|The Dirty Jobs
Author: cassibill PM
Picks up from "Maltese Falcon", Nate has his plan and they have theirs. How will they function without him and how will they get him back? The honest man became a thief, but when did the theives become honest? Rating it T, might have to change it later.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Family - Chapters: 9 - Words: 79,920 - Reviews: 36 - Favs: 21 - Follows: 58 - Updated: 03-26-13 - Published: 03-06-10 - id: 5795800
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN- I'd like to thank all of you guys for sticking with me on this and VolceVoice who gives me amazing feedback and catches so many of my stupid mistakes. The delay is purely on me due to my life and own pickiness.
Chapter 7- It's In the Fire, That the Blade Is Born
"Wow, this is really empty." Parker looked around at the large room that was bare except for a full sized bed and a dresser.
Billy stopped her pacing at the other woman's voice. "We don't use it. Haven't since my sister took the last of her stuff. I was about eight or so. We haven't even needed it when family's visitin'."
"There are a lot of rooms." Parker peeked her head out the door and gazed down the hall.
"Seven bedrooms on this floor." Billy nodded. She sat on the sheet-less bed. "Do a little climbin' on the family tree and you'll find Robert Carlisle. Seventeen kids with his first wife and twelve with his second. Twenty-six had families of their own, no less than nine kids a piece. Family reunions require more planning than a NATO exercise. Naturally, we have the Homecomin' here at the Home Place."
"That's like three hundred people." Parker hopped up on the dresser and sat.
"Three hundred and thirty-one, if I recall correctly. I'd have to double check my family tree, but you get the idea. I only have a sister and a dozen first cousins. It's damn near unnatural. Granddad had five kids. His dad had seven. His granddad had eleven. Ma's older brother, Al, descends in an unbroken line of oldest sons. He's a town sort of guy, so Ma got the farm by agreement. This isn't my room you know. It's across the hall."
"I knew that." Parker nodded her head quickly. "Then why are you over here?"
"Pacin' helps me think. There's more room for it over here and less distractions. I've written many an essay in here with my laptop sittin' where you are. Been over here a lot lately."
Parker watched Billy rise and make another lap. "You've got a lot to think about, huh?"
Billy paused to lean against the corner of the walk-in closet. "Mmmmhmmm, for some reason bein' over here makes sense. There's somethin' off about my room. Well, besides the window that gets replaced Monday."
"What is it?" Parker cocked her head. Billy drug her hand through her suddenly shorter bangs. "You cut your hair."
"Ma did after supper. It's been needin' it. This way I'll look good tomorrow and Saturday." She shrugged. "Not sure why bein' over here feels right. Somethin' in the way the room feels. Almost like it's alive. An energy maybe. It's funny.
"You ever held somethin' old or been in some old place and felt its personality? Sometimes I handle Granddad's pump gun or his watch and I think I feel him. Stupid really. He'd been gone six years by the time I was born."
Parker could remember the way something felt alive in her hands. "Yeah. Maybe it works the other way."
Billy turned her gaze back to Parker from where she'd been running her fingers over the cream colored wainscoting. "The other way?"
"If your room is across the hall, doesn't that mean that this is the best room to use for-"
"I intend to. The other way..." The other woman stepped into the middle room and closed her eyes. "Humph, the other way..." She nodded a moment. "Makes sense." With a quiet smile, she headed to the door. "And I think I know why my room feels off." She reached for the doorknob of her own room.
Parker came along behind her, pausing inside the door to look at the poster on the open door. A black, angular airplane moving vertically in a twilight sky, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I'm at 80,000 feet and climbing..." was printed in script at the top, and "Blackbird" up one side.
That poster was simply a preview of what lay on the other side. Anyone walking into that room without knowing who it belonged to, would take one look and assume it was the bedroom of a twelve year old boy. Looking in the dresser drawers and closet would simply increase the age, not change the gender. A few battered stuffed animals in a rope hammock in one corner could be dismissed easily enough or overlooked, but you'd have to be blind to miss the armada of planes and spacecraft suspended from the ceiling by fishing line, dozens of tanks and a fleet of ships sitting on shelves along side regiments of miniature soldiers. The posters on the walls are similar to the one on the door, military hardware or paintings of battles. The starched, light blue shirt hanging on the closet door with a dark blue vest and dress pants, a tie depicting the constellation Orion and a old-looking airplane hanging over the knob, gave maturity to the room, along with the textbooks and computer setup.
