out of a trance, and blinks at him a few times before he looks bemusedly at his own hands. Todd realises, at the exact same moment Dirk's eyes widen in shock, that Dirk's hands are covered in blood.
"Todd," Dirk says, looking back at him. He looks like he's about to have a panic attack. This, while objectively very annoying, is about the only thing keeping Todd from having his own panic attack, so he latches onto it and tries to be reassuring.
"Dirk, what the hell?" he manages. Okay, maybe not his most reassuring moment ever.
"I don't..." Dirk looks at him helplessly, still holding his bloody hands away from his body. "I don't know..."
He looks down at the body and yelps, stumbling backwards.
"I don't know what happened," Todd says. "I just walked in here thirty seconds ago and found you standing over a body. You tell me what happened!"
"I don't know!" Dirk is breathing fast, staring down at the pool of blood spreading slowly from Holderness' body. "Todd, I don't remember... how did I get here?"
"You mean in this room?"
"No, I mean, how did I get to this house? I remember following you to that house..." He trails off and looks at Todd pleadingly.
"Wait," Todd says, rubbing a hand over his face. "You don't remember anything after you talked to me this morning?"
"No," Dirk says, "I suppose I–"
Todd whips his hand through the air, turning his head towards the door, and Dirk, miraculously, shuts up immediately, pressing his lips together. They stand in silence for a few seconds. Now Todd can definitely hear it: the sound of voices at the end of the hall.
"Shit," he hisses. "Dirk, the cops are here."
Dirk goes even paler.
"Todd," he whispers desperately, "I didn't do this! Please, you have to believe me!"
"You just said you don't remember anything! How do you know you didn't do it?"
"Because I wouldn't! I don't kill people! Todd–" Dirk takes a step towards him, extending a hand, and then stops abruptly, staring at the blood in renewed horror.
Todd stares at him, his stomach doing slow motion flips and his brain gibbering uselessly. The light from the fallen lamp casts all the wrong shadows on Dirk's face, making his eyes look huge and dark, his cheekbones hollowed. He looks scared, and very young.
He looks down at his own hands again. Todd notices a very fine tremor before Dirk carefully closes his fingers, like he's trying not to crush something delicate. The voices outside are growing closer.
"Todd," Dirk whispers. "What should I do?"
Todd looks at the door, then back at Dirk, and says, "Shit."
He grabs Dirk's arm, hauls him behind the desk, and yanks back the heavy curtains.
They emerge onto a tiled patio, lit by the blue glow from a kidney shaped pool. Todd pulls Dirk in the vague direction he's pretty sure the gates are in.
"Come on," he says, "I think it's–"
He's cut off when someone barrels out of the dark, yelling, and tackles him, sending him sprawling.
"Unh," he says as he hits the ground. He hears Dirk yelling somewhere to his left, and a loud splash.
"Dirk!" he yells, squirming and trying to kick his assailant. "Are you okay?"
The guy gets off him and stands over him squinting. He's maybe ten years younger than Todd, wearing an oversized leather jacket. Todd hears Dirk sputtering indignantly at whoever tackled him into the pool and relaxes.
"Who the hell are you?" the guy in the jacket asks, hefting a golf club in his right hand.
"Who the hell am I?" Todd scrambles to his feet. "You tackled me! Who the hell are you?"
The guy snorts and opens his mouth, at the same moment a voice from the darkness yells,
"Vogel! Where'd you go?"
"Here," Vogel yells back. "Found a couple of guys. They're trying to get away."
"So let them!" The owner of the voice jogs into view. He's wearing leather too, and has white hair and some pretty serious looking hobnailed boots. "Cross is waiting for us with the wheels. We're not gonna stick around to get mixed up in the family bullshit."
The guy who tackled Dirk into the pool climbs out and shakes himself like a dog, laughing.
"That was fun!" he says, grinning at the other two. He jerks his head at the pool and adds, "Time for a snack before we go?"
"Who are you?" Todd asks, stepping back. "What is this?"
"No," the white haired guy says, ignoring Todd. "We gotta go. Where's–"
"Holy shit, Todd?"
Todd turns around and sees a girl in her twenties running towards them, staring at him like she thinks he's a mirage. She has long hair, and bangs, and she's wearing an oversized leather jacket of her own. As soon as he sees her, Todd's head starts throbbing faintly.
Before he can say anything, she runs forward and throws her arms around his neck. He hears Dirk yell his name from the pool, but she seems to actually be hugging him. He staggers back a couple of steps, his arms held out by his sides, and then tentatively pats her on the back.
"Uh, sorry," he says, "do I know you?"
She lets go and takes a step back, looking like he slapped her.
"What?" she says, agitated. "What the hell do you mean? Todd, it's me!"
"I'm sorry," he says again. The pain in his head intensifies, gathering behind his eyes. "I don't..."
"Hey," the white haired guy says. "Drummer girl. We gotta go."
"I can't," she says, looking between him and Todd. "I have to–"
"He can take care of himself," the guy dripping pool water says. "We gotta get out of dodge."
The girl in the leather jacket stares at Todd a second longer, and then looks back at the others and nods.
"Okay," she says. She looks back at Todd.
"I'll find you again," she says, taking a step away from him. "Later, asshole."
She turns and runs towards the iron gates with the others, the guy who tackled Todd jumping and whooping as they disappear out of sight. Todd stands for a moment, swamped by a sense of déjà vu so powerful he can hardly breathe. He's brought back to the moment by the sound of Dirk hauling himself out of the pool and flopping onto the tiles like a miserable fish.
"Come on," he says, grabbing Dirk's arm and helping him up as the alarms stop blaring. "We have to go now."
He pulls Dirk towards the gate where the strange group of people just left, and they stumble out of the grounds and onto the dark, muddy road.
They don't stop until they get to Todd's car, still parked in the lay-by where he left it no more than twenty minutes ago. He stumbles over to it, panting, and rests his head on his folded arms, leaning on the passenger side door.
His legs feel like water, and every breath he takes sears his lungs. His heartbeat is resounding through his entire body, thudding in his throat and rattling his teeth.
"Jesus," he exhales. "Jesus Christ."
He feels Dirk lean next to him, and for a second neither of them says anything. Todd is still trying to process what he's just done–he should have just gone, he should have run like hell, none of this has anything to do with him and now he's on the run with a murder suspect. Maybe, he thinks, with a sudden chill, an actual murderer. How well does he know Dirk, really? Who the hell winds up standing over a dead body with no recollection of how they got there? God, he can't believe he was so naive. He was so–
"Achoo!" Dirk sneezes loudly next to him, startling him out of his thoughts. He raises his head and stares as Dirk sneezes six more times, patting his pockets as if he's looking for something. Eventually he comes up with a handkerchief which is as sopping wet as everything else on him, and stares at it forlornly.
"Oh–achoo–dear," he says, sadly. Todd sighs and pushes himself off the car.
"Get in the car," he says, walking around to the driver's side. "We need to get you as far away from that house as possible."
Dirk obeys, and sits, dripping all over Todd's upholstery, as Todd gets in the other side. He turns the engine on and cranks the heat up as high as it will go, Dirk shivering violently next to him.
"Thank you, Todd," Dirk says, putting his seatbelt on and wrapping his arms around himself. It does nothing to lessen the shivering.
"Shut up," Todd says, putting his seatbelt on.
"Right," Dirk says.
Todd flips on his headlights, puts the car in gear, and glances in his rearview mirror before Dirk speaks again.
"Who was that woman? The one who knew your name?"
Todd pauses, his hand on the gearstick. He thinks about the girl's face, the way she said his name, her strangely familiar brown eyes.
"I don't know," he says. "But we're gonna find out."
The morning after he helps a possible murderer escape from a crime scene, Todd wakes up to the smell of coffee and burnt toast.
He twists in the bed, looking blearily towards the kitchen, and sees Dirk hovering around the stove, muttering fretfully.
"Damn," he hears, as Dirk darts over to hit the button on the toaster.
He sits up, rubbing his eyes.
"What are you doing?"
Dirk spins on the spot, holding a coffee mug and a spatula, and wearing almost exactly the same expression he'd sported when Todd found him standing over a dead body.
"Todd! Good morning!"
Todd flips the covers back and drags himself to the kitchen, gravitating towards the smell of coffee.
"I was just making breakfast," Dirk says, holding up the mug and the spatula like Todd's going to ask him for proof. He's wearing the Mexican Funeral shirt Todd gave him the night before, and a pair of Todd's too-short pyjama bottoms. He looks soft and rumpled out of his usual shirt and tie. "I didn't anticipate your toaster being set so high, but I didn't burn the eggs!" He holds out a surprisingly passable plate of scrambled eggs. Todd blinks at it.
"Coffee," he says.
"Yes," Dirk says, grinning, "coffee too. Sit down, I'll pour you some."
Todd tries to narrow his eyes suspiciously, but since he's only five percent awake, he thinks the effect is probably lost. He gives up and goes to sit at the table on the other side of the partition. After a moment, Dirk appears with the plate of eggs and cup of black coffee, setting them in front of Todd with a flourish. Todd takes two decent sized swallows before he asks,
"What is this?"
Dirk blinks at him from the other side of the table.
"I just... wanted to thank you. For yesterday. I mean, obviously I owe you more than breakfast and coffee, especially since this is, technically, your food. And your coffee. But I thought it would be a start."
"Thanks," Todd says, digging into the eggs. Then, because he never pretended not to be an asshole, "I've been meaning to get an assistant."
"I'm not your assistant," Dirk says, affronted. "In England, I had my own detective agency."
"Really?" Todd says. "Did you have a staff? Were they all holistic too?"
"Well," Dirk says, fiddling with his coffee cup, "not as such. I had a secretary for a while, but it didn't work out."
"Couldn't handle the excitement?"
"No," Dirk says, "I think it might have had more to do with the fact that I never paid her."
Todd snorts and takes another sip of his coffee.
"Look," he says, pushing his plate away. "We need to talk."
Dirk goes still, staring at the table.
"Are you going to turn me in?"
"What?" Todd says. "No. I mean, honestly I probably should. The longer I keep you here, the more trouble I stand to get in."
Dirk darts a look at him.
"So why aren't you?"
"Because I don't think you did it. And I think..." Todd sighs, and then plunges onwards. "I think I may have been a bit... hasty, dismissing all that CIA stuff."
Dirk looks at him properly, hope dawning on his face.
Todd shrugs, feeling uncomfortable.
"Yeah, well. It doesn't mean you're not one of the weirdest people I've ever met. And you talk too much, and you have terrible taste in jackets. But I... I maybe believe you. A little."
Dirk beams at him like Todd is a knight in shining armour.
"Thank you Todd," he says, his voice low and sincere in a way Todd hasn't yet heard from him. He's radiating earnestness.
He realises after a few seconds that he's still staring into Dirk's eyes, and coughs, looking away.
"So," he says, "I'm gonna take a shower, you're going to put on another pot of coffee, and then we're going to sit down and have a talk about shady government operatives."
A shadow passes over Dirk's face, but he nods.
Once Todd is showered, dressed, and on his second cup of coffee, he feels a little more ready to hear Dirk's story. Dirk is sitting opposite him, wearing his own clothes again, fresh from Todd's dryer. Todd persuaded him to leave off the tie and the yellow jacket, since they make him stick out a little. He looks strange in a plain white shirt, dark grey jeans, and Todd's soft grey sweatshirt. He's made himself more tea, and he clutches the mug like it's keeping him tethered to the earth, looking at Todd nervously.
"So," Todd says. "Let's start with the CIA."
Dirk swallows and clears his throat, taking a sip of tea.
"Right," he says. "Alright, yes. So, in the 80s, there was a CIA project called Blackwing. They were created to round up and evaluate individuals with... extra sensory perception."
"You mean like... psychics?"
"That's not exactly... I mean I suppose, technically, that word isn't a million miles away from what you might term accurate."
"So, you're psychic, is what you're telling me." Todd can already feel a headache forming.
"No! I'm not psychic!" Dirk flattens his hands against the table, avoiding eye contact. "I'm just. Intuitive."
"The hunches," Todd says.
"Yes." Dirk looks miserable. "The hunches. I've tried ignoring them, defying them, understanding how they work. In the end, all I can really do is follow them."
"So if you have that kind of advantage, why don't you use it to stop yourself getting attacked, or injured, or framed for murder?"
"It's not like that," Dirk says. "It doesn't work that way. I don't understand them, most of the time. It's not like I'm getting handy little messages, telling me how things are going to turn out. Sometimes I just know that I have to talk to that person, or go down that alleyway, or follow that car. Sometimes I don't even know that's what's happening. Sometimes I think I just want a blueberry muffin, and I go out to buy one, and end up witnessing a bank robbery next door to the bakery."
"Sounds like your particular brand of psychic is more trouble than it's worth," Todd says.
"Yes," he says, "more often than not. The hunches don't help me. But sometimes, they allow me to help other people. That's why I became a detective."
"That's... a good reason," Todd says, watching as Dirk fiddles with the cuff of his borrowed hoodie.
"What about you?" Dirk looks at him, his face open and curious. "Why did you become a detective?"
"For my sins," Todd answers automatically, and then winces internally. That kind of irony just makes him feel like a dick right now, when Dirk is being so honest. "I mean, same reason, I guess. To help people out."
Dirk smiles at him, and Todd feels like a fraud. He takes another swig of coffee.
"So," he says. "You got taken in by these Blackwing guys. When was this?"
"Nineteen ninety six," Dirk says, promptly, and Todd blinks at him.
"Nineteen... Jesus, Dirk. How old were you?"
"Twelve. I was in there for five years or so, and when I got out I went back to England."
"So you didn't go in voluntarily?"
"No," Dirk says, refusing to meet Todd's eyes. "Not exactly."
"What about your family?"
"There was no one," Dirk says. They sit in silence for a minute.
"My parents are dead too," Todd offers. "I mean... I don't have anyone either."
Dirk looks up at him, his eyes slightly shiny and his face very serious.
"I'm sorry," he says.
"Yeah." Todd says, gruffly. "Likewise."
"Anyway," Dirk says, taking a deep breath. "When I was seventeen, something went wrong at Blackwing. I'm still not entirely sure what it was–only that it involved the head of Blackwing, a man called Colonel Scott Riggins. I'm not sure if he defected, or if they just didn't like his methods and decided to get rid of him. Either way, he persuaded a handful of the doctors and guards to help him sabotage his own operation. He somehow turned off all the alarms, unlocked all the doors. He let us all out of our cells, wreaked havoc."
"Yes," Dirk says matter-of-factly, "That's the best word I can think of for them. They were fine–not a threat to our health in any way. They weren't damp, or cold, or rat-infested. Just small, and plain. Like little grey boxes."
Todd scrubs his hand over his face. He can't believe what he's hearing. He can't believe that he does believe what he's hearing.
"So... what happened to the guy? Riggins?"
Dirk shrugs. "I don't know. I assume they caught up with him, at some point. But I wouldn't know even if they had. It's not as though there are any CIA operatives on my Christmas card list."
"And those guys... the Rowdy guys. They were in there too?"
"Yes," Dirk says, making a face. "And they were at the Holderness house last night. At least, three of them were. Along with that girl who knew your name."
"The girl–you didn't recognise her?" Todd asks. "I mean, she wasn't... one of you guys?"
"No," Dirk says, doubtfully. "I don't think so. She looked like she was at least five or six years younger than me. I don't remember any girls that young in the programme. But that doesn't mean she isn't... like me. Maybe they just didn't find her at the time."
"And you think Tanya Weaver is like you too?"
"It would seem so," Dirk says, frowning into his tea. "She could just be a very good journalist, of course–she is a very good journalist, anyone can see that–but there are a lot of coincidences as well. She turns up in the right place at the right time just a smidge too often."
"So she is a holistic journalist," Todd says, and Dirk smiles sheepishly.
"Maybe. Of course it's possible that–"
There's a knock at the door, an official rat-a-tat-tat, and they both freeze, Dirk's hands tightening on his mug.
Todd gets up swiftly and walks silently to the door to look through the peephole. Detectives Black and Estevez are standing in his hallway.
He turns back and walks over to Dirk.
"It's the cops," he says, leaning in and speaking as quietly as he can. Dirk's eyes grow comically wide, darting around the room.
"Go out the window," Todd says, his mouth nearly at Dirk's ear. "On the fire escape. You can't see it from the street."
He hauls Dirk out of the chair and presses his mug back into his hands. Two mugs on the table looks suspicious. Dirk turns and sticks one gangly leg out the window, awkwardly trying to balance his tea. Todd rolls his eyes and shoves his shoulder, trying to hurry him without doing anything noisy like pushing him to his death.
