Not a Slow News Day

by Amy L. Hull, amilynh at comcast dot net

Written for dayblaze in the Yuletide 2009 Challenge

Thanks to Missy, b1uemorpho, and akamarykate for betas.

ooo

*Mreow*

Gary turned toward the sound as it echoed off the damp concrete and immediately jumped back as a battered, dark green van whizzed past him.

"Hey! Watch where you're going!" Gary called after it.

He opened the paper. Homeless man arrested on Lower Wacker killed in jail fight. "Two miles of stalactites and crumbling concrete and all they've got is a stock photo. Great."

*Mreow*

Cat looked at him pointedly then trotted around a corner. Gary followed, stepping around a pillar and peering into the dim grayness beyond. A woman with haphazard layers of clothes stiffened as she looked up at him from the pallet she was laying out, frowning and glancing around cautiously. He forced a smile, raised a hand to wave, and turned away.

*Mreow*

Where the ramp to the street above met the stained pavement, there was a lean-to that looked, almost, like a little cottage of cardboard.

"Horace?" He ducked down, edging closer. "Horace Schumacher?"

There was a shifting and rustling from inside the shanty and Gary stepped back, checking the paper to see if the article said he'd been armed. It only listed the squatting and resisting arrest, so he said again, louder, "Horace? Horace, my name is Gary. You've got to come out here."

More rustling and cardboard scraping against concrete.

"Look," Gary let his annoyance creep into his voice and turned to where more eyes had turned toward him. "Just a little bit ago, I heard a couple of cops talking and they're about to come down here and do a sweep and arrest you all. You know they're about to start construction and the TV news have been reporting on how the city's trying to keep this area cleared out."

Two people were already ambling away, carrying bundles.

"Arrested?" came one voice.

Another joined in, "I could do with that. How about you, Edna? It's s'posed to drop below freezing tonight and a warm meal in jail doesn't sound half bad."

Murmurs of assent spread among the small group.

Gary shook his head and edged closer again. The dull roar and clack of vehicles overhead filled the space. "Horace?"

"I'm not moving!" a crusty voice called.

"Well, you don't have a choice. The police are on their way down here to arrest you."

"They can't do that. I live here. See?" A grimy hand reached out and pointed with a crooked finger to yellow paint on the ground.

"One hundred eighty-nine?"

"It's the street number for my house. I'm at 189 South Lower Wacker." Horace poked his head out, revealing wild gray hair, an untidy beard of the same wiry gray, and large, bleary blue eyes. His layers of clothes were a mix of sizes and styles of browns and grays, not all of which had always been those nondescript colors. He nodded once, emphatically. "I have a street number." He lowered his voice and added, proudly, "Even borrowed the paint from Street and San folks up top. I live here. They can't evict me."

"They can't?" Gary felt his jaw tighten. "What do you mean 'they can't evict?' They most certainly can! You don't own this space. It belongs to the city. And anyway, this is still West Wacker."

"It is not. I'm well past the curve."

"You're well past the curve going north so that you're on West Wacker."

"Lower Wacker."

"I can't believe I'm having this conversation. Look. You do not have a street number, or a house, or a deed. They're going to kick you out."

"Nope. I've been living here for five years now. I've even got mail at this address." He turned, rummaged, and held up envelopes proudly.

"One hundred eighty--you... Look. You are not Captain Streeter and this is not a sand bar in Lake Michigan! The police are going to arrest you. And even if this were South Wacker--"

"South Lower Wacker."

Gary clenched his teeth and glared for a moment. "If this were South Lower Wacker and if you'd gotten a street number, they'd have told you that addresses on the west side of the street are evenly numbered!"

The man stared at Gary, blinking. His grizzled beard began to quiver. "I knew I should have checked on numbering for median addresses." He lowered his head and gathered his belongings. "I'll go quietly."

A damp, mildewed smell wafted up from Horace's belongings and the canvas of what Gary assumed was his army-issued duffle. The traffic noise, above and below, continued to hiss in the dampness that lingered on the streets from the day's rain.

"You know, the Pacific Garden Mission is just down the way from here--"

Horace's head flew up. "I won't go back there! They won't stop preaching Jesus-Jesus-Jesus at me. Think I'm a drunk like all those other guys, too."

