Disclaimer: For the second time tonight, I don't own anything to do with Ocean's 11.
A/N: Certain amount of writing will happen when there is no internet. And this one is for InSilva. For lots of reasons.
They were nice boys, that was the thing, Maisie thought.
She'd been so worried when they'd moved in. Two young men, in their twenties, and they looked flashy and arrogant and swaggering and she'd been sure it was going to be the Watsons all over again, all -night parties, loud music, beer bottles, cigarette butts and half naked women in the hallway; her afraid to step outside her front door.
She'd even wondered, with a shiver of genuine fear, if they might be like Mr Kingsley from the floor upstairs with men coming and going all times of the day and night. Large, angry-looking men who she did her best to avoid in the elevator and the corridors, just in case.
A couple of nights she'd heard shouting coming from upstairs. Loud, frantic banging. Screaming, even. She'd called the police and she'd called her son, Ted, and the police had come round the next morning and interviewed her. They'd been very polite and very gentle and they'd asked her so many times if she was sure she'd heard what she'd heard. By the time they'd left to head upstairs and talk to Mr Kingsley she honestly hadn't been sure anymore. She'd felt like a stupid old woman.
And really, that had been the end of it.
Unless, of course, you counted the bunch of dead flowers that had been left outside her door the next day. Or the note that was full of words that she didn't like to think of and threats that made her sick.
The next time she'd heard screaming in the middle of the night she'd pulled the blankets tight around her head and turned over and lain as still as she could till morning.
After that she didn't go out unless she couldn't help it.
And, when the Watsons moved out in a hurry and the two new neighbours moved in, she watched them through the spy hole in the door and worried about what they'd be like and she saw their clothes and their ages and heard them laughing and she waited for the worst.
It never happened.
There was no loud music, no parties, nothing frightening at all.
A couple of times she passed them in the hall when she was scuttling down to the shops, and they smiled and said good morning and despite her instincts and her intentions she found herself smiling back.
Another day they passed her on the street while she was struggling with her shopping bags and the dark-haired one had smiled and asked if she needed help and taken half her shopping when she hesitated, then the blond had thrown away the remains of his hotdog and taken the other half of the bags. And they'd carried them all the way back to the building and up to her apartment, talking to her cheerfully all the while. Just little things. They'd talked about the weather and about the little deli on the corner that she used to enjoy eating in, and she'd found herself telling them about the lovely bakers on the other side of the block that made the most wonderful coffee cakes, and the dark-haired one – Danny, she'd learned – had smiled indulgently as the blond – Rusty – had leaned over and earnestly asked her for specifics and directions.
As she put her shopping away she'd found herself smiling happily. It wasn't that there'd been anything significant there. Common kindness. Except kindness wasn't so common and they'd talked to her like she was a person, not a chore, and they'd listened to her...she couldn't remember the last time she'd really felt like someone was listening to her. Not for a very long time she was sure.
And so the next time she passed them in the hallway she found herself smiling and saying "Good morning" first, and Rusty had grinned cheerfully and thanked her for the bakery recommendation and it didn't take so very much these days to make her feel less lonely.
They were nice boys, she decided. Perfect neighbours.
Another week or so of seeing them in the corridor and making casual conversation and then, late one night, she heard a soft commotion outside, coming up the stairs. Someone was out there, trying to be very quiet indeed.
She tried to do what she always did and just ignore it, but the noises came closer, soft little gasps and moans of pain, and she found herself climbing out of bed, pulling her dressing gown tight around her, and she crept noiselessly to the front door and peered out the spy hole, just in time to see Danny and Rusty stumble up the stairs, their arms tightly around each other, and then they stepped forwards into the light and she gasped to see the blood and the bruises and she had the door open before she'd even paused to consider that it was none of her business.
Rusty looked up sharply as the door opened and there was a momentary fear in his eyes which vanished as he recognised her. Danny was hanging limply in his arms, looking like the effort of raising his head would just be a step too far for him.
"What happened?" she asked horrified. "Come in. Let me call an ambulance, the police."
"No, thank you, Mrs Cunningham, It's honestly not as bad as it looks." Rusty smiled politely and he didn't look half as bad as Danny but there was still blood caked in his hair and dripping from his lip, and he might say that it wasn't as bad as it looked, but she'd never seen anything that looked worse.
"Are you sure?" she persisted. "You look like you need help."
Danny moaned slightly and twisted, burrowing closer against Rusty's side, and Rusty's hands shifted, seemingly automatically, holding him tighter. "Quite sure," Rusty said, when he looked up at her again. "Just want to get cleaned up and get him to bed."
"Alright then," she said doubtfully.
"Thank you, though," Rusty said sincerely as they walked past her and Rusty fumbled to get their front door open. "Sorry that we woke you. Thanks, Mrs Cunningham. See you later."
"Goodnight," she echoed, disquieted as she stepped back inside her apartment and closed the door softly, leaning against it for a moment. She thought about the way Rusty had looked at Danny, thought about their hands on each other. There had been such tenderness. Such affection. Such...she hesitated, uncertain even about thinking the thought, but yes, such love. She'd never known men to show those kind of emotions. Hadn't even dreamed that men were capable of feeling those kind of emotions. A part of her was immediately thinking about what her husband would have said. What her son, Ted, would say. Unnatural. Unmanly. Disgusting. And she knew that her husband would have immediately assumed they were...lovers...and she could picture that look in his eyes he always got when there was something he didn't approve of. He would have wrote letters to the papers complaining about the depravity and perversion in the world today, and he would have gone down to Charlie's Bar and got drunk and told everyone and made sure that everyone in the neighbourhood knew exactly what he thought.