"Mr Brotzman?" He hears Estevez say from outside. "Todd Brotzman, you home?"
He chivvies Dirk out the window and lowers it halfway. He's not going to yell out just a minute! like some kind of amateur, but if he doesn't open the door in the next thirty seconds, he's going to look as suspicious as... well, as suspicious as he actually is.
He's about to open the door when he catches sight of Dirk's yellow jacket draped over the back of his couch.
"Mr Brotzman?" Black calls, in the deceptively calm tone she normally uses right before she takes some sucker down.
Todd dives for the jacket, shoves it under the bed, and calmly goes to the door and opens it.
Estevez pauses, his hand hovering in midair like he was about to knock on the door again. Todd raises his eyebrows at it and it retreats.
"Detectives," he says. He doesn't make any excuses for taking so long to come to the door. Guilty people make excuses.
"Good morning, Mr Brotzman," Black says. "Are we disturbing you?"
"Kind of," Todd says, "but that's okay. If I'd known you were coming I would have made enough eggs for everyone."
"Mind if we come in?" Estevez asks, his eyes already scanning the apartment over Todd's shoulder.
Todd shrugs and steps back, letting them walk past and closing the door.
"You disappeared from the crime scene pretty suddenly last night," Estevez says, focusing his gaze on Todd and hooking his thumbs through his beltloops. Todd wonders if they train cops in that kind of stuff at the academy. Menacing posture. Tilt head and chew gum for maximum effect. He deploys his own head tilt–of the confused, I don't quite follow you, officer variety–in return.
"Crime scene?" he asks gamely. "You mean the Holderness place?"
Black turns to look at him, and her gaze is a lot harder to take. Todd is sure Estevez is a good guy, but he knows Farah better, and he doesn't feel good about lying to her. He's not even sure why he's lying to her, except for a vague feeling in his gut that tells him he's going to need to go off-road for this one, and the official police might not be receptive to that idea.
He keeps his face impassive while she looks him over.
"You're saying you don't know what happened at the Holdnerness residence yesterday evening?" she asks eventually.
"You told me to leave," Todd says, "so I left. My car was parked down the road a little."
"So you just left," Farah says. "Right after we spoke to you."
"That's right," Todd says, resisting the urge to fold his arms. He tries to keep his body language as loose and relaxed as possible.
"And you didn't run into Dirk Gently while you were there?"
"The British guy? No, I didn't see him."
Estevez is staring at him fixedly, a slight, predatory smile on his lips, and Todd is briefly, legitimately afraid that the guy can read his mind. Farah is staring at him like she can compel him to be honest with the power of her own ironclad integrity, and Todd stares steadily back at her, thinks I'm sorry.
"Sydney Holderness was murdered last night," Farah says. Todd does his best to appear very surprised but not too devastated. Bad liars mostly screw up when they forget honesty isn't always pretty. In all honesty, the police wouldn't expect Todd to cry over this guy, so he exhales slowly like Farah just told him about a distant relative's dead labradoodle and says,
"Shit. Any suspects?"
"That information is privileged at this time," Farah says, and Todd almost winces. Farah's always been slightly more friendly to him than most of the police, but it looks like he's out in the cold on this one.
"Also," she continues, her eyes still fixed on his face, "we found Tanya Weaver in the Holdernesses' basement."
Todd stares at her in genuine surprise.
"Wait–really? Is she okay?"
"Yeah," Farah says, her face softening a little. "She's fine. A little shaken up, though, and doesn't have any memory of how she got there. She says there were other people being held with her, but we didn't find anyone else, and she's a little fuzzy on the details. I don't suppose you saw anyone else on the grounds last night?"
Todd's brain unhelpfully flashes back to the girl with the brown eyes, saying his name pleadingly.
"No," he says, his voice wavering slightly. "Nobody. Do you think someone related to Tanya–"
"It's too early to speculate," Farah says, firmly.
"However," Estevez says, wandering dangerously close to Todd's window, "your pal Dirk Gently remains a person of interest in this investigation. As do you."
"Me?" Todd looks back at Farah, who doesn't so much as twitch. "Why me?"
"Let's see," Estevez says, squinting up at the ceiling like he's trying to recall. Todd fights the urge to roll his eyes. Estevez has always been a little theatrical for his tastes.
"There's the fact that the victim hired you as a PI two days before his death, and then cut you loose the day after. There's the fact that you happened to be at the crime scene for unknown reasons right at the time of the murder."
"I–" Todd begins, but Estevez cuts him off.
"Don't give me that I was there to pick up my money crap. The guy fired you the day before. If a PI went out paying housecalls to every client who was twenty four hours late with their expense payments, that'd be their whole business."
"Times are tough," Todd says, trying to look forlorn. Farah raises her eyebrows, unimpressed.
"Bullshit," Estevez says. He's standing pretty close now, and it's a little disturbing, but at least he's not anywhere near the window anymore.
"Todd," Farah says, and he glances up at her. Oh, no. She's going to play the friendship card.
"Todd, we've known each other for a long time," she says. "I've always known you're one of the good ones. If you have any information on this, you've gotta help us out."
Todd stares at her. What is he doing? He's lying to the police, to someone he respects, for a complete stranger. If Dirk is totally innocent, he should trust Farah to clear his name. He opens his mouth to speak right at the moment Farah adds,
"This Dirk Gently guy needs to be found. He could be dangerous."
Todd closes his mouth again. He thinks about Dirk's yellow jacket. He thinks about Dirk wearing his Mexican Funeral t-shirt and burning the toast. He thinks about Dirk thanking him for helping him, like no one's ever been on his side before.
"Dangerous how?" he asks.
"He's delusional," Estevez says. "A conspiracy theorist and a wannabe vigilante."
"Vigilante?" Todd has trouble imagining Dirk beating up criminals on the street, and not just because he's skinny as a rake.
"He calls himself a detective," Farah says, "as you know. In the past, a number of people involved in his cases have been found badly beaten up or even dead. There have never been any concrete forensic ties to Gently, but the pattern is... disturbing."
"Last guy had his leg ripped clean off," Estevez informs him, cheerfully.
"Ripped off?" Todd repeats, faintly.
"Estevez," Farah says, sharply.
"Pretend you didn't hear that," Estevez says to Todd. He turns to shrug apologetically at Farah, who rolls her eyes.
"We should go," she says. "Todd, contact us if you hear anything."
"Or if you miraculously remember anything," Estevez adds, following Farah to the door.
"I'll bump you to the top of my speed dial," Todd promises, "and I won't leave town."
Estevez scowls at him, and they both disappear out the door. Todd waits a few seconds and wobbles over to the table, sitting down heavily in the chair. He picks up his coffee mug and drains the cold dregs, wincing.
Not for the first time that week, he asks himself what the hell he thinks he's doing. He hasn't managed to come up with an answer by the time Dirk climbs back in the window.
Dirk carefully sets his still half-full mug down on the table, looking shaky and grateful.
"Thank you," he says, practically falling into the chair opposite. "You didn't have to do that."
"Don't read too much into it," Todd says, looking away from the gratitude shining from Dirk's face. "I don't know how being a private detective works in England, but around here you're sunk pretty fast if word gets out you like to spill your guts to the police."
"Of course," Dirk says, smiling at him. "I'll be sure not to take your saving me personally."
Todd rolls his eyes and goes over to look out the front window, scanning the street for any parked cars or suspiciously casual loitering.
"Looks like they didn't leave any guys here," he says, although Black and Estevez, unlike some of their colleagues on the force, are good enough that he might not notice if they had.
Dirk comes to stand next to him, peering over his shoulder. Todd hastily shoves him back.
"Stay out of sight of the windows!"
Dirk stumbles, tripping over his own feet, and grabs Todd's forearms at the same moment Todd grabs his shoulders, steadying him.
They stand for a moment, a little too close, and Todd thinks, once again, that Dirk's eyes have an oddly hypnotic quality to them sometimes. He wonders if this is a psychic thing, or something else entirely. Dirk is staring right back at him, mouth slightly open, and Todd steps back, letting go.
"Someone might see you," he says, flexing his hands uselessly. He can still feel the warmth of Dirk's skin where it bled through his shirt.
"Right," Dirk says, slowly lowering his hands. He coughs. "So. What do we do next?"
"You tell me," Todd says, maybe slightly more harshly than he intended. "I mean... this is your thing, right? Everything's connected?"
Dirk's mouth dips downwards at the corners and he shrugs his shoulders uncomfortably. Todd wonders if he feels as strange as Todd does right now: if his skin is prickling with unidentifiable tension, like he's waiting for a storm to break, right over his head.
"Jesus," Todd mutters. "This is a mess."
"Well," Dirk says, patting him awkwardly on the shoulder, "look on the bright side. At least Tanya Weaver is safe now."
"Yeah," Todd says, "but from what?"
"I don't know," Dirk admits, going to sit down at the table again. Todd follows him, but stays standing, watching as Dirk fiddles aimlessly with Todd's keys.
"For the first time I can remember, I feel... directionless."
Todd stares at the keys Dirk is holding and thinks cherry blossom. He leans forward and snags the keys from Dirk's hand.
"I think I know where we need to go next," he says.
Todd pulls into Jenny Packard's street that morning for the second time in twenty four hours, Dirk in the passenger seat next to him wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap that won't help in the slightest if Black and Estevez have someone tailing them. Todd made Dirk go out the back way and gave him detailed directions to a gas station half a mile from his apartment, where Todd picked him up an hour later. He also loaned Dirk some of his clothes, once he persuaded him that the yellow jacket was a bad idea. He's relatively certain they're not being followed, but he still checks his mirror several times on the drive and he's on edge by the time he gets out of the car, slamming the door behind him.
This time, instead of going to Jenny's house, he makes for the one across the street, with the cherry blossom tree in the yard.
"Ah," Dirk says, from beside him. "the tree! I knew the tree was important!"
He's wearing an old plaid shirt of Todd's, and it looks ridiculous on him, the blue bright against his pale skin, his wrists peeking out of the too-short sleeves. Todd should have given him something more... drab.
"I don't know if it is," he admits. "I just know when I looked at it I got the same feeling as when I looked at that girl yesterday. Kind of like a... pressure. In my head."
"Hmm," Dirk says, pursing his lips. Todd can't see his eyes behind the glasses. "Anything else?"
"Seahawks," Todd says.
"Sorry?" Dirk says politely.
"Every time I look at it, I think about the Seahawks." Todd takes the keychain out of his pocket and shows it to Dirk. "It's a football team. This is their mascot."
"Ah," Dirk says. "I'm afraid I'm useless at this kind of thing. I don't know anything about real football, let alone the American kind."
"Soccer is not... never mind," Todd says, putting his keys away. "I'm not really into football either. My dad used to take me to the Seahawks games when I was a kid. When I look at this tree... I think of the Seahawks."
He shrugs. He can't explain it, and he'd feel ridiculous saying it to anyone else, but Dirk is nodding sagely, like Todd is making perfect sense.
"Well," he says, rubbing his hands together briskly, "time for a spot of housebreaking, don't you think, Todd?"
"I guess so. Just... try not to let the neighbours see you this time."
They find an unfastened window around the back of the house, mostly shielded by the clapboard fence, and Todd slides it up as quietly as he can, Dirk hovering annoyingly close behind his shoulder.
The second his feet touch the carpet inside, his head starts throbbing. It's faint enough to ignore, but definite enough to make him uneasy. It doesn't feel like coincidental caffeine withdrawal. He reaches out to steady Dirk, who's wriggling through the window behind him, apparently determined to knock over as many things as possible on his way in.
"Not to be overly critical," he says, letting go as Dirk straightens up, "but I wouldn't start advertising that amateur burglary course just yet."
Dirk shoots him a sheepish grin, taking off the shades and putting them neatly in his shirt pocket.
"Perhaps you're right. Although if my week keeps going this way, it seems I'll be getting lots of practice."
"That's the spirit."
He turns around and stops dead as he finds himself staring at a poster on the opposite wall for Siouxsie and the Banshees.
He blinks and turns around. Dirk is looking at him cautiously.
"What is it?"
"I don't know." he looks back at the poster. "There's something... it feels familiar."
"Yeah." Except... "No. Not just the poster. Everything." He takes another step into the room. "I've been here before."
Everywhere he looks in the room he sees something else that calls to him, the memories dancing just out of his reach. He picks up a framed photo of two kids–the boy playing guitar, the girl sitting at a drum set. But that's...
"What the hell," he murmurs. His hands are shaking.
"Todd!" Dirk appears at his side, clutching a pile of envelopes. "Look!"
Todd takes the top envelope and reads Amanda Brotzman. He looks back at the picture, at the smiling girl and the familiar face next to hers. The pain in his head spikes and he gasps, dropping the frame and grabbing onto the table.
"Todd?" Dirk grabs his arm, keeping him upright. "Todd, are you alright?"
"I need to get out of here," he says, teeth gritted. "I need–" he closes his eyes against a wave of nausea.
"Okay," Dirk says, sounding panicked. "Um... yes, okay. Yes."
He tugs on Todd's arm and Todd follows blindly. He hears a door opening, and the pain in his head recedes as he feels fresh air hit his face. He falls to his knees on the grass, and when he opens his eyes again, he sees cherry blossoms.
"What happened?" Dirk is hovering anxiously over him, his hands fluttering around Todd's shoulder's but never quite landing. He drops to his knees beside him. "Are you alright? Do you need–"
"I'm fine," Todd says, taking another deep breath. "Dirk, I know who she is. The girl from the house last night."
Todd looks up into Dirk's eyes, anxious and blue, and the tiny red indents on the sides of his nose from the sunglasses. He swallows and says, "She's my sister."
Dirk hustles him back to their rented car and watches him shakily drain half a bottle of water before he says, tentatively,
Todd rubs his eyes, his head still throbbing dully.
“The kids in that picture–one of them was definitely me. I don’t remember her, but when I looked at it, I felt…”
He felt a surge of protectiveness fiercer than anything he’s ever known. He felt like he’d forgotten something important. He'd felt family, though there was no memory to go along with the feeling–just an absence. The sensation is already fading, but he clings to it, thinking Amanda Brotzman.
“But you remember your parents? You remember your childhood?”
"Yeah," Todd says, swallowing. "Look, there's some stuff I should tell you. About my family."
Dirk looks at him attentively. Todd swallows and looks back at his hands in his lap.
"There's this disease that runs in my family. Pararibulitis. It's a nerve disease–it causes hallucinations. My aunt Esther has it. It's really rare."
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Dirk shift slightly, drawing his leg up as he turns sideways in his seat to face Todd. After a moment's hesitation, Todd mirrors him, though he still can't bring himself to look directly at Dirk's face for the next part of the story.
"When I started college, I was kind of an asshole. I didn't want to work, so I pretended to have pararibulitis so that my parents would send me money for medical treatments."
He risks a glance up. Dirk looks surprised, but not like he's about to storm out of the car in disgust. When he notices Todd looking at him, he quickly schools his face into something more neutral, but he's still ridiculously easy to read.
"It's okay," Todd says, watching him. "You can judge me. I judge me. It was a shitty thing to do."
Dirk makes a face that's obviously supposed to be diplomatic and says,
"What happened? Did they find out?"
"Yeah," Todd says. "This is where it gets dramatic. So, I'm nineteen, flunking out of college, getting drunk, playing guitar in my band, and thinking I'm doing great. Suddenly my parents call me, tell me this guy called them up, that he has a miracle cure. He calls himself Dr Rhine. And my parents are skeptics, but they're so desperate at this point, they want me to meet him" He pauses. "I didn't realise how desperate they were until then."
"Did he?" Dirk looks like he's about to break out the popcorn. "Have a cure?"
"I don't know, Dirk, I never had the disease."
"Oh," Dirk says. "Right."
"The first time I met him, he asked to see my medical records, and of course I didn't have any. So I told him I'd been lying. I begged him not to tell my parents. "
Dirk inches closer, his eyes wide. "What happened?"
"He tried to cut a deal with me. Said if I told everyone he cured me, he wouldn't tell my parents I made it up. I went along with it at first. I didn't know what else to do. But then I met Jenny."
"Did she have the disease too?"
"No, she has something different. I'm not sure what exactly. She contacted him because she'd been having nightmares. But she didn't think they were regular nightmares. She said someone was putting pictures in her head. He brought me to her house so I could tell her how great he was, how he'd cured me and changed my life."
He stops, and for once Dirk doesn't say anything. He sits, quietly, waiting for Todd to keep talking, and when Todd looks up he's watching him, his face open and void of judgement.
"She was this old lady, living by herself. She had no family. She kept saying that the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with her, that he was the only one who would listen. That me and him were the only people she could trust. So... I told her. I told her, and I told my parents. I told them everything."
