An: Thanks again to shootingsilverstarlight for the beta :)
When he walked through the hallway, he heard the phone ring. He rushed to the door of his office, but because of his nervousness it took him a while to find the right key and three tries to get the door unlocked. He ran to the phone, hoping he had reached in time when he picked up the receiver.
"It's me," the voice on the other end of the line stated.
The man sat down in his chair, anxiously awaiting the next words. This could be it. He could finally get the news he'd been waiting for all this time.
"It's not done yet."
The man swallowed. This was not what he wanted to hear. Far from it in fact. He felt his hands go clammy and his heart rate speed up. Why didn't anything ever go his way? He wished this situation was dealt with so he could finally get back to life the way it should be and not waiting for the other shoe to drop. He wanted to be able to sleep again at night, and that could only happen with McKay out of the picture.
He couldn't believe his 'assassin' had failed again. After all, how hard could it be to dispose of one chubby physicist? He felt his frustration turn to anger.
"Not yet?" he yelled. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
It stayed silent on the other end of the line and he was about to inquire if the man had become mute as well as incompetent when he got his answer.
"McKay is lucky. He keeps getting away."
"You're letting him get away! And that's not what you're getting paid for."
"Speaking of which, when are you going to pay me? I checked my account and you haven't transferred the money in yet."
"And it's a good thing I haven't. I don't pay for failures."
"There's some guy hanging around McKay."
"It makes it harder to stage an accident." Those words were followed by a coughing fit.
The man counted till ten while he waited for things on the other end of the line to quiet down again.
"Maybe you're not up for the job. I'd probably be better of if I found someone else. Someone competent."
"Go ahead. You're free to do what ever you want as long as you pay me."
"For what? You haven't done anything!"
"I'm not paying you a dime!"
"Maybe you should consider it. I'm sure you wouldn't want this to become public knowledge."
"Are you trying to blackmail me?"
"I…" the man started coughing again. "I want to get more out of this than pneumonia."
The man sat down, pushed his glasses up his nose and considered his options. Would the assassin go to the police? He thought it was unlikely, since that would implicate him too and since he hadn't paid the man yet, anything he said would be circumstantial. No, he concluded. The assassin was probably bluffing and he was going to call him on it.
"You can go to hell for all I care," he said and hung up.
He stared at the phone for a while longer, wondering if he'd made the right decision.
John put down the phone. That was the last thing he expected to hear. Elizabeth didn't want him to bring Jinto back home now. She had enough problems right now, with her husband and her pregnancy. Elizabeth had even said she was about to call John and ask him if he could keep Jinto with him a few weeks more. Maybe even until after the baby was born. After that life would get back to normal.
John took a deep breath and stared at the wall. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to react. Should he feel angry or sad? He tried to explain to Elizabeth that keeping Jinto with him wasn't a good idea because he was headed to a potentially dangerous situation, but she still said no. Part of him wanted to strangle Elizabeth for that answer, but another part of him understood because that was the same excuse he used after Jinto had been born. He had rejected her offer of joint custody because he said his job was too dangerous to be a part-time dad. So he supposed he couldn't blame her for not believing him now.
Part of him understood Elizabeth's reasons for not wanting Jinto to return right now. She explained to him that her pregnancy wasn't going as smooth as the first one. She was feeling tired and agitated. Simon wasn't dealing with the situation well either and having Jinto home would only aggravate matters.
That made John want to go to Elizabeth's house, slam Wallis into a wall to let him know he wasn't pleased with the way Simon had been treating John's son and ex-wife and give him some pointers on how to do a better job. The man wasn't stupid. He was a surgeon after all and John was sure he wouldn't have to explain things more than once.
Tempting as the thought was, it would have to wait. Going now would probably make John feel better, but the added stress it would cause in Elizabeth's life right now couldn't be good for her pregnancy and since John would be leaving for Oberoth there was no way to know how Wallis might react after he left. No, his talk with Wallis would have to wait until after the baby was born and things were back to normal.
