Title: The Anniversary Job
Characters/Pairing: OT3: Eliot/Parker/Hardison, Nate, Sophie, OCs
Word Count: 9,500 ish
Spoilers: The Inside Job, besides that, if you have ever seen the show in the history of ever, then I think you’re good
Warnings: Language, kidfic, casefic, m/m/f sex
Disclaimer: I own nothing. No, seriously, nothing. But if I DID, then even Showtime would be a little “hmm… that’s racy. And seventeen hours long.”
Summary: With their anniversary drawing close, Parker learns about the birthday of sex, finds an apprentice and stumbles into a job for the team. Also wherein Eliot is growly and awesome, Alec is a genius, Sophie is the fastest con in the west… or anywhere, and Nate puts up with all of them.
Notes: For unavoidedcrisis, who apparently REALLY wanted OT3 porn. Hey, I can do that. I tried to get in everything that you wanted but Sterling just refused to come out of the dressing room, (apparently there are two hot guys in a classic car looking for him) sorry… and it ended up kind of… epic. I really hope that you enjoy it. And an ENORMOUS thanks to Morgana for beta and ass-kickery when I needed it and for Gibbs-smacks, also when I needed it. And to neverdevereaux for the additional beta and also for having such pretty, pretty gifs on her page; they are… inspirational. And of course I have to thank the mods for spending so much time on this and giving us another year of amazing porn and also amazing understanding. In this fic I do not have to tell you that the title is from an obscure line of poetry, mostly because I’m about to lose my power to a thunderstorm and so I named it really fast. LOL. What are you still doing up here? Don’t you know there’s porn under the cut?
“Why are we shopping again?” Parker asked, frowning at a pair of blue satin pumps.
Sophie barely blinked from where she was holding up a tiny D&G clutch. “Girl time. Besides, you have an anniversary coming up, you need to shop.”
Parker’s frown got a little panicked. “Anniversary?”
Sophie lowered the blouse she was holding against the clutch and looked at Parker like once again she was trying to figure out what her planet of origin was. “Um… you do remember when you and the boys got together, right?”
“Sure, after the Kauffman heist.”
Sophie sighed delicately. “And in one more week, that will have been a year ago.”
“Is this like birthdays? Am I going to have to remember this too now?”
Sophie put down the pieces she’d been considering and put an arm gently around Parker’s shoulders; she always did this when there were emotional details that Parker was missing, she made sure that Parker felt safe and loved and protected before they started on the lessons that made Parker the most uncomfortable. They walked out of the store and onto the street. “Anniversaries are important. It’s like a birthday for the relationship,” she explained in a sympathetic voice. “There are gifts and romantic evenings-“
“Is there sex?”
“Usually, yes,” Sophie answered patiently. “But it’s more about celebrating your couple-ness.”
“But there are three of us.”
“Yes, which makes it all the more remarkable that it’s been a year. More of something to celebrate.”
“Do Eliot and Hardison know about this? Because, they haven’t mentioned it.”
“Men tend to forget anniversaries, it’s a time-honored tradition.”
“So… if I forget and the two of them forget, because boys forget anniversaries… then why worry about it?”
“Parker, you’re missing the point. A man forgets his anniversary then his partner gets to hold it over his head and get something that they really want.”
“Plus, I already get what I want. If I want something from them, I tell them, and if I want something for myself, I go lift it. So why do there have to be specific dates that you have to remember? I think that if you’re doing it right, then you pay attention all the time, you’re romantic all the time, you have sex all the time… who cares how long you’ve been doing that?”
Sophie sighed and looked at Parker fondly. “I think I know how it is you manage to live with two men.”
But the comment was lost on Parker, whose attention had shifted to a boy of about ten running down the street, his shaggy blonde hair waving like a beacon, there was a uniformed police officer running after him. Parker looked, the way Eliot had taught her, to see if the kid was carrying a weapon, but she didn’t see one. So she stepped out a little and caught the kid, quickly emptying his pockets into her shopping bag.
“Whoa, there… Jesse,” she said, naming the boy quickly. “Easy, you’re only five minutes late.” She gave him a look, trying to tell him to go with it when he tried to struggle away from her.
“Shut up,” she whispered. “He’s too close, you won’t lose him.” She turned to Sophie and nodded once, a small movement that most people wouldn’t even notice and did another quick transfer.
“I told you not to bribe him to get him back here on time,” Sophie said in an upper-crust Boston accent, catching on as quickly as she always did.
Just then the officer came skidding to a halt. “Thanks for catching him, ma’am,” he panted.
“Wait, you were chasing my brother?” Parker questioned. “Jesse, why was the officer chasing you?”
The boy shrugged, his bright blue eyes wide. He knew that he’d been saved, but he didn’t know why.
“Officer?” Sophie prompted.
“I saw him stealing wallets out on the promenade. I just chased him six blocks.”
“Jesse?” Sophie sounded indignant. “You told us you were meeting up with a friend. Honestly, if this is what comes from hanging out with Darien, then I think that we need to have a serious talk when we get home.”
“Now, Gail,” Parker answered, a hand protectively around the boy’s shoulders. “We haven’t even heard his side of it.”
“Lady,” the officer said, sounding exasperated, “his side can be told down at central booking.”
“Jesse, empty your pockets,” Parker demanded. “Show the officer that you didn’t do this.”
“Yeah, kid,” the cop said with a sneer, “empty the pockets.”
Parker nodded at him. “Go on, Jesse.”
The kid gulped and reached into his large jacket pockets. He pulled out a cell phone, a ring with three keys on it and a bag of gummy frogs. He looked confused for a moment.
Parker made a big show of sighing with relief. “See, Gail, I told you that Jesse wouldn’t do that.”
“Officer, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding,” Sophie said, also looking relieved. “I told Jesse that if he was back here on time, then I’ll get him that new game he wanted for his Xbox. Bribe must have worked too well if he didn’t even stop for you.” She turned to the boy again. “Jesse, if a police man tells you to stop, you stop. I don’t care if it makes you late to meet up with us; it’s better than me having to come get you from a police station for a misunderstanding.”