"Good for you," Dirk says, patting him awkwardly on the knee. Todd smiles faintly at him.
"I still didn't manage to stop him stealing from her. As soon as I told everyone about him he disappeared. The next day there was a break-in at Jenny's house. He took some cash, some jewellery. Her mother's wedding ring, her father's pocket watch. She said she showed him her hiding place because he asked her if she had any objects of great sentimental and psychic significance on the premises."
Dirk stiffens opposite him, his gaze becoming unfocused.
"What?" Todd asks, wary.
"Nothing," Dirk says. "I think nothing."
"Okay," Todd says dubiously. "Well, anyway, we tried to help Jenny out after he robbed her. My mom is a realtor - she found her a new place, in a good neighbourhood. I think my parents helped her out with the deposit on the house."
"That was nice of them," Dirk says.
"Yeah," Todd says, scrubbing at his face with one hand. "It was. And I remember it, Dirk. I remember it all very clearly. It was the worst thing I've ever done, and I don't think I'll ever forget it. But I don't remember a sister. And whenever I try..."
"It hurts," Dirk finishes. "Yes, I see. So you think this man Rhine has somehow taken your memories?”
“It must be,” Todd says. “I know her, Dirk. I could feel it. I know it sounds crazy–”
“No,” Dirk says, “I believe you.”
“Thank you,” Todd says. He hesitates. “I’m sorry… I mean, when you told me before, about the CIA…”
Dirk waves a hand dismissively.
“Don’t give it another thought. Dr Rhine–did you ever find him?"
"No," Todd says. "I looked for a long time. In some ways I'm glad I met him. He’s kind of the reason I became a detective. I don’t know who I would be otherwise. Maybe I’d have kept lying to my parents for years. Maybe I’d be a washed up musician, or a two-bit con artist."
"Maybe," Dirk says, tilting his head like he can read Todd's alternate lives on his face. "Or maybe you would have ended up here anyway."
"So, you still want to be in a buddy cop movie with me after that?" he asks lightly.
"I don't know what one of those is," Dirk says seriously, "but if you're asking if I still want to work with you, the answer is yes."
"Why?" Todd says.
Dirk smiles at him, easy and sincere.
"Like I said, I have a good feeling about you. I'm rarely wrong about people." He thinks for a second. "I am wrong about a great many things, though."
"Well," Todd says, his mouth twitching, "I think we're both taking kind of a gamble on this one."
Dirk beams at him.
"So, after a great deal of suspense and general grumpiness, perhaps now you'll finally agree that we are–albeit on a provisional basis–partners?"
He sticks his hand out hopefully and Todd sighs and takes it. Something inside him eases slightly as Dirk squeezes his hand, shaking vigorously.
"I don't do good cop," he says.
"Imagine my surprise," Dirk says.
"Okay," Todd says, turning back around in his seat and putting his seatbelt on. "I take it back. You ruined it. World record for shortest detective partnership."
"Darn," Dirk says, smiling sunnily at him. "I suppose I'll have to find another grumpy PI to help clear my name."
Todd starts the car, and almost startles himself when he catches sight of his own smile in the rearview mirror. Maybe, against all logic and reason, they’re somehow going to do this.
His optimism is only slightly dampened as he checks into a lousy motel with Dirk Gently at three in the afternoon. When the door of the room opens Dirk bounds forward and immediately jumps on the largest bed, bouncing triumphantly.
"I believe," Dirk says mid-bounce, "that the American word is dibs."
Todd rolls his eyes and crosses the room to the narrow single bed against the wall.
"Take it," he says, putting his duffel down on the bed. He sits down on the edge of the bed and scrubs a hand across his face. There are too many possible subjects jostling for attention in his brain, so he sweeps them all aside and leans back on his hands, watching Dirk examining his pillows.
"There are no little mints," he says, sounding disappointed.
Todd looks at him incredulously.
"Dirk, this place is a shithole. You're lucky there aren't bedbugs."
Dirk shoots off the bed like it's on fire, looking between it and Todd in distress.
"Bedbugs? Is that a possibility?"
"A remote one," Todd reassures him. "Pretty remote."
Dirk narrows his eyes at him.
"You're messing with me," he says, accusingly. "I take back what I said–you're a terrible partner and I have a very bad feeling about this whole thing."
"I tried to warn you," Todd says. "But you were all I believe in you, Todd!"
"I do not sound like that!"
"Whatever you say." Todd grins at him. Dirk rolls his eyes and looks at the bed suspiciously.
Todd stands up and stretches his arms over his head, walking over to the window. When he glances back at Dirk, he's watching him, his eyes stuck somewhere around Todd's hips. Todd raises his eyebrows and Dirk looks away, flushing.
Oh, Todd thinks stupidly.
He turns back to the window and stares out unseeingly, ignoring the lurch in his stomach. He opens his mouth, unsure of what's about to come out, and then he registers what he's actually staring at.
"Son of a bitch," he says, startled out of his awkwardness by the sight of the black Chevy in the parking lot.
"What?" Dirk says from behind him.
"Stay back," Todd says, flapping his hands and plastering himself to the wall by the window. "There's someone following me."
"Following you?" Dirk backs up so that he's standing beside the door to the bathroom, out of sight of the window. "Is it the police?"
"No," Todd says. "I don't know who he is, but I don't think he's a professional. Either that or he wants me to know he's there. He followed me from my office yesterday, but I managed to shake him before I went to the Holderness place. He must have been outside my apartment this morning."
"So what should we do?" Dirk says, craning his neck to try and peer out the window from the opposite side of the tiny motel room.
Suddenly Todd feels the last of his patience snap.
"You know what?" he says, pushing away from the wall. "Screw this."
"What?" Dirk watches, his eyes widening as Todd goes to the door and yanks it open, striding into the parking lot. "Todd! What are you–Todd!"
"Stay here," he says over his shoulder. "I'm getting to the bottom of this."
Dirk hisses after him to come back, and Todd ignores him, walking determinedly towards the car. As he gets closer, he finally gets a look at the guy's face, his expression turning panicky under his baseball cap. He looks pretty young.
As Todd approaches, he fumbles with his keys, the engine sputtering, but Todd gets to the door before he can get the car started. He reaches inside and pulls the guy out by his collar.
"Okay," he says, pushing him up against the side of the car and trying to sound menacing. It helps that the guy is about his height, which doesn't happen too often with people who are out to get him. "Who are you? What do you want? Talk!"
"Okay, okay!" the guy says, holding his hands up in surrender. "Ken, my name is Ken! Don't hurt me. I'll tell you whatever you want to know!"
Todd slackens his grip uncertainly.
"Okay," he says, backing off a little. "Good."
He grabs the guy's upper arm and steers him towards the motel room. Dirk is standing in the doorway, watching them anxiously. Todd jerks his chin and Dirk steps back, letting them inside. Todd closes the door behind them.
"You armed?" he says to the jumpy guy, and he nods.
Todd holds his hand out and the guy–Ken–hands him a scuffed old pistol. Probably unlicensed. Todd empties the magazine and puts the gun in the drawer, turning back to Ken, who's staring miserably at the floor.
"Sit down," he says, gesturing at the bed, and Ken sits down, taking off his baseball cap and twisting it in his hands.
Dirk is peering at Ken in what looks like confusion.
"Don't I know you?" he says politely, like he thinks they might have run into each other at the gym.
"No," Ken says unconvincingly.
Todd raises his eyebrows at him.
"Have you been following Dirk too?"
"Look, it's not what you think. My name is Ken–I'm a private detective!"
"Oh," Dirk says, "us too! What do you call three private detectives working together? I know that sounds like the setup for a joke, but it's a genuine question. A flock of detectives? A murder of detectives would sound good, but it's a little on the nose." He brightens and turns to Todd. "An agency of detectives!"
"Dirk," Todd says, closing his eyes. "Maybe we should find out a little about this guy before you invite him to the office Christmas party?"
"Right," Dirk says. "Sorry. Why are you following us? Are you on a case?"
"That's confidential," Ken says, folding his arms.
"Okay," Todd says, "I guess I'll just call the cops and tell them you've been tailing me and my partner while carrying an unlicensed firearm. You can try that confidentiality stuff with them, see how it flies."
"Yes," Dirk says, in a severe voice. "My partner and I are very displeased about this."
"Dirk," Todd says.
"Sorry," Dirk says again. He pats Todd encouragingly on the shoulder. "Go ahead, partner."
"Look," he says to Ken, "if you have a good reason for following us, why don't you just tell us? You don't seem like a hired killer–maybe we could help each other out."
"I thought you worked alone?" Dirk says, sounding affronted.
"What?" Todd looks at him. "Are you... are you mad at me?"
"No," Dirk says, "of course not. That's ridiculous. I just couldn't help but notice that you avoided teaming up with me for ages because you were afraid I'd cramp your style, but then Ken shows up–"
"Oh my God," Todd says, pinching the bridge of his nose. Ken looks between them warily.
"How long have you guys been partners?"
"Three days," Dirk says. "Well, four really. But we only made it official this afternoon."
"Uhh..." Ken says. Todd silently and wholeheartedly agrees with this sentiment.
"Okay," Ken says, holding his hands up and looking at Dirk. "I was following you. But it wasn't really you I was following. It was her! You're just easier to tail than she is!"
"Who?" Dirk says, puzzled.
"Her!" Ken says. "The woman! The one who kills everybody! She shows up where you are a lot. Didn't you notice all the people dying around you?"
"Huh," Dirk says, folding his arms and biting his lip thoughtfully. "I suppose there have been a lot of bodies around... but that tends to happen around me anyway. Why, just last night–"
"Dirk," Todd says.
"Last night? Someone got mysteriously murdered last night?" Ken looks more excited than is appropriate at this news. "It was her! It's gotta be!"
"Okay," Todd says, sighing. "I'm going to need more coffee for this."
Ken goes out to his car and returns with a battered green binder, spilling out grainy pictures and handwritten witness statements all over the bed.
He plucks one picture out of the pile and slaps it down on the dresser. The woman in the photo is grizzled and bloodstained, her features blurred and in motion as she extends her arm towards a car door.
"This," he says, "is her. The Killer Angel."
Todd stares at him.
"That's what I call her," Ken says, looking embarrassed. "Look–" he rushes back to the bed, picking up and discarding pieces of paper, muttering to himself.
"We can confidently attribute at least nineteen deaths to our angel in the last year alone," he says, talking over his shoulder as he sorts through his chaotic notes. Dirk leans over the bed to peer at the them, wrinkling his nose at the crime scene photos.
"She's certainly... resourceful," he says, turning his head and squinting at a picture of a guy who looks like he was gruesomely murdered with a lawn chair.
"Yes, she is," Ken says, pointing at him. "She has no trademark weapon or style. She uses whatever is to hand, death is almost always instantaneous, and she never leaves any DNA evidence at the scene. There's no pattern that police have been able to discern. Everything we know is from eyewitness accounts or security cams, and that's not a lot."
"How did you end up on the case?" Todd asks, looking away from the gore spread across the dingy bedsheets.
"I was a witness," Ken says. "I saw her kill a guy in the middle of a mall. It was crazy. So I did some research, found some people talking about her online..."
He turns to Dirk.
"Does she look familiar to you?"
Dirk picks up the picture, peering at it intently at several different distances from his face.
"Nope," he says, putting it back on the dresser. "Doesn't ring a bell."
"Seven of the nineteen murders I just mentioned were somehow linked to you," Ken informs him, and Dirk's eyes widen.
"Linked... to me? I don't understand."
"The first one," Ken says, handing Dirk a manila folder, "Ronald Perez. Guy tried to hold up a convenience store while you were in the frozen yoghurt aisle. She killed him with a knife of unknown origin. You changed your mind about the frozen yoghurt and left. Without noticing the dead body."
He shows them the grainy pictures printed off from the store's security cameras, which clearly show Dirk intently browsing the frozen yoghurt, and then leaving the store with a look of abject disappointment on his face.
"They didn't have mint chocolate chip," he explains to Todd. "It's not worth the sore teeth otherwise."
"If we get through this without getting arrested," Todd tells him, "I'm making you go to a dentist."
"The second murder linked to you," Ken says, taking the folder back and handing them another, "is Sam Cranston, killed last July."
"Oh!" Dirk says. "I know this one! He was a suspect in a case I worked last year. Mysteriously turned up dead in a quarry somewhere."
"Apparently, shortly before his death he told a friend of his that there was a British PI on his back, but he was gonna take the guy out. He travelled to Montana to meet a contact of his who was going to sell him a firearm, and the next day he turned up dead. Three bullet holes in his head."
"So... she's like Dirk's guardian angel," Todd says. "Of death. Guardian angel of death."
"I'm not sure how to feel about this, if I'm honest," Dirk says. "Although I suppose it explains what those detectives said to you about me."
"Did one of your guys have a leg ripped off?" Todd asks Ken.
"Yes!" Ken says, looking excited. "Do you want to see the pictures?"
"Uh, no," Todd says, "no, we're good."
"I don't understand," Dirk says. "Why is she doing this? I don't even know her."
"Maybe it's not about you," Todd says. "If she's killed nineteen people in the last year, that means twelve of them were totally unrelated to you. I mean, you still don't come out smelling like roses, but..."
"You think it's a coincidence?" Ken says. "Seriously?"
"Oh!" Dirk says, staring at Todd. "You think she's... like me."
"Maybe," Todd says. "It would explain how she keeps showing up at seemingly unrelated locations, finding conveniently placed murder weapons, and never getting caught."
"Hold on," Ken says, "What are you talking about?"
"Ken," Dirk says, placing a hand on his shoulder. "What do you understand from the word holistic?"
Todd sighs and flops onto the bed, probably crumpling some disturbing crime scene photos in the process.
"Wake me when you're done," he says to Dirk, ignoring his glare. "I've heard this part."
When Todd wakes the next morning, Dirk's arm is slung across his waist, and Dirk's knee is poking into his kidney.
Since they now have an unexpected third detective working the case with them, Dirk has graciously relinquished the claim of dibs and allowed Todd to share the bed with him. Todd hopes, as he carefully extracts himself from under Dirk's long limbs, that they don't pick up any more stray investigators before this case is through. It's already getting kind of crowded. Dirk makes a discontented noise as Todd gets up, grasping at the empty bed, before he grabs onto Todd's pillow and settles back in. It's only when Todd hears a tactful cough from the other bed that he realises he's been standing, smiling at Dirk's sleepy antics for well over thirty seconds.
He slaps on a glare and looks up to find Ken watching him, eyebrows raised.
He crosses to the coffee maker and turns it on.
“You want coffee?” he says, without looking around. He’s maddeningly aware that his ears and the back of his neck are turning red.
"Sure," Ken says, climbing out of bed and coming to stand by him. They stand in silence for a minute before Ken says,
"So when did you make this partnership official?"
"Shut up," Todd says, face burning. Ken snorts.
"Don't let the lamp get away!" Dirk yells, sitting bolt upright in bed. They both turn around, eyebrows raised.
Dirk's eyes are at half-mast, his hair is sticking up in multiple directions, and he's clutching Todd's pillow to his chest like a first-born child..
"Oh," he says, smiling drowsily as his eyes land on Todd and Ken, "was I dreaming?"
He stumbles out of bed and comes to stand with them, leaning heavily on Todd's shoulder.
"Is there tea?" he asks hopefully.
"Sure," Todd says, looking around pointedly at the general squalor, "I asked room service to send up a pot of Earl Gray with the scones."
"You shouldn't make fun of your partner, Todd. It's bad for morale."
Ken grins at him and Todd rolls his eyes.
"You're bad for morale," he mutters, flipping the switch on the coffee machine. "First coffee's mine. It's 8am and I've already earned it."
They spend the day going through Ken's files about the Angel, as he calls her, trying to establish a pattern in a series of apparently random murders. The more they look, the more convinced Dirk becomes that she's like him–acting on unseen orders from the universe. Todd wonders if any of hers involve a craving for frozen yoghurt, or if that's a Dirk thing.
He checks his phone periodically throughout the day for updates on Sydney Holderness and Tanya Weaver's investigations. Both their faces are plastered all over the news. All the articles Todd reads contain the same three facts, with varying numbers of adjectives: Tanya was found in the Holdernesses's basement; Sydney Holderness was found, mysteriously murdered, in the same house, on the same night; Tanya claims to remember nothing about her abduction, and experiences acute pain and distress when questioned on the subject.
None of the articles mention Dirk, Todd, or the Rowdy 3.
"Or an angel of death," Todd adds, recounting this information to Dirk and Ken over Chinese takeout.
"I'm telling you, man," Ken says, around a mouthful of sweet and sour pork. "It was her."
"I think you're probably right," Dirk says, "but she seems to be rather good at not being found."