"Look here, Horace, I know you're a good guy who fell down on his luck, but I also know your son and granddaughter have been looking for you. And, well, they didn't know about your address at '189 South Wacker,' but I can contact them and they'd be able to find you at the Mission. Do you think you could stand just one day of sermons?"

Horace's eyes shone. "They...they want to find me? After all these years they don't hate me?"

"No, they don't. Now, will you come with me?" Gary tugged at his sleeve. When he turned, there were fewer squatters, and he said loudly, "You all ought to find somewhere else to stay. The police will be through here in less than half an hour and the construction is starting in just a few months."

There were mutters and aspersions cast upon the mayor and his father and various aldermen, but most were gathering belongings in bags or shopping carts.

"Let me." Gary slung Horace's duffle over his shoulder, walking with him toward the ramp that would take them up to regular street level.

"You really think they'll come?" Horace asked, his bluster gone, and his voice sounding like a child.

"Yeah. I do."

"Then I guess even a lifelong teetotaler like me can let them preach the anti-liquor gospel at me for a day. They lay it on thick, but I suppose they mean well."

Gary just nodded as he bustled Horace into a cab. A glance at the paper showed a report of a decrease in the homeless population of Lower Wacker Drive as construction approached.

ooo

Gary smiled at the few customers remaining in the restaurant as he walked through the dining room to where Marissa was sitting at the bar. "Hey, Marissa, why're you still here?"

She turned, her fingers stilled on the refreshable Braille reader attached to her laptop. "Doing inventory. You're late, too. Paper busy today?"

"You wouldn't believe." Gary poured himself a drink. "There was a new guy at one of the Belmont tattoo and piercing places who was going to cause a bunch of infections because he didn't understand how to sterilize the equipment. Then I had to go all the way down to 14300 South to Chuck's Gun Shop in Riverdale."

"Chuck's running a gun shop now?"

Gary laughed. "Wouldn't surprise me either, but apparently this place has been there forever."

"Was the owner going to get shot?"

"As well armed as he was? I doubt it. Some lady was picking up a handgun she was buying for home security. There've been a bunch of robberies in her neighborhood lately."

"I take it that was going to end badly?" Marissa tapped at the keyboard and the reader pins rasped into place for the new text.

"Yeah. She lives with her elderly father, who was going to commit suicide with that gun tonight." Gary took another drink and looked around the bar for a snack. Cat jumped up with his half meow-purr and reached his head toward Gary's hand.

"What did you do?"

He scratched the cat's ears and under his chin, feeling the rumbling purr start. "I pointed out that with children or elderly folks in the house, she might want to avoid having a loaded gun."

"Bet the gun shop owner--Chuck?--loved that."

"Yeah." Gary grimaced at the memory of the shouting. "Said I was taking away his business. I told her she might want to see about locking it up, then, maybe getting classes to make sure she knew what she was doing. He perked up at that." Cat sniffed at his glass and the bowl of beer nuts before bumping at Gary's hand again. "Hey, get down." He shooed Cat to the floor, where he landed with a mreow.

"So what happened?"

"She bought a lock for the case, a lock for the gun trigger, and Chuck recommended an instructor."

"So...what about her dad? Isn't he going to find some other way to kill himself?"

"Well, I got her talking about him. Turns out it was his idea to get the gun, said he was worried about her, that he felt like he couldn't take care of her anymore. I asked her what he does with himself, and she said he just sat around the house all day, watching the judge shows and yelling at people for being irresponsible morons."

Marissa stifled a laugh. "Watching those shows would lead to that."

"Anyway, I said it sounded like he was feeling like he didn't matter at all and she, well, she started crying." Gary took another drink.

There was a long pause before Marissa said, "And then?"

"Well, she started talking about how he served in Korea and worked in the steel mills till they closed and how he had barely left the house since his wife died last year and...it was really sad."

"So what did you do?"

"Well, Chuck the gun shop owner asked if he ever went to the VFW down there. I pointed out that some of the schools need folks to do guest lectures for history classes, and she's going to get him together with the other widowers at the VFW and call the high schools and middle schools, so...I think he might be all right."

