Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own any of these characters, please don't sue. Also, I'm not really here, and you can't see me. This is not the lurker you're looking for.
Content Warning: Uh . . . all of them? Super mild tearjerk warning. Medium violence, language, and non-explicit sexual situations warning. Seriously angry Jack Dalton warning. These content warnings apply to all chapters.
For those of you who read the first two sections and want to toss the rest out, the first section of the last chapter summarizes the entire series of events.
Bozer wadded up his napkin and tossed it gently at his bread plate. "Uncle."
The man sitting across from him snorted; he'd thrown in the towel a few minutes prior. "Well, man, you fought the good fight."
He had to agree. Six tapas, plus a bite or two from Mac's five, was way more than a meal.
"But we had to try them all."
"We did," his roomie agreed. "Honestly, I can't remember the last time Ricarnello's changed up the menu."
Their waiter, a dark-complected kid Bozer couldn't remember seeing before, had been hovering with clamshells waiting for their inevitable defeat, and appeared at his shoulder with five plastic containers. "How was everything?"
Bozer didn't reply. He just patted his stomach.
The kid didn't seem surprised, and Mac roused himself and started to help Boze pack up the food. "So, get inspired?"
Inspired was relative. "The butternut squash pork was as expected, a little sweeter than I might have gone. That was-" He pointed at the brown paste Mac was scooping. MacGyver glanced at it a second, then at another plate that had similarly colored brown paste stains, but had been nearly scraped clean.
". . . this was the doro-wot fusion, and that was the caramelized onions and beef short rib." It was empirically clear which Mac had preferred.
Bozer just shook his head. "Sometimes I forget you are such a meat and potatoes guy."
MacGyver shrugged, helping Bozer pack up the spinach and swordfish tamales. "What can I say, Boze. I'm a simple man."
His roommate snorted – loudly. "Simple man, no. Simple needs . . . maybe."
The waiter reappeared with two take-away bags – paper, and 100% recyclable, just like the rigid plastic clamshells – and it took Boze a second to realize he'd also dropped off the check. Because the black leather billfold was in his roomie's hands.
Bozer gave his roommate a look. "Dude, come on-"
"Hey, it's my treat. I'm the one who dragged us out here-"
"Oh yeah." Boze let his right arm flop limp across the table. "You really twisted it bad."
Mac continued as if Bozer hadn't spoken. "-and we hadn't really been out, just us, since-"
"Since Sparky outed that you were on a crusade to make me feel better about –" He dropped his voice. "Leanna?"
Mac managed to look not even remotely guilty. "All I'm saying is we've been a little busy since then. It's nice to just get out with your best friend and try a new place."
"Or an old one." It wasn't like Ricarnello's wasn't one of their favorite haunts. But it had been at least two years since the fusion joint had really changed up the menu, and he had to admit, some of those tapas were pretty good. They almost made the place date-worthy.
"Yeah, well, you didn't have to, but thanks." Bozer grabbed the bags with their leftovers, and Mac laid the leather wallet on the table, with a few bills sticking out the top. It was about seven pm, just inching towards the dinner rush, and the waiter gave them a nod of thanks as they weaved through the tables towards the front of the restaurant.
It took Boze a second to pick Mac's voice out over the hum of the other diners. "I know, that raise from your promotion is probably burning a hole in your pocket-"
"I'm thinkin' I should ask Riley to look up everyone's salary." Bozer glanced back at Mac, who was trailing behind him. "Something tells me there's a pretty wide range – and I'm at the bottom of it."
His roommate refused to be baited. "Hey, get a few years' experience, maybe pull off a miracle or two, you'll get there."
Bozer shook his head, ready to protest that he in fact had already pulled off miracles, and caught sight of the mint bowl. "And speaking of Riley-"
He turned and pushed the leftover bags on Mac, who accepted them good-naturedly, and he scooped up a few little cellophane bags of the pastel-colored mints. "Butter mints. She loves these."
Mac shook his head with a grin, backing into the door, and he held it open as Bozer passed, stuffing the mints into his jacket pockets. "Remind me I have these when we get home, I'll move 'em into my bag."
Mac caught up to him in three long strides, walking beside him and fishing in his pocket for his keys. "It's supposed to be chillier tomorrow, actually. I was thinking we could –"
The rest of whatever Mac was saying was drowned out by the powerful rev of a street bike, parked in the space just in front of Mac's jeep. The leather-clad driver rolled the bike backwards, striking the bumper of the jeep with his rear tire, and Bozer opened his mouth to say something when the passenger on the back of the bike, similarly covered head to toe in black, turned towards them.
Mac's arm – and the bags of leftovers – smacked into his chest, shoving him sideways, and it was only after MacGyver had already reacted that Bozer made out the gun.
