Partnerships are fragile things, I’ve discovered. The smallest thing like a bad day or careless words can endanger them. Secrets are lethal. The funny thing is though, that when one half is in danger, the other falls in step. Everything is overlooked, whatever had previously unsettled the balance is dismissed and you rise to the occasion to save your partner.
Because when everything is said and done, if you can’t rely on your partner, who can you rely on?
* * * *
‘You are such a sucker, Hobbes!’ Bobby thought furiously to himself, blocking a kick to his groin. He managed to land a solid punch to the guy’s ribs and heard the satisfying crack of ribs as the attacker bent over. Keeping his edge, Bobby slammed a knee into the guy’s head and shoved him into the wall. Looking at the body, he knew the bastard was out for the count and turned to the woman. She was just coming around from the blow to the head the bastard had given her.
He couldn’t have a normal night off, now, could he? Oh no. Bobby Hobbes, aka Superman, had to come across an assault on the way to his favorite bar. Naturally, there was no way Bobby wouldn’t interfere; he would take out the bad guy and save the girl. Woman, he amended, noticing her body beneath the sweater and skirt. Dark hair spilled long and loose on the ground. She was beautiful. He hesitantly touched under her bruised cheek just as her eyes opened.
“Hey, ease there,” he said softly as she opened her eyes and jerked away from his hand. “You’re safe now.”
She looked around and saw the man lying unconscious a short distance away and sighed heavily in relief. “Thank you.”
“Let me help you up, Miss?”
“Jenkins. Susan Jenkins,” she replied, accepting his hand. She grimaced, holding her side, and leaned against the wall. “Thank you so much for helping me…?”
“Hobbes,” Bobby answered automatically.
“Hobbes? As in Calvin and?” she asked with a faint grin.
Bobby frowned a minute then placed the reference to the cartoon stuffed tiger and grinned. “No. Sorry, my first name’s Bobby. Look, let me call an ambulance and the cops so we can get you looked at and asshole there sent away.”
“Look, I’m really grateful to you Bobby but it won’t matter what you do. He always gets out and comes after me,” Susan said bitterly.
“This has happened before,” Bobby stated.
“Three times,” she confirmed, touching her cheek gingerly. Looking at him sadly, she continued, “I wasn’t always lucky enough to have a knight save me.”
So this bastard over there had beaten the shit out of this woman, or worse, and she was still whole, still trying to get on with her life. Admiration shot through him as their eyes met. Admiration and fury. No one should get away with something like that time and again. Well this time, Bobby Hobbes was going to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Bobby Hobbes was personally going to make sure the jerkoff lying on the ground would never bother this woman ever.
“You need to get checked out,” he said firmly. Glancing over at the man as he pulled out his cell phone, Bobby finished, “And I need to have a chat with him.”
“Bobby no, you shouldn’t get involved in this,” Susan protested. “You don’t know who he is.”
“And I don’t care. Trust me on this Susan. I’ll get this guy to leave you alone,” he said grimly.
“Hey Claire, it’s Hobbes. Can you do me a favor?”
“There’s a woman here that needs your help. She was attacked and doesn’t want to go to the police but I know she needs to get looked over. Would you come down here?” Bobby asked, ignoring Claire’s light tone.
“Of course,” Claire replied immediately. “Where are you?”
“Ah, corner of Washington and Fifth St.”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” she promised.
Bobby hung up and turned back to Susan. He put a careful arm around her waist and led her out of the alley, abruptly noticing that she was smaller than he was. “I have a friend that’s got some medical experience. She’s going to come down and look you over. I want you to wait here.”
“What are you going to do?” Susan asked, worried.
He flashed her a reassuring grin. “I’m gonna have a talk with shmucko in the alley there.”
“Bobby, really, you shouldn’t get involved in this!”
“Hey, relax, I’m just going to point out how beneficial it will be to his health not to bother you anymore,” Bobby said lightly. He held her eyes, a mix of green and brown, seeing them in the light for the first time. Obviously reluctant, she nodded and sat on the sidewalk.
Bobby turned and walked towards the alley, pulling out his handcuffs the second he turned the corner. Kneeling by the man, Bobby pushed him over and cuffed him then flipped him again so he’d be as uncomfortable as possible. The man was starting to come around and Bobby smiled grimly as he stood. This was going to be fun.
“Who the fuck are you?” the man demanded, jerking around trying to free himself.
“A friend of the lady you were beating on,” Bobby answered calmly. He put a foot on the man’s chest to still him.
“She doesn’t have any friends.”
“She does now, punk. And take a tip from me. You don’t want to piss me off,” Bobby advised. Taking his foot off the man, he kicked him in the side. “Actually, you’ve already done that. I should say that you don’t want to piss me off again.”
Groaning in pain, the man said, “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
“Susan said the same thing but you know what? I could give two shits,” Bobby said flatly. He pulled out his gun and turned off the safety. “Oh now I have your full attention, don’t I?” Kneeling by the now very-still man, Bobby put the gun to the man’s temple and continued, “If you ever come near Susan again, if you even look at her funny from a block away, I will find you and I will kill you. That, my friend, is a promise and I always, always, keep my promises. Do we understand each other?”
The man nodded slowly.
“Good.” Bobby turned the safety back on and holstered his gun. Flipping the man over, he uncuffed the guy and slid the cuffs back into his jacket pocket. Standing once more, he ordered, “Get up.”
The man stood as well, groaning painfully and holding his side. When they reached the street, Bobby saw that Claire had arrived and was already looking Susan over. “Now say you’re sorry.”