The boy nodded, looking at Sophie like she was some sort of goddess.
The cop looked at the phone and the keys and the bag of gummy frogs like he was trying to decipher cuneiform.
Sophie reached out and laid a hand gently on the officer’s arm. “I really cannot apologize enough for this. And thank you so much for letting us take care of it here.” She gave him a dazzling smile. “Jesse, dear, do apologize to the officer for your behavior. You’ve made the poor man run six blocks.”
“Sorry sir,” the boy said in a small voice.
The cop nodded, smiling gently at Sophie. “No problem, really. He just fit the description of a pick pocket who’s been working the promenade.”
“Oh, tell me about it! Honestly, all the children dress alike, you can’t tell one from another until you’re a foot away.”
That made the cop laugh. “You’re not wrong, ma’am.”
“Please, I’m far too young to be a ma’am. Gail. Gail Finnegan.” Sophie extended her hand.
“Harry. Officer Harry O’Malley,” his smile could be seen from space when Sophie gave him an obvious once over. “I gotta get back to my beat,” he said when Sophie finally pulled her hand away. “You ladies have a good day.” He pulled out a card and handed it to Sophie. “And you call me if you need… anything.”
Sophie tapped the side of the card to her chin, bringing Harry’s attention to her lips. “I’ll be sure to do that, Officer Harry O’Malley.”
Harry blushed a little before tipping his hat and turning to walk away.
Parker kept her hand around the boy’s shoulder and started to pull him in the other direction.
“Just a second,” Sophie said in her regular accent.
As if on queue, Harry turned and gave Sophie a small, secret smile.
“And there we are.”
“Who are you people?” the boy demanded. “And where’s my stuff.”
“Relax, kid, it’s your lucky day,” Parker said with a small smile as she started to lead him off.
“Parker, you’re not thinking of bringing him back with us?”
“Someone has to teach him how to be a thief.”
“I do just fine!” the boy protested.
“HA!” Parker scoffed. “You got caught by a beat cop for pick pocketing on the Promenade. That? That’s not OK.”
“Parker, go easy on the boy; he might not be a thief, he caught on to a grift pretty fast back there.” Sophie winked at the boy.
“What happened to your voice?”
“I take it back,” Sophie said, “he’s all yours.”
“Come on, kid. You’re in luck, Eliot’s making meatloaf.”
“Hey!” Alec called as they came into Nate’s apartment. “Y’all are just in time… with a tiny person. Parker, why did you bring in a tiny person?” He sounded just a little panicked.
“Everybody,” Parker announced, “this is Jesse. He’s a thief-in-training. I found him on the street.” Her smile was bright and hopeful.
To say that the rest of the team took the news well… that would be a lie. An outright, bold-faced lie. Alec panicked because he was, according to him, “no damn good with the tiny human people.” Eliot raised an eyebrow at Parker; and even though he didn’t say anything in words, his meaning was clear enough, she was on seriously thin ice. Nate… Nate went and got another drink.
Over the course of the evening, everyone tried to figure out who the boy was, where he came from, who might be looking for him; rather like you would do if you found a puppy, but with more likelihood of Federal involvement at some point. But Jesse remained mute. He would only answer to the name Parker had given him and he simply shrugged when asked any questions about where he might have come from.
Nate tried his best to get a straight answer out of the kid, but finally, over ice cream, he simply shouted, “Nobody’s looking, OK?” It wasn’t the defensive words that finally made Nate back off, but rather the look in his stormy, blue eyes; that look was the same as Parker got whenever she talked about her own childhood.
“Guess I’m settin’ up the guest room,” Eliot growled as he collected the dishes.
That night as the three of them were getting ready for bed, and Eliot was sure enough that the kid couldn’t hear them, he spoke to Parker. “He’s a kid, Parker, he’s not a stray you can just pickup and bring home.”
“He needs help, Eliot, he got caught by a beat cop. At the promenade.”
“And what about his parents? What about when someone comes lookin’?”
Parker sighed. “Eliot, not every kid has someone looking out for them. I was about Jesse’s age when Archie found me – and just like him, I was on the streets, on my own, doing what I needed to do. Archie made me the thief I am today. And I want to do that for Jesse. But… the only thing that Archie ever did wrong with me… “
Hardison pulled her in close, his toothbrush in his other hand. “You want to make sure that when you take on your tiny human apprentice, they get to be part of the family.”
Parker nodded, tears in her eyes.
Eliot sighed and nodded. “I understand that, darlin. But how about, just in case… Hardison, can you do a check on the kid without anyone knowing you’re snooping?”
Alec just looked insulted. “Parker, baby, you in the middle tonight, I cannot sleep next to this man. Doubting my skills like that? Ah hell nah.”
“What? I wasn’t… damn it, Hardison!” Eliot chased his lover back out to the bedroom.
The next morning, after breakfast, the three of them, plus Jesse, went up onto the roof. Eliot tended to his garden, Hardison sat at the table and worked magic on his computer – maybe playing a game, maybe demolishing world currency, whatever it was he felt the urge to do today – and Parker and Jesse sat down facing each other on one of the chaise lounges, one of the shopping bags from yesterday between them.
“OK, kid, you ready to take a look at your haul?”
Jesse nodded. “And then can you show me how you got it out of my pockets and into the bag so fast?”
Parker nodded, her blonde ponytail bobbing enthusiastically behind her. “That’s what we’re going to work towards. The best thieves in the world have all started exactly where you are. So today, we’re going to work on picking a mark. We’re also going to start on your memory.”
“You need to be able to look at a person and see if they’re a mark. You need to be able to look at a safe and know who made it, when, and what the weaknesses are; same with architecture. Anyone can pick a pocket. I’m going to turn you into a world class thief.”
Jesse looked at her like she was his goddess and he was her most devoted acolyte. He nodded.
“Good. Let’s get started.” She upended the bag between them and tossed the shirt Sophie had bought over onto the other chaise. Then she started dividing the take into groups: wallets, watches, cell phones & cash. “Now, the cash you can just take, money is always good.”