The gunshots weren't isolated and distinct; they mingled into the rest of the noise, the bike screaming and peeling away, glass shattering, the leftovers rattling out of the forgotten paper bags. By then Mac was already in front of him, shouldering him towards Ricarnello's, and Bozer tripped over his roommate's legs, both of them landing in a heap on the concrete.
Bozer had time to see the bike had no plates before it had zipped past the parked cars and out of line of sight.
Mac was half lying across his legs, his right arm still outstretched, and Bozer hastily untangled himself from his roommate.
"Mac! Mac, you okay-"
Without the support of Bozer's legs behind him, he slipped onto his back. There were two holes in the front of his off-white shirt, very small. The blood didn't start to show for several seconds.
Two hits, center mass. Spy school had taught him what movies had not. In movies, they called it a 'double tap.' In reality, it was a 'controlled pair.' A double tap would mean the second shot had not been aimed, so it would typically be higher or lower than the first. In this case, they were nearly level, and his textbook had been very explicit about why the controlled pair technique was preferred.
Bozer knew he was talking, he could feel his own mouth moving but he couldn't hear what he was saying. His hands were moving, too, he watched them cover up those tiny little holes, but nothing was welling up beneath his palms. He could actually feel when it soaked into his knees, instead, warmer than he'd thought it would be. Warmer than the concrete.
Mac was trying to tell him something. His movements were uncoordinated, and his eyes wide and shocked. Like if he kept them open, kept being able to see, then he'd be okay. There was no gasping, no coughing. Those two holes guaranteed both his lungs had been hit, and were in the process of collapsing if they hadn't already. It didn't stop Mac from trying to talk.
He managed a tiny choke; it stained his teeth red. He never stopped trying to speak.
People had gathered around them, some with their phones in their hand. Bozer was sure someone had called 911. It was weird, but he couldn't really hear them. Under his hands, Mac shuddered, lips still moving. His adam's apple bobbed. Some of the shock left his eyes, replaced by a single, intense focus.
And for the life of him, Bozer couldn't make out what Mac was trying to say.
He didn't realize he was crying until he couldn't see. He brought up a hand, dashing it against his eyes angrily, and in that one second, just in the one second he'd taken one of his hands off his roommate, his best friend –
Mac's lips stopped moving.
His eyes were still open, but they were soft and unfocused. Bozer replaced his hand instantly, apologizing, pressing down harder, but nothing made a difference. It felt like he was just squeezing the blood out faster. He only saw the lights because of the reflection in Mac's eyes, the red trying to blot out the blue, and then someone grabbed his shoulder, pulling him away, and Bozer tried to explain to them that he couldn't move his hands, because if he did -
But he already had, and Mac was gone.
Matilda Webber covered the ground in rapid strides, moving far too quickly for someone with such short legs, and Riley had to work to keep up.
They passed the ambulance bays, walking right into the main ED doors, and Riley hesitated as she took in the crowds, and the lines in front of the six receptionists. She expected Matty to plow her way straight to the front of one of them, but her boss never hesitated. She simply turned left and tailgated an oblivious nurse through the secured doors into the main Emergency Department.
Riley had to almost run to catch up, yanking her bag in front of her so it didn't hit the edge of the door, and then they were in the wide, beige tiled hallway that she wished wasn't so familiar.
He'd joked, the last couple times he'd been here, that he ought to get a loyalty card -
None of the staff challenged them. Matty marched on with purpose, her destination clearly in mind, but as far as Riley's phone said, they hadn't issued Mac a bay or a room -
Safety protocols, she reminded herself. If it was that serious, Matty would be hiding his location until they could secure it.
They passed all the bays, with light blue curtains hanging in the doorways to give the patients a semblance of privacy, and came to a set of double doors that presumably led to the ORs. This was also a badged door, and Matty finally stopped the metronomic tap-tap of her heels and pivoted on them, casting a glare back at the nearest nurse's station.
The nurse there took the pair of them in, her expression sympathetic, and she buzzed the door open.
Matty waited impatiently for the mechanized door to open, and continued into another wide hallway, this one not as brightly lit.
Riley followed her, noting that two of the operating rooms were indeed in use, and through the observation windows she could see blue-scrubbed men and women gathered around prone bodies draped in surgical towels. But Matty led her past both of these, to a room at the end of the hallway that was also lit, though not as brightly as the theaters.
Was he already in recovery . . . ?
Riley watched her boss practically wrench the door open, revealing a small waiting room, lined with seats. In one of them, with his back to the observation window, was a Bozer-shaped huddle under a white hospital blanket.
The rhythmic staccato of Matty's heels finally gave way to something a little softer, a little slower, and she approached Bozer almost deferentially. He was hunched over, holding his stomach, and he didn't even look up. Riley glanced between them a moment, but neither of them said anything, and she didn't understand the silence.
"Boze . . . are you okay?"
Surely if he was injured, if he'd been shot too, the hospital would have treated him –
Bozer shook his head, vehemently, and then Matty walked deliberately right in front of him. The way he was curled over himself, their faces were almost even, and she reached up and cupped his jaw in her hands.
