City Lights Lay Out Before Us
by Kyllikki (email@example.com)
Disclaimers, etc. in chapter one.
Note: I made a few revisions to chapter one to make Bobby sound more Bobby-like. Serves me right for posting a WIP. :) Additional notes at the end.
They were through the Holland tunnel and into Jersey before Bobby said another word. Alex didn't bother to hide what she knew must be a smug smile; after all, it wasn't every day she could flummox her partner like this.
"Why didn't you tell me you had a Mustang?"
"Never came up, I guess. Besides, it's not like I walk around with 'I Love Classic Mustangs' tattooed on my forehead."
"But, Alex ... it's a Mustang."
There was her first name again. Twice in one morning had to be some sort of record. "Yes, Bobby, I'm well aware of that." She glanced at him. "Are you being deliberately obtuse?"
He chuckled -- or, at least, made a noise that amounted to a chuckle. Bobby's laughs always sounded just short of psychotic. "No, it's just that you ... surprised me. This was ... unexpected. The car."
A feeling of triumph swelled within her. "I've got unseen depths," she said. "Lots of layers."
"Like an onion," he said.
She glanced at him again, receiving a shrug and a self-deprecating half-smile.
"So. The car ... where did it come from?"
She smiled. "The scrap yard."
"And nothing. That's where the car came from."
He heaved an exasperated sigh. "Oh, come on, Eames, don't make me drag this story out of you."
"What, now you want a confession wrapped up with a bow? That's no fun."
"Who said anything about fun?"
Now it was her turn for the exasperated sigh. "Bobby, we're on a road trip, playing hooky in a classic car. And" -- she waved her hand to dismiss his inevitable protest -- "don't give me the line about 'having' to do this for the case. Our fingers could have done the walking just fine. I think 'fun' is pretty much the point, here."
"So my ... interrogating ... you about how you came to have this car would be ... fun? Doesn't sound like much fun to me."
"You know what, just forget it. I'll tell you the whole sto--" Realization dawned and she turned to glare at him, getting all the confirmation she needed from the laughter in his eyes. "That almost worked. Damn."
"In the nick of time," he acknowledged. "Okay, I'll play. You got the car from a scrap yard. How old were you?"
"It was the summer before I turned sixteen."
"You bought the car before you had a driver's license?"
"I didn't buy it." She tried not to smile -- making Bobby work for his information was fun -- and waited for him to draw the inference.
"It was ... your dad. Your dad bought it for you because he ... wanted you to fix it? So you'd know how a car was put together." His tone was uncertain; this was a guess, she could tell. A well-founded guess, but still looking to her response for confirmation.
Score one for the detective, she thought. "I wasn't allowed to drive until my car was drivable. It was my dad's way of keeping me off the streets and making me learn practical skills."
"And how long did that take?"
"To get the car fixed? A little less than two years."
"What, did you have to rebuild it from scratch?"
"Almost. The front end was all smashed up, there was rust all over, the engine was shot and it needed new everything. Still, it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen."
"You fell in love." His voice became more confident. She could tell he felt like he was on the right track and felt no compunction to dissuade him from that belief.
"Oh, yeah. I had to get a job to pay for the parts and buy 'em when I had the cash -- another important part of dad's scheme -- and that's why it took me so long."
"You knew a lot about cars?"
"Are you kidding? I didn't know the first thing beyond putting the keys in the ignition and filling the gas tank." Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but effective for her purposes and not too far from the truth. And then she heard the magic words...
"So how did you learn? Did you take machine shop at school?" He looked casually out the window as the easy confidence in his voice gave way to cockiness. She'd heard him use this tone with dozens of suspects -- it only came through when Bobby was so certain he knew what had happened that he began to toy with his opponent.
Gotcha. "Ricky Jackson. He lived three doors down and was a total grease monkey." She laughed, but whether more at the memory of Ricky or at the flicker of surprise on Bobby's face, she couldn't tell. "Actually, if my old man had known that the car would mean I'd be spending more time at Ricky's, I think he would have left it to rot in the scrap yard."