Bobby shoved the man forward roughly and repeated, “Tell her that you’re very sorry and you’re scum and will never bother her again.” Susan and Claire were both looking at him in astonishment but Bobby ignored them.
“I’m, uh, I’m real sorry Susan, and I’m scum and I, uh, I won’t bother you again.”
“Good. Now get out of here before I call the cops,” Bobby ordered, shoving him in the other direction.
“Bobby, how did you do that?” Susan asked in amazement.
Shrugging modestly, he answered, “We came to an agreement.”
“You threatened to kill him, didn’t you?” Claire said, shaking her head.
Grinning, Bobby replied, “Hey, I didn’t say how we came to the agreement now, did I?”
“I can’t believe that he’s not going to come back,” Susan said, wincing as Claire probed at her side.
“Believe it,” Bobby promised firmly. “How is she?”
“Other than some bruised ribs and contusions, she’s fine,” Claire reported.
“Good, good. Thanks, Claire.”
Closing her bag, Claire smiled at him and said, “Any time, Bobby, you know that. See you tomorrow.”
He watched her get into the nondescript car then turned back to Susan. Suddenly awkward now that they were alone and in non-threatening circumstances, he asked, “So, uh, you got a car or do you need a lift somewhere?”
“I was walking home. Stupid, huh?” Susan asked.
“No, not stupid. You should be able to walk anywhere you want without worrying about some punk,” Bobby said. “But, being hurt and all, you probably shouldn’t walk. Do you want a ride? My car’s only a block away.”
Smiling shyly, Susan nodded. “I’d like that, thanks.”
“You look…sore,” Darien commented as his partner shuffled stiffly into the lab.
“Bobby’s a regular Sir Galahad,” Claire teased brightly with a smile for the pained agent.
“Why? What happened?”
“Nothing,” Bobby said, cutting off Claire with a glare. “Not a damned thing.”
Claire made a face but returned her attention to Darien. “And I mean what I said, Darien. You have to take those meds on time, every time, and you cannot go quicksilver.”
“What’s going on? What did I miss?” Bobby demanded, standing next to his partner who sat in the demented dentist’s chair where he normally got his shots of quicksilver counteragent.
“Darien decided not to tell me about being nipped by a stray dog last night,” Claire said pointedly. “Now he gets to have rabies shots and antiviral pills to make sure he and the gland haven’t been adversely affected.”
“What are you stupid? You don’t think you can get rabies?” Bobby said, shoving his partner lightly.
“It was a puppy for chrissake! You know, you play with a puppy and they get playful! It does happen that this was a fairly big puppy and he got a little carried away!” Darien exclaimed, aggravated. He’d explained it to Claire a million times and didn’t feel like getting Hobbes started, too. Of course the best way to do that was to get Hobbes on the defensive. “So who did you rescue, Sir Galahad?”
“Stuff it, Fawkes,” Bobby grated.
“No really. I mean, I knew I had a hero for a partner and all but did you wear armor and everything?” Darien teased. “Come on, Bobby, you can tell me.”
“Just, just shove it, Fawkes and let’s go. We got a new assignment to take care of,” Bobby ordered.
Darien winked at Claire who tried unsuccessfully to stifle a grin to show she knew exactly what he’d just done. He followed Hobbes out of the lab, jogging lazily to catch up to the smaller man. “So what’s up?”
“Reconnaissance deal,” Bobby answered. “Got some supplies going missing.”
“Supplies? As in toner and paper?”
“As in rocket launchers and radar systems.”
“Oh those kinds of supplies.”
“Those kinds of supplies.”
Darien frowned at his partner, noticing something different about him but not able to put his finger on it. Blinking in the bright sunlight to adjust his eyes, Darien shifted subtly closer and was startled when Hobbes didn’t move away. He always moved away. There was something so incredibly compulsive about Bobby needing his own personal space that usually it irritated the hell out of Darien. “All right. What happened?” he demanded, stopping short.
“What happened last night?” Darien repeated. “You’re different this morning.”
“I am not.”
“You are so!”
“Fawkes, I am not going into this with you right now. We’ve got a job to do,” Bobby said, irritated.
“You don’t trust me.”
“What? How can you say that?”
“Bobby, if you trusted me then you’d just tell me what happened instead of making some big deal about keeping it secret,” Darien pointed out, leaning on the car hood. “Look, I won’t tease you or get flip, I promise.”
Bobby stared at him for a long second then shrugged. “I stopped some punk from beating up a woman. Claire came over to help check out the woman, make sure she was ok. I threatened to kill the punk if he came near her again. End of story.”
“Uh-huh. And why did you want to keep this a secret?” Darien asked.
“Cause it’s no big deal,” Bobby insisted. “I know you Fawkes. You’d get all dramatic on me.”
“Oh please. Look, we’ll just drop this and pretend it never happened, okay?”
Scowling, Darien yanked open the door feeling as though they’d just had some major blow-up but not really able to say why. What was Bobby being so defensive about? He frowned at his now-sullen partner at the driving wheel then erased the expression from his face. Obviously Bobby was still hiding something and that grated on Darien’s nerves. For now, he shoved it to the back of his mind but he silently resolved to figure out what was going on later.
Bobby looked over at his partner. “What’s your point?”
“My point is that I’m bored. We’ve been sitting here for four hours and nothing,” Darien said. “I don’t think these guys are going to show.”
“My source said today was the day so we sit,” Bobby said firmly. Darien’s long fingers tapped out a drumbeat on the dashboard. After a while, it started to get annoying. “Would you stop that?”
Darien’s fingers stopped and he shifted in his seat. “Why don’t I just go take a look around?”
“No chance, my friend. You are on quicksilver hiatus, remember?” Bobby reminded.