Marissa smiled. "Sounds like you had a productive day."

"Yeah. I think I'm headed to bed. You should get some sleep, too."

"I'm almost done with this section, then I'm going to stop."

"All right. See you in the morning." Gary waved good night.

ooo

*click*

"--to Eric and Kathy on The Mix. We'll be right back with Melissa and sexy traffic."

"What? Who changed my...?" Gary switched the alarm clock off.

*Mreow*

The paper thudded against the door.

Gary retrieved it, sipping his coffee as he laid it out on the counter.

Mother and child drown in Lake

"At seven fifteen yesterday morning, high waves knocked 32-year old Cynthia Padilla and her seven-month old daughter into Lake Michigan from Lakefront Trail at Chicago Avenue..." Gary trailed off reading, glanced at his watch, and grabbed for jeans and sweatshirt at the same time.

Fifteen minutes later he jumped out of the taxi, calling a, "Thanks, mister," as he tossed a ten dollar bill into the front seat.

The smell of exhaust mixed with the fishiness of the lake. Gary ran into LSD since he had a green light, checking over his shoulder for anyone turning and dodging one driver who honked while turning past him. He hopped the concrete barrier and scanned the sidewalk at street level as well as the one below. Waves crashed against the concrete a good fifteen feet below the lower walkway. "No railings," he muttered.

A woman in light blue sweats was jogging with one of those strollers with extra big wheels where pink blankets peeked out from the straps.

"Cynthia!" He could barely hear himself over the waves and the tide. He braced his hands on the edge of the sidewalk and hopped down to the lower trail. "Cynthia! Cynthia Padilla!" The waves crashed against the concrete wall again and he ran toward her. The sidewalk was already wet ahead of her.

"Cynthia Padilla!" He shied back as a wave crashed over the walkway, then ran again and took hold of the stroller.

She yanked an ear bud from her ear and Gary could hear the music from where the tiny speaker hung at her chest. "What are you doing? Get your hands off my child!"

"It's all right. Now, calm...calm down," Gary began. "Calm down, Cynthia. I'm just...I saw you and...look!" He pointed.

Just ahead of them, the waves splashed up over the sidewalk again.

"What are you pointing at?"

"Look," Gary said insistently.

The next wave hit the walkway at waist height and the rocks rinsed off into the lake.

"Oh my God," Cynthia gasped, looking from Gary to her daughter to the sidewalk in front of her.

"The waves are too high to be down here."

"I see that."

"Maybe you could finish your workout, you know, up there." He smiled as she nodded slowly. "They should really put up signs when it's like this. I'll just be going now. You take care."

After she turned, he pulled the paper from his jacket. The story was gone, but in its place there was an L train accident. "There's a stop on Chicago," he muttered. He looked at his watch, sighed, leapt the concrete barrier, dodged LSD traffic again, and began running.

ooo

He stood an hour on the Red Line, transferred to the Yellow, and stood by the door. There were dozens of commuters who elbowed him, bumped into him, or stepped on his toes. He checked his watch. He was going to make it.

They passed Oakton Street, the train clacking its way north past cookie-cutter brick one-story houses. He checked the maps on the walls, read street signs as they streaked past, saw the cars lined up at the crossing gates as the bells rang. He glanced at his watch again.

As the train approached Main Street, Gary reached up, fingered the red knob in front of the train's sliding doors and, as they entered the intersection, he pulled it hard. The train slowed and screeched to a halt before it got to the next street.

He opened the paper and read, "Tovah Feldman and her four-year-old granddaughter Ruth were killed when they were hit by the Yellow Line L, formerly known as the Skokie Swift, at the Niles Center Road intersection.. But I just stopped the train..."

He looked out the window. Cat was sitting there on the sidewalk, tail wrapped around his front feet, mouth opening regularly in a silent *Mreow*. Gary scanned the area. Walking toward the Niles Center Road intersection ahead of where the train was stopped was an older woman holding a little girl's hand. The train shuddered and vibrated, and Gary leaned to the other side and saw the southbound train picking up speed out of the station.