Billy stood by her computer, holding a small stuffed dog, gazing at it with a gentle smile.
"Shouldn't that be with the others?" Parker pointed to the old toys on the wall.
"Nope. He's not mine. He was one of my first impulse buys though." She returned to reading the tag, murmuring "Machine washable" and "Infant safe" before tearing the tag off and dropping it in the trash. She tossed him onto her bed. She gazed around the room and started pulling things from their hiding places and tossing them along side the dog, a stack of model kits hid a pair of tennis shoes, clothes appeared from the back of drawers. After she'd worked her way through the whole room, she turned to Parker, now sitting on her bed looking at things. She stared a moment.
"What?" Parker asked unfolding items.
"I just...damn...I've never had it all together before. Hadn't realized what all I've picked up these last couple months. Where's my list?" She dug through a desk drawer, finally emerging with a legal pad.
Parker was teaming a pair of jeans with a blue and green polo shirt that were the same size, when Billy settled on the other side of the pile. "The sizes are all mixed together." The thief held up two shirts several sizes apart as a visual aid.
"I know. Like I said, impulse buys. They were on sale or clearance. Maybe I just liked 'em. I've got a sort of list of about what I should need and roughly when pieced together from the books, but really I got no idea what I've got." The dog and a few other toys went into their own small pile. A blanket went to one side. "That's the only blanket and, I think, that's all the toys."
Parker rummaged in the larger heap, mentally replaying the stream of items being tossed on the bed. "I think so, too. Oh, this is the same size as the shirt." Parker tugged the jacket out of the pile and put it with the outfit in her lap. Billy was scribbling things on the legal pad and made a few tick marks in the right places, before tossing it aside, scooping the toys and the blanket into her arms, and crossing the hall with them. Parker found a sweater vest and pair of dark pants in the same size as the others in her lap by the time the young woman returned.
"It should just be clothing left. I guess I should start at zero and work up from there, don't you? Most of it is either zero or three, I think. I'll need it first. You've got nine over there, right?" She pulled a lap-full of clothing towards her as she glanced at the thief's own lap.
"Nine-twelve", Parker double checked the tags. A red sweatshirt was tossed into her lap from Billy's pile. A package of socks followed. She was rearranging the stuff in her lap when she realized the other woman was silent and motionless. Parker looked across the pile and tried to figure out what she was seeing.
Billy stared down at a tiny pair of vinyl and felt cowboy boots, held gently upside in her hands. One index finger ran along the sole. Her breathing was heavy. It was was hard to tell behind the dark glasses, but Parker thought she might be blinking really fast.
A few swallows later, words slipped out no louder than a whisper. "There are days it doesn't seem real. When I actually have to listen to the recordin' of the Doppler on my phone to make myself believe it. When I have to hold the pair of socks I've been carryin' in my pocket as a reminder. And then there are times, like now, when it hits me so hard, I can't breathe. This is just...awesome, the way the word really means, amazin' and terrifyin' all at once. These are shoes, actual shoes that will have actual feet in them in less than a year. Feet attached to a person that small." She stroked them gently.
"They look just like the ones down there." Parker reached over the foot of the bed and pulled a similar looking gray and black boot from its place by the closet.
"Yeah, just like mine, but about a million times smaller. Had to have them when I saw them. They match my version of dress shoes. Anytime I need good shoes, I wear those or a pair of cordovan colored ones, dependin' on what I'm wearin'. Easter, meetings, graduation, Christmas, family things, I wear those. That's why I bought..." She looked at the pile for something and then quickly got up. "Years ago, I saw a sweatshirt I wanted, badly: 'The History of Aviation'." She opened a drawer and produced a blue sweatshirt with navy cuffs and collar littered with aircraft schematics. "Not exactly cheap and I'm hard on clothes, always have been, but Ma got for me, I was ten or so." Parker looked at the large sweatshirt, confused. "I took care of it. Saved it for church and Christmas Eve at my aunt's mostly, maybe a cousin's birthday party and somethin' happened that had never happened before. I outgrew it before I destroyed it. So, Ma hunted and found it again in a larger size. I've outgrown it three times. Ma's replaced it three times. I wear it to Aunt Joan's for Christmas Eve, every year. When Ma told me to pick out a couple of airplane shirts as part of my birthday this year, I saw this." She knelt next to the bed and pulled a box out. Opening the lid, she withdrew a tiny, but identical shirt. "I slipped it into the order. Three-Six was the smallest they had, but Ma said somethin' about me wearin' that size pretty quickly, if I recall. I'll have to buy a new one next year." She boxed the small shirt up again and set it with the other clothes on the bed.