Maybe he could talk to Elizabeth about being more involved in Jinto's life then too. He didn't think she would object, but unfortunately that didn't help him with his situation now. John didn't want to leave Jinto where he wasn't wanted, but he couldn't take the boy with him to Oberoth.
Rodney erased the last the last few paragraphs he had typed and started over again, although he wasn't sure how much better it would be this time. After everything that had happened, he couldn't concentrate. And knowing that John was in the other room talking to his ex-wife didn't help matters. The outcome of that conversation would determine whether he would face his former friends alone, or if he would have John with him to help and support him. He knew which option he would prefer, but he didn't want to get his hopes up.
Rodney looked up from his laptop as John walked in the kitchen from the living room, where Jinto was playing a computer game, shut the door and sat down at the kitchen across from him. Rodney shut down is laptop and wondered if he should say something because Sheppard was oddly quiet, but he couldn't think of how to start the conversation.
Just when Rodney decided he couldn't stay silent any longer John put down the pen he was playing with and started talking.
"Elizabeth doesn't want Jinto to come home yet."
Rodney shut down his laptop.
"She says it's not a good time right now, and I believe her."
Rodney blinked. Even though he had said he didn't want John to go to Oberoth with him, part of him had been relieved to have someone at his side as he returned. Since it wasn't meant to be though, it was time to return to plan A.
"Then I'll go back to Oberoth by myself. I'm sure it will be fine." And as an afterthought he added. "I wanted to go by myself anyway."
"No way," John said, shaking his head. "You're not going alone. We're all going."
"What?" There was no way Rodney had heard that correctly. "There is no way we can take Jinto with us."
"Nothing will happen to him."
"There is no way you can guarantee that and you know it."
"I'll look after him. He'll be fine."
"You'll look after him at the same time you're watching my back. Who do you think you are? Superman?"
"Naw, I'd be Batman. He's got the better outfit, better gadgets and a cool car." John drawled, like they were just having a stupid, asinine guy conversation about superheroes instead of a discussion about weather he and Jinto would stay here where it was safe or go with him to Oberoth, where it potentially wasn't.
Not that it was really up for discussion. John had already decided they would go, whether Rodney agreed or not. Rodney knew this and there was nothing he could do to stop them. It was a free country after all. The only thing left to talk about was whether they were going separately or together, and which car they would use if that were the case. Rodney's mind drifted off, thinking that they would probably need to take his because Sheppard's was cool, but a toy car and not big enough for all three of them. Besides, it was still damaged from where he ran it into the sand dune. He snapped himself back into reality when Sheppard coughed.
"I still don't like it," Rodney finally said.
"I know you don't, but everything will work out. You'll see," John said, getting up from the table and walking towards the living room. "We should probably get packing if we want to leave tomorrow."
"You're right." Rodney said, but he stayed where he was and stared at his closed laptop, needing some time to let everything sink in. He was really going to do it, really going back to Oberoth, and he wouldn't be alone. He'd have John with him as he faced the town's people, who probably weren't going to be very happy to see him again. The feeling was entirely mutual though, since he wasn't too keen on seeing them again either. But John was right. He couldn't run for ever. He hoped John was also right about everything working out, because that would mean he could put all this behind him and finally go on with his life.
Rodney didn't have much packing to do, since most of his things were still in suitcases from when he made the move from his bungalow to Sheppard's. They would leave for Oberoth after breakfast, making a stop in town to drop of the keys to their bungalows and to let the police know they were leaving.
The police informed them that they hadn't found the car yet, or the driver, but they would continue their search and would let him know if there was a new development in the case. To be honest, it was pretty much what Rodney expected, but it didn't exactly make him feel better about taking the long car trip he was about to go on.
There was no reason to think the killer would strike again now. After all, he had tried something different every time and the road to Oberoth was straight and flat, with a lot of other traffic and not really suitable for a sneaky ambush. He would just have to hold on to that thought and try to enjoy the scenery, like Jinto was.