"No. No, no no," he said, pulling on the red emergency knob again and tugging on the doors until he pried them open.

Voices behind him shouted, "Hey! Stop, you!"

He ran toward the woman and stood in front of her. "There's a train coming, lady."

"I think I know how to walk in my own neighborhood, young man," she said, pulling herself up to her full height. Her red pillbox hat barely reached his chest.

"Look, the train doesn't stop here and if you don't stay back, it's going to hit you." He looked down. "Your name is Ruth, right?"

"How do you know her name? Who are you?"

The little girl nodded, wide brown eyes fringed by brown hair under a pink hat in the same style as her grandmother's but with a large velvet bow around the side.

The crossing bells rang, toggling as the gates lowered.

"Do you hear that sound?"

Ruth nodded.

"Do you know what it is?"

"The train," Ruth whispered, almost inaudible.

Gary squatted down to look at her directly. "Do you know what you're supposed to do when the train comes?"

"Wait for it behind the black and white sticks."

"That's right. Do you promise to be a good helper and show your grandma that?"

"Uh-huh."

"Good girl." Gary tapped her nose with a finger and she smiled at him.

"Well, of all the--"

"There it goes!" Ruth pointed as the train clattered through the intersection.

*Mreow* Gary looked up to see Cat running into the residential streets nearby.

"There he is!" Feet clattered on the pavement, approaching fast. "Stop that man!"

"Sorry. Gotta go. You two take care." He ran toward where Cat had gone, and, sprinting across the street to duck between two houses. Just as he was reaching the far side of the road, a green van came around the corner, narrowly missing him.

"Hey! Watch where you're going!"

Gary turned and stared. Time felt like it stopped and the passenger's blond hair blew in the breeze from the open window as he gestured angrily. Gary met his eyes and saw his lips move under a thin mustache. Something fluttered in his chest and felt familiar.

The van drove away and Gary shook his head. He glanced up and down the street and jogged between houses. Once he had put some distance between the CTA officers and himself, he checked the paper again. Ruth and her grandmother no longer appeared.

"Blind 5-year-old in critical condition after being struck by car" He checked his watch. "Jayden Hoynes, 5, was struck by a car on State Street in front of Marshall Fields just before 10:30 yesterday morning. He had wandered away from his mother... I've got to call Marissa."

He looked around him at the sea of single-family residences, the browning, carefully manicured lawns trimmed with bushes and sufficient trees for some shade, and started to run again. At each intersection, he headed toward the larger streets, looking around for a public phone.

"Come on, pick up," he muttered as it rang.

"McGinty's." Marissa's voice sounded staticky.

A mechanical voice announced, "You have a collect call from--" his own voice inserted, "Gary Hobson," and the computer continued. "Would you like to accept the charges?"

Marissa sighed. "Yes, I'll accept the charges," she said. There were clicks on the line and the sound cleared.

"Marissa! You have to help me."

"Nice to hear from you, too, Gary. Listen, this is getting ridiculous. You have got to get a cell phone. It's much cheaper than McGinty's having collect calls on its bill and easier to explain in accounting--"

"All right, all right. I'll get a cell phone. But I need you to do something and I don't have time to discuss the phone bills!"

"Gary, where are you?"

"I'm in Skokie, and there's a kid about to get hit by a car downtown."

"Then why don't you take the train back?"

"I can't take the train. I just made the train stop on the tracks and they'll arrest me. I don't even know if it's back running yet." He glanced around to see if anyone seemed to be looking for him. "I'm going to have to catch a bus and I'll never make it in time. He's just a little kid, Marissa, and he's blind. He's going to wander away from his mom in front of Marshall Fields. Please, Marissa. I'll get there as soon as I can to try and back you up if you need it."

"All right. I'll cover this one. I don't know how I'll find him, but I'll do it."

Gary headed south to get the bus back to the Red Line that would take him to Marissa. He thought, as he often did, that as long as he kept getting the paper, he'd never need a gym, and willed himself to move faster.

ooo

Gary fidgeted all the way down the Red Line to Lake Street, where he ran off the train and down the metal steps to street level, apologizing. On the street he rushed south, almost dancing around people and saying "Excuse me" every couple of seconds.

