"Detective O’Conner, how do we know you’re not looking for some personal justice. He got the drop on you, made you look bad. You use us to find him and take him out of this world."
"He didn’t get the drop on me."
"He got your keys, used your car to make his getaway."
"I, uh. Dom didn’t get the drop on me. I gave him the keys."
"Huh. Okay. Thanks for coming in Detective O’Conner. Either my associate, Mr. Didion, or I will be in touch."
Brian shook hands with Harlan Judd who smiled at him sincerely. He turned toward the office door and was met with Chris Didion’s closed expression. He’d slipped into the office as soon as Brian O’Connor had begun to detail what he needed, but he hadn’t said a word. The Detective extended his hand.
"Detective." The handshake lasted the very minimum amount of time necessary to be considered more than a mere brush of hands together. Once the door clicked closed behind the Detective, Chris dropped into the chair opposite Harlan’s desk.
"What d’ya think?"
Didion’s face screwed up in momentary disgust. "About the dirty cop? The same thing I would think about any dirty cop."
"And you claim to know men? Dirty cop? Come on Chris. He made the classic rookie UC mistake. It’s so obvious he fell for the mark. Why else would he want to find him?"
"Because Toretto agreed to cut him in on the hijacking spoils then left him hanging."
"So your objection to taking the case is that he’s crooked."
"This is a no brainer Harlan. Yes, our financial situation is less than good, but we don’t have to take every case."
"That’s not what you said the other day."
"Okay, maybe every other case. Dirty money. That’s heat we don’t want or need. I shouldn’t have to tell you that."
"Okay, Okay. That’s actually not what I was asking your opinion about anyway." Harlan’s eyes drifted to the door, then to Chris, then back to the door. Waiting.
"He was pretty cute don’t you think?"
"Oh no. No, Harlan"
"Come on man. You and the lawyer are done right? When’s the last time you went out with anyone. When’s the last time you got -"
"You should probably stop talking now."
"I mean there was that FBI agent, but frankly I thought he was a little short for you. You and the cop would look cute together."
"So you want us to take this case so that I can date the client."
A huge grin split Harlan’s face.
"Well, he’s obviously got a type." He held up a picture of Dominic Toretto, bald and buff in a sleeveless shirt.
"And like you said we can’t afford to turn cases away. The Detective can pay the retainer and this is easy money. Public enemy number one here is probably either dead or doing time in a Mexican jail for what would have been his third strike stateside. We track him down, give a certain blue eyed looker the news and cash the check. Once we do the job, he won’t be a client anymore. He’ll need someone to pick up the pieces."
"It scares me the way your mind works."
"Look your main objection is the money right? So look into. If O’Conner’s money is clean we take the case."
"He isn’t. And even if he is it’s a win, win for our side. If it turns out they were partners in crime, we solve a case the Feds let go. Find out what happened to the swag. Who wouldn’t want to hire the company that’s better than the Feds? Or we give our client the actual help he needs. Hook him up with a decent law abiding guy."
"Have you been drinking?"
"I have a lunch appointment, you can reach me on the cell if you need to." Smirking at his irritated partner, Harlan sidled out of his office.
Using his FBI connections, Chris Didion was able to get a look at the file the agent in charge of the Toretto case, a Special Agent Bilkins, had compiled. Since September 11th, a lot of the Bureau’s resources had been diverted to anti-terrorism operations and cases like Toretto’s had been knocked to the back, back burner. There was a suggestion in the file that O’Conner had gone ‘native’, but nothing concrete to substantiate it. He’d been found unconscious at the scene of Toretto’s escape. There was a recommendation that O’Conner be put under surveillance, but he couldn’t find an indication that the recommendation was carried out. Instead, O’Conner had been promoted.
Chris combed through Brian O’Conner’s financials and found nothing suspicious. Over the last few years, he’d contributed the maximum allowable to his 401k, kept a savings account with the police credit union. The current balance was ninety six hundred dollars and forty-four cents, minus the exact amount of the Judd Risk Management retainer. There had been no major purchases. It appeared that all O’Conner did was work, very occasionally go out for a beer with fellow detectives and come home. On paper, he was a homebody and the very picture of integrity and financial responsibility. Chris didn’t buy it and figured it was time to go to the source.
Brian smiled to himself as he pulled into his driveway. He knew that Judd Risk Management would check him out. He figured the fact that he’d made Chris Didion, who was parked on his street, not far from his house, meant that they were finished. They were too good to be caught so blatantly.
He didn’t vary from his routine. Opened the garage door with the remote, pulled the car in and entered his house through the door into the kitchen. He had enough time to get completely changed into sweats before the doorbell rang.