"Maybe our luck will change," Ken says.
"Maybe," Dirk says, looking at Todd.
"Stranger things have happened," he says, to make Dirk smile.
He's a little too pleased when it works.
Around eleven thirty, when they're all going crossed eyed from reading Ken's terrible handwriting, and the Chinese food seems like a distant memory, Ken stands up and announces he's going for snacks.
"Get me some crisps," Dirk says, without lifting his face from where it's resting on the desk. "And a... beverage. Sugary."
"Coke and chips," Ken says, "coming up. Todd?"
"Same," Todd says, standing and stretching. "Thanks."
Ken nods and disappears, and Todd goes to stand at the window, watching him zip up his jacket as he walks across the dark parking lot.
"I hate this! I've never had a case that involved so much... paperwork."
Todd snorts, turning to look at him. Dirk's head is pillowed on his folded arms and he's looking dejectedly at the papers scattered over the table.
"This is like eighty percent of detective work," Todd says. "It's what solves cases. How do your cases normally go?"
"Well," Dirk says, propping his head up on one hand, "normally I just sort of... follow the universe. I tend to get knocked on the head quite a bit, and there's the occasional light maiming, but I'm starting to think it's better than this."
He flicks at a stack of photographs, sending them fluttering to the ground.
"So why do you think this one's going differently?" Todd asks, not bothering to gather up the photos.
Dirk looks at him contemplatively.
"I'm not sure," he says, slowly. "I suppose this is just... where I'm meant to be. With you."
Todd turns back to the window, ignoring the swoop in his stomach at Dirk's words.
"Well, good," he says. "Because you're not going anywhere until we figure this mess out."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Dirk says from behind him. Todd hears the scrape of his chair as he stands up. He stares unseeingly at Ken's car in the parking lot, wondering how his life got so out of control in such a short space of time.
"Alright?" Dirk says, yawning as he comes to stand next to him.
"Yeah," Todd says. "Just thinking."
"About Amanda?" Dirk asks, and then stops, his eyes wide. "Sorry! Does it hurt when I talk about her? Does it make your head go all..."
He mimes clutching at his head in pain, his eyes rolling back comically, and Todd snorts with laughter before he can stop himself. Dirk lowers his hands, looking pleased.
"No," Todd says, "It doesn't hurt to talk about her. It's just when I try to remember. Saying her name is fine, but it's like... it's like she's a character from a book. I don't know her. As soon as I try to picture her..."
"So don't try to picture her," Dirk says reasonably. "Just for now."
"I know," Todd says, "I know that's what I should be doing. I just... I can't stop wondering what she's like. All this time I thought I didn't have any family–that I didn't have anyone. And it turns out I have a sister. It feels kind of like a miracle."
"I imagine it does," Dirk says, smiling sadly.
"Shit," Todd says, "Dirk, I'm sorry."
Dirk's eyes widen.
"No," he says, waving his hands between them. "No, no! Don't apologise for this! I'm happy for you! Do you think I'm so petty that I'd wish you were as alone as me?"
Todd stares at him. He wants to tell Dirk that he's not alone, not anymore, but his brain keeps reminding him that he's known this guy for four days.
"You're lucky," Dirk says. "So lucky. I'm not the religious type, but I think "miracle" is a pretty good word for it, actually."
"What if..." Todd looks back out the window, feeling Dirk's gaze on him. "What if she doesn't like me?"
"Why wouldn't she like you?"
Todd shoots him a look.
"Oh," Dirk says, "right. The lying."
"The pill bottles in her house," Todd says, forcing the words out. "They were... she has pararibulitis."
"I'm sorry," Dirk says softly.
"It's a terrible disease," Todd says. "I remember when Aunt Esther had bad days... if she's living with that, and she knows I lied about it for money–"
"Todd," Dirk says, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You don't know how she reacted. Even if she was angry, it was a long time ago. And she hugged you when she saw you at the Holderness house. She was happy to see you."
"Yeah," Todd says, looking at him. Dirk's eyes are wide and sincere. He looks back out the window. "Yeah, that's true."
"Even if you have a... difficult relationship, the fact is you have a relationship. You have a sister!"
Todd feels himself smile.
"I have a sister," he says quietly.
"We'll find her," Dirk says. "We'll solve the case, and get your memories back, and we'll find her."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because we're meant to! I can feel it!"
"The way you have a feeling about me?" Todd asks, looking at him.
Dirk blushes, just a little, but it's enough for Todd to notice in the dim light. He hastily retracts his hand from Todd's shoulder.
"No," Dirk says, "not exactly like that. That's partly the universe, but partly just me. I've learned to tell the difference."
"I guess it's convenient," Todd says dryly, "when you and the universe are on the same page."
Dirk grins at him.
"It's a pretty rare occurrence, actually. The universe likes to rough me up quite a bit, but it doesn't usually give me friends. Or..." he looks away, his smile straining at the edges. "Partners, I meant to say. Temporary business partners. Makes a nice change."
"Friends are good too," Todd says, against his own better judgement.
Dirk's head whips around to stare at him, and then he smiles blindingly, and Todd has to look away, his breath catching in his chest.
"You know," he says, "I don't exactly have people lining up to be my friend either. I can be a little..."
"Cantankerous?" Dirk suggests.
Todd laughs again, the awkwardness dissipating.
"Had that one ready to go, huh?"
Dirk smiles at him. "Only your best friend would tell you, Todd."
Todd's not sure if he's smiling back, but suddenly he's finding it impossible to move his eyes away from Dirk's. Dirk's smile fades slowly as the moment stretches between them. He swallows, his eyes flicking over Todd's face. Any other day Todd would move away, would change the subject, get back on safe ground. But right now he's drunk on adrenaline and tiredness and hope, and it's such a buzz that he finds himself moving closer.
"I think you were right," he says. "Before."
"Of course I was," Dirk says. "Right about what?"
"You said that this case was going to change everything for me. It already is."
"Good," Dirk says, looking increasingly flustered. "I mean, I think good. I hope?"
"Is it..." he pauses, searching for the right words. "Is it the same for you?"
Dirk's mouth falls open, colour flooding his face, and he looks awkwardly down at his own feet.
"Never mind," Todd says, moving back. "Sorry, I–"
Dirk grabs his arm, keeping him where he is. He's still staring down at the ground, refusing to meet Todd's eyes.
"I'm not very good at..." he stalls, and takes a deep breath. Todd's heart is weirdly loud in his own ears.
"Do you remember," Dirk starts again, "that time in the bar, when you thought..."
"When I thought you were hitting on me?" Todd asks.
"Well, yes." Dirk darts a look up at him, and then goes back to staring at the ground. "At the time I hadn't... I mean to say–"
Todd closes the distance between them, his hand brushing Dirk's at his side. Dirk goes completely still.
"Dirk," Todd says. "I don't want to misread..."
Dirk, head still bowed, places his right hand awkwardly on Todd's chest. Todd exhales.
"Okay," he says. "Okay."
He cups Dirk's jaw and leans in, feeling Dirk's fingers splay over his collarbone as he leans to meet him. Their lips brush, and Dirk makes a noise somewhere between Todd's name and a sigh.
He kisses Dirk again, more deliberately this time, and Dirk opens his mouth on a tiny gasp. Maybe Todd didn't know he wanted this until now, but he suddenly wants it very badly.
"Dirk," he breathes, and then nearly jumps out of his fucking skin at the sound of a key in the door.
They both step back, Dirk running a shaky hand through his hair, as Ken walks back in with a crinkling armful of snacks.
“Don’t worry, I got plenty of sugary beverages,” he says, kicking the door closed behind him. “Uh, little help?”
“Oh!” Dirk says, tearing his eyes away from Todd and hurrying forward to help with Ken’s precariously balanced armful of snacks. “Sorry! We were… sorry, let me–”
He takes some of the drinks and what looks like enough junk food to feed an army. Ken looks at Todd, eyebrows raised, and Todd looks away, back at the papers littering the table.
“Okay…” Ken says slowly, looking between them. "Well, I hope you guys like Cheetos."
Dirk’s face lights up.
"I love Cheetos!"
“Sure,” Todd says, taking a bag. “Thanks.”
He sits back down next to Dirk at the table, suddenly hyper-aware of how easy it would be to reach over, grab his hand, and…
He blinks and looks back down at the crime scene photos. This… may complicate things.
He and Dirk are sharing the double bed again that night, but it feels loaded in a way it didn't before. Todd climbs in while Dirk is in the bathroom brushing his teeth, and Ken flops into the single bed, sending him a tired grin.
"Night," he says, pulling the covers up.
"Night," Todd echoes, his fingers clenching and unclenching on the sheets. He turns on to his back and lies, staring at the ceiling. Dirk comes out of the bathroom and climbs in next to him, clicking off the bedside lamp so there's only the dim yellow light filtering through the blinds.
"Goodnight, detectives," Dirk says, cheerfully, and Ken snorts.
Todd turns his head on the pillow and sees Dirk curled up on his side facing him. He wants badly to be closer to Dirk. He wants to kiss Dirk goodnight. Wants Dirk to spoon up behind him so he's touching him from head to toe. He's not sure where this urge came from, or how it caught him so completely off-guard. He's not sure if he can trust it.
Dirk smiles at him, and it's smaller and warmer than the manic grin he usually wears, with just a tiny bit of uncertainty lingering beneath it. Todd swallows and does his best to smile back.
"Goodnight, Dirk," he says, and closes his eyes.
It's been two days since Ken showed up with his folder of theories, and just over nine hours since Todd, in a moment of extreme stress, kissed Dirk in the middle of the night in a very unromantic motel room. His life has not grown any less confusing in the interim.
Dirk hasn't said anything about the kiss, although Todd awoke the second morning in a row to find Dirk's arm around him, Dirk's hand resting on his chest. He let himself lay there for exactly sixty seconds before he got up to have a shower. Ken didn't wake up this time, and Todd didn’t linger by the bed.
Marcus calls just as Todd is making his second coffee of the day, Dirk shooting him surreptitious glances from across the table. Todd answers, feeling his headache mounting.
"Hey," he says rubbing his eyes. "Marcus. What's up?"
"Hey," Marcus says. He sounds excited, which is probably a bad sign. "I thought you'd want to know–those guys you called me about? The ones in the van?"
Todd sits up straight, glancing at Dirk, who raises his eyebrows inquisitively.
"What about them?"
"They've been spotted in Montana. At least, three of them have. I assume the other guy was in the van. And they had someone new with them."
"A girl," Marcus says, "no ID yet. Mid twenties, white, long hair. Dressed kind of like them."
"When you say they were spotted..."
"Nothing as violent as normal," Marcus says, sounding disappointed. "They stole some food from a gas station. They hardly even smashed the place up. Guy in the store said they seemed like they were in a hurry."
"Which way were they headed?" Todd asks, his heart racing.
"Can't be sure, but the guy thinks back to Seattle."
"Great," Todd says, meeting Dirk's eyes. Dirk looks concerned. "Thanks, Marcus."
"What is it?" Dirk says, the second he hangs up. "Has something happened?"
"Apparently the Rowdy 3 and my sister have been spotted robbing a gas station in Montana."
"Good!" Ken says. "That's... good, right? I mean, not the robbery part..."
Todd is still looking at Dirk.
"These guys... you said they were trouble. Is my sister going to be okay?"
"They're not... they don't like me very much," he says eventually. "I try to avoid them whenever possible. But I'm fairly sure she'll be alright."
"Colour me reassured," Todd mutters, throwing his phone on the bed.
"I'm sorry," Dirk says, "I phrased that badly. They wouldn't hurt her. They're just not the most sensible, clean-living types you could associate with."
"Yeah," Todd says, "well something tells me neither is she."
He feels a spike of fondness, almost immediately obliterated by a fresh wave of pain, and he grips the edge of the table, gritting his teeth. He feels the bed dip next to him and Dirk says hesitantly,
"Todd? Can I get you anything? Water?"
"No," he says, blinking his eyes open. "Thanks. Let's just... let's just keep looking."
He ignores the weight of Dirk's eyes on him as he picks up another stack of Ken's notes.
He and Dirk go to see Jenny that afternoon, against Todd’s better judgement. He really wants to keep Jenny out of this whole thing, but since she apparently lives across the street from his sister, it doesn’t look like he has much choice. Ken has gone to check out a sighting of his Killer Angel at a warehouse outside of town, and has assured them he’ll call if anything goes wrong.
Jenny is delighted that he brought someone, of course, and she fusses over them as they file into the living room, Dirk ducking his head slightly to avoid the wind chimes Jenny hangs in every doorway.
"Please," Jenny says, putting a hand on Dirk's arm and guiding him to the overstuffed couch, "sit down! Make yourselves comfortable! Are you a friend of Todd's?"
"Oh," Dirk says, looking at him. "I'm–yes, I..."
"Oh," Jenny says, her eyes losing some of their fog as she smiles at him. "I see. Don't worry dear, I'm not that old."
Dirk turns the same shade of pink as the couch, looking at Todd helplessly. Todd feels himself flush as well, and looks away.
"Why," Jenny says, oblivious, "I remember when I was young..." she trails off, frowning.
"Jenny?" Todd prompts.
She turns to smile at him.
"Todd! I think I was about to make some tea for us. Sit down next to your young man and I'll put the kettle on."
"Do you need any help?" Dirk asks, moving to get up.
"Oh no, thank you dear." Jenny waves him off. "Would you prefer English Breakfast or Earl Gray?"
Dirk's eyes light up, and he practically wriggles in enthusiasm.
"Earl Gray would be lovely, thank you!"
She smiles indulgently at him and pushes Todd towards the couch. He practically falls down next to Dirk, bouncing on the cushions.
"What a nice, polite boy you brought, Todd," she says, grinning over her shoulder as she leaves the room.
"She likes you," he says, looking at his hands instead of Dirk's face. "It's been a long time since I saw her feeling well enough to make fun of me."
"That's good," Dirk says, sounding uncertain. "People don't, normally. Like me, I mean."
"Dirk," Todd says, with absolutely no idea how he plans to follow that up. He's saved by a meowing sound from behind the couch.
Dirk perks up, twisting towards the sound.
"Is that a cat?" He grabs the back of the couch, leaning to peer behind it. "Here, puss!"
He makes a weird, whispering noise with his tongue. Todd holds back a laugh.
"That's Sylvester," he says.
"Here, Sylvester!" Dirk leans over further, searching the carpet in bemusement. "Where is he?"
Dirk looks at him, and Todd points up at the birdcage in the corner.
"Meow," Sylvester the parakeet says, and Dirk's eyes go wide.
“He can also do a doorbell, and a phone ringing,” Todd says, grinning at Dirk’s excitement.
"That's fascinating!" Dirk says, jumping off the couch and going to stand in front of Sylvester's cage. "Gosh, he's wonderful!"
"Twice a day," Sylvester says, shifting on his perch.
"I'm sorry?" Dirk says, politely.
"Stopped clock is right twice a day," Sylvester says. "Stopped clock."
Dirk steps back, drawing his hands up to his chest, his mouth opening in what looks like outrage.
"Todd," he says, "this bird is making fun of me!"
Todd gives in and laughs, his hand over his mouth, shoulders shaking. When he looks up, Dirk is trying to look annoyed, but his mouth keeps twitching into a smile. Todd smiles back, his hand clenching nervously on his leg.
"Stopped clock," Sylvester says, and Dirk glares at him.
"Yes, thank you, Sylvester," he says, loftily. "I'll have you know, I'm a respected detective."
"Mraw," Sylvester says. "Private dick."
Dirk sputters, and Todd bursts out laughing again.
"I think Jenny taught him that one," he says, grinning. "When I got my PI license. She used to make fun of me a lot more."
Dirk relaxes a little, still glaring at the bird.
"What lies are you telling, Todd Brotzman?" Jenny asks, bustling back in with the tea tray.
Todd moves to help her, but Dirk beats him to it, taking the tray with a murmured,
"Please, let me–"
Jenny hands it over, clearly already enamoured of Dirk as he carefully sets the tray down on the coffee table.
"I'll be mother," Dirk says, sitting down next to Todd and picking up the teapot.
"Twice a day," Sylvester pipes up helpfully, and Dirk goes pink again. Todd almost bursts a blood vessel trying not to fall on his ass laughing.
"Oh," Jenny says, serenely, "I see you've been making friends with Sylvester."
She sits down in a flowery armchair opposite, her hands folded demurely in her lap, a glint in her eye.
"Dirk loves making new friends," Todd tells her, ignoring Dirk's elbow jabbing him in the ribs.
"So," Jenny says, accepting a cup of tea from Dirk and settling back into her chair, "as nice as it is to see you, I don't think you kids came here to talk about my parakeet. What can I do for you?"