“The damned puppy did not have rabies!” Darien exploded.
“There they are,” Bobby observed quietly. There were four men coming out of the warehouse with big, wheeled laundry bins.
Quirking an eyebrow, Darien said, “I didn’t realize today was laundry day.”
“Me, either,” Bobby agreed flashing him a grin. He pulled out his gun as the men moved towards a van similar to the one they were currently sitting in. “You stay put. I’ll be done momentarily.”
But Bobby was out of the van before Fawkes could finish his protest. Fawkes couldn’t do anything since he wasn’t armed and couldn’t quicksilver so this was one job Hobbes would take care of himself. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done this a hundred times before, either. Bobby Hobbes had been a solo agent longer than he hadn’t. Partners meant trust, after all, and that wasn’t something he did very well.
Moving silently, he crept up behind the thieves then said forcefully, “Federal Agent! Stop where you are and show the hands.”
Back in the van, Darien was cursing his partner and his helplessness even as he saw Hobbes approach the men. “Screw it.”
Jumping out of the van, he heard Hobbes demand their hands up in his own unique fashion and grinned. Bobby had taken them by surprise, that was for sure, but how was he going to rustle them up without help? He’d make his partner wait a couple minutes when he finally realized that. Then he noticed two other men coming out of the warehouse with another laundry bin, only these guys were armed.
Instantly quicksilvering, Darien ran flat out across the lot, trying to reach them before they got Hobbes sighted. Jumping the last few feet, Darien tackled them both, crashing them all to the ground. He wrestled the gun from one of them then grabbed the other that had dropped from the second man’s hands. He immediately quicksilvered the guns and high-tailed it out of there. They would wonder what the hell had just happened and where their guns were but Hobbes was safe and the quicksilver was still a secret so it didn’t matter.
Turning the corner of the building, he shook off the quicksilver and ran back just in time to cover the men with one of their own guns. “Ah, ah, ah, don’t even think about it.”
“You okay Fawkes?” Hobbes shouted from across the lot.
“Just peachy,” Darien called back. He motioned the men to join their friends and by the time they got there, back up had arrived.
“Nice gun,” Hobbes commented.
“It’s bigger than yours,” Darien deadpanned.
“Yeah but do you know how to use it, my friend?” Bobby replied easily.
“Better than you do,” Darien said.
“I seriously doubt that, partner,” Bobby countered, looking up at him and wriggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Darien was going to continue the debate but pain lanced through the back of his skull and he dropped to the ground, clutching the back of his neck in agony. It couldn’t be the beginnings of madness, he’d only been under for maybe two minutes! Then the pain overwhelmed him and he blacked out.
“What happened?” Claire demanded as Bobby and another agent dragged Darien into the lab.
“I don’t know. One minute we were talking and the next he was rolling on the ground. It’s the gland, though, he was hugging the back of his neck,” Bobby reported.
“Did he quicksilver?”
“I, uh, I don’t know,” Bobby admitted. “Probably.”
“I was a little occupied at the time, Claire,” he snapped, gently hoisting his partner onto the demented dentist’s chair. He grabbed at Darien who started thrashing around, then helped restrain his partner, guilt running through him. He was sure Darien had gone quicksilver even though he’d been ordered not to. If Darien thought Bobby was in trouble, he’d have quicksilvered in a heartbeat, orders be damned. He gripped his partner’s shoulder and muttered, “Idiot.”
“Oh God,” Claire exclaimed.
“What?” Bobby demanded anxiously.
“He definitely went quicksilver,” Claire told him, pointing to Darien’s tattoo. The normally green dragon was almost completely red, signaling the impending quicksilver madness. She rushed to the locked storage cabinet and pulled out a shot of the counteragent then immediately administered it.
They watched as slowly, the red receded and was replaced with the vibrant green. After a few tense minutes, Darien groaned and began to come around. Bobby held onto his friend’s shoulder, waiting to see how Darien came out of it. Dark eyes fluttered open, squinting painfully against the lab lighting, and locked onto Bobby. Sighing faintly in relief, Bobby said, “You scared me there, partner.”
“Feel like I got run over by a truck,” Darien muttered.
“What part of “Don’t go Quicksilver!” don’t you understand, Darien?” Claire demanded angrily. “Do you think I tell you that just for the hell of it? Do you think that I decide in the morning, ‘Oh, let’s see if Darien will follow orders for a change.’ and arbitrarily tell you not to quicksilver?”
“I’m sorry, Claire,” Darien said quietly. “They had Bobby dead cold and I had to stop them.”
Bobby’s eyes closed, guilt washing through him again.
Somewhat mollified, Claire continued at her normal volume. “Just don’t do it again while you’re on this regimen. I don’t know if it’ll be the same or worse next time.”
“There won’t be a next time,” Darien promised.
“I suppose it’s pointless to yell at you for taking such a stupid risk,” Bobby said as Claire moved away.
Bobby nodded shortly. “That’s what I figured.”
“Can I get out of these restraints now?”
Things were mostly back to normal except that Darien still feel something different about his partner the last couple of weeks. He was off the damned rabies regimen and could quicksilver again so he and Bobby were back to full status. The change in Bobby wasn’t glaring or obvious, just little things. Like when they were just sitting around the office one morning, waiting on the Fat Man, Bobby smiled to himself. Now, it wasn’t that Bobby never smiled, but usually there was a reason; maybe Darien had told a joke, or Claire had complimented him, or Eberts had fallen on his ass.