The light at Randolph was red and he stood as cars rushed past him, muttering, "Come on, come on." Then he looked at the opposite corner and froze, staring. Marissa and Riley had just stepped onto the sidewalk after crossing State. Her head was tilted in the way she did when listening closely, though Gary had no idea how she could hear anything other than traffic and pedestrian noise echoing off the buildings. He found the green, oxidized filigree of the Great Clock, which read 10:25 and looked below it. There he saw a little boy, his dark hair buzzed down to his scalp, stepping slowly away from the Marshall Fields door and into the sidewalk. His movement became more certain until he walked into another pedestrian. Marissa was still listening closely, and Gary saw her say something and lean forward. As he did so, he saw his walk signal begin to flash the red "Don't walk" man, and he jogged across the street.

By the time he got there, he could hear Marissa's voice clearly, and moved to step forward. Cat was suddenly there, winding around his ankles and purring, effectively stopping him.

"Jayden?" Marissa asked. "Jayden, you need to walk toward my voice. Do you hear me?"

The boy had stopped. "Who are you?"

"I'm a friend. You need to walk toward me. Come on, Jayden, come this way."

"I'm not supposed to talk to strangers. Who are you?"

"My name's Marissa, and this is a busy, dangerous intersection."

"So? I'm not going to walk out into the street like an idiot." Jayden wasn't moving, which at least meant he wasn't going to wander into the street.

Marissa moved toward the boy and Gary, Cat still at his feet, stood by the stoplight pole, watching.

"I think your mother might be looking for you, Jayden."

"So? She just dragged me shopping because she thinks I'm a baby and won't let me stay home."

"Well, how old are you?"

"I'm five."

"You sound tall for five."

Jayden's head came up and his chest swelled a bit. "Yeah, that's what my grandparents say. I'm almost six, though."

Riley sat down and Marissa reached forward, her fingertips brushing Jayden's arm.

The boy jumped back. "What you think you're doing, lady?"

"I'm checking to see if you're where I thought you were, and there you are. What about you?"

"I'm just taking a walk."

"Oh? And what does your mother think of that?"

The boy frowned, face registering disgust. "She thinks I have to stay right with her all the time like I'm stupid or something."

"That must make you feel terrible."

"You think?" the boy demanded.

Gary could barely hear Marissa's gentle response and so took a couple of steps nearer. "My mom told me that letting me go out and walk in downtown was one of the most difficult and frightening things she ever did. Maybe remembering that this is actually scarier for her than for you would help."

"You really think you anything like me?"

"I do, Jayden. How about you grab one side of my harness and Riley will help us find your mother?"

"What harness?" Jayden demanded.

"Reach out your hand toward my voice," Marissa responded. She felt in the air in front of her and, after a moment, found Jayden's arm, then hand. She placed his hand on Riley's harness next to hers.

"Wait... You're blind like me?"

"Yep. Couldn't tell, could you?"

"No way, lady! You're downtown here, walking by yourself, and it's all okay? Or can you just do that because of your dog?"

"Well, it's certainly easier with Riley, but I traveled with a cane for years. How about you?"

"Mom won't let me even try a cane. She wants me right there with her. I think she wants to be my guide dog." His voice lowered and he added, with a giggle, "She's bossier than a dog."

Marissa grinned. "You might not think that once you got to know Riley! Anyway, let's find your mom. Have you ever been to Lighthouse?"

"Lighthouse?"

"Lighthouse For the Blind has the best mobility training in the city. I did my training there as a child, and went back every time I expanded where I went on my own for more instruction. They're pretty awesome."

"I wonder if my mom's even heard of that." Jayden sounded awestruck.

"Well, let's find her and tell her about it."

They went into Marshall Fields and Gary just smiled broadly. It was good to be running late sometimes, to hand off some stories to someone more capable. He opened the paper, and the story about Jayden was gone, replaced by boring local news. Gary paged through the paper, noting a couple of tasks yet to do...an electrical fire, a food poisoning to stop, and...jewel thieves. Great. He watched the door carefully, checking his watch, and was about ready to leave when Marissa emerged, a self-satisfied smile playing gently across her lips.