He swallowed hard, refusing to look at her, and Matty said something to him, too softly for Riley to hear. She felt like a voyeur, intruding on an intimate moment that wasn't meant for anyone to see, and Riley continued past them, to the observation window.
This couldn't be what it looked like. Matty would have told her.
There were two nurses, tending a person on a gurney. The room wasn't the usual recovery space, and there was no equipment around the bed. No heart monitor. No IV stand. The nurses were gathered near the patient's head, so she couldn't see his face, but –
Riley stared at the scene a moment. The large double sink in the room. The kidney-shaped effluence pan the nurse kept dipping a bloody washcloth into.
All Matty had told her was that Mac had been shot. Matty had driven; the entire car ride had been nothing but one bluetoothed phone call after another, getting surveillance information, tracking the shooters, figuring out where Mac and Bozer had ended up. She'd never gotten a word in edgewise, it hadn't occurred to her to even ask, because –
Because he couldn't be –
The nurse closest to them finally shifted, and she caught a glimpse of blond hair.
They weren't cleaning him for surgery.
The nurse gathered up his washcloths and pan, and then stepped completely away, heading back to the sinks, and Riley saw enough. She turned her back as well, closing her eyes, but the damage was done. She could see him just as clearly on the back of her eyelids.
The heels started up again, tapping past her, and she felt a hand on her forearm. It was meant to be comforting, but Matty's fingers might as well have been made of iron. Riley's eyes opened of their own accord when the door beside her was pushed open, and she heard one of the nurses speak before it swept shut again with a cool puff.
Riley held her breath until she was sure the air – and any scents carried on it – had swept past. It was a long time before she had the courage to turn around and look.
Matty was standing by the body – and it was a body, it wasn't Mac anymore – and talking to one of the nurses. He nodded at a question she asked, and then she reached up and took one of Mac's hands, and Riley turned away again, and sank into the nearest seat.
And Bozer had been right there. It happened right in front of him.
She scooted one seat over, so that she was sitting next to Wilt, and she reached out into the hospital blanket, searching for his hand. She found cool fingers and latched on to them, and after a long moment, he responded, and squeezed them back. He was shaking.
Riley couldn't think of anything to say. She picked up his hand and pulled it towards her, so she could hold it between both of hers and try to warm him up, and he leaned into her with a soft, keening little wail. She tugged him close. He was all wrapped up in the blanket, like a little kid, and Riley tucked him tightly against her, leaning her cheek against his short-cropped hair.
It meant she was facing back towards the observation window, and Riley studied the fuzz on the blanket instead, focusing on each individual filament instead of the nurses, or Matty, or the reason Bozer was all but sobbing in her arms.
It might have been a minute or an hour before the door to the hallway was once more wrenched open, and she and Bozer both flinched at the suddenness of it. Riley didn't turn, or let go of Wilt, and whoever came in was perfectly silent. She heard the door swing itself shut, but no footsteps.
Just when she had convinced herself that whoever it was had realized their mistake, and stayed out in the hallway, the handle on the other door clicked. She heard the scuff of a boot, now, and fabric, and a black shadow crossed into her peripheral vision, gliding towards Matty and the gurney.
Jack had been wearing a black Metallica t-shirt earlier that afternoon.
Riley hugged Bozer a little more tightly, and closed her eyes.
The unnatural silence stretched taut. She didn't hear anything. No shouting. No screaming. Both would have been better than the cold, terrible quiet, broken only by Wilt trying so hard to get ahold of himself. Every once in a while he made to pull away, and she just held him tighter, because there was no way he could do that, and she needed someone to hold onto.
A steel pan crashed into the wall and clattered to the floor, rattling as it eventually came to a stop. The door to the waiting room opened again. Loose fabric and breathing and the squeak of slightly damp sneakers on the tile. The two nurses didn't say anything, they just passed through into the hallway, and then the hallway door swung shut again, and Riley was left alone with Bozer and that awful silence.
Eventually Matty returned. Riley heard her heels, still authoritative, heard the familiar vibration of a smartphone being manipulated. There were still phone calls to be made, texts to be sent. Matty's voice was just as calm and steady as it had been in the car.
"Did you find a match?" There was a brief, tense pause. "That'll do. Transfer him here and let me know as soon as he's on site. I want two agents posted at all times."
There was a muffled affirmative, and the sound of the call being disconnected. More faint vibrations, as the phone provided haptic feedback to her short little fingers.
The words slowly trickled into Riley's brain. Without letting go of Bozer, who had stopped sobbing but showed no further inclination to try to escape, Riley spoke. Her voice was thick.
"Did someone else get hurt?" There were no guards here, so clearly she wasn't posting agents on a corpse.
". . . no." Matty's voice was distracted. "We found a patient who can pass as a body double, being treated for an OD at General. He's a close enough match in height and weight and there's no family to complicate things."