But this time, they were just waiting and for no apparent reason, Bobby Hobbes had smiled. It wasn’t just a little movement of the lips, either, oh no. Major teeth action and the eyes lighting up all the way. It had transformed Bobby from a stone-faced federal agent to a very warm and magnetic person. For a minute, Darien had thought the smile was for him and started to smile back. Then Bobby met his eyes and the smile had instantly faded.
Talk about giving a guy a complex.
Then there was the cheerful whistling. Darien had come to find out over the course of their partnership that Bobby was not a whistler, cheerful or otherwise. Yet over the last few days, Bobby had been whistling under his breath. When Darien had called him on it, his partner had gotten defensive and insisted he’d been doing no such thing.
The most irritating was when Bobby had canceled on him twice the last week without explanation. And it always seemed like he had somewhere else to be, looking at his watch. The Bobby Hobbes Darien had gotten to know was not a clock-watcher. “So what time you coming over tonight?”
“Oh yeah, about that.”
Looking up from the magazine, Darien was surprised to find Bobby looking uncomfortable. “What about it? The semi-finals are on tonight. You bring the beer, I get the pizza. You’re not trying to weasel out of the beer are you?”
“It’s not that. I just, I’ve got somewhere else I need to be,” Bobby answered.
“What? Where?” Darien demanded.
“A place? Like what place?”
“Just a place, okay? Jeeze, what is it with you? I can’t have a personal life or something? We’re not married, Fawkes,” Bobby exclaimed angrily.
Hurt that Bobby wouldn’t tell him what was going on, Darien shrugged and stood. “Sure, whatever. You do what you want. I’ll see you Monday.”
“Fawkes, c’mon, don’t be like that,” Bobby called after him.
Darien turned around, his hand on the door. “Like what, Hobbes? You’re the one keeping secrets, remember? You don’t want to tell me what’s going on, fine. Just don’t make like I’m the one being wrong here, okay?”
Bobby watched him leave, not even slamming the door behind him, and groaned. ‘Great going, Hobbes. Screwed up again,’ he thought. ‘He saves your life and you can’t even tell him you’ve got a date.’
But it had been so long since anyone had shown any real attention or affection for him, like Susan was, that Bobby didn’t want to make it known. Not even to his partner and best friend. He just wanted some time with this new…thing…for himself. It probably wouldn’t work out. His history at relationships was one for one and he wanted more than just sex for a change. He always found it somewhat surprising when a woman let him know that she’d love to spend the night with him. It wasn’t as though he were tall and good-looking like Darien. Shrugging to himself, Bobby left the office and was about to get in the car when his cell phone rang.
“Hi there stranger.”
“Susan,” Bobby said with pleasure. He leaned against the car and smiled. “What’s going on? I was just on my way over.”
“I really hate to do this to you, Bobby, but I have to cancel,” Susan said.
“Oh. Is anything wrong?” Bobby asked slowly.
“Not really. I have to work late on a proposal,” she explained.
“Why don’t I meet you there? I could pick you up,” he suggested. He didn’t think that punk would return but there were other bad guys in the world.
“I’ll be fine, Bobby, really. And I don’t have any idea when I’m going to finish up. Why don’t you go over Darien’s?”
Bobby rolled his eyes at the irony of her suggestion but only said, “Nah, I’ll just go home and get caught up on vegging in front of the tv.”
“Sounds like fun. Wish I was there with you.”
“So do I,” he murmured.
“God you sound so sexy when you do that,” she sighed.
He grinned and said, “You could blow off work and hear me in person.”
“You don’t know how tempting that is, Bobby, but I can’t,” she said. “What about tomorrow night?”
“I don’t know if I’ll be free but if I am, I’m there,” he promised.
“I wish you’d tell me what you did for a living that keeps you on such a strange schedule,” she said.
“If you stick around for a while, we’ll talk about it,” he said after a moment’s hesitation.
There was a pause then she said softly, “I’m not going anywhere, Bobby. Good night.”
He knew there was an absurdly large grin on his face as he pocketed the phone but left it there as he thought about Susan. Talk about sexy. He closed his eyes, remembering the last time they’d been together. Sitting on her couch making out like a couple of kids with those long, wet kisses that just curled toes. An erotic shiver passed through him just thinking about it. Shaking his head, he turned and got in the car. He wasn’t going to call Fawkes because his partner would never let him hear the end of changing his mind.
No, he’d just go home and have a nice, quiet night alone.
The phone rang, insistently and irritatingly shrill, pulling Darien out of a really, really nice dream. He didn’t remember anything except short dark hair and a pair of intense eyes. He groaned at the half-hard erection straining his boxers and rolled to answer the phone. “What?”
“Bobby? What’s going on?” Darien demanded, waking up instantly at Bobby’s agitated tone.
“They think I killed him and now they’re after me!”
“What? Calm down. Who thinks you killed who? No, save it. Where are you?” Darien asked.
“I don’t think I should tell you that, they’re probably already heading to your place,” Bobby said.
“Bobby, you can’t ask for help and then not let me know where you are!” Darien exclaimed.
There was a pause as Bobby obviously got himself together. “The cops are going to pay you a visit. I’ll keep an eye out and when they’re gone, I’ll show up and tell you everything.”
The connection cut off and Darien stared at the phone for a few seconds in disbelief before hanging up. Christ. What had Bobby gotten himself into and how? He hung up and rubbed fingers through his hair, spiking it into wild disarray. Someone pounded on his front door. Cursing, Darien grabbed a t-shirt and headed out of the bedroom.
“I’m coming!” he called out as they continued to pound on the door.
He glanced outside the peephole and sure enough, two cops stood outside the door. They weren’t in uniform but Darien could spot a cop a mile away. His mouth twisted bitterly for a moment then he asked, “What? Who’re you?”