Todd glances at Dirk, who nods at him encouragingly.
"Jenny..." he says. "Do you remember Amanda?"
Jenny's face goes slack for a moment.
"Amanda..." she says, slowly. "I... yes. Of course."
"Who is she?" Dirk says, watching her closely.
"Amanda," Jenny repeats, looking at Dirk in confusion. "She was sick..."
"Amanda Brotzman," Sylvester says, and everyone starts and looks around.
Dirk is on his feet in an instant.
"Sylvester," he says, steepling his fingers and trying to make eye contact with the bird. "Do you remember Amanda?"
"Remember," Sylvester says, shuffling around his perch and fluffing up his wings. "Remember Amanda. Watch."
"Watch what?" Dirk says.
"Twice a day," Sylvester says, and Dirk huffs.
"The watch..." Jenny says, slowly. "That man... he stole my watch."
"Yeah," Todd says, scooting forward so that he's at the edge of the cushion. "Dr Rhine. You remember him, Jenny? That's how we met."
She looks at him then, but her eyes are focused inward, like she's seeing someone else. Or maybe just a different version of him. Young, angry, and scared. Lying to his family.
"He said... he said I was special," she says, looking lost. "He said I was the missing link."
"The missing link?" Dirk's voice is sharp, and Todd frowns at him. "He used those words?"
"Yes," Jenny says, troubled. "I think so. I can't..."
"It's okay," Todd says, soothingly. He gets up and goes to kneel in front of her. "Jenny, it's fine. That's all we need. Thank you."
She focuses on his face again, sweat beading her brow.
"Todd," she whispers, patting his hand. "You're a good kid."
"Thanks," he says, with some difficulty.
"I'm sorry," Dirk says. "I didn't mean to..."
"That's okay, dear," Jenny says distractedly. "Sit down and drink your tea before it gets cold.”
When they emerge, blinking from Jenny's house, it's sunny outside, the roses in Jenny's garden starting to bloom. As he steps out the small painted gate, Todd realises, with a start, that it's only been four days since Dirk followed him here from his apartment and accosted him on the sidewalk. It feels like months.
"There's something I have to tell you," Dirk says, as Todd moves towards the car. Todd turns to look at him. "I didn't keep it from you, exactly... I just wasn't sure if I was right."
He has Todd's full attention now. He raises his eyebrows, waiting.
"The man you told me about," Dirk says. "The one you called Dr Rhine. I'm fairly certain he used to be Colonel Scott Riggins."
"The head of Blackwing," Todd says. Now that Dirk's said it, it makes perfect sense.
"Yes," Dirk says anxiously. "Are you angry? I wasn't trying to hide anything from you, I just wanted to think it over before I said anything–I was afraid I was jumping to conclusions."
"No," Todd says, "I'm not mad. I mean, it makes sense. I can't believe I didn't think of it."
"Yes," Dirk says, looking relieved, "well I've gotten used to looking for Blackwing everywhere. That's what made me think maybe I was being paranoid in the first place. But after what Jenny said..."
"This makes sense," Todd says again, his mind racing. "He left the CIA, and he teamed up with the Holdernesses, who were running their own experiments. He brought all the knowledge he had from Blackwing, and they had the funds."
"Exactly," Dirk says, pointing at him triumphantly. "The initial experiments run by the Holderness family were in conjunction with the government–probably connected to an early incarnation of Blackwing. But they split off for some reason. Maybe their experiments were too dangerous, or unethical, and the government shut them down."
"Except they kept running them," Todd says, staring at Dirk as the pieces fall into place. "They collected psychic people and–" he searches his memory for the phrase Rhine used, so many years ago, "–psychically charged objects."
"Jenny's watch!" Dirk looks excited.
"And Tanya Weaver! Shit, Dirk, you were right! She's like you!"
Dirk beams at him.
"And they took her memories too," Todd says. "Farah said she couldn't remember how she got in their basement."
"So that's what they do, right?" Dirk sounds like he's talking half to himself, half to Todd. "They erase memories. But the person still retains some sense of what they've lost."
"Dirk," Todd says, and Dirk turns to give him his full attention, "do you think... do you think they did that to us?"
"Well, yes," Dirk says, puzzled. "To you, anyway. They took your memories of Amanda."
"No, I mean... don't you think that maybe we met each other before? You and me? It would explain..."
"Explain what?" Dirk says.
Todd feels his face go red.
"You think we were... dating?" Dirk says, his ears going pink. He looks doubtful.
"Well, maybe not dating," Todd says, "but something could have happened between us. Something we can't remember."
"I don't think so," Dirk says, looking baffled. "They erased your memories of Amanda because they'd kidnapped her and they didn't want you to come looking. Why would they erase our memories of each other and then leave us walking around, free to bump into each other again at any time? Anyway, if we'd already met each other, then even talking about this would be painful, wouldn't it? Just standing in your sister's living room looked like it was going to make your head explode."
Todd stares at him.
"Try to remember me," Dirk says, taking a step closer. "Look at my face, and try to remember if we've met before."
Todd does, letting his eyes travel over Dirk's face. There's no pain in his head, no uneasy feeling of a gap to be filled. He feels his heart sink. Dirk is right.
"Well, maybe it was like Jenny said, when they were putting pictures into her head..."
Dirk raises his eyebrows.
"You think that an illegal psychic research facility hypnotised you into wanting to kiss me," he says, flatly.
"Okay," Todd says desperately, "then what is this? What is this?"
He gestures between the two of them. Dirk throws his hands up.
"I don't know, Todd. Maybe we just like each other! Is that such a bizarre concept?"
"Yes!" Todd says, and Dirk takes a step back, eyes flashing with hurt.
"No," Todd says, moving forward. "No, I didn't mean... Dirk, there's something about you. Some kind of pull, or power..."
Dirk flinches, actually flinches, hugging himself like he can protect himself from Todd's words. Todd realises too late what his words must be bringing back up for Dirk, but he can't think of a thing to say to fix it. Dirk takes a deep breath, his eyes fixed somewhere over Todd's left shoulder.
"I can't explain anything that's happened between us. I'm sorry that your liking me is such a source of distress to you, but there's not much I can do about it." He looks Todd in the eye. "I promise you I'm not trying to trick you. I promise I haven't been hiding anything from you–apart from what I've just told you about Riggins. Is that good enough for now? Can we get on with solving the case?"
Todd nods, wordless.
"Alright," Dirk says, moving past him to the car. "Let's go and meet Ken."
They meet Ken outside the warehouse as the evening is drawing in. He’s crouching behind a scrubby, windswept bush at the edge of a desolate yard. When he hears them coming he starts violently, and then waves them frantically over.
Half of the windows in the warehouse are broken, and the yard is dusty and sprinkled with weeds. There are broken beer bottles–and probably worse–littered on the ground a few feet away. The noise of the city seems distant and muted. Todd might not be the one with the semi-psychic powers, but every instinct he has is screaming at him that this is a bad idea.
"Have you ever seen a single horror movie?" he asks, crouching next to Ken.
"I know, I know, but she's in there," Ken whispers, grabbing Todd's arm and shaking it. "I saw her!"
"Did she see you?" Todd asks, trying to ignore the way Dirk crouches on Ken's other side instead of crowding over Todd's shoulder and into his personal space. He didn’t say a word on the car journey, even when Todd deliberately turned on K-pop for him.
"No," Ken says, obliviously, "I don't think so. How'd it go with your friend Jenny?"
"We're pretty sure whatever Dirk and this killer angel have, Jenny has it too," Todd says, glancing at Dirk, who is staring impassively at the warehouse. "Or something like it."
"This is crazy," Ken mutters, releasing Todd's arm and craning his neck to get a better view of the warehouse door. "Psychics, murderers, sweet old ladies–"
"An, uh, the CIA is definitely involved," Todd adds. "In case we forgot to mention that part."
"The what–" Ken turns to glare at him, and then stops, eyes wide. Todd turns around and sees a pale, twitchy guy in a trench coat holding a nasty looking knife. They all scramble to their feet.
“Okay,” the guy says, “don’t try anything smart.”
“Is he with the CIA?” Ken asks.
“Yeah,” the guy says, “I’m Jason fucking Bourne, now empty your pockets. Phones, wallets, on the–”
Todd jumps as a loud bang echoes around the yard, and takes a full three seconds to register what’s happening as the mugger crumples to the ground, a neat hole punched between his eyes.
He looks around and sees the Killer Angel, wearing a leather jacket and pointing a gun at them. Everyone freezes. Todd's pretty sure Ken isn't breathing. She looks between them, lowers the gun, and says,
"Get out of my yard."
“I don’t think this is your yard,” Dirk says after a moment of silence, “if you want to get particular about it–”
“Dirk,” Todd says. “Renegade assassin.”
“Right, yes” Dirk says, taking a step back, his eyes fixed on Bart’s gun. “You have a lovely home. Very… concrete.”
"Relax, I ain’t gonna shoot you. None of you are supposed to die." She looks over at the body of their would-be mugger. "This guy was, though. This your gun?"
"Yeah," Ken says. "Yes, that is my gun. Yes, ma'am."
"I'm taking it," she announces, picking it up and examining it.
"Sure," Ken says, "cool, okay."
She glances up at him, brows drawing together, and takes a step forward. Ken squeaks and draws back, but she simply lumbers past him and picks up the knife beside the mugger’s body. It disappears into her voluminous leather jacket along with the guns. Todd wonders how many weapons she has in there.
"Where did you get that jacket?" he asks.
She squints down at it, holding out her arms so that the overlong sleeves cover her hands.
"Guys in the van."
"The Rowdy 3?" Dirk says. "When did you meet them?"
"Helped them bust out of that creepy old house a few nights back."
"Did you by any chance kill a man while you were there?" Dirk asks.
She rolls her eyes. "Duh."
"I knew it!" Ken shouts, hopping on the spot.
"You know the police think I did it?" Dirk says. "I've had to go on the lam!" He looks at Todd, brow furrowed. "Is that right? Lamb? Like a sheep?"
"I don't care about the police," she says. "That guy was meant to die."
"Because it was the will of the universe," Todd says, and she cocks her head at him, looking between the three of them.
"Yeah," she says. "That's how I work. I can see how things fit, even if the cops can't."
"So, and I know I'm going to regret asking this," Todd says, "but if you kill everyone you meet, how come you haven't killed us?"
"I don't kill everyone I meet," she says. She thinks for a second. "But if there's people around, I'm probably gonna kill at least one of them."
"How reassuring," Dirk mutters.
“What’s your name?” Ken asks, suddenly, and she looks at him like he just asked her for the meaning of life, or her orthodontist’s shoe size.
“I’m Bart,” she says, eventually, scratching her arm under the cuff of her jacket.
“I’m Ken, and this is Todd and Dirk.”
She looks at them with a complete lack of interest, and then looks back at Ken.
"You don’t normally stick around one place for this long,” Ken says. “Why are you still here?”
"Not sure," she says, eyes still fixed on him. "Something's gonna go down. And your friends are gonna be there."
"The Rowdy 3?" Todd says. "You're going to meet them? How do you know where they are?"
"I don't," she says. "That's not how it works. But I’m headed for trouble, and they got the same trouble coming. I could tell."
"Can you tell if I’ve got it coming as well?" Dirk asks.
She looks at him closely, her eyes sharpening on his face.
"There's something," she says, slowly. "I don't know..."
She takes a couple of steps forward, and Dirk twitches but holds his ground. Todd tenses, watching her.
She whips out one of her many guns and points it at Dirk, who yells and stumbles backwards, falling on his ass.
"What are you doing?" Todd yells, at the same time Ken shouts, "Whoa, whoa!"
"Just a sec," Bart says, "I wanna try something."
She points the gun at Dirk and pulls the trigger. Todd feels his heart trip over itself in his chest, a horrible, swooping sensation, before he registers the quiet click, the fact that Dirk is still intact, sitting on the ground trembling, his eyes squeezed shut in fear.
"Dirk," he says, the word more air than sound, and stumbles over to him, dropping to his knees by Dirk's side. Dirk slowly opens his eyes, exhaling roughly, and looks up at Bart in confusion.
"Huh," she says, looking at the gun, and then shrugs and tucks it into her waistband.
Dirk makes a high-pitched sound and sags with relief.
"Are you okay?" Todd asks him, grabbing his shoulders. "Dirk, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Dirk says. "I'm alright. I think I might just... sit here, for a bit, if it's all the same to you. My legs are a bit wobbly. I'm sure it'll pass if no one points any guns at me for a few minutes."
Todd twists to look up at Bart, glaring.
"What the hell was that? I thought none of us was supposed to die?"
"You're not," she says. "Like I said."
"You just tried to kill Dirk!" Todd yells, standing up. He's still badly shaken by the sight of Dirk cowering away from Bart's gun, still furious and half-petrified and trying to force his heart out of his throat and down into his chest where it belongs. He's in no mood for taking bullshit from anyone. "You pointed a gun at him! You pulled the trigger!"
"Relax," she says, wrinkling her nose at him. "Dude's fine."
He stares at her, wondering if it's possible that his eyes are about to literally bulge out of his head.
"Relax? You–are you serious?"
"Todd," Dirk whispers urgently, scrambling to his feet behind him. "Stop shouting at the homicidal maniac!"
Todd turns to look at him, his face burning, his hands shaking with adrenaline. He hasn't felt like this since Amanda–his brain stutters to a halt. Amanda...
He clutches at his head as the pain returns, hearing an ugly sound force its way out of his own throat as he drops to his knees.
Amanda was just a kid, and she ran right out into the road, she didn't even look, God that was so her, she could have been killed. Todd grabbed her and pulled her out of the path of the car, and he couldn't stop shaking for hours afterwards.
His head is going to explode.
"Todd?" He feels Dirk drop to his knees next to him, their positions from a few minutes ago reversed as Dirk grabs his shoulders. "Todd, what is it?"
"He's remembering something," he hears Bart say, sounding vaguely interested. "Saw it happen to the other guy. One of the van guys. They bury your memories, cover 'em up, but they keep trying to come back. And it hurts."
"But what triggered it?" Dirk says, sounding panicked. "There was nothing... okay, Todd, just think of something else! Think about... not music, not football... do you have any other hobbies? Macramé?"
Todd groans, pushing down on his own skull, applying pressure to stop it flying apart.
"Think about the first time we met, when you broke into my apartment! Bet you thought I was a real weirdo, right?"
"Yes," Todd grits out. The pressure is helping a little. "You thought I was a burglar and you made me tea."
"I didn't think you were a burglar," Dirk says. "You told me you were a detective. And where I come from, making tea for guests is basic good manners. Even if they did come in through the window."
Dirk keeps talking about tea, and Todd tunes out the words, listening to the sound of Dirk's voice as he leans into the arm around his shoulders. At some point, Dirk's hand drifts into his hair, and Todd can't bring himself to do a thing about it. He turns his face into Dirk's shoulder and lets himself be held, only vaguely aware that Bart and Ken are probably still watching. His head is still jangling dully, tears leaking from his eyes even though the worst of the pain has passed. His thoughts are starting to come back into focus, and the memory of Amanda is starting to fade.
Just another minute, he thinks. Just sixty more seconds of leaning on Dirk before he opens his eyes and stands up and goes back to being a detective. Dirk's hand strokes his hair repetitively. He's soaking Dirk's shirt.
"...and of course, tea cosies have their uses, I'm not denying that, but they're not, strictly speaking, a necessity if one has a decent teapot to start with. They look nice though, and they do add to the sense of ceremony, in a woolly kind of way–"
Dirk cuts off his tea monologue as Todd straightens up, wiping his eyes as surreptitiously as possible on his shirt cuffs. Bart and Ken are standing a few feet away, Bart picking mindlessly at her nails as Ken shoots her nervous looks.
"Todd?" Dirk says, tentatively. "How do you feel?"
"Okay," Todd says, his voice hoarse. He clears his throat and tries again. "I'm okay."
He looks back at Dirk, still kneeling beside him, his hands folded in his lap as he watches him anxiously, and suddenly it's not a complete lie.
"Oh," Dirk says, flustered, "I didn't do anything. Just talked nonsense really, which is admittedly a pretty reliable skill of mine, but I didn't–" he stops again as Todd reaches out to squeeze his hand.
"Thanks," he says again, more emphatically.
Dirk swallows and squeezes his hand back.
Todd clears his throat and turns away, standing up. He feels a little shaky, but he manages to not fall over, which is a good sign. He sees Ken look in their direction and make towards them, Bart following unenthusiastically behind.
"Hey," Ken says, jogging the last few feet towards them. "So, what next?"
Todd decides there and then that Ken is a solid guy. He glares at Bart as she ambles up behind him, and she grins.