Bobby's attention quickly snapped back onto her, though he did an admirable job trying to mask it under the guise of extreme nonchalance. She relished the brief pause that indicated he was rearranging and refocusing his thoughts. "Your parents didn't approve of ... grease monkeys?" he asked.
"My parents didn't approve because he had long hair and an earring. He also drank beer, played loud music and had a thing for drag racing. And that was just the stuff they knew about."
"You found out ... more?"
"Like I said, it took me two years to rebuild the car. It made for a lot of hours in the garage."
"How long did the two of you go out?"
"I thought you wanted to know about the car," she said. Yanking Bobby's chain was one thing, but no way was she going to start discussing the high school love of her life.
Now it was her turn to look askance at him. She had expected resistance on his part -- after all, Bobby was curious about everything -- and his ready acquiescence was more than a little surprising. Or maybe he'd just conceded the battle. She knew it was petty and childish to try to rattle him, but sometimes she felt the need to remind him of her presence, that she was more than just his trusty echo. She couldn't shake the feeling, though, that her ploy had succeeded in poking a hornet's nest with a stick and that she would now be the entire focus of his attention. She glanced over at him, but he was again staring out at the "landscape," such as it was, and appeared to have lost interest in the subject entirely. Taking the reprieve for what it was worth, she again turned her attention to the road ahead.
They stopped for lunch at a Wendy's just inside Pennsylvania. Bobby's borderline-psycho laugh was back as she pulled into the parking lot.
"Whaaat?" she said.
"Your idea of a fun road trip ... includes braving the wilds of Wendy's? You're really branching out, Eames."
"Shut up, Bobby," she said good-naturedly as she turned off the car.
"I'm just saying, shouldn't we be eating at some kitschy little roadside diner?"
"That depends on whether you want to make it to Meadville before five. Besides, I like my road trip bathrooms to be relatively clean and free of vermin, thank you very much."
"And I thought this was supposed to be an adventure."
"I'm going to the bathroom. You get our food. To go."
He lifted his arms in a "hey, whatever you say" gesture. "What do you want to eat?"
"Surprise me," she said. "Just don't order any coffee -- in case you hadn't noticed, the car doesn't have cupholders."
"But I was looking forward to collecting $3 million and retiring in luxury."
"And being a late-night punchline for the next five years?"
"A small price to pay."
"You're forgetting about the burns," she said, grinning wickedly. And with that comment, she turned on her heel and headed toward the restrooms, acutely aware that she was leaving a chastened and bemused Bobby in her wake. Damn, this was fun.
Bobby hated eating on the road. He knew it was a necessary evil in this case, since they were pressed for time, but there was still something so undignified about holding one's drink between one's legs and precariously maneuvering one's sandwich so it wouldn't slop condiments onto one's shirt or pants. Add a 70-mph breeze to the mix, courtesy of the convertible, and lunch in the car became all of the inconvenience of a picnic without any of its romantic charm. He looked over at Eames. She hadn't seemed to mind, and had handled the driving/eating/drinking combination with a considerable amount of aplomb. Of course, after her crack in the parking lot about burns, she had the upper hand. And because of their relative silence after lunch -- over an hour ago, he realized -- she had been enjoying the upper hand uncontested for far too long. Well, he could change that. "What would you do with the $3 million? If you could skip the part with the burns, I mean?"
"Excuse me?" She glanced over at him, as if unsure of his purpose. Good.
"If you got a $3 million jury settlement ... what would you do with it?"
She shrugged. "I never really thought about it before."
"Come on, everyone thinks about it. You know, 'What would I do if I won the lottery,' stuff like that. What would you do?" He tried to keep his tone light so as not to belie his curiosity. The question was well within the "game" parameters she had implicitly set up at the beginning of their excursion, and yet you could discover a lot about a person if the question was answered honestly.