“Cash plays,” Hardison agreed without looking up.
“And don’t dump foreign currency,” Eliot added as he pruned his pepper plant. “It’s worth somethin’ somewhere, and you never know when you’re gonna end up in that somewhere.”
Jesse nodded, his shaggy blond hair flopping.
“The watches… Jesse… these are not good watches. If a watch is worth under five hundred, there’s no point in fencing it. Oh – actually,” Parker corrected, picking up a large-faced silver watch, “this one… this is a Hodge.”
“That’s good?” Jesse asked.
“That’s very good,” Parker confirmed. “Sophie was talking about this guy yesterday, he’s a new watch designer, he’s all the rage… whatever that means.”
“Means you need to get that thing to a fence,” Hardison called.
“No way,” Eliot disagreed, “that’s the kid’s first good lift. That you hold onto. It’s like a store framing their first dollar.”
Parker nodded in agreement and handed Jesse the watch. It was too big for his wrist, but that hardly mattered.
“Now, the cell phones.”
Hardison came over then and sat next to Sophie’s shirt. “You need to know that every last one of these, yeah they’ll fence, but they all have GPS locators in them. You turn one of these on and you just askin’ the cops to come knock down your door. Unless you got a fence set up, or you got a new SIM card in your pocket, don’t lift a cell. And don’t even think about a smart phone. Unless you got a new SIM.”
“What’s a SIM card?” Jesse asked.
Hardison smiled like he’d just won the jackpot. He pulled his Leatherman out of his pocket and opened a Blackberry. “See, people like to change out their phones a lot, as soon as there’s a new one on the market, pretty much, but they don’t want to lose their contacts or the calendar that tells them when little Biff and Buffy have to go to soccer practice, or Fido has the groomer. So the cell companies made it easier on themselves. You see this right here? This chip?”
Jesse leaned in closely and nodded.
“That is the SIM. It’s the brain of the phone. Rich white folk get a shiny new phone, the phone store guy ganks this out of this phone and tosses it in the new one. And presto change-o the information from the old phone is on the new one and all the little rich kids and dogs get where they need to go. But, you get a new SIM card, a clean one, and you pop it in here, and you just got a free smart phone. I’ll show you at some point how to make these babies so even the phone company thinks it’s legit.”
“Right. So the cell phones go to Hardison,” Parker proclaimed.
Hardison shook his head. He reached through the pile and pulled out three phones. “These are the only ones worth it. Toss the rest.”
“How do you know which ones are good?”
“For now, til I can teach you the wonderful world of fencing tech, don’t lift a cell.” He took the smart phones that he’d deemed worthy over to the table and got back to work.
“And the wallets. How well do you know the city?”
Jesse shrugged. “I guess I know it pretty well.”
“OK. Look at the licenses and pay attention to the addresses. Tell me if that person can afford losing their wallet.”
“But… I stole them. They’re mine now.”
Parker frowned a little. “If you lift something from someone who can afford to lose it, and you make them miss it? That’s fun. But if you lift a wallet and that person might not eat this week? That’s not a win. There was a time that I thought differently, but then I started working with Nate, and he helped me see that there are a lot of people out there who need help. Helping feels really good,” she added with a bright smile. “So, make three piles, one for the people who can afford it, one for the people who can’t and one for any address you’re not sure of.”
“And what do we do with the ones who can’t?”
“Mail it back without a return address, from a lot of different post offices. The trick is to always be invisible. Visible equals caught.”
Jesse opened a brown leather bi-fold and a paper fell out of it. He picked it up and looked at it. And his eyes got huge. “Um… Parker?”
He handed over the paper.
Parker gasped. “Eliot!”
“What’s the matter, darlin’?” Eliot wiped his hands off and came over.
“It’s a ransom note.”
The whole team, plus Jesse, were in Nate’s living room, staring at the screens.
“This,” Hardison said, pulling up an image of a balding, slightly-paunchy rich white guy, “is Jeffery Amos Wall. Stock broker and personal financier. According to last year’s tax returns-“ a pdf of the return pushed the first image aside- “he cleared a cool five mill.”
“In this economy?” Sophie questioned.
“There’s a few shady transactions, but never enough to get the feds interested. Minor dabblings really. Three days ago, his son-“ Hardison flipped the image to add in a garden-variety private school picture of a boy of about six or seven with close-cropped dark, curly hair and a missing front tooth in his huge smile – “Alexander Stephen Wall, was called out of school by the nanny.” A fourth picture came up, a young Latina woman in her early twenties. “Marcella Garcia, Columbian National with obviously faked papers, has been working in the Wall household for three months. After the phone call, building security camera shows her taking the kid out for a walk.” The fuzzy CCTV footage played of Marcella taking Alexander out the front door. She smiled a tight-lipped smile at the doorman and they turned left.
“Kid had his backpack on,” Nate observed. “He didn’t know he’d been called out of school.”
“As far as he knows, it’s just another day,” Sophie agreed.
“Now, I was able to follow them on CCTV for three blocks,” Hardison continued, an array of CCTV footage proving his point. “But then, after the ATM camera at the First National on Brimmer, there’s nothing.”
“What about dad’s financials?” Sophie asked. “Steal a rich man’s son, you do it for the payoff.”
“Ransom note,” Alec said, pulling up another image, “gets a little hinky. They don’t ask for money. Just: We have your son, we’ll be in touch. Contact the authorities and we will kill him. And seriously, what is up with the block letters? Too many terrible movies out there teachin’ people to be unoriginal.”
“How much can Wall access liquid?” Nate asked.
Hardison pulled up a few more pictures. “Condo on Beacon is worth about five; featured in Architectural Digest eight months ago, it’s minimalist. The art on the walls isn’t worth that much. He’s gonna have to hit one of his accounts pretty hard for any kind of serious cash.”
“Do we know if a drop has been made?”
“That’s just it, Nate, he hasn’t. BPD doesn’t have an investigation for the kid, so daddy dearest here didn’t call the cops. But he’s not whippin’ out that checkbook either.”
