Forty Dollars, Half an Apology and a Promise

by J. Rosemary Moss

I had discovered my own private hell. For the past three hours, Peter had been plying Mozzie with gin, making nice with my friend. I had to sit and listen as they psychoanalyzed what they called my 'obsession' with Kate and then discussed the motives of a confidence artist.

At last God proved merciful and alcohol got the better of both of them. Mozzie stumbled over to the couch and passed out. Peter stayed at the table, absently staring out the window.

Great. What was I supposed to do with him?

I had pocketed his keys a while ago. Whatever happened, I wasn't letting him drive home. And he was in no state to negotiate public transportation. That left two options: send him home in a cab or let him stay here.

I thought about planting him in a room somewhere else in the mansion, but that would have been abusing June's hospitality. I had to take responsibility for my own guests. Moz already had the couch, so if Peter stayed, I'd have to give him half the bed.

I sighed. Peter's wallet was in my pocket at the moment. The agent only had sixty dollars on him. Forty, now that I had helped myself to a twenty. (Peter wouldn't mind spotting me.)

Taxis were expensive--probably best not to waste Peter's money. (Never could tell when I would need another loan.) He could stay here.

I took out my cell phone and dialed his house. When Elizabeth picked up, I explained that Peter was exhausted and would be crashing with me.

Peter, meanwhile, was more aware than I realized. "Was that El?" he asked as I hung up.

I nodded as I walked over to him. "Yup," I said, helping him to his feet. "She said I can keep you for tonight. You can have half the bed. Just don't mistake me for her while we're sleeping, ok? I mean, I know I'm just as gorgeous, but . . ."

Peter rolled his eyes. "I'll try to control myself."

I grinned and helped him remove his jacket. Peter wasn't carrying tonight, so there was no holster to unbuckle. I just had to undo his tie; he was sober enough to strip down to his tee-shirt and boxers on his own.

I followed suit, pausing only to hang up Peter's jacket and trousers along with mine. Peter scarcely noticed. I hoped that was because the alcohol had muddled him and not because Elizabeth usually picked up after him.

"Do you have my keys and wallet?" Peter asked as he climbed under the covers.

"Yes," I owned. I turned down the lights and then slid into the other half of the bed. "I borrowed a twenty from you," I added, turning on my side to face him.

"Keep it," Peter said through a yawn. "Consider it a thank you for the hospitality."

I raised my eyebrows. I had borrowed plenty of twenties from Peter and had never made good on any of them--but I usually had to work harder before he forgave the debt. I grinned at him. "I wish I had borrowed forty."

Peter shrugged. "If you need it, take it."

My eyebrows shot up again. "Note to self," I said out loud, "alcohol makes Peter mellow."

"True. Planning on getting me drunk when you need cash?"

"No," I answered, shaking my head. "I'm cutting you off, buddy. You drank too much tonight. No more than a couple of beers for you from now on."

Peter grinned. "Yes, sir."

I opened my mouth to gloat, but a snore from Mozzie interrupted me.

Peter furrowed his brow. "Does Haversham always sleep here?"

"Of course. You don't think I'd leave my friend to a storage unit, do you?" I paused for a beat, then added, "I wouldn't leave a friend stuck in a seedy hotel either."

That took a moment to sink in, but Peter finally sat up and narrowed his eyes at me. "That still rankles, huh?"

"I'm pretty sure it was crawling with roaches," I said, surprised at the sudden anger that was gripping my stomach.

"It wasn't that bad."

"Yeah, it was."

Peter sighed. "Neal--look, I wasn't sure if you'd be allowed to remain in my custody or if your ass would be right back in prison once the case was over."

"So what? You didn't want me getting attached to some place decent? Is that why you told me to cowboy up?"

"Something like that."

I sat up so I could look Peter in the eye. I wasn't about to let him off that easy. "Be honest: you thought I had it good compared to prison, even though you knew I was horrified. And you didn't want me having a nice place like this."

"I didn't want you thinking that you're entitled to something for nothing! That's where all your brilliant scams start, Caffrey."

"You could have brought me to your place! You could have given me a decent room! You know I'm not dangerous--"

Mozzie snorted in his sleep, interrupting my rant. I glanced at my friend and then turned back to Peter--but Peter was shaking his head in an annoyed, exasperated sort of way.

"Neal, you have to lose that sense of entitlement. You think everyone in the world should take one look at those charming baby blues and then live at your beck and call."

Some of my anger must have dissipated, because I couldn't help baiting him. "You find my eyes charming?"

"Neal," he said in a warning voice.

"Ok, ok," I answered, backing off before I pushed him too far. "I'm just talking about a room, Peter--not having you wait on me hand and foot."

Peter shook his head again. "I couldn't imagine introducing you to El at that time. What was I supposed to say? Here, El, meet the convict I'm working with? The one I'll have to haul back to prison if he steps an inch out of line--so don't get attached?"

I swallowed. "Ok," I admitted. "That might have been awkward."

Peter almost smiled, but then his expression grew serious. "If I had it to do over again, I'd have brought you home. At least until we could figure something else out. Satisfied?"

I cocked my head, considering. That wasn't quite an apology--but it was as close as Peter could come to one. "Ok," I said.

"Good," Peter said as he laid himself back down. "Night, Neal," he added, closing his eyes. "Thanks again for letting me crash here."

I smiled as I settled down, wondering if I really had any choice. I had to take good care of him; no other agent would take a chance on me. I should probably thank him for that at some point--for taking that chance, I mean.

Or maybe looking after him was the best way of thanking him.

"Two drink limit from now on," I reminded him. "At least during the work week. Otherwise I'll have Elizabeth come down on your ass."

Peter grunted--I think that meant consent.

I nodded, satisfied, and rolled over to drift off to sleep. I had just gotten forty dollars, half an apology, and a promise to watch his drinking off of Peter--all in one evening.

Not a bad night's work.

~The End~