Brian opened the door and suddenly there were butterflies in his stomach. If they were going to kick the case back they would have done it over the phone. Chris Didion on his doorstep meant they were taking the case, maybe already had a lead.
"Mr. Didion, come in. Have a seat."
"Thank you Detective."
"Brian, call me Brian."
"Alright Brian." The big man folded himself down onto Brian’s couch as Brian took the adjacent armchair. He held Chris’ steady gaze as the other man appraised him silently, openly.
Just as the silence threatened to become obviously awkward, "I want you to tell me the truth. The entire truth about what went down between you and Dominic Toretto. Explain to me in small words if you have to why you let him go."
"I -, would you like a beer? Surveillance is thirsty work." Brian half rose from his chair.
"No, I’m good." For a second Brian thought about getting a beer for himself anyway. Four years he’d waited and finally...But he wanted to get this right. He didn’t want to screw up his best chance of finding Dom. He reached into a box on the coffee table and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
"You mind if I smoke?"
Didion shrugged. His expression neutral. "You’re the client."
Brian smiled, "Okay, that means you do mind. I don’t really smoke, not anymore. Quit before I went under. Dom doesn’t smoke, no one on the team smoked." He reached to put the pack and lighter back in the box.
"It’s amazing," he continued quietly, "how the littlest things can change your life. A moment, a minute and everything is different. If the car hadn’t blown up, we would have still had that between us, you know. Talking about the racing, about getting away from the police that night, but that part of it was fake for me ‘cause you know it was all set-up, background. There was no way we weren’t going to get away, but he didn’t know that. And I would have had him home in minutes. And we still would have bonded because I helped him get away. I would have been in. But Johnny Tran popping up like that, he was a crazy son of a bitch and we both thought we might die or get maimed or something. And it was real for both of us, a real life threatening situation. And we lived. And on that walk out of the bowels of downtown, looking for a cab, we bonded over something real. I mean I bonded with him. I’d already been watching him for a while, but what went down with Tran bonded me to him. That was even stronger than the cars and the racing. And I was really in. I -"
Suddenly a laugh bubbled out of Brian. It lasted just long enough for Chris to think that the Detective might be losing it.
"I’m sorry. I’ve never said this out loud before. Long story short, I gave Dom my keys because I needed him to be free. I’m not exactly out and proud, but I love him."
"Detective... Brian it’s been four years."
"You know what they say about absence."
"You have to know, his stint in prison notwithstanding, there’s nothing in his jacket to suggest -"
"I know that, I know that. I don’t want you to find him so that I can make some big declaration. The statute is up in a few days. I need to know if he’s alright, if he needs anything. I had some heat attached. The Feds had me under surveillance for about a year after everything went down. I couldn’t take that risk with his life. I’m pretty sure I’m mostly off the radar now, but -"
"You’re not ready to take that chance."
"Not with his life, no. In case something is still in the wind."
"Here’s my card. You know the drill. If you think of anything else relevant call me. I’ll be in touch."
"Thank you, thank you." A huge relieved grin spreads across Brian’s face. "Thank you."
As Chris began to stand...
"Was it easy for you? Coming out? Being out?"
"I was never really in."
"In or out you haven’t exactly picked the least complicated road."
"No, but I don’t know what else to do."
Didion stood and watched as Brian reached into the box for his cigarettes.
"I’ll be in touch." Brian nodded absently as Didion showed himself to the door.
In the hour Chris had been in the bar he’d already mapped all of the exits and quantified the amount of firepower in the room. The bartender had a shotgun behind the bar and only a couple of the other patrons were strapped. Didion felt sufficiently equipped with a Glock under his left arm, a .45 at his back and his superior FBI training.
Toretto shuffled into the bar, got his drink and took up residence at the other end of the room with his back to the wall. Though Chris recognized him as soon as he walked through the door, he wondered if anyone else would. He wondered if Brian O’Conner would.
The felon had lost some weight and while still imposing at first glance, continued scrutiny suggested it was an effect achieved with smoke and mirrors. Didion couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was something missing. The bald head of his surveillance photos was covered with a short growth of dark hair and a less than neatly trimmed goatee covered his face.
Chris slipped easily from his own booth, glided to Toretto’s and slid in. The other man stiffened and clutched his beer bottle.
"I’m here on behalf of a mutual acquaintance."
Toretto took a long pull from his beer and stared at the man across from him balefully. He’d thought that he might be making a mistake coming so close to the border before the statute was actually up, but he found that he couldn’t resist the urge. He’d needed to get closer.
"I don’t have any acquaintances."