Riley thought about that for a minute. Her stomach cramped.
A body double.
Riley picked up her head a little, so she wasn't speaking right into Bozer's ear. ". . . you're setting a trap."
"You're damn right I'm setting a trap," Matty almost snarled. "Wilt, until we know what's going on, you're staying in a safehouse."
He didn't respond one way or the other, and despite herself, Riley glanced back through the observation window. Jack had his back to them. His head was bowed, and his right hand was splayed across Mac's bare chest. His other was gripping the gurney hard enough to bend the metal rail.
Bozer didn't move, but his voice floated up, muffled by the blanket and her shoulder. " . . . I didn't see anything. No plate. Couldn't t-tell you gender, even."
Riley gave him a little squeeze, but he pulled back, and when she finally let him go and he leaned away, his face was wet and miserable.
He didn't look at either one of them. "I didn't even see the gun, not til . . . not til Mac'd already –"
"It's okay, Bozer." Matty's voice was gentle, in stark contrast to only a few seconds ago. "We have footage on traffic cams-"
"IT'S NOT OKAY!" he exploded. "I was there, I was right there!" Bozer cut himself off, then yanked the blanket from his shoulders. "I was right there," he repeated, almost to himself. "What was the point of all that training, if I couldn't – I didn't –"
"Bozer." There was steel under the velour. "Even seasoned agents can be taken by surprise. No one saw this coming. There was no chatter, and you had no warning." Matty's phone vibrated, but she ignored it, focusing all her attention on Bozer. "This wasn't your fault. Honestly, you're lucky to be alive."
Bozer shook his head. "It wasn't luck," was all he said.
Riley reached out to touch his arm, but he once again drew away, pushing himself to his feet and pacing restlessly to the other side of the room. Riley glanced at Matty, but her boss pressed her lips together and shook her head.
Let him be.
And Riley suddenly found herself without a task. Her phone wasn't chirping. Bozer was staring sightlessly out into the hallway, still hugging himself, and she knew there was nothing she could do for Jack.
"So . . . what now?" she finally asked, in a small voice.
Matty glanced at her phone, but her expression didn't give much away. "Now we do what we always do when we have an injured agent."
Riley just nodded, and then shook herself and grabbed her bag, which had slipped forgotten to the floor. She set up her rig on autopilot, accessing the hospital wifi. The cameras still had the default manufacturer passwords, just like the last time she'd been here, sitting with -
With Mac. After the dummy exposed himself to nerve gas.
Riley bit her lip, cocking an ear back towards the room behind her, but there was still no sound. And she didn't want to ask with Bozer there, but he showed no signs of being aware they existed. "And . . . what about . . ."
What about Mac.
Matty took a deep, slow breath through her nose. "It's already been arranged. We're bringing him home. He'll have to stay on ice until we get this sorted out."
For some reason, that took her by surprise, and she glanced up at Matty, uncertainly. Her boss's eyes were dark, and full of anger -
No, not anger.
"No one outside of this room can know that he didn't make it." Her voice was hard and flat. "Until I know exactly how the hell they found MacGyver and Bozer, we need to assume the worst."
Riley couldn't stop herself. "You think -"
"I don't know what to think," Matty cut her off. "We all need to act exactly like we would if he was in the ICU." She glanced at Bozer, but he didn't react. "The agents on protection detail will have to be read in, and they'll handle surveillance here. Riley, I need you to do a full sweep of our network and employees. Every email, call, and text. Financials. Social media. Private life. I want to know if one of our people is compromised."
Riley just nodded. She'd run a similar search last year, and it didn't take her long to schedule the jobs.
". . . it was spur of the moment," Bozer said suddenly. His voice was quiet, but a little less broken. "We picked the place when we were walkin' out."
Riley nodded, and brought up camera footage in the Phoenix, scrolling back to earlier in the day. They'd all been downstairs in the lab, working on a think tank project for once, an ecologically friendly glue that could attract and capture all the tiny pieces of plastic floating around in the world's oceans. They'd called it around 4:30, that was when Mac had set the last variant of the solution to chill, and the footage got a little blurrier as Bozer grabbed Mac's leather jacket off the back of a lab stool and tossed it to him.
His effects. They were going to have to take those too. And then delete the hospital records, destroy the label sticker sheet, the death certificate –
Riley ran a finger under her eyes quickly, making sure she didn't smear her liner. She wouldn't be crying if he'd just been in the ICU.
In fact, she'd probably actually spend some time at the hospital. They always visited their teammates when they were laid up. And someone had to feed Jack when he was –
Riley paused the footage after she realized she'd missed the last twenty seconds of it. Jack. Jack wouldn't leave Mac's side if someone had put him in the ICU. They'd need a very compelling reason to keep Jack out of the hospital, something plausible.
Court appearance, maybe? Matty would insist that he kept that if one of the people Phoenix had helped put away was on trial, and one of Jack's covers had participated. She opened another window, scrolling through the records.