"That's cool." Parker pulled a pair of pajamas in three-six out and tossed them on top of the box. Billy sifted through the pile she'd had in her lap and started on a second load when Parker bluntly asked , "So where's the father?" She gestured towards the outside world.
"I've got no idea who, let alone where to find him again. I'd best get used to this conversation. I'm bettin' I have it more times than I'd like in my lifetime. Too late now. I made my choice a long time ago. If I can't live with the consequences, I had no business taking the path." The young woman sorted a handful of camouflage shirts into the right piles. A hat and two pairs of pants in similar colors were next.
"Sophie would have a fit if she saw this." Parker looked at the clothes piled on the bed. "It looks like a miniature version of an outdoor store's inventory." Her eyes fixed on the piles of camo and dark colors, sprinkled with a lighter or brighter color now and then.
"What's wrong with it?"
Parker looked across the bed at the other woman, looking back at her in confusion.
"Couldn't it be a girl or can you tell already?" The look of abject horror was unmistakable as Billy dropped a hunter green onesie back in her lap and hurriedly reached over to cover Parker's mouth with her hand.
"It's too early to tell, but don't give it any ideas. I'm workin' off of mother's intuition or maybe just wishful thinkin'. Look around. Does it look like I'd know what to do if confronted with hair-braidin' or tea parties? I'm not stupid. I just don't think God is that cruel. I'm more of a guy than some of the guys I've slept with. I'm a tomboy, raised by a tomboy. Do you know the last time my clothes came from the girls' side of Wal-Mart? 'Cause I DON'T."
Billy rose from her bed and disappeared out her door. Parker heard her on the stairs, going part way down before coming back. She thrust a framed picture into Parker's hands. "April 5th, 1997, I'd just turned five. Ma wanted a picture, so I got stuffed into a dress my sister had from bein' a flower girl and drug to Sears. That was the last time I've worn anything remotely girly and it took a case of baseball cards and a kid's tool set as bribe to do it."
A little girl with missing teeth smiled from the frame; blue-gray eyes peeking through pale brown bangs with a reddish cast. The red and white dress fit her well, but even in the photograph, seemed horribly out of place.
"When I got old enough to drive, I wasn't real interested in gettin' a license. One of the women Ma worked with said to offer to buy me a 'cute, little car' if I would. Know what Ma told her? 'You tryin' to get me killed, Peggy? She don't want a car; She wants a '41 Willys Jeep with a machine gun mount, 'cause a tank ain't road legal.' I've always been that way.
"I was three. I think, when I came down to breakfast on my birthday and Ma and Gran had gotten me a doll and that stuff that goes with it. They figured if I had my own I might leave Josey Jay's alone. Sis still collects dolls. I've got no idea what they ended up doing with it. I tossed the doll in the cradle and I don't think I had anything to do with it ever again. I remember bein'...disappointed. They were just confused." Billy laughed at the memory, reaching under the bed again. "The cars Joes got me are right here." She flipped the lid back on the vinyl suitcase, revealing a trunk full of Matchbox cars. "I wanted to annoy my sixteen year old sister, not play with a doll. Sis knew. I guess they didn't figure a toddler was that devious." She ran he fingers over the tiny cars, before closing them up again. Instead of putting them away, she sat the case next to the door and went back to sorting.
"I'm gettin' settled with the idea, but I still have moments. Some things still rattle me." She never looked at Parker, simply tossing another shirt into the thief's lap. A pair of socks with sailboats on the cuffs tossed on the three-six finished the second lap-full and sent Billy gathering up another batch from the dwindling heap.
"You're scared." The statement was just that, a statement, not a question.
"I believe I used the word terrified earlier." There was no shame in her words, just simple honesty. She sighed, adding a folded sleeper to a pile.
"Of what? Babies aren't dangerous."
"Now there's a loaded question. No, babies are pretty low on the danger list, but that's no reason for me to be totally calm. I've got, what, two months and about a week of experience of bein' an adult and it ain't just me I'm responsible for now. I've got a whole damn list of reasons to freak out. I'm serious. I made a list." She fumbled through the legal pad until she came to a particular page. She held it out towards Parker with a "See!"