"Six feet tall, blond, blue eyed." Didion watched impassively as Dominic Toretto fought and lost the battle to maintain a poker face. The dark brown eyes dropped to the scratched table top, then he picked up his beer and took a quick sip.
"You think I’m that easy," he growled low. "You want me to come with you willingly. You want me to walk out of this bar? You’re gonna have to take me out of this bar."
Chris leaned forward slightly and let his jacket fall open just enough. Dom’s eyes flicked briefly to the shoulder holster.
"Believe me Mr. Toretto, if I wanted to take you out of this bar, you would have been cuffed and face down on the hood of my car before you even stepped into this dump," Didion replied conversationally.
"What does golden boy want?"
"What would you like him to want?"
A dark, murderous look crossed the felon’s face, but his hand shook when he lifted the beer to his mouth again.
Chris knew men and he had a sudden suspicion about Dominic Toretto, but in the moment he couldn’t say which way things were going to fall.
There was still a slight tremor in the large hand as it placed the beer carefully on the table. His gaze shifted to the wall, to the bartender, to the door before finally settling again on the man in front of him.
"Is he...is he okay?"
"The Detective would like to see you." Didion watched as brown eyes widened slightly. He’d chosen to refer to Brian by his title on purpose. He’d been looking for the quick flash of anger, the spark of rage the man’s rap sheet showed him capable of. Brian O’Conner had made his bones on Dominic Toretto’s back. But there was no anger, no rage only surprise and what looked like relief.
Didion slid his card across the table. "Think about it. Call me."
Chris watched as Brian sauntered toward the man who sat casually on the hood of a black Honda like it could have been any night, anywhere. Like he hadn’t sounded ragged and maybe just a little drunk when he’d called Didion’s cell less than an hour after their encounter in the bar. The investigator’s objection to Brian’s willingness to head south for the meeting had been passionate, but gone unheeded.
He watched Toretto watching O’Conner. The felon’s eyes hadn’t wavered since the lanky blond stepped out of Chris’ car.
As his client got closer to Toretto, the felon’s posture straightened. Transformed. When he was within arms distance, Toretto took a step away from the car and pulled O’Conner into a tight embrace.
Didion kept watching. Brian was still his client. Until he was formally released from the assignment, it was his responsibility to watch the other man’s back both literally and figuratively. He was willing to concede, as unlikely as it seemed, that Toretto had feelings for his client. In the flesh it was more than palpable, but Toretto was also living a markedly downscale life and the Detective was no small part of that. Didion adjusted his stance slightly so that it would be easier to reach the .45 at his back.
Watching as each man’s hands moved from bicep, to shoulder, to cheek as if confirming the truth of the others existence. The non-professional in Chris Didion admitted to himself that Brian O’Conner and his felon were very striking together. The directional microphone concealed in the grill of his car allowed him to pick up the men’s muted tones in his tiny earpiece.
"You painted my car black."
"Turns out cosmic orange is not the best color for a getaway car."
"What’s this?" Chris watched as Brian tugged gently on the goatee.
"I don’t like it."
"All of it."
Dom ran his hand over his head.
Chris knew men and what he heard in that simple affirmative was a promise, what he knew was that if Dominic Toretto had any ulterior motive it mostly involved getting the good detective some version of horizontal as quickly as possible.
And it struck him that he was happy for his client. Happy that there weren’t going to be any pieces to pick up. It startled him a little to realize that he might not have minded so much if there had been.
O’Conner stroked a finger across Toretto’s cheek and stepped back. When he turned toward Chris his brilliant smile lit the night.
And Didion saw exactly what it was that had been missing from Dominic Toretto. With less than concealed amusement, he watched it walk toward him. At the car, Brian leaned into the passenger side and retrieved his duffle bag. Bag clutched firmly in hand, he rounded the front of the car to the driver’s side and pulled Chris into a close one armed hug.
"You saved my life man." The embrace tightened. "You saved both our lives."
In the earpiece, Didion heard the faintest of growls. "I don’t think you want to keep your boy waiting."
Even after the glow from their taillights had long since faded, Didion kept watching the space. It wasn’t like there weren’t already pieces in his own life he should be trying to pick up and super glue together. His thoughts drifted to his own light haired, light eyed looker. If the cop and his felon could get it together, why should a fully medically treatable mental illness separate two people who were good together.
As he folded himself back into his car, the investigator flipped open his cell.
"Hey, it’s me. I’ll be back in the city in about three hours, you wanna meet me for breakfast. Or yeah, I can come over. That would be nice."
As he ended the call and slipped the phone back into his pocket, he wondered if there was any way in hell he could keep Harlan from gloating.