Just like on their trip into town the day before, Jinto was pointing out interesting things and asking questions about them and squealed in delight when he saw a group of rabbits. Rodney found himself relaxing a little until he saw the first sign directing them to Oberoth. Obviously, he knew they were going there, but seeing the name of the town like that made it more real somehow. Like, there was no turning back, even though Rodney knew John would turn the car around if he asked.
They were almost at the city limit now and Rodney started to see familiar buildings, cars and even some people. He wondered how long it would be before the first person recognised him.
Rodney was glad there were no people on the street when they pulled up to his house. He was dreading to see what had happened to it while he was gone and the last thing he needed was them seeing his reaction to their handiwork.
The garden was a mess, plants were pulled from the soil and trampled and the lawn now seemed the place where everybody in town went to walk their dog. The one small fruit tree that was still standing was covered in toilet paper and the front door still had bits of rotten egg and tomato stuck to it. And the windows, the ones that weren't broken anyway, had graffiti on them letting everyone know exactly how they felt about Rodney.
"Well," Rodney said as he got over the initial shock of seeing his house again. "This is where I live." He unbuckled his seat belt and got out of the car. Before walking into the garden, he paused.
"Someone really did a number on your house." John said as he and Jinto joined Rodney.
"Some of it was done while I was still here, but the windows hadn't been broken yet."
John put a hand on Rodney's arm and squeezed it gently. "Are you sure you want to go in? It's probably worse on the inside."
Rodney nodded and started walking towards the door. He already knew it was going to a mess. Why stop at the outside, when you have an entire interior to trash, especially with him not there anymore? He was probably lucky that the house was still standing.
Rodney inserted the key in the lock, opened the door and took a deep breath before entering his house for the first time in months. Even knowing what he would probably find, he found he still wasn't prepared for the reality of seeing it. The walls had multiple layers of graffiti on them. The paintings and pictures that used to hang on the walls had been thrown on the floor and stepped on, furniture had been toppled and a lot of his books had the pages torn from them and strewn around the rooms.
All the kitchen cabinets had been emptied. The dishes were broken and the floor slippery from the cleaning liquids that had been emptied on it. The curtains were ripped and the window broken.
The rest of the house had received the same treatment as the ground floor. The bedrooms were trashed and so was the bathroom. It was hard to believe he used to live here only a few weeks ago.
By the time they were back in the living room again Rodney was wondering if he'd made a wrong decision by coming back home. He didn't realise he was trembling until he felt Jinto's hand take hold of his.
"What happened here?" he asked innocently. "Was there an explosion?"
Rodney wasn't really sure how to answer that, but fortunately for him he didn't have to.
"There were some people who were mad at Rodney and that's why they did this to his house when he left."
Jinto looked at his at the mess in the living room, Rodney and then his father. "Those were not nice people."
"No," John agreed. "They weren't."
John looked at Rodney. His shoulders were slumped and his eyes looked moist. He looked defeated and John hated that there were people out there who could do this to Rodney. Right at that moment there was nothing he would rather do than give them a dose of their own medicine.
Instead of giving in to his anger, he moved closer to Rodney and put and arm around his shoulder. Rodney didn't push him away, but leaned in to him, like he needed the support to hold it together.
To John, it felt like something snapped into place. This was right, the way it should be. He knew how Rodney was feeling. That even though he even though he might not be up to facing everything that happened here, he still would.
"Do you see why I had to leave now?" Rodney asked, looking up at John.
John did see and he was glad Rodney had left before things had gotten so out of hand.
"From what I can tell none of the damage is recent," John said, trying for optimism. "Maybe things have calmed down a little."
"Does Oberoth have a hotel? Because I don't think we'll be staying here any time soon."
"Not without an extreme makeover," Rodney said, straitening his shoulders. He had to make sure this wasn't going to let this overwhelm him even though a small part of him wanted to run out the door and never come back.