"Uh, I can bump up Clem Johnson's parole hearing to tomorrow afternoon," she offered, after a second. "We could ask the DA to call Jack up first." That hearing was likely to take at least the day, since Clem's defense attorney had been doggedly pursuing a mental and physical health 'mercy' waiver –
"No." It was clipped. "He needs to be here. Having him pulled off would be too obvious."
Riley stared at her. "You can't be serious-"
Her boss's face was stone. "Try me. Besides, I couldn't pry him off this op even if I wanted to." Her eyes went over Riley's head, to the observation window. "I want him where I can see him."
Riley found herself standing, with no memory of how she got there. "Matty, he can't – you can't expect him to-"
To sit beside someone they'd done up to look like Mac. Talk to him like he was Mac. Hassle the doctors and nurses for information.
Pretend he was still alive.
Matty pulled herself up to her full height. "Riley, our best shot at getting these guys is bringing them to us. You really think Jack wants to be anywhere else? There's nothing –" She stopped herself, glancing away for a long moment, and Riley saw her carefully school her features.
When her boss finally spoke again, her voice was perfectly steady. "Right now he needs to work."
Riley wanted to protest. To say that that was insane, it was only going to make things worse, draw the hurt out longer. But she didn't. And she didn't turn around and look at him again.
Because in truth, there was probably nothing that could make this worse. Not for Jack.
It must have shown, the realization, because the lines around Matty's mouth softened, just a little. "Be patient with him," was all she said.
An alert popped up, near the clock on the system tray, in lime green, and Riley tabbed over to it immediately.
Access:  B5LAB02 – 084269; Dalton Jack Wyatt
Across the table from her, Jill glanced up. "Find something?"
Riley closed the alert, tabbing back to the analysis spreadsheet they were both poring over. "Nah. False alarm."
The other analyst nodded, dropping another couple hundred rows into the spreadsheet, and Riley made a face. Just a glance told her there weren't enough repeat transactions – or enough cash – to flag.
This wasn't getting them anywhere.
Jill's body language agreed with her unspoken thought; the other woman dropped her head straight back, then rolled it to her right and left shoulders with an uncharacteristically defeated sigh. ". . . I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I'm not sure we're looking in the right place."
"Agreed." Riley rubbed her eyes, then pulled them wide open. "I think I'm gonna go back through cell tower records, see if we missed something there."
"You think the tracker was going over cellular networks, instead of GPS?"
Not really. But it was the only thing she could think of. "They had to know where Mac was gonna be somehow."
They had plenty of footage of the two shooters – the driver male, the passenger female – arriving at Ricarnello's. They got there about six minutes after Mac and Bozer did, and parked on the opposite side of the street. When it became apparent that Mac and Boze were dining in rather than getting carry out, they'd taken off and made long, languid loops around the neighborhood, never taking the same path twice, using turn signals, going the speed limit.
They passed back in front of Ricarnello's once every ten minutes or so, and when the parking spot in front of Mac's jeep had been vacated, it was too inviting a deal to pass up. The fisheye camera above Ricarnello's cash register showed them parking, and they weren't there more than three or four minutes before Mac and Bozer came onscreen. Bozer had stopped to grab a handful of mints and Mac had gotten the door.
At no point had the bikers taken off their helmets or used a phone. They were both in biker jackets and chaps, a common brand but a decent one, and their helmets had built in radio but no bluetooth. The Ducati didn't have plates. It was too hard to make out the weapon from Ricarnello's camera, in fact she couldn't even find the gun in the sea of black until the muzzle flashed.
Mac and Bozer hadn't been to Ricarnello's for months, and didn't regularly go out anywhere. She and Jill never picked up the bike tailing the jeep, and Mac had driven directly to the restaurant from the Phoenix. After they shot Mac – just the two shots, they didn't seem to be targeting Bozer, and Mac had already started to tackle him out of the way when he'd been hit - the bike had then taken a direct path to a very run-down Hispanic neighborhood, where there were no cameras, and near as she or Jill could determine, it never left.
Jill was working on tracking any and all vans or small trucks that were big enough to drive the bike onto to conceal it, but given that the majority of people in the neighborhood were working class, there were a lot of landscaping and construction vans. It was taking way too long.
Jill made a doubtful noise, dragging Riley back to the present. "I've watched the footage a hundred times. There's no way to clean it up, and there were so many people milling around . . . any one of them could have pulled a tracker off the Jeep. I'll . . . go through the Phoenix cell repeaters, see if we caught a bug connecting while the Jeep was here in the parking lot."
Riley gave a nod of thanks, and they worked quietly for a few minutes before the analyst across from her pulled off her glasses and held them up to the light, critically. She sighed again, and pulled a handkerchief from her back pocket. "I keep thinking there's a smear on my glasses, but I think it's actually my cornea that's dirty."