"You actually wrote a list?" Even Parker found that a little odd.
"Thought maybe if I had them in front of me, they'd be easier to deal with. Get them out of my head. Make them tangible. Give myself some distance. Every time something runs through my head in the middle of the night, I add it to the list and come back to it in the daylight. Some of them made me laugh when I crossed them out the next mornin'. Some of them have me wantin' to bang my head into the wall." Billy's eyes ran over the list, silently reminding herself of what lay ahead.
Parker was an expert at keeping things secret and the honesty confused her. "Why are you telling me this? You don't know me."
"That's probably why. There's nothin' between us to get messed up and I get an outside opinion. Besides, you asked and I don't lie. Ever. Hold back and throw unrelated facts into the mix so you can lie to yourself, yes. Say somethin' that ain't true, never. Never seen the point. There's nothin' worth havin' you can't get another way and if it's about not getting into trouble over somethin', either there's a good reason you shouldn't do it to begin with or the rule is stupid and needs ignored. No reason to lie either way."
The young woman turned her baseball cap backwards and peered over her sunglasses at the small print on a tag. Squinting a moment, she tossed the sleeper on the right pile before tugging the hat back over her eyes and pushing her glasses back into place.
The thief cocked her head at the behavior. "You don't like light."
Distributing the last of the pile, Billy rose and stretched. "Nope, I'm sensitive to light. Too much gives me a headache. I prefer the happy darkness. The trade off is I have fabulous night vision." She pulled out her desk chair and dropped heavily into it in reverse, resting her chin in the back of it. When she flexed her back, the popping sounds were painfully loud.
Parker looked up from where she was arranging clothes into outfits. "Ouch, that sounds painful."
"Probably? You don't know? How can you not know? Aren't painkillers bad?"
"They are bad. I've never really needed them anyway. I broke seven ribs when I was in fourth grade. The school nurse sent me to back to class after recess with ice because I didn't seem to be in enough pain for them to be broken and I just...dealt with it. They healed wrong. Over the years, I quit feelin' them. Unless I do something major, they're fine. It's...odd. Feelin' them rub and knowin' it probably does or should hurt and not registerin' it. I've either gotten used to it or I suppress it without thinkin' about it. Either way. My legs are probably the same. 'Course they were a gradual thing after what I did." She never looked up from the floor, instead breathing deeply and relaxing into the sensation of muscles releasing.
"What did you do?" Parker was curious. The fact that both of Billy's legs turned outward was unmissable. The right one was almost completely sideways. Sitting astride the desk chair, with her knees flexed and her feet hooked over the support structure, was probably one of the most comfortable positions she could find.
Billy nuzzled the chair a moment and murmured something that sounded like "God, I love this chair" before she looked up at Parker. "I fell off the hay wagon and landed under it...while it was movin'. I was little. No more than four. The back wheel went over my legs. The ground was soft so they didn't break. They...twisted. The bones and cartilage weren't fixed yet, so they gave. I just got up and limped back to the house. I was fine, sore, bruised, yet still walkin', but, over the years, they turned out. No one even noticed until Ma seen I'd worn a bare spot up on the inward side of of my left shoe of a pair of suede high-tops. My right heel hits there when I walk. Not always, but sometimes. Depends on my gait.
"Had a set of x-rays done. Fixin' it ain't worth it. I'd have to relearn to walk a different way afterward. As long as I wear high top shoes or boots or go barefoot, I'm fine. I'm clumsy and have a high pain threshold. Not sure if that's the reason or a coincidence. I dislocated a finger last fall and didn't know it 'til somebody said something. Just popped it back and went on." The young woman shifted slightly in her chair, reaching for a piece of paper on her desk and scribbled something on it.
Parker wasn't sure what to say. Sophie would know, but she didn't. Change the subject, Parker. That's what you were supposed to do when conversation got awkward. "What did you write down?"
"A note to remind me I need a tube of drosophila. I'm nearly out. I can pick then up tomorrow on my way back."
"What? Dry Sophias?" Parker was confused.
"Dro-so-phi-la, fruit flies. My lizards eat 'em. I raise the crickets and mealworms, but I haven't set up to raise the fruit flies yet. It's on my list."
"Where are they? What kind?" Parker was curious and momentarily forgot her foray into infant fashion coordination.