He leapt forward and grabbed her into a hug. She squeaked a near-scream. "Marissa, you did great! Thank you. You were amazing."

"Gary! I'm...I'm glad you approved. It wasn't a hard one, really."

"Well, you did it better than I would have." He kissed her cheek.

"The paper says everything is fine?"

He opened it. "Yeah. The kid's not here at all anymore. But...Marissa, I'm sorry to do this, but...can you get back to McGinty's?"

"Of course."

"Okay. I've...I've got another one to deal with. People are almost-dying all over the city today. I've just got to...I'll see you later."

"Later, Gary."

Gary ran west, again dodging pedestrians and shoppers, commuters and peddlers. His feet pounded the pavement across Randolph to the rhythm of a busker's drums. He checked the address of the building then entered, caught his breath in the lobby, and waited near the brushed brass elevators, checking his watch for the umpteenth time. A cleaning lady mopped nearby and the smell of chemicals filled the area with an orangey-ammonia scent.

The revolving door turned and a light-haired woman with a tall, dark-haired man entered. A man in a navy suit with expensive shoes and an expensive haircut approached them.

"Mirza and Tahirih Hassani?" he asked. "We are so glad to have you here to sign your lease papers. If you'll just come this way."

Gary walked up to them. "Mr. Tanner?"

"Yes."

Gary flashed his wallet and tucked it back into his pocket. "I'm an electrical inspector for the city and I was just here to make sure your wiring meets code."

"I'm sorry. I don't believe I had an appointment scheduled with you, Mr. ...?"

Gary put on his most formal voice. "This is a spot inspection, and I'm sure you'll make time, Mr. Tanner."

"I have clients here, so, like I said, you'll have to call my assistant."

"Why don't I just tell you and your clients about the faults I found in the wiring that are a fire hazard? The circuit boards and power splices are an electrical fire waiting to happen. And anyone who is living here is going to be in danger of losing everything to fire or smoke. Mr. and Mrs. Hassani?"

They nodded, eyes wide.

"You're college students?"

"Graduate students at the University of Illinois at Chicago, yes. We're new in the city and looking for an apartment near the university."

"I have a list of good apartments along this street, as well as a little south of here where the buildings have passed electrical inspections."

"Now, wait just a minute," the broker interrupted.

Gary ignored him and stepped closer to the couple, smiling at them. "In addition to those, I have a list of places in Greektown, across the river. It's a lovely area with a lot of college students, especially the ones who are in med school or are residents at the big hospitals near UIC. Is there any way we can help you and welcome you to a safe home in Chicago?"

"This would be very helpful," Mrs. Hassani said. "Mirza and I weren't sure where to start looking, but everyone has been so welcoming. What I've always heard about the Midwest seems to be accurate. Thank you for your help, Mr. Tanner. I hope the electrical isn't too much hassle to fix." She reached to shake hands.

"Yes, thank you both for your assistance," Mr. Hassani added, also shaking hands with them both.

Mr. Tanner was staring, agape, for a long moment, then spluttered. "You just stole... Why, you... I'm--"

"You really should get the wiring fixed before you take on new tenants, sir. It will save you a great deal of money," Gary said, then hurried out to join the couple.

He gave them a copy of the Chicago Reader with instructions that they'd find much of what they needed about apartments, then added a few of the apartment ads from his paper, a dinner restaurant recommendation, and good luck wishes. By that time the wind had kicked up, carrying the mingled smell of river, cold, dust, and exhaust as traffic built up for the evening, and the sound of cars and horns filled the air, echoing off the water below as he strolled along the river walk. He leaned against the railing, watching one of the water taxis below and checking the paper.

*Mreow*

"What are you doing here?" Gary absently petted the cat who had jumped up onto the concrete barrier. Cat bumped Gary's hand with his head.

*Mreow*

Gary continued to pet Cat and look through the paper. Nothing stood out for a moment, then he turned to page four, and saw the headline at the same time as he heard a man's voice, gravelly and low.

"I got the rest of the access info, man. Let's do this thing. Seven tonight. We got access, their shipments just came in, and we're never going to be more ready.