A badge flashed in front of the peephole and one of them said, “San Diego PD, Mr. Fawkes. We need to ask you some questions about a Mr. Hobbes.”
Darien paused as though thinking that over then unlocked and opened the door. He backed up a little, motioning them in and presenting a grumbled, sleepy expression. “What can I do for you boys?”
“I’m Inspector Jacks and this is my partner, Inspector Marksen, Mr. Fawkes. Do you know where your friend Mr. Hobbes is?” one of them asked.
“Who said he was my friend?” Darien countered mildly.
The two Inspectors looked at each other and Jacks continued, “Your name was given to us by a reliable source, Mr. Fawkes. Please answer the question.”
“I don’t know where Bobby is,” Darien answered with an honest scowl.
“When was the last time you saw him?” Jacks asked.
“This afternoon. We had a fight,” Darien replied, sitting on the couch.
“He was being a dick,” Darien said flatly.
Raising an eyebrow, Jacks asked, “Could you be more specific?”
“We were going to watch the game last night and he canceled,” Darien answered, keeping his tone annoyed. He knew that anything he said was suspect just because he and Bobby were friends. What Darien really wanted to know was who the reliable source was. He knew Bobby didn’t have anything at his apartment that held a trace of him: no pictures, no address book with Darien’s name, nothing.
“Did he say why?”
He didn’t miss the narrowing of Jacks’ eyes and knew the man knew he’d lied but shrugged to himself. What the Inspector thought of him didn’t matter. He just needed to get through this damned interview and find out from Bobby what really happened. “I think he was going to see some woman. He didn’t say.”
“How long have you known Mr. Hobbes?” this was from Marksen who had been roaming around the apartment during the conversation.
“About a year now,” Darien answered.
“Are you good friends?”
“Good enough I suppose.”
“I don’t see any pictures of the two of you, here or at his place,” Marksen commented.
“I’m camera shy,” Darien said. “Look, what’s he supposed to have done?”
“Your buddy killed a man.”
Jacks glared at his partner. “Mr. Hobbes is a suspect in a murder investigation.”
“Murder? Bobby? No way,” Darien said firmly. Not that Bobby wouldn’t kill someone in self-defense or on the job, but murder? Not a chance.
“Well, we’ve got a man dead and your pal’s prints on the weapon that did it,” Marksen continued.
Frowning, Darien asked, “How do you know they’re his prints? That’s awfully fast lab work, isn’t it?”
“The deceased is the son of a prominent citizen,” Jacks answered. “Naturally, we’re going as quickly as we can to eliminate any elements that don’t fit. Our source told us that the deceased and Mr. Hobbes had violent contact before and that Mr. Hobbes even threatened to kill the deceased.”
Threatened to kill…Darien’s mind flashed back to the woman Bobby had saved a couple of weeks ago. Suddenly everything made sense. Bobby was seeing that woman and the dead guy was the man who’d attacked her. Christ. What if Bobby had killed him? It would be just like Bobby to take the chivalry thing too far. Or maybe he’d reacted to a threat from the attacker, that was equally as likely.
“Remembering something, Fawkes?” Marksen sneered.
Darien’s eyes slid to the man as he decided he definitely didn’t like this guy. Jacks was okay but this guy was definitely getting on Darien’s shitlist. “Nothing helpful, I’m sure.”
“Why don’t you let us decide?” Jacks asked.
Shrugging, Darien said, “He’s seeing some woman with a violent ex. I never actually met her, got the feeling that she was latching onto Bobby as some kind of safety net though. He’s such a good guy, real stable, you know? Lots of women react to him like that. Thing is, he’s too nice and wouldn’t know what to do if the ex showed up. Not real good in a fight, the man’s got a glass jaw.” Darien severely stifled a grin and thought, ‘Hobbes would kill me if he heard that.’
The two Inspectors exchanged looks. “So what if this ex showed up? Would Hobbes grab a weapon and defend himself?”
Darien made a point of thinking about the question then answered slowly, “I doubt it. I mean, nothing lethal like a gun. He’d try to protect the woman, the man’s too damned protective for his own good, but if it turned ugly, he’d call you guys. Well, not you specifically of course, but you know, the cops.”
“Uh-huh,” Marksen said skeptically. “I think you’re lying through your teeth to protect your buddy, Fawkes. You’re a con and he’s an unknown without any kind of record. Not even a damned parking ticket.”
Darien shrugged lazily. “Like I said, he’s a good guy.”
“If you think of something that might help us, call me,” Jacks said, holding out a business card.
Darien took the card and stood, saying ironically, “I will call if I think anything can help you.”
Marksen glared at him, but Jacks ushered his partner out of the apartment before he could say anything else. Darien shook his head as he locked the door wondering how such an ass could be a cop. Then he groaned, realizing that he’d just been semi-played. They were just doing what he and Hobbes did when interrogating a perp or suspect: double-teaming him.
‘We do it better, though,’ he thought with a cocky grin.
Yawning, Darien looked at the clock and groaned again. It was after four am and there was no way he’d get to sleep, he had to wait for Hobbes to show. Scratching itchy stubble on his jaw, he padded barefoot to the kitchen and poured a bowl of cereal. He might as well eat while waiting. He’d just taken a bite when there was a knock at his door. Dropping the bowl onto the counter, Darien raced across the living room and opened the door.
Considering he was on the run, Bobby looked good. He was dressed in jeans and his favorite black t-shirt and nothing else. He strolled into Darien’s apartment as though nothing was wrong while Darien peered outside to see if the cops had stuck around.