Riley nodded. "Yeah," was all she said. If she'd had to watch Mac get gunned down in the street a hundred times at a forensic level of detail, she'd probably feel pretty filthy too.
"It's just . . . I can't believe he survived that," Jill continued softly. "Have you heard, has there been any change . . . or . . .?"
Riley shook her head quickly. "Nah. He's still listed as critical." The listing, as well as the ICU rules, meant that . . . that the Mac sitting in the ICU could only have one visitor at a time, and it was common knowledge that that visitor was going to be Jack Dalton, always. She risked a quick glimpse at the camera they had installed in the hospital room, because according to that alert she'd gotten a few minutes ago, Jack Dalton was actually in the Phoenix building, down on level B5.
Where he was presumably finally, actually keeping watch over Mac, the real Mac, instead of that farce he'd been forced to act out for the past four days.
The room camera revealed that one of the agents assigned to the protection detail had taken the seat that Jack had vacated, and right there for everyone to see lay a lean, pale Angus MacGyver.
He was intubated and comatose, and the equipment that covered him made it hard to tell it wasn't actually Mac. They'd put a wig on him to give him Mac's hair, which was really the only part of his head you could see, and otherwise he was the right build, the right general shape.
If you just saw the camera view, even if you knew him pretty well, you couldn't immediately tell it wasn't Mac.
She hadn't gone into the room to see how the disguise looked up close; she'd spent her enforced shifts in the waiting room, doing her usual routine of bringing Jack coffee and non cafeteria food, and she'd probably spent a grand total of an hour with him in the past ninety-six. Jack looked the part. Tired. Worn. Worried.
And underneath it all, tension thrummed through him. She had no doubt his exhaustion was real. They were all tired of waiting.
Not waiting for 'Mac' to wake up – the poor guy serving as Mac's body double was for all intents and purposes braindead, he probably would have already been unplugged if they hadn't needed him – but for the trap to spring. For those two assholes to come to the hospital, and try to finish what they started.
But so far, nothing.
". . . I'm not seeing any unusual activity here," Jill murmured. "No new numbers or devices. Unless they were tracking Mac for a while?"
Riley put on a bracing smile and stretched. "Look, it's after nine. I'll cross reference the last two weeks with the cell towers near Ricarnello's, and if we get a hit that's not a legitimate employee cellphone, I'll send it on. But you don't need to stay here for that."
The other analyst gave her a suspicious look. "Are you throwing me out so you can pull another all-nighter?"
Riley liked Jill. She really did. But right now she was more worried about Jack, and she knew there was no way she could monitor him without the other analyst picking up on it. "I promise that I'll leave as soon as I get the results. And you can throw me out tomorrow night. Deal?"
The woman narrowed her eyes, and her dark, thick-rimmed glasses gave the look more power than it would have otherwise had on such a young face. "You know I can cut off your remote access."
Riley snorted. "You can try."
It took a few minutes, but eventually Jill started to gather her things, setting up a few scans of her own to run before she slipped her phone into her back pocket. "Seriously, if you find something –"
Riley nodded without taking her eyes off the screen. "I will. Really," she added, when it didn't look like Jill was totally buying it. And she meant it. If she found a shred of actionable intel on the current location of those sons of bitches, she'd scream it from the rooftops.
The other woman nodded, putting a hand on her shoulder in passing, and Riley gave her a smile and fished her earbuds out of her bag. She put them in, but didn't start any audio, waiting until the door hissed closed and following Jill's progress over the cameras, making sure she was actually leaving.
Once she was reasonably confident she wasn't going to be disturbed, Riley brought up the cameras in B5, Lab 2.
The lab was fairly dark. Jack had chosen to only turn on the under-cabinet lighting, so the entire place looked even more like a morgue than usual. Technically Lab 2 was one of their cryo labs, where any plant or animal material could be stored indefinitely at nearly any temperature desired between -130 Celsius all the way up to 200 Fahrenheit. But everyone knew what the seven foot by two foot drawers were for, particularly because there were four of them.
It wasn't often that the Phoenix had to store bodies, and the lab was rarely if ever used. It also wasn't on the same floor as Medical, which is why she'd set up an alert on all accesses to Lab 2. No one would be going in there unless they were looking for something.
And so far, no one had. The access log showed no activity from anyone other than Jack or Matty.
Jack was leaning against one column of drawers, his arms folded loosely over his chest, and beside him, the top drawer of the second column had been opened, and the bed pulled about a third of the way out. It was thankfully too dark to see much, and Riley hesitated before she activated audio.
"-iece a work. Even you'd have a hard time finding something to like about the guy."
His voice was soft, but steady. Almost conversational. Riley enhanced the grid that contained Jack's face, trying to make out his expression. Gauge for herself how he was doing.