“Who do you think you’re dealing with? Nate, I’m telling you, I have ferreted out this man’s financial universe, he hasn’t got any ransom-type money out yet.”
“What about cash?” Parker asked. “House like that, there’s at least one wall or floor safe. Probably three.”
“Three?” Jesse questioned.
“One that the husband and the wife both know about and one that they each have that the other doesn’t know about,” Parker clarified.
“Kidnapping isn’t worth it for less than a few mill and that is not a little amount of cash,” Hardison said.
“Yeah, but, I mean even the best forensic accountant can’t track cash,” Sophie said.
“This isn’t a few hundred Gs in the cereal box though.”
“Sixty-six pounds,” Parker said. Everyone turned to look at her. “You said a few million. That’s the weight of three million dollars if he’s carrying hundreds. Each bill is a gram, four hundred and fifty four bills to a pound. Three million is thirty thousand hundreds. That’s sixty-six point zero eight pounds.”
“Is it any wonder we love this woman?” Hardison asked.
“If he had it in cash, then he has a floor safe. A wall safe that’s large enough for that much cash, the wife would see it, same with a panic room – which is where so many goodies are kept. So… many goodies.”
“Focus,” Eliot said softly. Louder, he asked, “Where is the wife?”
“You think it’s custody, not kidnapping?” Nate asked.
“She’s at a ski spa in Vail,” Hardison answered. “Booked solid for the bored housewife pampering package. Their security feed has her following her schedule.”
“So he hasn’t even called the wife.” Nate frowned.
“Wouldn’t that back up the custody idea?” Parker asked.
“No,” Sophie said. “Your husband calls that your son has been kidnapped, even if you’re the one behind it, you don’t go for your massage like nothing’s happened. You run home and act like the devoted wife and mother or you take your child and run.”
“And if the dad was lookin’ to snatch the kid,” Eliot added, “then mom at a spa is the perfect time, you move the money where she can’t reach it and then you and the kid get on a plane. Plenty of places to go that the mother would never find them.”
“No,” Nate said. “This kid was taken. Eliot, I’m gonna need you out front on this one.”
Nate stood up and killed the last of his scotch. “Let’s go steal a kidnapping.”
Eliot knocked on Jeffery Amos Wall’s hand-carved mahogany door and waited. He was mildly surprised when Wall himself answered.
“Can I help you?” Wall asked, his eyes skittishly darting over Eliot and the hallway.
“Friend of mine found your wallet at the Promenade,” Eliot said. “She contacted me to return it.” Eliot held out the wallet. And then he pulled out the ransom note. “I can help.”
Wall’s eyes shone with unshed tears but he shook his head violently. “They’ll kill him.”
“I’m not a cop. I’m a retrieval specialist.”
“What does that mean?”
“Means this is what I do.”
“Who are you?”
“Eliot Spencer. You let me help you and I’ll get your son back.”
“Call me Amos.” Amos did cry now, half grief and half relief that there was someone who could help. He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand that had been behind the door, he also had a gun in that hand.
Eliot took the gun gently as he walked inside. “I don’t like guns. And while I appreciate the instinct, you shoot into a door like that? There’s no tellin’ where the bullet’s gonna end up if it does get through the wood. Also? Safety is on.” He put the gun in a drawer near the door.
Out in the van, Hardison was trying really hard not to laugh.
“Eliot,” Nate’s voice came over the coms, “see if they’ve made contact yet, we need to know what they want or we aren’t going to know what con we’re running. Hardison, how are we coming on the background of the nanny?”
Alec explained about the facial recognition and Jesse, who was listening in on the com link in the office as Parker was helping him to pick locks, looked up and said, “Why does it matter what they want?”
Sophie leaned over and said quietly, “If you know what someone wants, then you know also how to convince them to hand it to you.”
Jesse nodded and went back to work on his simple Masterlock.
“Wait!” Parker reached over and snatched the copy of Architectural Digest out of Sophie’s hands. “Is this his condo?”
“Well, yeah,” Sophie said with a frown.
“Did you see the vase?”
Sophie took the magazine back.
“On the console table,” Parker said.
“Looks like a simple cut-glass vase,” Sophie squinted at the tiny shiny spot in the background of the picture.
“It’s an Avedon.”
“No it’s not,” Sophie looked harder.
“Eliot?” Parker said into the coms. “Can you get over to the console table at the north wall and get a close up of the vase there?”
There were a few moments when Eliot was consoling Wall and moving around the condo and Alec was heard furiously typing on his laptop in the van.
“Nothin’ there,” Eliot murmured a few minutes later.
“Nate, Parker’s right,” Hardison confirmed. “I pulled up the pictures and did a little re-touch, that is most definitely a Mala Avedon vase. Her stuff is worth millions.”
“Yeah, but,” Sophie spoke up, moving to the monitors where Hardison had just put the remastered picture, “if this is for something in the house, then why not just grab it? The nanny was in on this, she’s been in the house three months.”
“Biding her time, maybe?” Hardison said.
“No,” Nate said. “Sophie’s right, you don’t pull out a long con for a smash-and-grab.”
“But Eliot just said that the vase wasn’t there now,” Sophie countered.
“So… eight months ago, the kidnapper sees the vase in the picture. He comes by for a little fifth-story work, but the vase isn’t there anymore.” Nate poured another two fingers of scotch. “So they fake the nanny’s ID to get her in the house and have a closer look. Only, now it’s not in the house at all. Clock is ticking, so they grab the kid. It’s an act of desperation.”
“But, it’s a clean con,” Parker said with a small, confused frown.
“No, it’s not that clean. If they’d been planning on taking the kid from the start, the nanny wouldn’t have been so sloppy getting him out of the house.”
“She’s on a burner ID though,” Hardison said over the speakers.
“Never burn an ID you don’t have to,” Nate said. “You never know when you’re going to have to be them again.”
Nate was about to go on, but there was the sound of a ringing phone in the condo.
“You ready?” Eliot murmured.
“Good when you are, Eliot, I’ve got half the satellites in orbit online and hacked in just for you.”