“They’re gone, Fawkes,” Hobbes assured him, sitting on the couch. “I made sure.”
“So. Bobby. How was your night?” Darien asked, shutting and locking the door. Leaning against the door, he watched as Bobby groaned and flopped down, stretching out on the couch.
“I’ve had better, partner,” Bobby answered.
“I bet,” Darien commented dryly, pushing off the door and walking across the living room to his cereal. He’d spilled a little when he’d run to get the door but ignored that, perching on the stool and facing Bobby as he ate. “Wanna tell me what’s going on? Partner?”
Bobby was silent as he rubbed his eyes, obviously trying to figure out where to start. “You know I strike out with relationships.”
“Yeah,” Darien said neutrally. He didn’t mention Viv but knew they were both thinking about Bobby’s ex-wife.
“I thought this time, I won’t screw it up. This time will be different,” Bobby continued softly.
Darien waited patiently, letting his friend talk at his own pace. He knew this was hard for Bobby; anything to do with emotions was hard for Bobby.
“I thought she was what I was looking for, Fawkes. Real gentle and smart and gutsy, too,” Bobby described. “Not to mention a fantastic kisser. You’ve probably already guessed it’s the woman I rescued a couple of weeks ago. Her name is Susan Jenkins and I was actually starting to think long-term, Fawkes.”
‘Shit. Poor Bobby,’ Darien thought with a wince.
“I was going to introduce you, honest, but in a couple of weeks. I just didn’t want to, I don’t know, jinx it by talking about it too soon, you know? Anyhow. We were supposed to get together tonight but she called to cancel just after you stormed out. I didn’t think too much about it, she said she had to work late. So I went home for a nice quiet night to myself. Well I got a call from her around eleven, frantic and panicked that he had found her again and this time he was going to kill her. I told her to calm down and tell me where she was. She was at work. So I told her to lock her office door and find a place to hide and I’d be right there.
“I got there and the place is deserted. The door was locked so I unlocked it and went inside. Of course I had my gun drawn, right? I had threatened to kill him last time and figured this time I’d have to get a little more in-depth, do some serious roughing up, you know? I heard something behind me but before I could turn all the way around, something pressed into my neck and I went down. I wake up a few feet from the guy’s body and my gun is hot in my hand. So whoever killed him used my gun and my hand to do it. Christ. What a fucking mess.”
Darien stayed silent, thinking rapidly about everything Bobby had just said. “What happened next?”
“The cops showed up and I took off, what do you think happened?” Bobby snorted.
“How’d they get your gun?” Darien asked.
“Ah. Well, I lost it going over the back alley gate,” Bobby admitted sheepishly.
“You lost it.”
“Look Fawkes, I don’t need you to start with me right now.”
“I’m not starting anything, Bobby, honest. I’m just thinking out loud,” Darien said. He hopped off the stool and sat on the edge of the couch, looking down at his partner. He knew what he thought had happened but also knew that Bobby probably didn’t want to hear it. “What do you think Fat Man’s going to say?”
“Get yourself out of it,” Bobby answered flatly, his eyes finally opening to lock onto Darien. “I’m on my own, here, Fawkes.”
Darien reached out hesitantly, gripping Bobby’s shoulder. “No you’re not, partner.”
Bobby sighed and half grinned, leaning against the half-embrace. “Thanks my friend. I needed to hear that.”
“I’m telling you this is a waste of time,” Bobby hissed.
“Humor me,” Darien said with a wink.
Rolling his eyes, Bobby nodded grudgingly and pointed at the building. “Her office is the third to the end.”
“Gotcha,” Darien said, opening the door.
“What?” Darien asked, startled. Bobby almost never called him by his first name.
“Don’t use your name, I’ve uh, I talked to her about you,” Bobby told him.
“Really?” Darien was both impressed and pissed. The woman had to be a good actress if Hobbes trusted her enough to talk about Darien, let alone give out his name. Which meant that Bobby was going to be even more devastated when Darien proved her to be behind everything.
“Yeah well, she let me bitch when you were more annoying than usual,” Bobby said.
“Anytime, my friend, anytime.”
Shaking his head, Darien left the car and headed towards the storefront across the street. It was actually the day after the day after because Darien had insisted Hobbes take the time to rest. Not only that, he wanted to get into work and talk to Claire about the woman, get her impression. As Darien had suspected, the woman hadn’t left much of an impression at all on his Keeper. Sweet and shy had been the adjectives used. Naturally, Darien had thought sourly. Exactly the sort of woman Hobbes would go for after his ex, especially one in trouble.
He moved easily as though he hadn’t a thing to hide, using his long legs to advantage to cross the street without jogging. He ran a hand through his hair and put on his ‘little-boy-lost’ expression that so far, no one had been able to resist. Entering the lobby, he leaned over the counter and said to the receptionist, “Hi there.”
She smiled back at him. “Hi there yourself. Can I help you?”
“I’m not sure. I’m looking for Susan Jenkins? A friend of mine recommended her services but he couldn’t remember if this was where she worked,” Darien lied.
“Oh sure. Let me just get her for you. And your name?”
“It’s Bobby. And thank you so very much,” Darien said with a wink. The woman blushed as she picked up the phone. Darien moved away from the front desk to look at the faux art on the walls while he waited. Thankfully there was no muzac playing over any hidden speakers. He sat in a chair and watched as a woman came rushing out, searching the lobby. He stood as she entered and smiled pleasantly. “Are you Ms. Jenkins?”
The slightly horrified expression faded immediately, replaced by a professional smile. “Why yes. And you are?”