Billy chuckled and rose from her chair. Stretching a moment, she grabbed something off her desk and handed it to Parker as she lowered herself back to her old spot on the mattress. Parker studied the tiny, reptilian features peering at her from the pictures. "They're sharing a five gallon critter keeper down in the sunroom. It was the only room in the house warm enough for them without added heat. One Bahama anole and a long-tailed lizard. They were part of my birthday. I'm setting up a ten aquarium as something more permanent. Probably won't set it in here though. Maybe the north bedroom. I can keep the door locked. Might not be a bad idea. Keep things away from little fingers." She pulled the first stack towards her and started figuring out what she had in zero-three.
"You really like animals." Parker handed the pictures back and Billy dropped them on her nightstand.
"I do. Helps that they like me. I've been told if I can't make a pet out of something, no one can." She sorted the clothing by type, made sure it was folded, and then recorded it on her list.
"Are you going to do all of this tonight? Don't you have to sleep?" Parker gestured at the stacks of clothes.
"Can't sleep. Might as well be useful. Besides I'd still have to put it away. I can just do it right now and be done." After she'd come up with a system, it went quickly. Dropping the notepad, she stacked the clothes and disappeared into the other room with them.
Parker took the time to look around the room. The bed was wedged in a corner. The nightstand sat between it and the door. A desk was crammed into the nook created by the walk in closet. There was a dresser along one wall. A second, L-shaped desk sat under one window and there were bookshelves any place one would fit. The wainscoting in this room had been stained instead of painted and the walls painted a royal blue. The bedding was digi-camo. It seemed only fitting with everything she'd noticed earlier. The clothing was t-shirts and cargo pants. It was a mix of dark colors and camouflage. Parker couldn't help but glance at the clothing on the bed. The parallels were obvious. Even the slogan shirts were present, most notably, a onesie reading "Any more attitude and there'd be two of me" and Billy's "I'm not prejudiced. I hate everyone." t-shirt.
Then Parker noticed them. Books. Everywhere. The shelves were packed. There were boxes and stacks wherever there was room. There were paperbacks, hardbacks, and magazines, new and crisp, old and worn, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, mostly English, but a few in Spanish and German. One looked to be in Polish. A magazine on computers, still wrapped in plastic, laid on the corner desk. A hundred and twelve year old copy of Prescott's Mexico was on top of it. The written word took up so much of the room, it essentially became the background.
Parker was examining the contents of the other desk when she heard Billy return. "That'll be a Supermarine Scimitar when it's done. It'll be a while. It requires all sorts of fun chemicals to finish. Won't be working on it anytime soon. I miss it. I do what I can, research, mark things on the parts, little things. Mostly to hold me over. Scratch the itch."
"There are a lot of them." Parker quietly started counting the miniatures to herself.
Billy stepped into the room, took the photos from the nightstand and placed them back on her desk. "Been at it a while. I was seven when I talked my way into that one." She pointed to a blue and white fighter plane. "I was hooked. After that was the Blackbird, the Marauder, the Shuttle, Enterprise, Phantom, Harrier, Lancer, HMS Tiger..." Billy's finger followed her words. "Even tried cars with police cruiser and General Lee. Didn't care for it." Billy dropped onto her bed and pulled the next group of clothes to her and began sorting. "Besides everything on my mind and my meeting, well later today, the chronic insomnia would probably had me up anyway. What about you? What brings you all the way here this late?"
Parker said nothing. She had taken position in the desk chair and turned away from the other woman, seemingly fixated by the gray plastic spread out on the desk. Picking up on of the larger pieces, she studied it. Sure enough, colored lines of several shades marked the surface.
"I get it. Sometimes you just need to regroup. Ma's lost track of me more times than she can count. I disappear somewhere with something to read or a sketchbook for a while and turn up when I'm ready. I've been doin' it a lot myself lately. I ain't gonna begrudge anybody that." Billy gathered the now folded clothes and took them across the hall to the open dresser drawers.
Parker's gaze shifted from the piece of plastic in her hand to the window in front of her. The radiating cracks from the tiny hole were barely visible in the night, illuminated only by the lamps in the driveway and the room. The wear of the chaise lounge on the other side could be made out even in the poor light. "You spend a lot of time out there."
"I did. I was out there the night..." The voice barely raised above a whisper. "Only reason I wasn't sittin' there was I was runnin' to get to Big'en when he went to squealin'. My copy of Blue Sea of Blood is still layin' out there. Haven't felt like gettin' it." The younger woman's barefooted tread came towards the thief and there was a rattle on the nightstand and it left again. Parker heard her on the stairs and then she returned, dropping back on the bed. "You read much?", came from the bed.