Eliot picked up on the third ring. “Hello?”
“Who is this?” the computer scrambled voice snapped.
“My name is Eliot Spencer. Mr. Wall has hired me to act as negotiator in this matter. I think that we can all agree that cooler heads are better in situations like this.”
“I told him no cops.”
“Not a cop, bubba. Now, you tell us what it is you want and you get us proof of life and we’ll get this taken care of for you.”
”I’ll contact you again in one hour. And Mr. Spencer? I hope, for Alexander’s sake, you’re not lying to me.” The line went dead.
Amos was shaking and pale. “Why did he hang up?”
“He’s gonna check me out. And when he does, he’s gonna call back. Don’t worry, this is pretty standard.”
Back in the loft, Parker was all big eyes and fidgeting hands, locking and unlocking one of Jesse’s practice locks without thought. “I hate it when he uses his real name.”
“Parker, baby,” Hardison answered over the coms, “Eliot’s real name is better than any fake one I could give him. You know this. We just gotta sit back and let our boy do his thing.”
“Sit tight guys, we’ll know what we’re doing in an hour,” Nate said, not liking the situation any more than his team did.
Hardison sighed but didn’t say anything. Furious typing could be heard, though.
It was not at all an easy hour. But sixty minutes to the second, Amos’ phone rang.
“Hello,” Eliot said, his voice betraying no emotion.
“Mr. Spencer,” the modified voice. “Your record is extensive.”
“I know. Now, I need proof of life. And then I’ll hear your demands.”
“I’m sending you a video message now.”
Eliot pulled the phone away and clicked the screen for the incoming message. There was no audio. Just Alexander standing in front of the national nightly news from less than five minutes before.
“Is this acceptable?” the voice asked.
Amos’ eyes were filled with tears as he nodded.
“What are your demands?”
Three hours later Eliot was pacing the loft. He wanted to punch somebody.
“OK,” Nate said, clearly holding on by a thread. “Parker’s instincts about the Avedon vase were correct. That’s what they want. Parker, why is the vase worth so much?”
Parker shrugged. “I lifted one from a Columbian mob boss two years ago when we were split up.”
“I got this,”Hardison jumped in. “Mala Avedon,” the power point presentation started, “Columbian glass artist. Her stuff is just beautiful work. Her use of light and weight-“
“Hardison, darlin’, get to the point about why this is worth a kid,” Eliot said, he was growling but no one took it personally.
“OK, OK, so Mala Avedon, Columbian glass artist, on her way to the top; everyone in the art world had her as The Person to Watch fifteen years ago. Just as her stuff was startin’ to come onto the New York art scene, she’s found floatin’ in the East River. I have the crime scene photos and the ME’s report, but this is PG for the tiny human in the room.”
Jesse looked up, he looked surprised to have been mentioned and noticed.
“Break down of the case, she was bludgeoned to the head with a heavy object. Forensics was pretty sure that the glass was her own because of the composition. Everyone and they cousin at the gallery and the shipping company were fine-tooth checked by everyone in a uniform. Nada.”
“Art gets more valuable after an artist is killed,” Nate mentioned. “The more gruesome the story, the more people will pay.”
“Very true. Federal agents looked into every big collector too. Nothing. And there was no forensic evidence on any of the pieces.”
“So they took the murder weapon with them,” Sophie surmised.
“Most likely, yeah.”
“Interestin’ as all this is,” Eliot said, his movements sharp and jerky, “it’s got nothin’ to do with the kid. The kid is the case, not some artist murdered fifteen years ago.”
“The vase from Architectural Digest,” Hardison said slowly, “is not in the registry of Avedon pieces.”
That made Eliot stop pacing. “You’re tellin’ me that thing is the murder weapon?”
“I think that it may be, yeah,” Hardison nodded.
“So the kidnappers,” Sophie said, “are trying to cover up the murder.”
It was late and nothing more was going to be accomplished that night. But that didn’t sit well with Eliot and he was up fiddling in the kitchen.
Parker padded out after tucking Jesse in. She didn’t know what to say that would comfort Eliot, she wasn’t good with words like that. So instead, she leaned in and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her face to the back of his neck and breathing in the scent of his hair. She knew it was the right thing when he exhaled and threaded his fingers with hers.
“I hate when it’s kids,” he whispered.
Eliot turned in the circle of her arms and leaned in to brush a kiss to her lips.
“This is why you’re freaking out over Jesse, isn’t it?” she asked bluntly.
“I’m worried if it’s fair to him,” Eliot answered honestly. “Livin’ with us, I mean. And I don’t mean the two guys, one girl thing, so don’t think that. We work. But we all have enemies. We have all been bad people. Is it fair to bring a kid into this house when we’re putting him at risk? But…” He sighed and pressed their foreheads together. “But then I see you with him, darlin’, I see how happy you both are. I see this kid, who two days ago was skittish and street-livin’… and I see him on the couch next to you during our briefings. And I see that he’s smart. He’s quick. And I see somethin’ else.”
“What’s that?” Parker asked, wonder in her voice and tears in her eyes.
“I see you, baby, I see you makin’ a family. Makin’ a home. I see you reachin’ out. And maybe… I dunno, maybe you’re tryin’ to keep some of that darkness you waded through from touchin’ him. You see what Archie did that was wrong, but you can also see what he did right. Everyone wants to be a better parent than their own parents were. And I love you.”
Parker wrapped him in, tight and close, like she never wanted to let go. And maybe she didn’t.
After a few moments, Eliot broke the silence. “You think our boy’s actually gonna get to bed tonight?”
“Probably not,” Parker answered, her voice muffled against Eliot’s shirt. “You didn’t hear how mad you were earlier. He doesn’t like it when you’re mad. Plus,” she said, pulling away to look him in the face with a frown, “he takes all of the butter out of the house and mutters about you stroking out on us before you guys ever take me to the Eiffel Tower – which I have seen, by the way – and then you get mad because you can’t cook without real butter.”
“It’s a vicious cycle,” Eliot agreed. Then he pulled her off to the bedroom, knowing that if she was there, he might actually get more than an hour of sleep.