“Bobby Simms,” Darien lied, moving forward and holding out his hand. Oh she was good. Fortunately, Darien was better. “A friend of mine recommended you a few months ago and I am suddenly flush with an unexpected windfall that I want to invest.”
“Of course. If you’ll follow me?” she offered, her smile growing more genuine.
‘Money-angle, definitely,’ Darien thought instinctively. He couldn’t figure out why she would want to use Bobby to kill someone in such an underhanded fashion. If she’d simply wanted the guy dead, she should have let the guy attack her again and Bobby probably would’ve gone and either beaten him to a pulp or shot him. But why all the subterfuge? He now knew it was money. Which would make sense considering who the dead guy was.
“I trust that you’re doing all right? I read about that awful murder that took place here the other night,” Darien said.
She tensed slightly but forced a smile, offering him a chair in front of her desk. “It was terrible but we are back in business.”
“Did you know him?”
“The man who was murdered? No. I had never met him.”
Interesting. Darien wondered what she’d told the police and had a sudden itch to see Inspector Jacks’ notes. Turning his thoughts back to the woman, he gave her his patented ‘I’m too adorable’ smile and said, “So. I have almost a million dollars and know nothing about investing. What can you do for me?”
Darien yawned silently, bored out of his skull. Ms. Jenkins certainly led a dull work life. He’d spent about an hour with her then thanked her profusely and promised to get back in touch when he’d made some decisions. Once around the corner, he’d given the thumbs up to Hobbes, looked around to make sure he was alone, and quicksilvered before returning to her office.
It was about fifteen minutes before closing time when he’d gone in and he’d stayed in the same corner for two hours, waiting for her to do something. From personal experience, he knew that if a screw-up were going to happen, it would happen in the first few days. After that, people lost their nervousness and settled in for the long haul, certain they were untouchable.
There was a knock on her office door and she called out, “Come in.”
Darien watched with interest when a young man entered the room and she stood up and silently crossed the room to lip-lock the guy. It went on for such a long time that Darien shifted uncomfortably, ignoring the sensations coming from down south. Hobbes was right, she looked like a fantastic kisser. When they finally came up for air, she looked up at the man and said, “You shouldn’t be here, Ben.”
“I couldn’t stay away,” he murmured, brushing loose hair from her face.
Darien’s eyes rolled and he thought, ‘Oh please.’
“How’s your sister-in-law taking things?” Susan asked maliciously.
Ben grinned and said, “Fuming. She found out that the will left everything to me just this morning.”
‘Gotcha,’ Darien thought triumphantly. All he had to do now was prove it.
“Poor thing. Left out in the cold like that. Shocking,” Susan murmured moving to kiss him again.
‘Spare me,’ Darien thought with a silent groan.
“What about us? Is everything taken care of?” Susan asked, pulling back.
Ben looked dazed for a moment then nodded. “We leave tomorrow morning.”
“Sounds good to me,” Susan said, smiling up at him. “I still can’t believe we’re married! I’m so happy.”
‘Oh this just keeps getting better and better!’ Darien thought furiously.
“Me, either,” Ben echoed blissfully.
‘Don’t get too comfortable, pal. Ten to one you’re next, only, I wouldn’t take that bet,’ Darien thought. He had to wait another twenty minutes before the happy couple finally broke apart and Ben left. After the door closed, the look on Susan’s face grew hard and satisfied and Darien knew he was right. She already had Ben’s murder and her retirement planned. Shit. At least when he fell in love and the woman turned out to be a murderer, Darien’s woman was up front about it.
Shaking his head, Darien wondered whether to stick around or give Hobbes an update. Knowing that his partner was probably growing more and more irritated at the enforced silence, Darien chose the later and slipped out the office door. He looked up as he reached the front door and noticed a small, unobtrusive and very familiar glass bulb in the ceiling. Pursing his lips, Darien wondered if Inspector Jacks or his partner had looked at the security tapes. Not if Susan had anything to say about it, he knew.
Three hours after Darien had gone in the second time, Bobby was just about ready to go in himself when Darien emerged from the side of the building. Bobby noticed the hesitant expression when Darien entered the car and grew tense. He didn’t like it when Darien looked like that, it usually signaled bad news. “Out with it. What’s going on?”
“You’re not going to like it.”
Bobby sighed. “I can tell that from your expression.”
“What expression? I don’t have any expression.”
“Fawkes, yes you do.”
“I’m sure I don’t.”
“Just, will you spill it, Fawkes?” Bobby exploded.
“It’s her, I’m sorry,” Darien said, bringing out computer disks. “Not as easy to view as video tapes but a lot more durable. She’s married to the dead guy’s brother and I’m pretty sure she’s going to cap him tonight. He’s the one who actually knocked you out and killed his brother.”
Bobby felt himself freeze up inside and knew this one was it. This was the last time he would ever open himself up to a woman. It was his own damned fault for trusting her so quickly, he knew, but it had been so easy. She’d been so gentle and soft and understanding and funny. If he listened hard enough, Bobby could hear his heart shattering into a million pieces.
“C’mon man, snap out of it. This ain’t over yet,” Darien said.
“Sure it is. You got the brother on security cam, right?” Bobby said. “We pass those into the cops and I’m cleared.”
“What about her, Bobby? You’re going to let her get away with this? With millions of dollars?” Darien demanded.
“I don’t care,” Bobby whispered, closing his eyes.
“Well I do. I want to nail that bitch for what she put you through,” Darien said viciously.
Startled at the venom in his partner’s tone, Bobby looked at the young man and said, “I don’t like that look in your eyes, Fawkes.” Darien grinned and Bobby flinched. He’d never seen Darien so…cold…before. Except in final stage quicksilver madness and that was a time that did not hold fond memories for Bobby.