The rest of him refused to stay down and disappear like a thief in the night. They'd already chased him out of town once: they wouldn't succeed again.
"There's a motel. It's not very big though."
"All we need are two rooms."
Rodney waited in the car with Jinto while John went to the reception to register for their rooms. There were no other people in the parking lot and Rodney hoped they could get checked in before he ran in to someone he knew.
"Done," John said, holding two sets of keys. "We've got rooms 103 and 104."
"What name did you register under?"
"Sheppard family. I got us adjoining rooms, since they didn't have a family room."
Rodney nodded and started moving the luggage from the car to their rooms.
John got Jinto out of the car and the boy started to bounce when he saw the pool.
"Can I go swimming?"
"Not right now. Maybe tomorrow. We've got unpacking to do first."
The rooms seemed to be stuck in a time warp, but at least they were clean. The mattresses were of good quality, and bouncy enough for Jinto to use as a trampoline, and there was a free wi-fi connection. Rodney had moved his suitcases to the room with the king sized bed and John and Jinto used the room with the two queen sized beds.
Rodney stood in the doorway that connected the two rooms.
"What should we do now? Do you have any idea?"
John had just finished unpacking the last suitcase and put it on the floor.
"What we need to do is show the people of Oberoth that you're back."
"I know this is hard for you." John said, seeing the way Rodney reacted to his suggestion. "But the trip here is kind of pointless otherwise. If we don't go out, we'll never find who we're looking for."
"So how do we find him?"
"That's the hard part, since we don't know who it is. At least, not yet."
"So in the mean time?"
"We act normal."
"I'm not sure I know what normal is anymore."
"We'll start by cleaning up the mess in you're house. Who ever is responsible, will slip up sooner or later."
They walked passed the supermarket isles. Rodney held his head up high. Everybody was looking at them. Looking at him and he could tell they were surprised to see him. Their trolley was filled with cleaning products and some snacks, because cleaning makes a person hungry and they did have Rodney's hypoglycemia to consider.
As they neared the cash register, Jinto spotted a gumball machine and John gave his son some small change so he could get some.
The supermarket owner, who Rodney had seen as they entered the store, was now standing like a sentry next to the cash register. He had his meaty arms folded across his chest and a determined look on his face.
"You're money is invalid here, Mr. McKay."
Rodney started to move their items on the conveyor belt.
"That's Doctor McKay to you and my American dollars are a legal method of payment."
"I don't care if you had gold in your wallet. It still wouldn't make a difference. I don't want your kind in my store."
"You would be smart to change your position on this," John said, getting into the store owners personal space.
"I am not obligated to serve customers that I don't care for. And I don't want to serve him." He paused for a moment and looked down his nose at John. "And who the hell are you anyway?"
Those two little words seemed to work miracles, just like John knew they would. The owner started backpedaling, his face turning bright red.
"That doesn't mean that I.... This is America, damned!"
The man nodded at the cashier, who started to scan the articles.
Jinto returned with a few gumballs, offering one to Rodney and John.
Rodney paid for their supplies and John picked up Jinto, while taking note of the people who were in the supermarket. He overheard some of their hushed conversations. They were not happy with the fact that Rodney couldn't be stopped from shopping in the store.
"We'd like the receipt, please," John said, holding out his hand. Taking the bit of paper John followed Rodney out the store.
The whispered conversations grew in volume as they approached the exit and by the time they walked out things were quit loud.
"You lied to him," Rodney whispered, not wanting Jinto to hear. They were in the car on their way back to Rodney's house.
"It worked, didn't it?"
"In my profession, lies will often get you further than the truth. In some situations, people respond well to what they want to hear and in other situations they respond well to what they don't want to hear. I've discovered a lot by tweaking the truth a little."
"I guess, but...."
"Lying to people isn't a hobby of mine. It would be great if the world was a perfect place and that there weren't people in it exploiting others just for their own personal gain. But there are and the only way to expose them is get down to their level."