Parker was up before the sun, in fact, she was up so early, she was up before Eliot. She smiled when she saw Alec tucked into their bed, his long arms wrapped tightly around Eliot. Looked over at the clock and saw that it was three-thirty; that was better than she thought Alec would do. She dressed in her black skin with her black climbing boots, and put a black hoodie on over top. She tossed her climbing gear and a camera into a backpack, added her gloves and hat, and on a whim, added one of Alec’s tiny spy cams.
She jogged, first, to the office of the interior decorator who had done “touch-ups” in Amos’ condo for the article. Parker didn’t understand that, why there would need to be any changes, didn’t the magazine come for the architecture, not the design? That was a Sophie thing, but Sophie’s answer didn’t make sense. She quickly scaled an elevator shaft of the building across the street and slipped, cat-like, into an unused office. She took over fifty pictures of the office; she didn’t see the vase, but she saw plenty of places it could be hidden.
After she was sure she had enough angles for Hardison to composite the layout, she went back down the shaft. The photographer was next on the list; they all thought that he was a long-shot, but they had to cover the bases and he was next on the route.
By the time the hard-core joggers had made way for the jogging strollers in the park, the sun was officially up and Parker had over five hundred photos from the homes of everyone who had had anything to do with the shoot at Amos Wall’s condo.
“How’d it go?” Eliot asked as she walked through the door. He was putting a steaming mug of coffee in front of Hardison’s half-awake self.
“I forgot how many people it takes to do one photo shoot.”
“Too damned long since we had to pretend to be in one,” Hardison agreed with a yawn. He smiled when she kissed him though. And he leered a little when she kissed Eliot.
“You get out clean?” Eliot asked as he started to plate four servings of eggs.
Parker nabbed a piece of toast and nodded.
“Our girl is the best,” Hardison agreed.
Parker tossed down a bag of gummy frogs and a jug of organic pesticide.
“The very best,” Hardison corrected.
“Thank you,” Eliot said. He hadn’t mentioned that he was worried he might not get the garden tended before the bugs came, not when worrying about this case. “Dig in,” he said to his lovers and then started down the hall. “I’m gonna make sure Jesse’s up.”
Hardison knew better than to try to talk to Parker while she was eating; girl never could get one sound out around the food she crammed in her mouth; instead he grabbed the camera and started tabbing through the pictures. “There’s an extra site in here,” he said at the end.
Parker nodded with a smile. She chewed and swallowed a painful amount of food. “Designer’s warehouse. She keeps all of her goodies in there. I saw an invoice for the facility on her desk when I was taking the pictures.”
“Parker, darlin’, this was just supposed to be recon. You weren’t supposed to go in.”
“I didn’t. Look at the next shot. You can see the invoice on her desk. I just need to figure out the security there before I go in. The last location shots are for me.”
“Gotcha. You want print or media?”
“Send them to the laptop, I’ll be able to graph the layout on that new program you gave me.”
Jesse came out then, one eye half open, and being steered by Eliot behind him.
“I can teach Jesse how to do this.”
“Kids gonna be scary in a few years, we all keep showing him the ropes,” Eliot said with a smile. “Dig in, kid, I’ll get you some juice.”
At the briefing that morning, Alec had every screen filled with lay-outs from the photos Parker had taken and the blueprints on file with the city. Parker had cracked the system for the warehouse and Nate and Sophie had an appointment with the decorator.
“Why are you so sure it’s her?” Jesse asked. “Just because she has a warehouse?”
“No, darling,” Sophie answered, “it’s not just the warehouse. Most designers have a separate space that they use for work, and that’s basically what that is. But Hardison did a full background check on everyone who was involved with that shoot. Ms. Thompson’s grandfather was very active in the New York City Art Scene-“
“Where the victim was when she was murdered,” Nate added helpfully.
“And the vase mostly likely belongs to her, since she would have had final say in what was put into the condo for the shoot,” Sophie concluded.
“So we’re not just getting Lex back from the kidnappers, we’re solving a murder?” Jesse clarified.
Nate’s eyes widened. “Hardison, pull up the proof-of-life video.”
Dominic Viola went off on another urgent phone call, leaving his lovely wife, Sylvia, to talk to the decorator on her own. “Hell if I know,” he could be heard to be saying from a dozen feet away, “it’s all finger paints if you ask me. No, no, you cannot move Jorvicsen to eleven!”
“So sorry about my husband,” Sylvia said in a voice that was once Brooklyn and was now almost entirely Upper East Side. Her vowels gave her away. “He didn’t really want to come today, but he agreed to for my sake. I’m afraid the warehouse is pushing his limits a bit.”
“Most husbands are just happy to write the check,” Victoria Guire said, conspiratorially. Her given name was Lucy McGuire, but she thought the new name sounded more like a high-end designer.
“Maybe I’m asking too much for him to be part of the process.” Sylvia sighed. “I just want him to like it. It’s his home too.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Viola, you’re in good hands.”
The appointment was supposed to take two hours, but after about fifty minutes, Dominic came over and insisted that they had to be finished Right This Second. Apparently there was an emergency with one of the Senior Partners.
Back in the car, Sophie looked expectantly at Nate.
“East wall, third row back, forth shelf up,” he showed Sophie a picture on his phone.
“I’ll call Parker.”
“I have a better idea.” He pulled off the road and into a parking garage to make a different phone call.
It was in that same parking garage, but up on the top level, where Eliot went two hours later to make the exchange. There was one other car up there. Marcella stepped out of the passenger-side door and walked towards Eliot. “Strange place for you to pick,” she said in a lightly-accented voice, trying to hide a large amount of nervousness.
Eliot smiled at her. “You know what it is a Retrieval Specialist does?”
“I would assume that you retrieve things.”
He couldn’t help the quick laugh at that. “Not quite.” He started walking towards the north retaining wall and motioned for her to follow. She did, but at a safe distance. “We don’t just retrieve. We get you what it is you really want, Ms. Avedon.”
Her eyes went wide with shock for a moment.