"One of us should go with Bart and talk to the Rowdies," he says, shooting for "experienced" and hoping that at the very least he manages to hit "world-weary". His legs feel like water.
"Well," Ken says, darting another look at her, "I guess it should be me, right? I mean, if your sister is going to be there..."
"Yeah," Todd says. "It seems like I can talk about her okay as long as I don't try to actually remember anything, but seeing her might be bad."
"Didn't you say you saw her outside the Holderness house?" Ken asks.
"Yeah," Todd says, remembering the throbbing in his head. "It did hurt then, but not like just now. I guess I only saw her for a few seconds."
"It can't have been more than thirty seconds before she went off with the Rowdy 3," Dirk says, still looking anxiously at him. "I think any longer than that would have been detrimental to you, Todd."
"Okay," Ken says, "well then I guess I'll go, and catch up with you guys later."
He looks at Bart apprehensively, folding his arms in a move that looks weirdly Dirk-like.
"You're not going to kill me, right?"
"Nah," Bart says. "Like I said, none of you are meant to die. Least, not by my hand."
Dirk clears his throat politely.
"So–and I'm sorry to harp on the subject–why did you point a gun at me earlier?"
"I had a feeling about you. Not sure what it was. I thought trying to shoot you might clear it up. But you're still alive, so I guess it's something else."
"Oh," Dirk says, not looking reassured. "How nice."
"No more trying to shoot us," Todd says. "We're working together on this."
She rolls her eyes.
"No use trying to bargain with me, little guy. If the universe wants you dead, you're gonna get dead. I'm just one instrument."
She turns back to Ken.
"You coming, or what?"
"I guess so," he mutters, and waves feebly at them as he follows her to the car.
"Stay in touch!" Todd calls after him. "And watch your back!"
Ken nods and waves as he gets into the car, and then Bart guns the engine and they screech off down the street and out of sight.
Todd and Dirk stand there, watching the dust settle.
When they get back to the motel, Black and Estevez’s car is parked outside, so Todd curses and keeps driving, slouched low in the driver’s seat. He takes a moment to feel thankful that they took all their stuff with them when they went out that morning. It might be hard to explain Ken’s notes to the cops.
They keep driving, stopping briefly to pick up some food, and Todd isn’t sure where he’s going, but he’s too tired to care.
He finds himself sitting on the hood of his car, with Dirk Gently sitting next to him, in the middle of the night, eating frozen yoghurt (mint chocolate chip) that Dirk insisted the universe wanted them to stop and pick up.
They've parked the car in a field off an unremarkable by-road half an hour outside the city. Away from the lights of Seattle, the sky is dark and yawning and huge, studded with thousands of stars. The smell of grass and wildflowers reminds Todd of his brief and thoroughly disastrous tenure in the Cub Scouts, and camping trips with his dad. He winces at a sudden spike of pain, but feels oddly warmed to realise Amanda must have been on those trips too.
He's still off-balance from the memory of Amanda from earlier, the feeling of something trapped under his skin, trying to burst out. The fear, the relief, all tangled up–Amanda, Dirk, the urge to protect, the urge to run.
"I wonder," Dirk says, suddenly, and Todd waits to see if this is going to be case-related or some philosophical musings on the inner life of bees. It's bright enough with the moon and stars that he can see Dirk okay, even if he's taken on the quality of an old photograph, pale and soft at the edges.
"You wonder?" he prompts, after a second of Dirk staring thoughtfully at his spork. Dirk starts and looks over at him, visibly pulling himself back into the moment.
"I wonder what will happen when we get the watch. How does it work?" He tilts his head to the side, a quirk that Todd's already become too fond of, and continues, building up steam as he goes. "Like, will everyone who's had their memories stolen by the Holdernesses get them back all at once? Do we have to do everyone separately? What if there are people out there–people like Jenny–who had their memories stolen and didn't even know it? How would we find them?"
It's actually a good question, and Todd takes a second to mull it over, looking up at the stars.
"I don't know," he says eventually. "What if some people don't want them back? Like Tanya Weaver. I mean, who'd want to remember getting kidnapped and experimented on?"
He winces as soon as the words are out of his mouth, and turns to look at Dirk, who has a small, rueful smile on his face.
"Sorry," he says.
"It's alright," Dirk says. "I know what you mean."
Todd stares helplessly at the curve of Dirk's neck, his shoulders. He's wearing Todd's faded Clash shirt, under the stupid yellow jacket that he's put on again now that they're in the middle of nowhere and he can be as conspicuous as he wants. He wants to ask Dirk something, something horribly personal, and it strikes him that he could, that Dirk might even answer him. He swallows and says,
"Would you erase Blackwing? If you could?"
Dirk turns to look at him, startled, but not displeased. He sets his yoghurt down between them and thinks about it, his eyes unfocused and his brow wrinkled.
"No," he says, at last, "I don't think I would. For better or worse, it's a part of who I am." He smiles, but there's something pained underneath it.
"But... they forced it on you. You didn't choose it. Don't you wonder who you would be if they'd never taken you?"
"Who would I be, if I were someone different? That's meaningless. I am who I am, and you are who you are. I can't just lift out the bits I don't like. Everything is..."
"Connected?" Todd says obligingly.
"Well, yes!" Dirk turns to look at him, his face painfully open. "Connections, associations–everything is all tangled up together. It's like with you and Amanda. They tried to take her out of your memories, but they couldn't take everything she had ever touched. You still remembered the cherry blossom tree, and the football games... important people, important events, they don't just sit in neat little pigeonholes in our minds. They spread out, colouring everything they touch. To ask who I would be without Blackwing–it's like trying to separate a cappuccino into coffee and milk. Even if I could do it, I wouldn't be me anymore. I'd be someone else."
"Well," Todd says, "some people would want that."
Todd blanks, opening his mouth wordlessly.
"Oh, come on," Dirk says, nudging him. "You asked me first, you can't act all surprised that I turned it back on you."
"I didn't think that far ahead," Todd admits. He's kind of surprised at himself. This is the exact reason he usually avoids personal conversations. Too many potential traps. He's getting sloppy.
"So you're just... not going to answer the question," Dirk says. "You're going to raise it, and then leave it hanging there."
"What difference does it make? You seemed pretty sure of your answer, it's not like hearing mine is going to change your mind."
"A-ha! So you would answer differently! You would erase your unpleasant memories!"
Dirk looks childishly triumphant, and Todd rolls his eyes.
"Of course not," he says, putting aside his yoghurt. He feels a little queasy. "Mine are different from yours."
"Yours aren't your fault," Todd says, and immediately regrets it when Dirk's eyes widen in something dangerously close to pity.
"Your parents dying wasn't your fault," he says softly, and Todd knows that, but it's not the point. It's never been the point.
"We were barely speaking when they died," he says, "and they were broke. That was my fault."
"Don't," he says. He stands up, his feet itching. "Don't feel sorry for me. I'm not a charity case. I made my own decisions."
"Is that what you think I am?" Dirk asks, quietly. "A charity case?"
"What?" Todd turns around and sees Dirk frowning, his shoulders hunched defensively. "No! Dirk..."
When he reaches out, Dirk doesn't flinch away like he was half-expecting, and his hand lands awkwardly on Dirk's arm, clutching uselessly at his jacket. He moves to stand in front of him. Dirk avoids his eyes.
"Dirk," he says again. "I don't think that. You made something of yourself. You're a detective. You're you. They couldn't take that from you."
Dirk raises his eyes from where they're fixed on Todd's chest and looks at his face.
"So are you," he says. "You made something of yourself too."
"It doesn't mean I should forget the people I hurt."
"You don't have to forget," Dirk says. He hesitates, and then puts a hand on Todd's waist, sliding down a little on the hood of the car. Todd becomes acutely aware he's standing between Dirk's legs. "Just... let it fade a little. You're allowed."
"You don't understand," Todd says, his heart thumping. But god, he wants Dirk to understand. He wants to let go a little, just here and now, just for a minute.
"I understand enough," Dirk says. "You hold on to the bad things you've done. You use them to attack anyone who gets close. Then no one can ever use them against you first."
Todd closes his eyes. He feels Dirk's fingers brush his hair, and then his cheek.
"It's okay," Dirk says. Todd can't bring himself to open his eyes, but Dirk keeps talking. "As it happens, I think you're quite a good person, and I think that maybe you did some bad things when you were nineteen, and I think those things can both be true."
Todd takes a deep breath and looks Dirk in the eye.
"I'm sorry," he says.
"Sorry for what?"
"For freaking out," Todd says. "For being an asshole. For implying that I was brainwashed into having a crush on you."
"So you... don't think that," Dirk says. "Just to be clear."
"No," Todd says, ducking his head. "I never really thought that. It's just... Dirk, I've known you for a week, and I–"
"What?" Dirk says softly.
"I'm not good at this. I don't have anyone–or, I don't remember having anyone–who expects things from me. Who wants things from me." He clears his throat. "Who I maybe... want things from too. I guess I panicked."
"Well," Dirk says, his voice unsteady, "I suppose it's possible I overreacted. I was freaking out a little too."
"Yeah?" Todd says, his heart racing. "Why?"
"I kept thinking you were too good to be true," Dirk admits.
Todd lets out a strangled laugh.
"Dirk," he says, "that's crazy. I have no friends. I chose my career–the one good thing in my life–out of guilt because I got caught conning my own parents. Since we met, I've done nothing but push you away. What part of any of that makes you think I'm a catch?"
Dirk smiles at him.
"You saved me," he says.
Todd opens his mouth and closes it again five seconds later, unable to think of a single thing to say.
"When you found me standing over that body," Dirk says, "you grabbed me and took me with you. You let me sleep on your couch. You were still half-convinced I was a murderer, and you asked me if I had enough blankets, and loaned me your spare toothbrush."
He's staring in that weird, intent way he has, and this one time, Todd doesn't try to look away, doesn't clear his throat and change the subject, doesn't resist. He keeps eye contact as Dirk puts his hand on Todd's chest, the same, awkward, endearing gesture as before.
"When the police asked if you'd seen me, you said no. You shook my hand and said you'd be my partner. You kissed me when I was too scared to kiss you."
Todd is breathing fast, heat spreading low in his stomach. Dirk is as shaky and breathless as Todd is, still uncertain under all his declarations, but it doesn't matter. Their momentum is building with every word he says, and Todd's not sure he could turn away now. He leans closer, Dirk's face blurring, Dirk's breath on his cheek.
"Are those reasons enough?" Dirk whispers, his nose brushing Todd's.
Todd closes his eyes and blindly finds Dirk's mouth with his. Something wonderful and almost unbearable shivers through him as Dirk's lips stutter open. Dirk pulls him closer, and they kiss, and kiss.
Dirk's hands sneak under his shirt, leaving trails of goosebumps on his skin, Dirk murmuring nonsense as he kisses Todd's face.
Only it's not nonsense, Todd realises.
"Okay," Dirk is saying, pressing his lips to Todd's cheek, to his eyebrow, to his forehead. "It's okay, you're okay."
Of course, Todd tries to say, of course he's okay. Why wouldn't he be? It takes him a minute to realise the goosebumps have spread across his entire body, and he's shaking apart in Dirk's arms.
"I've got you," Dirk says, breathing fast. "You're okay."
Todd lets out a breath that it feels like he's been holding all week–maybe longer–and feels Dirk breathe it back out in the next beat. The shaking is starting to subside.
"I'm sorry," he says, clinging to Dirk's shoulders. "It's been..."
It's been forever, he wants to say. It's never, ever been this.
"Shh," Dirk says. "I know."
He draws back to look at Todd, his face already a familiar landscape, lit by moonlight.
"It's quite inexplicable," he whispers, raising a hand to brush Todd's cheekbone.
Todd leans forward and finds Dirk's mouth again, the angle becoming more familiar and more precious each time. He kisses him as deep as he can, and Dirk's long fingers rest against his cheek, and Todd thinks that however this whole thing ends, he'll never forget this moment.
Todd wakes up the next morning with a crick in his neck, a sore back, and a dry mouth, curled uncomfortably into a ball in the front seat of his car. It takes him a few seconds to realise that he's not with the band, hungover and surrounded by empty beer bottles and musical equipment, but on the run from the law, with a holistic detective asleep opposite him. He watches Dirk for a couple of minutes, postponing the moment when he'll have to move, and remember just how long it's been since he slept in a car.
Eventually he uncurls, wincing, and goes to relieve himself. When he comes back, he sits on the hood of the car and scrubs a hand over his face, wishing he had some coffee. He takes out his phone and starts to do some research.
When Dirk wakes up half an hour later, Todd has already found the address he was looking for, and is looking up the journey time. Dirk practically falls out of the passenger seat, and then stumbles off into the trees, aiming a wave in Todd's general direction. Todd nods good morning, and ducks his head to hide his smile at Dirk's morning hair. God, how did he let this blindside him so completely?
"Have you been up for long?" Dirk asks around a yawn, returning and sitting next to him. Todd looks at him and hesitates, then tells himself not to be such a goddamn wuss, then hesitates some more, his gaze stuck somewhere around Dirk's left ear.
"Todd?" Dirk asks. He sounds concerned.
Todd darts forward and kisses him, quickly. He looks back down at his phone, heart racing.
"No," he says, "I haven't been up for long."
"Oh," Dirk says, voice high-pitched. Todd can see his face turning red out of the corner of his eye. "Well. Good. What, erm. What have you been doing?"
Todd turns to him, grinning.
"Good, old-fashioned detective work."
"Remind me again," Dirk says, as they get out of Todd's car, "who is this person?"
"Jackson," Todd says, eyes peeled for threats as they turn the corner onto Jackson's dingy street. "Holderness's head of security. Big guy, more biceps than brains, doesn't like me very much."
"So you've decided to break into his apartment?" Dirk says. Todd grins, not looking around at him.
"I thought you wanted more practice housebreaking?" Todd says, grabbing Dirk's arm and pulling him into a convenient doorway. He points across the street. "That's his building."
Dirk crowds up behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder and peering past him at the grey apartment block.
"You know," he says dryly, "I'm starting to think all the real detectives who have looked down on me over the years were just blowing smoke if this is what you lot get up to. Most of the breaking and entering this week has been your idea."
"This week hasn't exactly been typical," Todd says, leaning back into Dirk slightly.
"A typical week," Dirk muses. "I've never had one of those. Sounds nice."
Todd turns his head so that his hair brushes Dirk's cheek.
"It's kind of overrated," he admits, and Dirk laughs softly. Todd twists to look at him, already grinning.
Dirk grins back.
"Fire escape," he agrees.
Jackson's apartment is just as much of a dump as Todd expected it to be. The walls are bare apart from one pro-wrestling poster, there's a half eaten bowl of cereal congealing by the sink, and there's a coffee cup full of cigarette butts on the counter. The place isn't dirty, exactly, but it has a stale, greasy air that suggests it's rarely properly cleaned. There's a blanket and a pillow on the couch, suggesting someone's been sleeping there. The whole place smells like wet dog, even though there's no sign of a dog anywhere. Todd wrinkles his nose, looking around.
"Wow," Dirk says, looking at the makeshift cup-ashtray with distaste. "This place is worse than my old flat."
"Let me guess," Todd says, opening a drawer and rifling through a stack of letters and bills. "Fewer cigarette butts, more pizza boxes and cat hair."
"No comment," Dirk says, primly.
Todd rolls his eyes and closes the drawer, moving on to the next one. So far he hasn't seen any federal logos like the one from Jackson's office.
"What are we looking for, exactly?" Dirk says, like it's only just occurring to him to ask.
"Paper trail," Todd says. "I saw some official looking government letters in Jackson's office when I visited the Holderness place. Might have been nothing, but it got me thinking. If they were running experiments, they must have been keeping records. And since their home is now a crime scene, they've probably moved everything they can out of there so the police wouldn't find it."
"And you think they've moved it here?"
"I think it's our best bet. Jackson is a lackey, down to his bones. Stupid, mean, no real ambition. I'm betting Holderness trusts him not to double-cross him as long as he's getting well paid. And as long as there's nothing tying him to the crime, the police can't just bust in here and search the place, which means this is a good place to hide any incriminating evidence, at least temporarily."
"Look at you," Dirk says, grinning at him, "using cold logic and deduction to solve the case. Like that chap with the hat–what's his name?"
"No," Dirk says, brow furrowed, "that doesn't sound right. Wasn't he something to do with football?"
Todd rolls his eyes.
"Check the bedroom," he says, jerking his head towards the other door.
"Bossy," Dirk says, picking his way through the takeout boxes and dirty laundry in the living room. "If we're going to be partners, you're going to have to–"
He cuts off abruptly, going completely still and silent, and Todd turns around to look at him. Dirk doesn't look like he's hurt: he's just standing, holding the door he just opened, staring into the bedroom.