"Doesn't it bother you?"
"Sometimes it does, but just now, in the supermarket, not at all. Not only was it the fastest way to deal, he also got what was coming to him." John paused. "Unless of course you'd rather I punched him?"
Rodney smiled. "Maybe."
"I'll keep that in mind for next time."
"I'm not bailing you out if you though."
They started the clean up in the kitchen. At first, it looked like the room might never be clean again, but after a few hours they could definitely see the improvement. It almost looked presentable if you ignored the cracked tiles on the floor and the graffiti on the walls.
"I don't think we can get the graffiti off this way," John said. He had tried several of the cleaning products, but none of them had worked. "It's probably best if we just paint over it."
"You're probably right. If we keep going at this pace the house will be cleaned and ready to be painted next week." If nothing happens while we're here, that is.
"I'm hungry," John announced. "Who else is hungry?"
"Me!" Jinto said. "What's for dinner?"
"Here? Not so much. Even if we had food and I trusted that the stove was still working and no one had tampered with it, we still wouldn't have plates to eat the food off. And I'm not eating food directly from the can, because..."
"I guess we're going out to dinner then." John interrupted him. "Oberoth's got a restaurant, doesn't it?"
"If you're worried if they'll serve us or not, don't be. Because trust me, they will."
"Not dressed like this they won't."
"You're probably right. How about this: Jinto and I will board up the window in the living room. You finish up here and then we'll go back to the motel and change into clean clothes."
"Sounds like a plan."
While John was hammering the last few nails into the hardboard, Jinto was playing with his shoelaces, untying and tying them.
"Daddy," he asked after a while. "Why did that man not want Rodney in his shop?"
John put down his hammer and looked at his son. "Why do you think?"
"Because he is one of the people that doesn't like Rodney?"
Jinto frowned. "But Rodney is really nice. Why don't they like him?"
"Because he was involved in something that the people in town weren't happy with."
"What kind of thing?"
"Do you know what a trial is?"
"Like they have on TV?"
"Yes, like on TV." John said, making a mental note to ask Elizabeth what kind of TV programmes she let Jinto watch. "Rodney had to say something about a few people that lived in this town. About things they did. And because of that a few men were put in jail."
"Were they bad men?" Jinto asked.
"In a way they were."
"And Rodney told the truth?"
"Then he did right. Mama says you should always tell the truth."
"And she's right, you should."
"But, you told that man a lie."
John sighed. He had hoped Jinto had been too preoccupied with the gumballs to hear that particular conversation. Crouching down in front of his son he said, "Jinto, look at me."
The boy did.
"You're right, I did, but it was for Rodney. Remember how I told you we have to help him a little?"
Jinto nodded. "Yes."
John ran his fingers through his hair. He wasn't really sure how he could explain to his son that the truth was important even though he sometimes told a lie.
"That man was very mean to Rodney and I couldn't let that happen. That's why I tried to scare him by telling him he would get in trouble if he wasn't nicer to Rodney. Do you understand that?"
John rubbed his neck. Being a father definitely wasn't easy.
Jinto looked at him with his big, innocent eyes. "Is it like saying to someone that you like something, even though you don't like it, but you say it anyway, because it's what they have and you don't want to be unfriendly?"
It wasn't exactly the same, John thought, but it wasn't really wrong either and it wasn't like was going to come up with a better way to explain it.
"Yeah buddy, it's like that."
Jinto smiled and his whole face lit up. "Then it's okay. Mama says that that's not a real lie. It's a white lie and they don't count."
Rodney entered the room, drying his hands on a paper towel.
Jinto jumped up. "Rodney, Daddy didn't tell a real lie. It was a white lie and they don't count."
John looked at Rodney and shrugged.
Jinto ran over to Rodney and hugged his legs. Rodney picked him up, but kept looking at John.
"It's what his mother told him," John explained.