“Ya see,” Eliot went on, like he hadn’t noticed her stumble at her real name, “I could’a got you your momma’s missin’ vase. But then what? You can’t tell anyone how you got it, you can’t hand it over to the cops; all you got is your momma’s murder weapon sittin’ shiny on your mantle. And you’re not tryin’ to cover the murder up, you’re tryin’ to get her justice, to let her lie still.” Now he pointed to Guire’s warehouse, just as it was surrounded by federal vehicles.
Marcella’s eyes filled with tears.
“Jason McGuire is her grandfather,” Eliot explained. “He was a patron of the arts back in the day; now he’s retired in New Mexico. He was having an affair with your momma. I don’t know how it went down exactly, that’s for the cops, but he’s the one who killed her. And Victoria there?” Eliot pointed to the sharply-featured woman currently in handcuffs. “She knew it. She tried not to have the vase in the Wall shoot. Photographer remembers that pretty clearly. He talked to the cops about an hour ago. You’ll know the details later.”
“You found them. You found the one who killed my mother.”
“It’s what I do. I might be a bad dude, but I help people too. Where’s Lex?”
“He’s in the car. He’s fine. He didn’t know he was kidnapped. He thought that I had him with my family for a few days when his father got called off to work,” she babbled. “I know I’m going to jail, but I want you to know that I would never hurt him. I just couldn’t find the vase and I couldn’t think of anything else. And then they were going to deport me. I was so close, Mr. Spencer. So close to getting justice for my mother.”
“I wish you would’a come to my team first.” Eliot sighed.
The back door of the sedan opened and Lex came out, all huge sneakers and gangly limbs with his backpack over one shoulder, his attention was focused on the game in his hand. He looked up at last and frowned. “Where’s my dad?”
“Mr. Spencer is going to take you to him,” Marcella answered.
“Aren’t you coming?” he asked.
“No, Mija. I have to leave.”
“Where are you going?” there was a small amount of panic in Lex’s voice.
“I have to go home now. But you’ll be fine. You be a good boy.” She gave him a hug and kissed the top of his head.
“Go on and wait in the car, kid,” Eliot said gently. “I’ll be there in a second.”
Lex sniffled, but he did as he was told.
“Wall knows the deal here,” Eliot said, his voice gravelly and dangerous. “And while he’s about mad enough to skin you alive, he knows how much Lex loves you, so he’s giving you one out. Go home. Back to Columbia. Turn yourself into INS if you can’t afford the flight. Never come back here. Because if you do, you will be in prison faster than you can blink.”
She nodded. It was more than she’d hoped for.
“And that goes for the cousin drivin’ the car too.”
“Thank you, Mr. Spencer.”
“Don’t thank me. You don’t mess with kids. Not ever. If this were up to me, you’d be spendin’ your first night in lock up in the hospital wing. Now git.”
“Tracker on the car shows they went to INS,” Alec said as they were wrapping up the last bits of case that night. “And Bananno’s got another solid collar.”
“I think that’s really all we can ask for, with a case like this one,” Sophie said as she uncurled her legs from under her on Nate’s couch and finished her tea.
“Citizens shouldn’t try to do what we do,” Eliot countered.
“I agree,” she said. “Leave cons to the cons. Lord knows we’re better at them.”
Nate scoffed. “This was barely a Split Monte.”
“Half Split Monte?” Alec offered.
Nate at least smiled at that.
“Well,” Sophie said as she stood and put her shoes back on. “Jesse and I have a full schedule tonight. We should get to it.” She held out her hand for him to take.
“Do I have to go shopping?” he whined.
“You need clothes,” Eliot said. “Can’t have you goin’ to school in the same two outfits day-in-day-out.”
“So maybe I shouldn’t go to school.”
“No wiggle room on that one, kid,” Eliot answered. “Citizen school in the day or no thief and con school at night. Besides, we got plans, so you’re goin’ with Sophie.”
“We have plans?” Parker questioned.
“We have plans,” Alec said with a wide smile. He walked over and wrapped an arm around her waist and started to pull her towards the door.
Eliot smiled. “G’night guys.” He followed his lovers out and up the stairs.
“Oh my god!” Hardison exclaimed. “Eliot, what did you do in here? It smells awesome!”
“We had a case, so I had to use the slow cooker,” Eliot answered with a shrug. “Nothin’ fancy, just a pot roast.”
“Nothin’ fancy? Man, my mouth is watering and ain’t neither of you gettin’ naked. That is impressive.” He pulled Eliot to where he was standing, his arm still around Parker, and pulled them all close together.
“Happy anniversary, guys,” Parker said quietly.
Both of her boys looked a bit shocked.
“Sophie explained that it’s like a birthday for sex.”
Eliot laughed at that and felt the tension of the day slipping away from him. These two amazing people were the only ones who had ever been able to make that happen. “I love you both,” he said, smile still shaping his face.
“I love you too,” Alec said to both of them.
“Me too,” Parker agreed. “You guys make my head quiet.” And the proof that they love her came when neither of them looked at her strangely over that; instead they smiled warmly and she knew that they understood.
It didn’t matter who made the first move, whose touch was the first to go from gentle to heated, whose mouth started trailing kisses over whose flesh; because this is all them. This is who they are when the door is closed and it’s just the three of them.
“We got a kid now,” Eliot said, a little distractedly by Hardison kissing the trail of flesh exposed by unbuttoning his shirt. “And that… that means that we need to take the opportunity for dining room table sex. Jesus, Hardison, yeah.”
And Eliot had a good point. Not too long ago they could have hot, wild, sweaty sex anywhere that they wanted; but now they had a minor living there, sex was pretty much delegated to bedroom and bathroom. Not that any of them minded shower sex, and the bed was ridiculously big.
As a unit they started moving towards the table, clothes like bread crumbs, mapping the way they had come.
Once they got there, Hardison, feeling sexy and powerful, spun Eliot around and dropped to his knees. There was no real preamble, he just massaged the firmness of Eliot’s ass once, pulled the cheeks apart and licked.