"I read manuals and stuff. There are some other books I like." Parker put the plane back on the desk and turned the chair around. "Eliot saw me reading one of the others once and said they were for kids, because it had pictures. I like pictures."
"So do I. I've got a visual memory. In fact, I think I've got a book you'd like to borrow." Billy cleared her lap and ducked out the door again. She was gone a few minutes, before she returned and pushed a small, thick book into Parker's hands. The thief looked at it, Great Illustrated Classics Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
"I've heard of him. He wrote the Christmas book with the ghosts. This has pictures!" Parker thumbed through the book.
Billy was working on the last stacks on her bed. "That's the idea. The series takes those books that are really famous and makes them easier to understand and adds a drawing to every other page. They're meant as a bridge from kid's books to grownup books. I get the feelin' this one will speak to you. If you get that one done, I've got about thirty more.
"One year, Ma gave me one everyday as my...advent? Not exactly Advent really. I get some little something, starting the first of December, every day until Christmas. I got the rest of them on Christmas. I was five, I think. Ma still does it for me and Sis both. Something we'd like or could use, a pack of pens, a keyring, a bottle of paint in my case. I can always use paint. Ma leaves a box of wrapped stuff with Sis on Thanksgiving and I find something somewhere left for me everyday, by my plate, in my clothes basket, coat pocket, shoes. She used to leave them on my pillow when I was little. Still does sometimes. Nothing over about three dollars, but I love it anyway." Billy's gaze turned to a calender on the far wall. "I guess I should keep an eye out for two dozen little things myself. Enjoy the book." Billy turned back to the task and Parker opened to the first page.
Eliot had breathed a sigh of relief when Sophie had brewed a cup of tea and gone out onto the back porch with it. He wanted to talk to Hardison about what he'd found without Sophie overhearing. He wasn't sure how the grifter would react, but he didn't think she'd be happy for one reason or another. Besides, the woman had enough on her mind and he figured they could do this without her. If they needed to grift, even Parker or Hardison could convince these idiots.
Slipping into the chair next to Hardison, he leaned in close. "What'd you find?"
"Let me finish sending Nate what he wanted...and there. What I found...", the young hacker switched windows, "is enough to leave me wondering how these guys are walking around free. It ain't that they haven't been caught, they just get away with it when they do.
"They've all been involved in a major crash or two at some point. They've got every traffic offense I can think of, plus- minor consumption, drug possession, petty theft, battery, and public indecency, just to name a few things they've actually been convicted of. The thing is when I pulled the particulars, I can't figure out how they got these charges. They always get the minimum sentence on a lesser charge. Danvers was pulled over for going ninety, blew twice the limit, and had half a pound of pot on the front seat. He got reckless driving, minor consumption, and a minor possession charge. Things aren't adding up."
"Somebody is pullin' strings for these little punks. The question is who and why. All three should've been in juvie or jail before any of this started. This is bigger then three little bastards runnin' loose. A lot bigger. Can you send this to Nate?"
"Eliot, the man is in a hospital, in Sterling's custody, and you want him to look at this?"
"I just want a consult. It ain't that they're not getting' caught, they're not getting' punished. Somethin' dirty is goin' on in the system. Somebody is protectin' them and I want to know why. Nate has his flaws, but he knows this stuff. Besides, it'll give him a distraction. I doubt he's got a lot to do right now."
"Fine, man, I'll pass it on. Give me a minute."
Eliot pulled a notepad and pen to him and started piecing things together. The reports were there. They were being caught, but the arrest never went anywhere. Most of the cops looked clean. If they weren't, the reports wouldn't have been filed in the first place. Whoever was running this had to be a higher up, either in the prosecutor's office or on the bench.
"Hardison, did any of these go to trial? Did they use the same judge, prosecutor, bailiff?"
"Give me a minute. I'm going as fast I can."
"Fine. Just do it. Can you get a list of the cops, deputies;... basically every one of the 'good guys'. We can go down the list and figure out who's dirty and who's not and go from there."
The older man moved to the kitchen cupboards and began double checking the supplies. Billy had offered to do some shopping for the team in Lexington and Eliot wanted to have the list ready. I also want those bastards and I don't care who I have to bring down with them. This is just going to get worse if nobody does anything and it's going to get ugly out here first.