Gary didn't move, but his mouth tasted of metal and he risked a glance to the side, where he saw a blond man with a mustache flip a cell phone shut and head for the next street. The man climbed into a green van, and Gary realized he'd seen it before.

*Mreow*

"Okay, Cat. I get the message. I've got it taken care of."

ooo

A quick run into a restaurant about to serve contaminated tomatoes took only five minutes of pretending to be a health inspector. After that, it was a short cab ride to the Chicago Police District office.

Outside the doors, Gary glanced at the headline again. Security guard killed in Jeweler's Row robbery. He tucked the paper back into his jacket headed in, and walked up to the sergeant's desk. The whole place smelled old, like dust and mildew and cleaning supplies and industrial tile.

After waiting through three phone calls, he had to clear his throat to get the duty officer to look up from her paperwork.

"Can I help you?" she demanded, fixing him with a piercing glare.

"Um. Hello. I need to speak to Detective Armstrong."

"He's on vacation this week."

"Then...can I talk to Detective Toni Brigatti?"

The sergeant looked at him, one eyebrow dubiously raised, and picked up the phone. Noises clattered around them of cleaning and reports being filed, officers discussing cases, people shuffling as they waited impatiently. "Detective? There's someone who says he needs to talk to you. Yeah. White male, 30s. Yeah. What's your name?"

"Gary. Gary Hobson."

"That's who she said you'd be. She's on her way down."

"Thank you." He almost started at the voice behind him.

"Hobson. What do you want now?"

"I need your help. There's going to be a robbery."

Brigatti grabbed his sleeve and led him away from the front desk, then turned to face him in the hallway. "I know I'm going to regret this, but...a robbery?"

"It's two men and they drive a green van. One of the ones without side windows. It's down in the delivery tunnels and they're going to rob the stores at Jeweler's Row. I'm pretty sure they're armed."

"Let me guess," she said, tone dripping with sarcasm. "You can't tell me how you know."

"Actually, yes, I can. There was a homeless man I directed to one of the shelters. He was saying he'd seen a van on Lower Wacker. He...he said he'd heard them planning, and then I ran into the van again and I overheard them talking about it today. The one I saw has blond hair and one of those thin little pencil mustaches." He drew a line on his upper lip with a finger then, at her glare, dropped his hand.

Brigatti looked him up and down, eyes narrowed. "That...that actually makes sense."

"See? It makes sense."

"What doesn't make sense," she continued, "is how you, Gary Hobson, ran into this and every other little thing you run into."

"Look, I promise I'll explain it to you--"

"Gonna put a definite time on that explanation, Hobson?"

"Uh..." Gary froze then glared. "Hey, you wanna catch these thieves or not?"

She shoved his arm. "Show me. But don't think I didn't notice that you didn't answer. Again."

"What's that supposed to--"

"Just GO."

ooo

Gary hung back as the uniformed officers led the men away in cuffs. He'd been there, staying back and watching, for hours. The holes in tunnel walls had been found, the route to the waiting van, the path out to East Lower Wacker...all of it had been easy to follow from the main building of Jeweler's Row, and the arrest was now front-page news. Gary tucked the paper into his jacket and moved to slip away. One step backward and he bumped into something.

"Whoa." Turning quickly, he saw raised eyebrows, crossed arms, and a tapping foot. "Brigatti," he said, stepping back.

"Hobson," she replied evenly.

"So, how about them Bears?" He could feel the weakness in his smile.

"You going to take me for coffee and give me that explanation now?" She tucked her hair back over her ear and re-crossed her arms.

He stared at her for a moment. She shifted her weight to her other foot. He glanced back at the group of police and pointed. "Don't you have...paperwork or something to do?"

"I was going to finish it tomorrow. But if you don't want to get coffee then--"

"No, no. Coffee is fine. I'll get us a cab? If there is one?"

"Sure."

Gary raised a hand and a taxi slowed immediately.

Brigatti swatted his arm with the back of her fingers. "This explanation, Hobson? After you've strung me along this long, it had better be good."

Gary smiled and opened the cab door. As he turned to get in, he saw Cat, sitting in the doorway of a building. "Oh, you're just so smug, aren't you?"

"Like you aren't, Hobson?"