Walking in like he owned the place, the man entered City Hall. He knew where he was going, because he had been here before. He ignored the people telling him that he should report at the reception first and that he shouldn't be here without an appointment. When he reached his destination, a secretary tried to stop him by telling him her boss was out to lunch, but he pushed her aside and entered the office.
The man, his former employer, was startled when he saw who it was that had entered his office unannounced. His face went from its usual pallor to pale, pale white. His eyes searched the table for something like a panic button, but then he seemed to compose himself. He took a deep breath, adjusted his glasses and went on the offensive.
"Just who do you think you are? You don't have the right to come in here."
"I want my money!"
"Close the door."
"Why don't you close it yourself?"
He pushed his chair back, walked around the desk to the door and after reassuring his secretary all was well, calmly closed the door, even though what he really wanted was to slam it shut.
"Let's get down to business," he hissed. "What are you here for?"
"I want my money," the man repeated.
"Like I explained to you earlier, I don't pay for failures."
"You didn't explain anything. You just hung up!"
"And what, Mr. Ford? That bruised your little ego?"
The athletic man didn't hesitate. It only took him two steps to reach his target and have him pressed against the wall. "You give me what you owe me or I'll tell everyone what you did."
"I didn't do anything, because you failed to do your job."
"You hired me!"
"And if you think anyone will believe you over me, you're sadly mistaken."
The man frowned. He realised his 'victim' was right. Nobody would believe him without proof, which he could have had if he'd recorded this conversation. He was making mistake after mistake in this case. His grandmother used to tell him that he was a smart boy, if only he used his brain. Well, he definitely wasn't using it now. He should have gotten some money up front. He should have gotten some insurance to make sure that he wouldn't get cheated out of his money. This failure wouldn't be good for his reputation and he would probably be stuck with this cough for ever.
That damned cough. What he needed was a vacation on a tropical island. Somewhere far away from troubles of every day life. He was sure things would get much better once his cough disappeared and he could sleep through the night again. But to get to his tropical paradise, he needed money. He adjusted his forearm and pressed it against the man's throat. Let's see how he likes it, not being able to breathe properly, he thought.
A soft knock on the door derailed his train of thought. He hoped that who ever it was would go away. He wanted this settled now, since he wasn't sure he would get another chance like this.
There was another knock on the door. "Mr. Zelenka?" a voice on the other side of the door asked.
Damn, Ford thought. Looked like he had to finish it some other time after all. He took the pressure of Zelenka's neck and stepped back.
His assistant. Never in his life had Radek Zelenka been happier to hear his voice. He swore that from now on he would be nicer to the man and would never yell at him again for being an idiot.
"Yes," he answered, rubbing his throat. "What is it?"
The door opened and Radek Zelenka stepped away from the wall. He adjusted his tie and glasses and finger-combed his hair and trying not to think about the fact that Aiden Ford could have easily killed him.
Peter Kavanagh walked into the office. His bespectacled eyes moving from his boss, to the man standing next to him and back to his boss again. "I'm sorry to bother you," he said in a nasal voice. "I didn't know you had company."
"He was just leaving." Zelenka replied.
"Just remember what I said. If I don't get my money by the end of the week, I'm calling the newspapers!" He stormed out of the room, slamming the door shut on his way out.
Damn that Ford. Kavanagh may not have seen him pressed against the wall, but the threat on the way out had been clear and it would be hard to spin it so it appeared that he was in control of the situation, not Ford.
Given time though he was sure he could do it. But first things first.
"Kavanagh, what can I do for you?"
Peter Kavanagh was gloating. The boss was in trouble. It couldn't happen to a nicer man, as far as he was concerned. He kinda wished he hadn't interrupted the meeting. If he hadn't, maybe Zelenka would have had a black eye now. The other man had seemed angry though and not the type to let things slide, so might still happen. Smiling at the thought he returned his attention to why he came to the office.
"I needed your input on some of these figures."