The sound that wrenched from Eliot’s mouth was loud and obscene and more than a little animalistic.
Parker was suddenly slipping the flavored lube into Hardison’s hand, and then she was on her knees too, pulling Eliot’s jeans off of his legs, where they had pooled at the ankle, and then maneuvering in a way that only a cat burglar could so that she was able to suck Eliot’s cock.
“Oh fuck!” Eliot cried out, trying not to buck between the double stimulus. Alec’s tongue was fucking him earnestly now, those long fingers just starting to play with the loosening ring, and Parker’s mouth was so hot on his dick. All he could do was claw at the wood grain and let them use his body however they wanted.
Parker was going to end up with a crick in her neck if she kept this angle up much longer, but she loved it just the same. She could taste Eliot’s strong flavor and she had her hand wrapped around Alec’s dick, working him in strong, sure strokes, and she was so close to him that she could hear every tiny hitch in his breath, and yet she couldn’t see him. It was amazing. And then Alec must have hit Eliot’s prostate, because not only did he make that sound, but his hips bucked and Parker nearly saw stars as her head hit the wood.
“Shit,” Eliot said, knowing what had just happened. “You ok, darlin’?”
She came up mock pouting at him. But then, with a wicked glint in her eye, she climbed up onto the table until her thighs were splayed on either side of his head.
“Damn I love you,” Eliot whispered. And then all he knew was the taste of Parker on his tongue and the feel of Alec opening him up. It was perfection. He lost himself to it. Never before with a lover, any lover, had Eliot ever trusted enough to shut down his higher brain entirely. But with these two, his beautiful thief and his amazing hacker, there was trust and there was love and they met in this new and awesome and scary place in his mind and his heart; and Eliot was able to let go. He was able to just feel. Just be. It was like a trance of love and pleasure when he was able to get himself to that space in his head. And if he loved them for nothing else, he would love them for showing him that that place existed. He came back to himself with her hand fisted in his hair, her body contracting where he’d worked two fingers into her, and he watched her come with her head thrown back and the ends of her blonde hair pooling on the dark-wood table with the sunset gleaming behind her.
She looked up, her mussed hair haloing around her head, her smile was endorphin-doped and a little crooked.
“I love you,” Eliot said again, in total honesty.
“I love you too,” Parker returned. She didn’t say it often, she didn’t really understand other people’s need of it; but with her boys she finally got it, and sometimes she remembered to say it.
Eliot grabbed her hips and pulled her down to him, until her hips were on the edge of the table and his cock was straining hungrily towards her. She shifted herself so that her feet were leveraged on the table and she was splayed open and ready for him. Eliot simply thrust forward, off of Hardison’s fingers for just a second, and buried himself in her in a single, unforgiving stroke.
“So beautiful,” Hardison whispered. He loved watching them together, Eliot’s power filling Parker’s need. He understood what he was watching on a deeper level than most people would ever understand; because he knew how they were broken, and he knew how those broken pieces fit together so perfectly. Just like he knew, as he stood up and ran the lube over his achingly-neglected dick, that they would fit together in this way too. He stilled Eliot’s hips when he fisted a hand in that long, beautiful hair and pulled; and then he lined up and pushed into Eliot’s willing body.
Eliot’s back arched and his stance widened, he felt the sound that ripped out of him at the pleasure, but he couldn’t hear it over the blood rushing in his body, circulating heat and need. All he knew was Parker around him and Hardison within him, their love and their need pouring over him and into him, driving him half mad with the feel of it. And then Hardison pulled back just a bit and thrust into him, pushing him deeper into Parker. And they had their rhythm.
Hardison never shut up during a case, or around a table, he always had to be heard – probably from being one of seven kids around a dinner table growing up – but when he was with them, when his lovers were with him, he let his body speak. The way he would caress Parker’s thigh or stroke her breast, the way he would grip Eliot’s hips, leaving half-moon indents from his fingernails now and bruises that would rise tomorrow with the sun, this was his language now. And he spoke it beautifully.
Parker was never good with words, people never understood what she was really trying to say. Sometimes she felt like she was speaking Urdu and everyone else was speaking Portuguese, but everyone thought that they were speaking English. But when the three of them were together, she found a new way to talk; it was gasps and sighs and giggles and moans, the way that her body talked when she didn’t try to stop it – like the involuntary “wahoo” going down a really big elevator shaft on a harness without a safety stop – and they knew what she meant, every time.
Eliot never liked to speak too much. He played his game close to the vest and he held his control with an iron fist and titanium will. But he was able to relax now, in their arms, and the words just came out of him. It was like stream-of-consciousness porn – at least that’s what Hardison had said after they’d been together a few times – and he didn’t ever try to stop it. And the filthier his mouth got, the more loving the tone. It was an idiosyncrasy that neither of his partners seemed to mind a bit.
So, in the evening light, on their dining room table, on their first anniversary, Hardison let his hands speak and Parker stopped trying to keep her real language quiet and Eliot spoke filthy words in the gentlest tone anyone has ever heard as he worked himself back onto Hardison’s cock and forward into Parker’s wet pussy and he lost himself.
Hardison was a master of hitting the prostate and Eliot couldn’t help it, he stuttered and shuttered and cursed and came and came and came. And the three of them were so in synch by that point, that Parker and Alec chased him over the edge until all that was left was a sweaty, panting heap of naked on the dining room table as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.
Parker sighed. “We’re like trail mix.”
Eliot didn’t move more than a small scowl and he felt Hardison’s confused face where he was face-planted between Eliot’s shoulder blades.
“Pretzels and raisins and nuts,” Parker clarified.
“Can we be pot roast instead?” Hardison asked, slurring. “Because that pot roast smells really, really good.”
“Can we give it five? Maybe eat some of the pot roast and regain some strength before we go eatin’ each other again?” Eliot countered, his voice still sex-deep and growly. And then he did his favorite thing in the world, he took Hardison’s hand and Parker’s and joined them with his own, he needed the extra connection.
“Yeah, man, that sounds like a plan,” Hardison answered.
None of them moved.