"I wasn't talking to...never mind."

Brigatti yanked on his sleeve. "Get in already, Hobson."

ooo

Most of the lights in McGinty's were off by the time Gary slipped in after eleven. He closed and locked the door behind him before he heard a voice.

"Gary?"

"Marissa? What are you doing here so late again?"

"Working." She pointed to where her laptop was reading aloud. "I'm writing up ad copy for McGinty's, trying to expand our customer base. I'm going to post on the various restaurant and food web sites around the city."

Gary sank onto a bar stool next to her. "Ah. That's a good idea. You do a great job here, Marissa. I couldn't do any of what I do without you."

"Well, I like the job and this place. Working with people, managing things, keeping it all in order." She slid a hand along the bar, resting it on Gary's arm once she felt it. "I just wanted to check on you. It sounded like a rough day with the paper."

"Again."

"Yeah. Again. There've been a lot of those lately."

"Yeah." Gary stared at the bar surface and felt his shoulders sagging. Days like today made the paper, the demands and responsibilities it brought, weigh heavily on him. Days like this, when he was all that stood between an average day and life-changing tragedy for so many. They sat in silence for what felt like a long time, her hand a gentle, reassuring presence on his arm.

"Thanks for today, Marissa," he said finally.

"Thank you for letting me help. I gave Jayden's mother my contact information; she doesn't know anyone who's been there before. She's so different from my folks; they made sure I was pushed to do anything and everything I could on my own as soon as possible. I think I really helped Jayden and his mom. I'd help more often if you'd let me, you know."

"I know. I just...I hate to put anyone else in this situation. I mean...if I'd been a minute later--"

"But you weren't."

"Not this time."

*Mreow*

Cat jumped up on the bar and Marissa gathered him to her, scratching his neck so his purr filled the room.

"See? Cat thinks you're doing fine too. So what kept you so late?"

"There were jewel thieves."

"Jewel thieves? You didn't mention that."

"Yeah, well, it showed up late in the paper, but Cat had been hinting all day and making sure I kept running into the jewel thieves. So I had to get Brigatti's help and--"

"Toni Brigatti? Detective makes-you-all-tongue-tied Brigatti?" Marissa grinned widely and her eyes sparkled. "And...this jewel thief thing...it took till after eleven?"

Cat jumped down with a typical *mreow*.

Gary frowned at Cat. "No. It did not. But, well, I promised to, well, explain, and so we, uh, got coffee."

"That must have been interesting." Marissa leaned her chin on her hands.

*Mreow*

"It...it went okay. We had coffee and I told her that my explanation was going to sound crazy. She said she already knew I was crazy."

Marissa laughed out loud, but calmed herself quickly. "I'm sorry. Go on."

Gary frowned. "Anyway, I told her that my cat brings my newspaper and it tells me what's going on and that's...how...I know things."

"Uh-huh. And how did that go over?"

He picked at the bar again. "She yelled at me, told me that if I wasn't going to tell her I shouldn't have said I was going to."

Cat jumped back up on the bar with another *mreow*.

"Then he showed up in the coffee shop and she started sneezing...and then she left." Gary glared at Cat who, as usual, looked entirely indifferent until Gary nudged him back to the floor.

*Mreow*

"You know you're going to have to come clean with her."

"Marissa, I tried, but...it's complicated."

"Life is always complicated."

"The paper makes it more complicated."

"Sometimes." Marissa stood up and began gathering her things. "Sometimes it's just you making it more complicated. You could have lots more help if you'd accept it, Gary." She slid her hand along the bar and squeezed his arm again. "Good night. I'll see you tomorrow." She clicked her tongue and Riley came, toenails clattering on the floor. She slid his harness over his head. "Forward, Riley. We're going home."

"Safe trip. Night, Marissa."

Gary switched off the last of the lights and headed up the stairs. "Cat. You coming, Cat?"

Cat trotted toward him.

Gary pulled his keys out of his pocket and looked at where Cat was sitting primly, waiting at the door. "How about you make tomorrow a simpler day after these past two, how about that?"

*Mreow*

"Figures you'd say that. Night, Cat."

*Mreow*

ooo

ooo