"Is it $3 million before or after taxes?"
"Aren't you picky."
"I'm just saying, it makes a difference."
"Okay, fine, $3 million tax-free."
"Poor Uncle Sam."
"Yeah, he's really disappointed. Quit stalling."
"With $3 million? I'd probably take a few months off work, for starters."
He felt a pang of disappointment in her answer, though he wasn't sure whether it was because of its mundanity or the prospect of having to deal with a new partner. "You wouldn't want to keep working? No, of course you wouldn't, you could easily live on $3 million."
"I'd still work. I can't imagine lazing around on a yacht for the rest of my life ... but I could get used to it for a month or two." Her smile looked almost lascivious, but with a tinge of ... sadness? No, that couldn't be right.
"Where would you go? In your yacht, I mean."
"Someplace warm and tropical, probably. You know, the typical stuff."
"That still leaves over $2 million." You can do better than this, he thought.
"Well, I'd buy my folks a nice house, probably give some to charity, invest some, and then ... I don't know."
"Oh, come on, Eames!" Why wouldn't she play the game?
"Fine. I'm boring and unimaginative," she said, still smiling. "What would you do, mister smarty-pants?"
Of course she would eventually turn it around on him. He should have known that, been prepared. Obvious, really. But faced with the bald question, he found himself scrambling. "I'd ... go to China for a few years to ... recharge," he said, taking the first thought that popped into his head and running with it. "An ... old friend ... of mine is one of the directors of the restoration project of the terra cotta warriors at Xian. She gave me what amounts to a standing invitation to join her and help out for as long as I want."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you're not going to spend $3 million dusting off terra cotta guys in the middle of China, you know."
"I'd hire a guide and explore the rural lands, I suppose. Probably make it up to Tibet and stay there for a while."
"After you'd had your fill of China, then what?"
"I'd make my way over to Kilimanjaro."
"You gonna climb it, or just go and look at it?"
"Climb it, of course. It's one of the easier major mountains to climb." Why was she pushing him like this? And what's more, why did he feel as if he were on the receiving end of an interrogation, scrambling for answers?
"And how long is this venture going to take you?"
"Seven, eight years ... maybe more." He pulled the number out of thin air, but it seemed close. That timeframe would give him more than enough room to fully explore every--"
She burst out laughing. "See, you had me going until that."
"You couldn't handle walking away from the job for that long. You're telling me -- with a straight face -- that you could just give up hunting down criminals for seven years? Cold turkey?"
"It's that outrageous to think that I might want to ... spend some time thinking about things not tainted with blood?"
"For you? Yes."
He scoffed. "You don't know what you're talking about," he said, but his voice lacked conviction.
"You're forgetting, I watch you do this, Bobby. I've seen you in that room. You love the hunt too much to give it up."
Instead of replying, he turned his full attention on her. Her expression was earnest, her brow furrowed slightly. She fully believed what she was saying. He chuckled softly. "I guess it's a good thing that neither of us is going to get $3 million then, huh?"
"Guess so," she said, glancing over at him with a slight smile.
A Very Special Thanks to my ATLO compatriots for help with the pop culture, and an armful of thanks for jael, my beta on speed.
The coffee incident Alex and Bobby allude to is, of course, the famous McDonald's coffee case in which 81 year-old Stella Liebeck successfully sued the golden arches for injuries suffered when she was burned by their scalding-hot coffee. Contrary to popular belief, the case is really more about corporate responsibility (and lack thereof) than it is about out-of-control juries rewarding stupid plaintiffs. However, since this is fic and not Kyllikki's Legal Ranting 101, I'll put the soapbox away now.
If you want to see what Alex is driving, go here: http://www.classicponycars.com/images/williams4.jpg
Writing Bobby's dialogue the way he speaks it makes the line delivery look like William Shatner. Or Stevie on "Malcolm in the Middle." Just an observation.