“Oh don’t worry, Bobby. We’re definitely gonna call the cops.”
“Bobby! What are you doing here?”
Bobby rushed inside the apartment, going straight for the couch. He had to play this right. Resting his head in his hands as though defeated, he said, “The cops think I killed him, Susan. You have to help me.”
“Bobby, you have to turn yourself in,” she exclaimed, moving away from him.
“I didn’t do it, you know that! You have to help me,” Bobby repeated. He could hear her moving around the room before returning to stand behind him. A small hand rested on his shoulder, rubbing it soothingly. His skin crawled at her touch but he forced himself to lean into the caress. ‘Not long,’ he promised himself.
“It’s okay, Bobby, of course I know you didn’t do it,” she said soothingly. “We’ll get everything sorted out.”
Someone pounded at the door and Bobby hid a satisfied grin as her hand stilled. Raising his head, he asked, “Who could that be?”
“I don’t know,” Susan answered. “Go hide over there. I’ll get rid of them and then we can sort this whole mess out.”
From his hiding spot behind the desk, he watched as she opened the door and Ben barreled into the room, furious and shouting, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Ben, what are you talking about?” Susan demanded, grabbing his coat and dragging him back towards the door.
“Somehow the cops got turned on to me! They suspect that I’m the killer! I thought you had this Bobby all tied up so perfect that it would never be tracked to me!” Ben exclaimed.
“What is he talking about?” Bobby demanded, stepping out from his spot.
Quicker than either man could blink, Susan had a gun out and aimed at both of them. “Well, this isn’t exactly how I’d planned it but it’ll do.”
“Susan, what are you doing?” Ben asked, the blood draining from his face.
“What do you think I’m doing? I’m getting rich. Picture the scene: I’m battered and bruised and weeping, ‘Oh officer it was awful! Bobby stormed in as my husband and I were just sitting and watching television! Ben managed to reach the gun I keep for safety but Bobby somehow got a hold of it and killed him. I was so scared! I tried to convince Bobby that I wasn’t a threat but he was just insane. He attacked me and during the fight, the gun went off!’ Can’t you just see it? The three of you out of the way and I’m fifteen million dollars richer, thanks to our marriage license. ”
“I killed my brother for you. You bitch!” Ben exclaimed.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Bobby heard Darien say. He watched as Susan struggled for the gun against an unseen assailant but the gun was jerked out of her reach and disappeared from view.
“What the hell was that?” Susan gasped.
Bobby smirked. “My partner. You wanted to know what I do, Susan? I’m a federal agent, doll. Come on out, Darien.”
Darien walked out of the kitchen, fully visible, and went to stand beside Bobby, keeping the gun steady on Susan and Ben. “You got everything?”
“Oh I got everything.”
“That’s great because I don’t think she’s gonna confess a second time.”
“I doubt it, too. Hey, great move by the way,” Bobby complimented.
“Thanks. You know, I’ve been perfecting that for a long time,” Darien said, nudging Bobby’s shoulder. “All right, guys, you can come and get them now.”
The door opened a third time and Inspectors Jacks and Marksen entered, guns drawn. They immediately handcuffed Ben and Susan and started reading them their rights. Darien turned to Bobby and said, “So, quick or slow?”
“God, Darien, what is this, Kindergarten?” Bobby asked, pulling up his shirt.
“All right but don’t forget I gave you the option,” Darien pointed out. He started pulling off the microphone tape as slowly as he could, grinning as Bobby gritted his teeth.
“Oh for chrissake, Fawkes, just rip the damned thing off!” Bobby exclaimed at last.
“I don’t know, Hobbes, I’m kinda having fun here,” Darien said, a wicked glint to his eyes.
Bobby grabbed Darien’s hand and pulled, wincing as hair attached to the tape was ripped out of his chest. “You’re such a child.”
“I am not.”
“You are too.”
“No I’m not.”
“Fawkes, you are the most…”
“I think we’re about done here. You can come down to the station tomorrow and fill out your statements,” Jacks interrupted, holding out his hand for the wires.
Bobby handed them to the inspector then followed Darien out of the apartment. “So what are you doing tomorrow night?”
“I don’t know. I think I’m busy,” Darien answered. He had to raz Bobby a little about the canceled nights after all. It was practically a law.
“Doing what?” Bobby demanded.
“Washing my hair.” Darien glanced at Hobbes and saw he was looking at Susan who was being led to the inspectors’ car. “Hey, you all right?”
“Me? Yeah. I’m peachy,” Bobby answered, tearing his eyes from the woman who had turned his life upside-down so easily. Was he really so needy that he would have reacted like that with anyone? He hoped not but couldn’t be sure. “Darien?”
“Do you think she set me up from day one? I mean, did she pick me or was I just any shmoe walking down the street?”
Darien pursed his lips, thinking carefully about how to answer that. He knew that Bobby was close to the edge emotionally and wanted to say the right thing to…to make it better. It sounded so corny put that way but Bobby was hurting and when his partner hurt, so did Darien. At last he sighed and said, “I don’t know, partner. I wish I did. Come on, Bobby, let’s go.”
“Yeah,” Bobby agreed. He half-grinned up at Darien and said, “So what kind of shampoo do you use?”
“Oh I’ve got the good stuff.”
“The good stuff, huh?”
“Oh yeah. You know, the kind that’s got all those herbs and conditioners. How do you think I get this kind of control?”
“You do have good control. Nice shine too.”
“Hey thanks. You too, man.”
“Oh definitely. And you know what? I think I can even see my reflection in the top of your head.”