"Rap sheet as long as my arm. Lotta abuse. Shakin' his family down for drug money." Jack shook his head. "It pisses me off, dude, that that guy's got your name on his bed." There was a long sigh. ". . . I'd hate for your old man to get wind of this, show up. If he's half as smart as you are, he'd see . . . yeah, well, if he's half as smart as you he'd know it wasn't you."
Jack blew out his cheeks, like he was waiting for a response. Like he heard one.
"I . . . I gotta tell you, man. Sometimes . . ." His voice tightened. "Sometimes, just outta the corner of my eye, dude . . . it's the muppet hair-"
It was too dark and grainy to make out detail, but she saw Jack reach up and scrub his eyes.
"Ah, fuck. I forgot how much this hurts." The words shook, and Riley bit her lip. ". . . I haven't cried this much in a long time. Not since pop . . ." He made a sound, maybe a chuckle. "Hope he's found you by now, straightened you out some. Ain't had time to go by and see him, but I figure he'd know by now. He's seen you enough."
Jack fell silent after that, head hanging low, and Riley wiped her eyes and was about to kill the feed and just go down there to him when he heaved a ragged little sigh, and looked at the body beside him. He'd pulled back the shroud, so that he could see Mac's face, or maybe it was so Mac could see him, and Riley was secretly grateful that the camera couldn't pick up much of it.
"We haven't found those bastards yet, but we will." His voice was a little stronger than before. "I know you'd prefer 'em in cuffs, but . . . I'll be straight with ya, partner, that ain't gonna happen." He shook his head, then scrubbed his face again. "After that . . . I'll getcha where you need to go. I remember," he added softly.
A small hand touched her elbow, and Riley shot off the stool with a shout. Her earbuds were yanked from her ears, and she found a somewhat apologetic looking Matilda Webber standing on the other side of her stool.
"How is he?" she asked quietly.
Riley swallowed her heart back into her chest, more than a little embarrassed, and hastily wiped her face. "I, uh, he's . . ." She shook her head and tried very hard to get her game face back on. "He's talking to Mac."
For a split second, she wondered if Matty knew that was actually normal for Jack, and not a sign of psychosis, but the woman seemed to take it in stride, eyes on the monitor.
"And how are you?"
Riley took a slow breath, then let it out, and her voice finally sounded a little more like it should. "I'm tired and pissed."
The director couldn't hide a small smile at that. "Me too," she admitted. "Did you find anything?"
Riley reclaimed her seat, closing the stream from Lab 2 and going back to the analysis she and Jill had been working on. The latest cross-reference – two weeks of Phoenix cell repeater history versus the connected devices in the area of Ricarnello's at the time of the attack – showed only two matches. Mac's phone and Bozer's phone.
Riley closed it with a sigh. "No," she admitted. "We still don't know how they tracked Mac down. We still can't find the bike. Jill spent all day trying to enhance the footage we got from Ricarnello's, but she couldn't get anything on the bike, on the shooters, or any proof of a tracker being removed from the jeep."
The director was quiet a moment. "Show me."
Riley did as she was told, and brought up the fisheye view again. Riley hadn't watched it as many times as Jill had, but she still knew every frame by heart. The bike pulled into the space in front of Mac's jeep. She let it play, knowing Matty was watching every pedestrian, every passing car, every reflection in the window.
The problem was, the camera was for spotting employees robbing the cash register, not for watching the street outside the restaurant. The fisheye lens distorted things, not to mention the resolution was consumer level. Jill had tried every trick she knew, and some tricks even Riley hadn't known.
Eventually Bozer and Mac appeared, and Bozer grabbed a handful of little baggies of mints – butter mints, her absolute favorite – while Mac backed into the door, grinning. The two of them disappeared briefly on the other side of the doorframe, and then appeared in the window, walking towards the jeep.
The bike moved sharply, bouncing off the front of the Jeep, and the rear passenger turned. Riley knew the gun was at the woman's waist, which made the shots that much more impressive, and harder for passers by – or her target – to recognize the danger. Still, she hadn't even finished turning before Mac had realized something was off, and he threw himself in front of Bozer as the two shots were fired.
The bike peeled off right after the second shot, and the shattering glass of the restaurant's front window obstructed the view momentarily. The boys were too close to the storefront to see much besides Mac's legs, but then Bozer's head and upper body appeared, and it was clear he was working on Mac.
Riley let it play until the paramedics got there. It took less than five minutes; Ricarnello's was only a few blocks from the Java Joint, which was a well loved local chain, favored by first responders for their highly caffeinated Java Jolt beverage. It was nothing short of a miracle that LA paramedics had reached and started working on Mac less than five minutes after he was shot, and –
And it wasn't fast enough.
Riley roused herself from her thoughts and did so, looking at the frame. The paramedics had dispersed the crowd, slightly. She and Jill had tried all day to get a good enough picture of any of those people for facial recognition software, to no avail.
"That guy in the teal shirt." Matty pointed, and Riley gave her all the zoom they could. The director actually turned to frown at her, and Riley threw up her hands.