"Dirk?" he asks, cautiously. Dirk doesn't twitch. Todd moves to stand behind him, looking over his shoulder, and freezes, his posture mirroring Dirk's as they both stare, gobsmacked, into the dimly lit room. It is, as Todd guessed, a bedroom, and on the other side of the bed there's a very uncomfortable looking chair, with a very uncomfortable looking man tied to it. He stares at them with wide eyes above his duct tape gag.
"What the hell?" Todd says, at the same time Dirk says,
Todd looks at Dirk, and back at the man in the chair. It's been over ten years since he saw Dr Rhine, and his hairline hasn't fared very well in the interim, but Dirk's right. It's definitely him. He notices that Dirk is shaking next to him–a fine tremor in his limbs, causing his teeth to chatter. He's breathing erratically.
"Shit," Todd mutters, grabbing Dirk's shoulder and steering him back out of the room, closing the door behind them.
"Dirk," he says, guiding Dirk over to the couch and pushing him gently down. He sits next to him, trying to make eye contact, but Dirk just stares straight ahead, his teeth now gritted like he's facing into a stiff wind. Todd hesitantly takes his hand, and Dirk's eyes drop shut, his breath escaping in a shaky whoosh.
"Hey," Todd says, "it's okay." He strokes his thumb across the back of Dirk's hand.
"He–" Dirk starts, and then swallows, opening his eyes and squeezing Todd's hand. "I saw him, and I–I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to be sorry for," Todd says, firmly. Dirk looks at him properly for the first time in minutes, and Todd adds his terrified expression to his ever-expanding list of reasons to kick Riggins' ass.
"I know he's tied up," Dirk whispers, "but all I could think was–he's going to take me back."
"The hell he is," Todd says, fiercely. "If he wants to get near you, he'll have to go through me first, Dirk. I'll kick his ass, I swear–"
Dirk makes a noise and kisses him, his mouth bruising Todd's, his hands coming up to frame Todd's face, and Todd's brain does cartwheels for a few seconds before he gets on board and kisses back.
"Dirk," he gasps, pulling back, "this isn't really–"
"The time or the place," Dirk agrees, breathily. "Right, sorry. You're just... you're a bloody miracle, do you know that?"
Todd stares at Dirk's mouth, lost for words.
"When this is over..." Dirk whispers, his thumb tracing Todd's jaw reverently.
Todd kisses him again, softer, sweeter.
"Later," he says, resting his forehead against Dirk's.
"Later," Dirk agrees. He drops a kiss on Todd's cheek, and Todd's heart constricts painfully.
Dirk pulls back and smooths his hands over his knees, straightens his tie and his jacket.
"Well," he says, the corner of his mouth turning up sheepishly as he glances at Todd. "That's one way to derail a panic attack."
"I don't think I'm supposed to agree with that," he says, standing up with some effort.
When he looks down at Dirk, he's looking up at him with an expression of such affection that Todd manages to forget for a second that he's in the world's most depressing apartment, with a morally dubious scientist bound and gagged in the next room.
He clears his throat awkwardly.
"We should probably..."
"Right, yes," Dirk says reluctantly, his eyes darting towards the bedroom.
"Do you want to wait out here?"
"No," Dirk says, standing up. "I've got your back."
Todd nods at him, and turns back to open the door, Dirk right behind him.
He was maybe a little rougher than necessary when he ripped the duct tape off, but other than that, Todd thinks he's doing pretty well. The man who blackmailed him all those years ago, who stole from Jenny, who makes Dirk quake and hyperventilate just by looking at him, is looking at him steadily, his head held high, and Todd has spent the last three minutes successfully not punching him.
"So," Todd says, folding his arms. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Dirk mimic the action next to him. "I'm guessing your new career change isn't going so well."
"Probably about as well as yours," Riggins says, calmly. "Finding missing cats and photographing cheating spouses, Todd? Is that why you got into this business?"
"No," Todd says, "I got into this business so I could track down two-bit con artists and stop them kidnapping teenagers and stealing from old ladies. How am I doing?"
"So far," Riggins says, "you're not doing much at all. It's dumb luck that you've stumbled on me here, and even if you kill me, you won't stop Claude Holderness. He's too well-connected for that."
His eyes flick to Dirk, calculating. "Besides, you never were fond of violence, were you, Svlad?"
"That's not my name anymore," Dirk says, shakily. Todd takes a moment, thinks Svlad, but now's not the time to get caught up in backstory.
Riggins smiles blandly.
"Dirk, then. Todd Brotzman has a history of manipulation. Whatever he has you wrapped up in, you don't have to go along with it. We can protect you from the police. You don't have to stay with him."
"We?" Dirk says, sounding angry. "Who's we? You and the people who tied you to a chair? Going to put in a word with Claude, are you? Exert your influence?"
"And for your information," Dirk says, loudly, "I trust Todd! I don't know why on earth you think I would trust you."
"In case you haven't noticed," Todd says, "your credibility is kinda low right now."
"That's understandable," Riggins says, evenly. "However, I think you'll find that I'm your best source of information, unless you're planning on approaching Claude Holderness yourself. Even if you somehow get past the police surrounding his house, I doubt he'll be very forthcoming."
"Why did you kidnap my sister?" Todd asks. "She's not... she can't do what Dirk does."
"Are you sure of that?" Riggins asks, mildly. He leans back in his chair as if he and Todd are sharing a casual lunch and no one is tied up, or breaking and entering.
"You're telling me my sister is psychic?" Todd says, dubiously.
"Why do you think we were interested in you in the first place, Todd?" Riggins looks impatient, like he expected Todd to catch on faster.
"Pararibulitis," Dirk says, softly.
Todd glances at him. "What?"
"You said you had the disease," Dirk says, staring at Riggins, "and he said he could cure you. He wanted to study you, see how it worked. And your sister has it too."
"And she was a much easier target," Riggins says. "Parents dead, highly reclusive due to her condition. You were the only one who would have come looking, so you were the only one we needed to wipe."
"So, pararibulitis... it's a psychic thing?" Todd looks uncertainly at Dirk.
"Pararibulitis is a product of a unique type of psychic energy. It doesn't manifest the way ESP usually does, although sometimes sufferers find themselves with heightened intuition, or even limited prognostic abilities. But even when these abilities are not present, the energy can be harvested. And the sufferers can interact with certain... artefacts in our possession in ways that we cannot."
"Artefacts?" Dirk says. "You never tried to get me to use any artefacts. What does that even mean?"
"Do any of these artefacts cause memory loss?" Todd asks. He can feel his face turning red, rage slowly rising up the back of his throat.
"Yes," Riggins says, unruffled. "The artefact we acquired just over a decade ago can, among other things, bury a subject's memories when wielded by someone with the correct psychic profile. Unfortunately, subjects of that nature are not always cooperative with our goals. We've been trying to find an effective way to harvest psychic energy, so that we can... cut out the middleman, as it were."
"So you kidnapped Amanda," Todd says, ignoring the stab of pain when he says her name, "And you erased my memories of her, so that you could use her as a human battery."
"Todd," Dirk says, quietly. Todd closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. If he looks at Riggins right now, he's going to do something inadvisable.
"What is this artefact?" Dirk asks. "What does it look like? Who has it now?"
"I can't tell you that, Icarus," Riggins says, sternly, and Todd's eyes snap back open.
"Do not," he takes a step closer, hands clenched, "fucking call him that."
Riggins looks at him, and then back at Dirk.
"My apologies," he says, politely.
Todd looks around at Dirk, sees his lips pressed together unhappily.
"We've got everything useful we can out of him," he says, turning his back on Riggins to talk to Dirk. "I say we keep searching the place and see if there's anything we can use."
Dirk drags his eyes from Riggins' face and back to Todd, his mouth opening–
"Shit," Todd says, his eyes flicking to the bedroom door at the unmistakeable sound of a key in a lock. He looks back at Dirk, whose eyes are wide.
All things considered, Todd reflects, trying not to get jabbed by Dirk's apparently numerous elbows, there are worse people to be trapped in a closet with. A literal closet, with absolutely no symbolic relevance to Todd's life or relationship choices. He feels Dirk's breath on the back of his neck and shivers. He hopes Jackson doesn't decide to hang up his jacket alongside the fifteen identical jackets that Todd is currently wedged up against. He hopes the duct tape he picked up from the floor and slapped back onto Riggins' mouth stays where it is, and Jackson doesn't take it off to ask him how his day's been. He hopes he remembered to put his phone on silent when they jimmied Jackson's window open.
He hopes a lot of things. He's in a very hopeful state of mind.
He feels Dirk shift slightly behind him, resting a reassuring hand on his waist. Most of all, he hopes Dirk, who has been kicked around by Riggins and his ilk for most of his life, won't regret their latest foray into highly incompetent burglary. He closes his eyes against the realisation of the sheer scale of what he would do to protect Dirk. The feeling is familiar, but new all at once. He guesses he felt this protectiveness towards Amanda, too. As he listens to Jackson banging around in the next room, he hopes that someday soon, he can meet his sister, and introduce her to his irritating, socially inept boyfriend, and no one will be trapped in closets, or basements, or CIA facilities.
He hears the bedroom door open, and his hopes abruptly become a lot simpler, crystallising into a single sentence:
Don't open the closet, he thinks. Please. Behind him, Dirk seems to be holding his breath.
"Bring 'em in here," Jackson's voice calls. "We'll tie them up with the old man. Bring in a couple of chairs, too."
There's the sound of more people shuffling in, and suddenly a panicked Mmmm! Mmmmmpf! that Todd presumes is coming from Riggins.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" Jackson says, annoyed. "Masterson, am I talking to myself? Get the chairs and tie these two up. Ramirez, call the boss. Make sure he's on his way."
"Sure thing," Ramirez says.
Mmmmmpf, Riggins says, urgent, and Jackson sighs noisily. There's a ripping sound that's presumably him removing the duct tape. Todd tenses, but the first thing Riggins says is,
"Marzanna. You have to get her away. Somewhere secure. She's dangerous, she'll kill us all, you have to–"
"What–her?" Jackson sounds dubious. "She don't look so tough."
Bart laughs, a coarse, gravelly sound.
"Neither do you, pal," she informs him.
"Don't talk back to me," Jackson says, his voice low. "I guarantee you, you'll regret it."
"Jackson," someone says, and Todd starts as he recognises the cold, cultured voice of Claude Holderness. "What is this?"
"Sir," Jackson says, "I apprehended these two lurking near your residence in a stolen vehicle. They were armed, and they have one of Brotzman's business cards."
"Brotzman?" Holderness asks. "The PI?"
"Yes, sir," Jackson says. "I thought we should question them further."
"Claude," Riggins says, his voice rising. "This is project Marzanna. She's a highly dangerous and volatile assassin. She killed numerous guards while she was at Blackwing. She needs to be taken to a secure facility."
"I'm sorry, sir," Jackson says. "I'll gag him again."
"You will not," Holderness says, sharply. "Call for Ramirez and Masterson to take these two to a secure facility immediately, you imbecile."
"Yes, sir," Jackson says, sullen.
"Any other tips for me, Colonel?" Holderness asks, dryly.
"As a matter of fact, yes," Riggins says. "There are a couple of private detectives in the closet."
The closet door is yanked open, and Todd winces, partly at the sunlight hitting his eyes, and partly at the sight of Jackson, chest heaving like a bad-tempered gorilla. He yanks Todd and then Dirk out of the closet, and moves to stand behind Holderness, glowering at them and pointedly displaying his gun. Riggins shoots them a vaguely apologetic look from his chair. Ken is staring from his own chair, eyes wide. Bart is squinting absently at a spider in the corner of the ceiling.
"Mr Brotzman," Holderness says. "I thought we had an understanding that you would walk away from my family's affairs."
"At the time," Todd says, "I didn't understand what was at stake."
Two goons in identical black suits appear in the doorway. Todd wonders if Jackson picks them out of some kind of henchman display at Costco–generic lackeys stacked to the ceiling.
"Take these two to a secure facility," Jackson instructs them, gesturing to Bart and Ken. They move forward immediately, untying them from the chairs but leaving their wrists bound together.
"Where are you taking them?" Dirk asks, looking at Holderness.
"I'm taking them to a secure facility," he says, impassively.
"You mean a prison," Todd says.
Holderness looks at him.
"Mr Brotzman, this woman killed my son. I'm merely taking precautions."
Todd grits his teeth.
"I didn't kill him," Bart says, looking unconcerned by the black suited man gripping her arm.
Dirk stares at her.
"But you said–"
"Dude I killed was a guard. He was wearing a uniform. Not dressed fancy like this guy."
Todd turns to look at Holderness, his blood cold.
"You killed him. You killed your own son!"
"Sydney jeopardised everything. He hired you to look into that Spring girl, because he knew you would end up looking into me. If he hadn't invited you to our house, you never would have remembered you had a sister, and we all could have lived peacefully."
"You're a monster," Todd tells him. He feels sick. Sydney had wanted his help. Sydney tried to do the right thing.
"That's a tad melodramatic, don't you think? You've hardly been a paragon of familial loyalty yourself."
Todd flushes red. He doesn't think he's ever been even close to this angry.
"Take them to the safehouse," Holderness says to the lackeys, and they nod, escorting Bart and Ken from the room.
There's a heavy silence in the room for a few moments. Todd glances sideways at Dirk and sees his chin is raised defiantly, eyes bright. He feels a surge of fierce pride, and looks back at Holderness, squaring his shoulders.
Holderness's mouth twists unpleasantly as he looks between Todd and Dirk.
"You two," he says, adjusting his cuffs, "are going to be an inconvenience."
Before anyone can say anything further, there's a banging noise from outside, followed by a chorus of yells.
"What's going on out there?" Holderness demands sharply.
Riggins turns his head, craning his neck to see out the window while tied to a chair. His lips purse at whatever he sees.
"Project Incubus have arrived," he says, looking up at Holderness, who clenches his jaw. "And they've teamed up with Marzanna."
"Ramirez," Jackson says, tapping his earpiece. "Masterson. Does anyone copy? What the hell's going on?"
"Ramirez is dead," Riggins says, matter of factly, still looking down to the street below. "And Masterson is... occupied."
"What's going on?" Todd mutters to Dirk.
"It's the Rowdy 3," Dirk says, quietly. "Bart said they'd show up."
"Call for backup," Holderness says to Jackson. "Now."
"Already on the way, sir."
"It'll be too late," Riggins says, placidly. "Even if it's not, that ruckus will attract the police before long."
"Well, what do you suggest, Colonel?" Holderness snaps. There are beads of sweat standing out on his forehead, Todd notices.
"Icarus," Riggins says.
"What?" Dirk squeaks.
"He can use the device to wipe their memories. He's powerful enough to do it, with the proper motivation."
Jackson immediately swings his gun up to point at Todd's head.
"How's this for motivation?" he asks, his eyes flicking to Dirk.
"Please," Dirk says, quickly. "I'll do whatever you ask. Just don't hurt him."
"Dirk," Todd grits out.
"No," Dirk says, "shut up. I'm not letting them shoot you."
"That's a sensible choice, Mr Gently," Holderness says. "I'm glad you're seeing reason."
He reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a gold fob watch, holding it out for Dirk to take.
Jenny's watch, Todd thinks, dizzy. The artefact is Jenny's old watch.
"No funny business," Holderness says, "or your friend gets shot. You understand?"
Dirk nods, staring at the watch. Todd waits until he's moved halfway across the room, away from Todd's side and towards Holderness, before he rushes forward and grabs Jackson's wrist, forcing it upwards as he tackles him to the ground. A shot fires into the ceiling, and plaster sprays down on them all. Todd hopes with all his soul there's no one in the apartment upstairs.
"Todd!" Dirk yells, terrified.
Jackson grunts as they both go down, the gun flying out of his hand as Todd lands on top of him. He rolls Todd over and tries to pin him, his beefy arms straining and his rancid breath puffing in Todd's face.
"Dirk!" he yells, struggling against Jackson. "Dirk, the watch!"
He sees Dirk's eyes widen, sees him dive for the watch, but he's not fast enough–Holderness takes a swing and lands a solid blow to Dirk's jaw, sending him sprawling to the ground with a grunt.
"Dirk!" Todd yells again. He puts all his energy into one mighty heave, and manages to startle Jackson enough to knee him in the balls. Jackson lurches away, groaning, at the same moment Holderness picks up the watch and pushes down the knob on the top, muttering to himself. Dirk, who had been struggling back to his feet, yells and falls down again, clutching at his head.
Todd grabs Jackson's gun from the ground and runs over to Dirk.