Nate immersed himself in the intel Hardison had sent on his situation. The cases were heavily intertwined. If one was shaken, they'd all feel it. Maybe if he arranged for a few tremors, he could get Sterling to pull off the team's trail. He really wished he had a pen and paper to plot this out, but this way was safer. There would be nothing physical for anyone to find. The inconvenience was worth it to keep his team safe.
A flashing at the top of the screen got his attention.
'Eliot wants you to look at something. It looked hinky to us, but we can't decide just how hinky.'
Nate raised an eyebrow. At least, they were staying busy. Looking at the records Hardison sent him, he quietly filed away the rough location of their hideout, the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. It looked like he had the rap sheets, school records, and basic background on three teenage boys. Three very busy juvenile offenders that should have been locked up and yet had avoided the inside of a cell. They were right to suspect something hinky, as Hardison said. Very hinky indeed. The boys didn't come from wealthy or well-connected families so they themselves must be the reason they were getting special favors. The question then became: what were they doing for whom?
There wasn't a pattern. At least not in these three alone, but these boys weren't the only only ones with this arrangement. That he was sure of. They were too unimportant by themselves. Only with a larger purpose, did this kind of patronage make sense.
'Hardison, you're right. Something big is going on. These three are low level players, but I can't see what the game is. They're probably couriers or something along those lines. Look for guys with records showing similar patterns in the county. If we can see what the related crimes are maybe we can see the big picture. Good luck and get rid of all evidence of this job off of here. I want it gone by morning with no trace. Keep your heads down. Good choice though. Even I wouldn't guess Sophie would pick there.'
Nate felt a certain amount of pride. Even on the run, his team were trying to be good guys, well as good as they got. He wasn't the only one who'd changed for the better. Turning his mind back to his situation, he resumed planning for their safety with new commitment. He might just need a bigger distraction for Sterling.
Hardison quickly compiled the list of employees in the local police departments, the prosecutor's offices, and those at the courthouse. The list wasn't long. The area was fairly rural. There were only a few town officials; most were at the county level. That made it easy to find suspects, but it would be harder to find someone willing to say anything about it. It was a fairly close-knit group. Nobody wanted to admit someone they knew was dirty.
The list of criminals in on it was harder, much harder. Every single criminal record had to have the police report compared against the charges and the sentences. It was going to take a while. It might be easier if he wrote a program... Part of his mind turned to what parameters the program would need and how it would best work.
He passed the list of potential outlaws hiding behind white hats to Eliot and started defining the variables of his search. If they had gotten a minimum sentence or had a different charge than the one on the police report, it got flagged. If the case got thrown out, it got a closer look. The list was growing by the second and he hadn't even started on the traffic database yet. Tickets were thrown out all the time. This was ridiculous. There were hundreds of names here already.
He stood from his chair and stretched. This required more orange soda. Stepping past Eliot on his way to the fridge, he glanced back at the other man studying the names and profiles intently. "You want something, man?"
"I'm good. So far, I'm sure we can eliminate the deputy that filed Billy's report, but that's it." He put the deputy's information to one side.
"Not a surprise there, really." Hardison cracked the seal. "I think he's related to Billy somehow. The Carlisles and Howards go way back. I mean a marriage license older than the Louisiana Purchase way back. The Howards are big on law enforcement. Have been for centuries? It's freaky, man. Sheriffs, deputies, marshals, whatever, at some point, a Howard has been it. There was a thing in the local paper for the last family reunion, a brief history, important members, that sort of thing. The family is huge, but pretty tight. I checked. They didn't call 911 or dispatch. They called Trey Howard directly."
The long-haired hitter nodded. "They wanted it made a priority so they kept it in the family. It's one kind of pressure to call a cop and ask about leads, but if you can call the guy's mom and have her lean on him, that gets his attention."
"Never too old for your mama to lay guilt on you." Hardison nodded. "He could have went all out on these three because of family loyalty, but his record looks solid. He's the go to guy when something happens out here. Seriously, four years ago, a couple boys knocked over the mailbox and made it two miles before they got picked up and spent the entire summer doing hard labor for the local fire company. Three hundred hours of community service in three months in exchange for having their records expunged."
"Okay, we know he's an honest cop. Look and see how the prosecutor's office is about listening to his recommendations. If they listen to this guy pretty often, then when they go against him, it means something."