"Now you understand why we're so frustrated."
The older woman huffed out an irritated sigh. "Take it back to right after the window shatters."
They watched for the teal shirt, and sure enough, he was there almost immediately, smartphone in hand. But he wasn't the only one. It was just before the dinner rush, there were six people gathered around Bozer within the first sixty seconds he was out there, and four of them had their phones out, either taking pictures or filming.
"What in the hell is wrong with people?" Matty demanded.
Riley understood her disgust. "There were seven calls made to 911 dispatch from that immediate area within the first two minutes of the gunshots, if that makes you feel any better."
More good Samaritans than assholes.
"Did you check social media-"
"Yeah, I found one video on Youtube and took it down." It was no secret that Mac had gotten shot; the shooter had to know she'd hit him fair and square. Matty hadn't ordered her to search the entire internet and strip any images of it. But the video of him, laying there on the sidewalk, Bozer holding onto him for dear life –
That asshole had actually posted it as a commentary on black/white race relations in LA. A white guy getting shot and a black guy helping him. It was just so far beyond disrespectful – minimizing Bozer and Mac to nothing more than skin tone - she couldn't take it.
Matty glanced at her again. "Do you still have a copy?"
Riley nodded. "Jill analyzed it. It's just Bozer and Mac, no useful reflections, no other spectators, and it's shot Cloverfield style." She pulled it up anyway, letting it play for a few seconds. Mostly it was the side of Bozer's face, and a few dips to Mac's.
"Who shot this?"
Riley went back to the fisheye footage and indicated the black gentleman in the very bright white kicks with an LA Laker's ball cap on backwards. He was standing to the left of the guy in the teal shirt.
Riley flipped back to the footage, watching the right side of the frame. Sure enough, during one of his nauseatingly unsteady fumbles, he caught the teal guy's phone.
That guy's phone was perfectly steady. It looked like a Galaxy S8.
Matty was still staring at the blurry image. "How many people have called the hospital for Mac's condition?"
She and Jill had been monitoring that since the second the body double had been placed in a room. "Today it was four. We vetted all of them." One newspaper, two Phoenix employees – one from Europe – and one of Mac's neighbors.
Matty took another step towards the projector screen, still glaring at the man in the teal shirt, frozen up in the right-hand corner.
Neither biker had pulled out a phone. If Mr. Teal had been there specifically to get proof of the hit, he'd have to send it somewhere, or publish it somewhere. Riley hesitated, then she started up a VPN and launched Tor.
Matty watched for a few seconds without comment, even when the search string came up with hits. Riley cleared her throat.
"You, uh, may want to give me a few minutes to wade through this-"
"This isn't the first snuff film we've watched together," Matty replied tartly.
Riley knew Matty was trying to distract her, lighten the mood a little, and she sorted the videos by posted date. Some were too dark, and she could tell from the screen grab they could be safely bypassed. Far too many were in bright sunlight.
"Does that say three hundred results?!"
"In the last four days," Riley confirmed. "On this site."
Matty turned, this time fully around, and really looked at her. "Riley . . . do you do this often?"
She kept parsing through the list, removing the obvious. "Look for videos of my friends being murdered? Or just people in general?"
It was sharp, maybe sharper than she intended, and Matty let her silence speak volumes. Riley kept right on sorting.
". . . where do you think we find footage of American soldiers being beheaded? I'm probably on Tor twice a week tracking down the bad guys."
"Like this," she confirmed. She had whittled it down to a reasonable number, and Riley went back to the top and started each one, moving on to the next usually in the first couple seconds. "Most of your analysts can do this."
Not that most of them did. But they could.
There were way too many people dying in the world, and way too many sick fucks streaming it online.
She had all the videos muted, which made the images a hell of a lot easier to watch and discard, and she'd started with the oldest first. She got a hit in the first twenty.
It certainly looked like it was shot from Mr. Teal's point of view. It was much more smoothly done, in high def. She could see individual teeth on the zipper of Mac's jacket, Jill might even be able to read Mac's lips, figure out what he'd been trying to tell Bozer. Maybe he knew who'd shot him-
If this had been used as the proof of the hit, maybe the killers hadn't shown up at the hospital yet because they knew Mac had died before the paramedics ever laid a hand on him.
What looked like the toe of a blindingly white sneaker popped into the bottom left corner.
Riley did as she was told, very carefully not looking at the two subjects in the center, but the edges of the frame.
"Send me a copy of this. And can you tell who else has accessed it?"
Riley examined the metadata while it was downloading. "It's been viewed a few hundred times. I can break it down generally by geographical region, but getting specific will take a lot of time."
Matty was staring at the image. "Can you tell me what phone number uploaded it?"
She thought about that a second. " . . . yeah, I think I can." She knew the make of the phone, she had the cell tower records, and there'd be enough metadata in the stream to marry it up to a specific one.
See Author's Notes in the final chapter.