"Dirk?" he says, kneeling beside him. "Dirk, are you okay?"
Dirk looks up, lowering his hands and blinking. His eyes take a few seconds to focus on Todd, and then he smiles.
"Hello!" he says. "Sorry, who are you?"
"Oh you have got to be shitting me," Todd mutters, grabbing Dirk and heaving him to his feet.
"Come over here," he says, dragging an obliging Dirk to the other side of the room, beside Riggins, who looks, for the first time, a little agitated.
Holderness is still between them and the door. Todd swings the gun up just as Jackson drags himself up, glowering.
"Stay where you are," Todd says to him, hopefully sounding calmer than he is. "Holderness, get over there with him."
Holderness doesn't move, still sitting quietly on the ground by the door.
"Holderness," Todd says louder, "I'm not messing around here. Get up, and stand against the wall."
Holderness turns his head slightly, looking terrified. His eyes dart around the room like he's looking for someone. Todd feels his stomach drop in realisation.
"Oh, for–hey!" he says, waving his gun at Holderness. "That's you! You're Holderness!"
Holderness's eyes widen.
"Oh!" he says, heaving himself unsteadily to his feet. "I'm sorry! I don't know what's happening. Are you a friend of mine?"
"No," Todd says. "I'm the guy with the gun. Get over there next to Jackson. That's the big dumb guy without any gun."
Jackson glares at him.
"I'll get you for this, Brotzman."
"Sure you will," Todd says, distractedly. "Dirk, get the watch."
"Dirk is me, yes?" Dirk says. Todd resists the urge to scream.
"Yes," he says, "Dirk is you. Get that watch, and bring it over here. Don't push the thing on the top."
"Got it," Dirk says, darting over to pick up the watch. He returns to Todd's side, holding it gingerly, and gives him an enthusiastic thumbs up.
"How are you not freaking out?" Todd asks, watching bemusedly as Dirk peers curiously around the bedroom.
"Seems like rather an interesting situation," he says, "and no one is actively trying to hurt me. I'm just going wait and see what happens."
"Of course," Todd says. "We should get out of here. The police will be here soon–"
"The police?" Holderness looks suddenly fearful. "I can't be here when the police arrive!"
"Why not?" Todd says.
Holderness opens his mouth, lets it hang there a moment, and then closes it again.
"I... I don't know," he says. He looks at Jackson. "Do you know why I want to avoid the police?"
"No, sir," Jackson says. "I don't know a blessed thing."
"I sense that you're lying," Dirk says, "but I'm not sure where that instinct is coming from."
"Trust it," Todd advises him.
"Don't trust it," Jackson says, glaring. "You, with the watch! Why are you listening to him? You come to with no memories, in a room with three guys being held at gunpoint, and you automatically trust the guy with the gun? He's a criminal, you moron! Help us!"
Dirk looks between them uncertainly, and then down at the watch in his hand. He takes a step away from Todd.
"Dirk," Todd says, keeping the gun trained on Jackson. "Don't listen to him. I know you don't remember me right now, but we're friends. We're–we're more than friends, we're..."
Dirk hisses, grabbing his head.
"See," Todd says, reaching a hand out, "they buried your memories. That's why it hurts when you try to remember me."
"But I don't remember anything," Dirk says, panicking. "I don't know who you are–I don't know who I am! You could be a criminal, pretending to be my friend so that I'll aid and abet you! You keep calling me Dirk, but for all I know, my name could be... Stanley! Stanley the chartered accountant, being bamboozled into helping with crime!"
"Your name is Dirk Gently," Todd says, "and you're a holistic detective. You like milkshakes, and frozen yoghurt, but only sometimes, and only when it's mint chocolate chip. You like to wear bright colours, and you have three teapots for some reason, and you're too nice and too trusting of people, but overall you have pretty good instincts."
Dirk is staring at him, the watch held loosely in his hand. Todd swallows, his eyes darting back to Jackson, glaring at them from the bed.
"Dirk," he says, "come on. You know me. I know it hurts to remember, but you know me."
"My boss is an old man," Jackson says, and Dirk starts, and looks over at him. "He's confused, and scared, and I'm trying to protect him. Your friend stole his watch and is threatening his life!"
"I don't..." Dirk looks at Todd, and then at the watch. "I don't know..."
"Dirk," Riggins says, quietly. "Your friend is telling the truth. You do know each other."
Todd looks at him, surprised. Dirk shifts from foot to foot, biting his lip.
"Okay," Todd says, moving towards him. Dirk flinches back, and Todd holds his hands up, trying to look non-threatening.
"Here," he says, offering Dirk the butt of the gun. "Take it."
Dirk backs away from the gun, drawing his arms up protectively like Todd is offering him a live snake.
"You take the gun until the police arrive. Even if you don't remember me, I remember you. And I trust you."
"Oh," Dirk says, looking faintly horrified, "no, I don't think that's a good idea. I believe you."
Todd lowers the gun to his side.
"Yes," Dirk says, relaxing a little now that Todd is no longer offering him a gun. "I have a good feeling about you, uh..."
"Todd," Dirk agrees, smiling at him. "You know, it's funny–"
"For Christ's sake!" Jackson yells, and Todd sees a flash of a shiny black suit in the corner of his eye before he's tackled to the ground.
"Todd!" Dirk yells.
"Ow," Todd says, squirming. "Get off me, asshole!"
"I don't think so," Jackson says, grabbing for the gun. "Gimme my gun back, you twerp."
"Hey," Dirk says, "that's rude!"
He holds the watch up, a determined look on his face.
Dirk narrows his eyes at Jackson, and presses the button on top of the watch. Jackson goes limp.
"What the–" Todd wriggles out from under Jackson's dead weight as quickly as possible and lumbers upright, panting.
"Did it work?" Dirk asks.
Todd meets his eyes and shrugs. They both look back down at Jackson's prone form and Dirk pokes him with his toe.
"What? I'm just checking." Dirk nudges at Jackson again, calling softly, "Hello? Mister Thug?"
Jackson groans and sits up, and Todd freezes mid-eyeroll, pointing the gun at him.
"Where am I?" he blinks up at Todd. "Where's my dad? You're not my dad!"
"Oh, um" Todd says, hiding the gun behind his back. Jackson's lip starts to tremble. "Uh, shit–sorry–"
"There, there," Dirk says, crouching down to pat Jackson on the shoulder. "Why don't you come and sit on the bed next to this nice gentleman?"
He leads Jackson over to the bed by the hand.
"Hello," Mr Holderness says, nervously. "Have you calmed down a little? There was a lot of shouting."
Jackson looks at him suspiciously. "You smell funny."
"Christ," Todd mutters.
"Todd!" Dirk admonishes. "Don't swear in front of him!"
"Are you serious?" Todd blows out a breath, adjusting his grip on the gun. "Never mind. Look, just–get your memories back. Do the... thing."
He waves the gun inarticulately.
"The thing?" Dirk says, skeptically.
"Yeah," Todd says. "The thing you just did to Jackson. But. Reversed."
"It doesn't work like that," Riggins says. Todd turns to glare at him.
"What do you mean?"
"Anyone with basic psychic abilities can operate the watch," Riggins says. "They can guide it using their own intentions. But using it on yourself is far more dangerous. We've had test subjects permanently wipe their own memories trying to do that. It requires a higher level of training. Or one of the original watch bearers."
"Watch bearers?" Todd asks. "What–no, never mind. I don't care. Just tell me how we get Dirk's memories back."
"Someone else has to do it," Riggins says. "He can't perform it on himself. It'll have to be either me or Holderness–we're the only ones who absorbed enough psychic energy."
"You mean in your human battery farm," Todd says, and Riggins looks down in what might be real shame. Todd can't tell anymore. He glances over at Holderness, who is worrying absently at this thumbnail with his teeth, staring vacantly at the carpet. From outside, Todd hears Bart whooping, and the sound of raucous laughter. He looks back at Riggins.
"You just want me to untie you," he says. "How do I know you won't wipe my memories too?"
Riggins looks at him steadily.
"Because I want to make amends," he says. "Because I'm tired of hurting people."
"Todd," Dirk says, edging up beside him. "I have a feeling we should trust him."
Todd looks at him, surprised.
"Yes," Dirk says, brow furrowed. "I'm not sure why."
"That's kind of your thing," Todd tells him. He looks back at Riggins.
"Okay," he says, "but remember I'm the one with the gun."
He watches closely as Dirk unties Riggins, watches him stand up with a grunt and shake some life back into his limbs before Dirk hands him the watch. Riggins puts his thumb lightly on the button, and looks at Dirk as he presses it. Todd holds his breath.
"Ungh," Dirk says, dropping to his knees. He's breathing fast, clutching his head.
"What's happening?" Todd says, panic rising, trying to decide whether to kneel next to Dirk or keep the gun trained on Riggins.
"It's normal," Riggins says. "Memories resurfacing can be a little disconcerting. His weren't gone for long, he'll be fine in a minute. Yours will be a little more tricky."
"Mine?" Todd says, raising the gun higher. "Mine can wait. I didn't agree to–"
"Tell him I'm sorry for everything," Riggins says, pressing the button before Todd can react. The pain screams through his brain like a lightning storm, and for a while, the universe goes dark.
When Todd comes around, his head is killing him, and there seem to be a thousand people talking around him all at once.
"Todd!" Dirk scrambles over to him. "Are you alright? Do you know who I am? Who's the president?"
Todd blinks at him.
"Dirk, do you even know that?"
"Not exactly," Dirk admits, helping him sit up slowly, "but I'm sure someone in here does."
Todd looks around, blinking as the pain in his head starts to clear.
Bart and Ken are lurking by the doorway, and the Rowdy 3 are watching, arms folded menacingly, as Estevez guides a placid, blank-faced Riggins out of the room. He looks at Todd as he passes, and there's absolutely no recognition in his eyes. Estevez nods at him. Todd can hear Jackson and Holderness from the hallway, still bickering in disconcertingly childish tones. Holderness sounds like he's crying.
"Riggins wiped his own memories," Dirk says, quietly. "I suppose he didn't want to think about all the things he'd done."
Todd squeezes his hand.
"Yes," Dirk says, his mouth quirking in a poor attempt at a smile. "Or, at least I will be. I think there's someone waiting to speak to you."
He nods towards the doorway, and Todd turns his head.
His eyes light on a familiar face, and suddenly his head is flooded with images, memories seeping into every available space, vivid and liquid and his. "Amanda," he gasps. She grins at him.
"I can't believe you forgot who I was," she says, watching Todd struggle to his feet. "Weak, dude. The weakest."
He stumbles over and hugs her tight, and she hugs him back.
"I'm sorry," he says, into her hair. "Amanda, I'm so sorry I didn't look for you–"
"It's okay," she says. "It's okay, it wasn't your fault."
When he pulls back, her eyes are shiny.
"You're crying," he says, stupidly. She punches him in the arm. Hard.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"
Todd starts, and turns around to see Dirk hovering awkwardly a few feet away, wringing his hands and half-watching them.
"Dirk," he says, and before he can think about it too much, he strides over to him, grabs his face, and kisses him, hard. Dirk makes a surprised noise and kisses back. Todd feels dizzy.
"You're okay?" Todd says, pulling back. "Dirk, are you–"
"Yes," Dirk says, his hands fluttering uncertainly before landing on Todd's hips, "yes, I'm fine. Are you?"
"A little confused," Todd says. "Everything is... swimming, a little."
"It's alright," Dirk says, his fingers tightening on Todd's hips. He smiles and leans closer, like he's about to tell Todd a secret. "We solved it."
"Yeah," Todd says, turning to look at Amanda, who's grinning at them both. "I'm calling this one a win."
Two days later, after a night in hospital, a series of extremely confusing conversations with the police, and some half-heated attempts by him and Dirk at doing paperwork, Todd pulls into Jenny Packard's street for the third time in a week. This time with two people in tow.
The police found extensive documentation of the Holdernesses' experiments in Riggins' apartment, and several emails from Sydney to an ex-girlfriend detailing his father's violent behaviour and fearing for his life. Todd's still not sure how Black and Estevez are going to explain his and Dirk's statements to Chief Zimmerfield, but it's looking like neither of them is going to prison right now, so they'll take anything else as it comes.
He rings Jenny's doorbell with butterflies in his stomach, until Dirk's hand slips into his and he takes a deep breath, steadying himself.
"Todd!" Jenny smiles when she opens the door. "Dirk! How nice. And, uh..." she peers past them curiously. "I'm afraid I don't know you."
"Jenny," Todd says, "can we come in? We have a lot to tell you."
"Of course," she says, stepping back and gesturing them inside. "Any friends of yours are always welcome here, Todd."
Todd stands back to let Dirk go in ahead, chattering to Jenny. As Mitch walks past him, Todd catches her eye and nods. She nods back, slipping her hand into her pocket and taking out a gold watch.
Once they're all settled on Jenny's overstuffed furniture–Todd and Dirk on the couch, Mitch in the armchair mirroring Jenny's–Jenny looks at him expectantly.
"What is it you wanted to tell me, Todd?"
"Jenny," Todd says, edging forward on the cushions. "Do you remember the last time I was here and we spoke about Dr Rhine?"
"The man who stole my watch?"
"Yeah," Todd says, glancing at Mitch, who looks petrified. "Well... we got your watch back."
Jenny's silver eyebrows raise, her mouth opening silently.
"I..." she manages, after a moment. "Good. I'm glad. My mother gave me that watch. At least, I think she did."
"Yes," Mitch says, and Jenny turns to look at her. "She did. That watch has been handed down through your family for generations. When that man took it and brought it to my idiot nephew, he thought he could turn it to his own ends. But you're the true keeper of it, Jenny. He never should have taken it from you. It's linked to your mind in ways he doesn't understand."
Jenny's eyes are shining as she stares at Mitch.
"You seem so familiar," she whispers. "But I get so confused sometimes..."
"I know," Mitch chokes out. She takes a breath. "I know you do, dear. We're going to fix that. Just know, before I give this to you, that if I'd known you were alive, they never would have kept me from you. Not for a single day."
Todd turns to look at Dirk, who is watching, enraptured. He puts his hand on Dirk's knee and squeezes, looking back at Jenny as Dirk's hand covers his.
"I don't understand," Jenny says, looking at Todd and back at Mitch. "I don't know what's happening."
Mitch reaches over and presses the watch into Jenny's hand.
"Just trust your gut," she whispers. "That's all you have to do. It knows you."
Jenny looks down at the watch, her eyes sharpening and her breath quickening.
"Same as it ever was," she murmurs, and presses the button.
The room holds its breath–Todd wonders if even Sylvester is watching–and then Jenny looks up at the woman across from her and says "Mitch," and Mitch rises shakily from her chair.
"Jenny," she says, hovering uncertainly, "I'm sorry. We've lost so much time."
Jenny stares at her, still clutching the watch, and then breaks into a brilliant smile, the likes of which Todd has never seen from her.
"Sorry?" she says, fondly. "Why the hell are you sorry? We've been waiting since we were in college to be cranky old biddies. Am I too old for you to kiss now, or what?"
Mitch laughs, her eyes dancing, her hand coming up to cover her mouth.
Todd clears his throat and stands, yanking Dirk up with him.
"We'll, uh... we'll wait outside."
"That was nice," Dirk says, as they stand on the sidewalk in the sunlight.
"Yeah," Todd says, turning his face up into the warm light. "It all turned out... surprisingly not terrible."
"I do feel bad for Sydney Holderness, though," Dirk says, scuffing at the ground with his shoe. "He tried to help. But in the end he died because his own father only saw him as a means to an end."
Todd looks at him. Dirk is frowning at the ground, his arms wrapped around himself unconsciously again.
"Family is complicated," Todd says, carefully. "Sometimes it doesn't have much to do with blood. Sydney's father let him down. It's a pity he didn't have anyone else in his corner."
Dirk looks up at him, and he doesn't quite smile, but the agitation in his face melts away, his eyes softening.
"Yes," he says, "we all need that."
Todd quirks a smile at him and looks across the street at the cherry blossom tree outside his sister's house, just like the one that had been in their parents' garden growing up. He thinks of picnics under the tree on Sundays, of football games with Amanda and his dad. He fingers the Seahawks keychain in his pocket.
"All in all," Dirk says, moving closer to his side, "I'd say a very productive week."
"Yeah," Todd says, still looking at the cherry blossom. He's not sure he can look at Dirk's face for this next part. "For our next case let's pick something quieter, though. Maybe a missing cat."
"Yes," Dirk says, after a moment. He sounds like he's smiling. "A nice quiet case next. Agreed."
Todd chances a look at him, and finds Dirk beaming at his own feet, red spots glowing high in his cheeks, and his jacket the colour of the sun.
The future looks bright.