"I see what you're sayin', use this as our baseline. Look at the guys that got it easy and at the ones lettin' 'em off." The young man went to accessing files. I think we've got something here, but I'm not liking where this is going. We're going to need Sophie and I'm not sure Eliot is willing to bring her in. Where's Parker? It's going to take both of us to get him to agree.
Sophie hadn't been certain what was on her mind when she decided to brew a cup of tea and excuse herself to the porch after dinner. She remained in one of the chairs, gazing at nothing, long after her tea was gone. It seemed everything was on her mind. Somehow she'd spent the last several hours contemplating the parts of her life she'd been unable to find the clarity to consider as she'd traveled the world. It appeared love wasn't the only thing that you tended to find when you stopped looking.
As the hours passed and the light grew dimmer, the answers grew sharper. She could see the things that had driven her to make the choices she had, right and wrong. The things she wished she could change and the things she would never change if she could were so clear, she wondered why they seemed so hard to find before. She remained in her thoughts even after the porch light was turned on and Parker settled onto the porch railing with a book.
Somewhere along the way the opinions and choices of other people had started to matter to her for reasons other than the con. She still hadn't isolated that moment when the other four had become so important to her. With Nate, it had been a gradual thing she supposed. Bits and pieces built up over years, but she'd bonded with the other three at a greatly accelerated pace. Those turning points brought her here. They had created a new version of the world as she knew it and, now, somehow, she'd fallen into this mad version of that world. One where Nate was self-sacrificing instead of a drunken ass and Parker read Dickens.
"Parker, where did you get that?" Sophie shifted in the deck chair to see Parker more easily, smoothing the throw in her lap as she got comfortable again.
The blonde never looked up from the novel. "Billy lent it to me. She said it might 'speak to me', but it doesn't have a mouth. Maybe she was tired and said it wrong?"
Sophie chuckled. "She said it right, Parker. She meant that the story might mean something special to you. She might be right about that." Sophie quietly mused to herself.
She'd been surprised, three years ago, when she'd gotten pulled into the gaze of a fifteen year old girl from the foothills in Eastern Kentucky and found that the only words capable of describing what she'd seen in them were "an old soul". The experience that peered out from behind dark glasses was terribly mismatched with the youthful face. The girl one saw seemed naïve at times, but the woman who'd been watching the grifter then had seen through Sophie's persona like it hadn't been there to begin with and Sophie had wondered later if that person had looked right through the lies the older woman told herself as well. She wouldn't have doubted that for an instant. The infrequent notes and messages between them had silently supported her appraisal and, now, being back near the other woman who had lived three more years, but seemed to have experienced ten, she was certain.
Every time the Sophie was around Billy or saw the results of her words or actions, it reinforced that instinct from three years before, the words conveyed silently: "Don't worry about your secrets, I know them, and they don't really interest me." Any one that could look at someone and know them so intimately, so easily, and yet was incapable on a fundamental level of using that against them, was someone to keep close.
Over the years, Sophie had come to the conclusion that the questions Billy had asked her in the bathroom of the convention center hadn't been about determining her motives at all. She'd already known them. Asking Sophie about them had had a far subtler and deeper purpose. Whatever answers she'd taken from those questions had been enough that three years later, with little contact, she'd unquestioningly offered safe haven from half a dozen police agencies to her and three people she had vouched for.
Despite whatever issues were going on in her own life, Billy had managed to put Elliot and Hardison at ease and seemed to actually be making a friend of Parker. Sophie wasn't an idiot. She knew the guys had done some background checks on their host. She knew they'd find little to make them suspicious. She also knew they could have simply asked. Billy didn't really hide things. Then again, people normally felt awkward asking personal questions, even though Billy probably wouldn't be fazed answering. Perhaps she needed to have a chat with her young friend when she got the chance again. It seemed impolite to her to be ignoring their host that way, especially as she'd been the one to make contact. Maybe she'd pull the girl aside tomorrow when she brought supplies from Lexington.
Glancing in the window and seeing both men's heads bowed in conversation, she turned back to Parker. "Those two are up to something or, should I say, the three of you are."
"Can't say. Eliot is being Nate. He'll tell you if we need you." The blond thief seemed rather immersed in the book she'd borrowed.
Sophie thought a moment. "I suppose you also know what is going on with Billy, as well."
There was a nod in reply.
"But you won't tell me because it's her secret." The woman's ponytail swayed side to side as she shook her head. Sighing the grifter made up her mind to answer both of those questions tomorrow. "So, what do you think of the book so far?"