But it seemed to her that they were nice boys, kind and sweet, and she'd never have said if her husband was alive, not in a million years, but she couldn't see where the harm in them was. It was none of her business what they did behind closed doors and she couldn't see how it was anyone else's. But the world wasn't fair and she thought she could see why they must have been beaten up.
And it wasn't fair.
They were nice boys.
The next morning she tried to go round next door, just to check that the boys were okay. But there was no answer at the door. She supposed that they were out. Hopefully at the doctors. Or the police.
She didn't see either of them for another week. On Tuesday morning she was called down by the delivery driver and she found herself staring at a very large package that really wasn't quite what she thought she'd ordered.
"I thought it came pre-assembled?" she asked the driver timidly.
The driver shook his head. "Nah, love. Flatpack. Sign here, will you?"
She scribbled on the clipboard obediently. "The elevator's out of order. Could you possibly take it upstairs for me? Please?"
The driver sighed and rolled his eyes condescendingly. "Not my job, is it? See you later, love."
He walked off whistling and Maisie was left staring at a package that was almost as tall as her. There was no way she was going to be able to get it up seven flights of stairs. Not with her knee. And even if she could, somehow, get it upstairs she'd never be able to actually put it up herself. It just wasn't happening and she considered whether or not if she called Ted he might not only answer but come round and help her. If she was being honest it seemed unlikely. A phone call every couple of weeks seemed to be as much as he was willing to give. He would never come all the way down here just for a bookcase.
She could feel her eyes start to prickle with tears of frustration.
"Mrs Cunningham?" a voice said behind her. "Everything okay?"
She turned to see Danny looking at her quizzically and she looked him up and down quickly. He looked fine. Not even a hint of the injuries she'd seen last week. "Are you feeling better, Danny?" she asked anxiously.
He looked startled for a moment then smiled. "Yes, thank you. Now what's the problem here?"
"I got this bookcase delivered," she explained, pointing. "And the man wouldn't take it upstairs for me and I don't know what I'm going to do."
"Easy enough," Danny said with confidence. "I can carry that up the stairs for you."
She stuttered a little, protested a little and Danny smiled again and picked up the package and headed for the stairs.
Seven flights of stairs. And it took Danny a while and Maisie did feel guilty but he told her again and again that he didn't mind.
At one point, on the fourth floor landing, Mr Kingsley came striding down the stairs with two other men behind him. Large, frightening men who carried themselves like they were henchmen in a talkie. She pushed herself against the wall and looked down at the ground and prayed he wouldn't notice her. Danny turned his face sharply to the wall, his hands gripping the sides of the package tightly, as if he was afraid of what would happen if he let go.
Mr Kingsley swept past them without sparing either of them a glance and Danny gazed after him as he vanished down the stairs, and Maisie didn't understand the expression on his face at all, but it made her feel cold inside.
"That's Mr Kingsley," she whispered as soon as she was certain there was no way he'd overhear. "You should stay away from him."
Danny looked round at her and smiled and the coldness melted away like it had never been. "Probably," he agreed lightly. "How do you know him?"
And she found herself telling him about the noises she heard at night sometimes, and the time she'd called the police. He was a good listener. He didn't scoff like Ted had. He didn't ask her if she was sure. And when she somehow found herself telling him about the dead flowers and the note, she was sure he wasn't faking the anger and the horror, or his insistence that it wasn't right.
It was nice to be taken seriously.
By the time they got the package upstairs, the conversation had turned and she was somehow telling him about the job in the little bookshop she'd had, years ago, and how she'd had to give it up because her husband hadn't liked it. It wasn't right that everyone thought his wife had to support herself.
"You like books, I see," Danny commented, looking round at the three bookcases that were already in the living room, and the piles stacked on the coffee table just waiting to be shelved.
"Yes," she agreed, blushing slightly. "Since my husband passed away, I have a lot of time to myself." She swallowed uncomfortably and she wasn't sure why she added "I'm..I'm not good at making friends."
Danny smiled at her sympathetically, and he didn't say anything. No well-meaning advice, no meaningless platitudes. "Would you like me to help you put the shelves up?" he asked instead.
"I couldn't ask you..." she protested.
"You didn't," he told her. "I offered."
She found herself actually laughing at that.
Ten minutes later and there were planks of wood, bits of plastic and little metal screws strewn across the living room floor and Danny was staring at the instructions and looking remarkably out of his element. "It says screw Block 'A' to rotator 'T'," he told her, sounding just a little panicked.
"Okay..." she said, helplessly. She had never been one for DIY. Her husband had taken care of all of that and now she called the building super when she needed her lightbulbs changed. Of course, normally it took him a few days, but she didn't really mind candlelight so that was okay.
"Okay," Danny echoed, staring down at the pieces of wood in his hand. "How hard can this really be?"
Ten minutes after that and there had briefly been some kind of structure, but it hadn't looked much like a bookcase and it had fallen apart when Danny had rested a finger on it.
"I'm sorry," he apologised, sounding slightly guilty and very embarrassed. "It said easy assemble..."
Her lips twitched slightly and she couldn't help but think that he probably wasn't used to failure. "I think it was lying," she told him.
"Yeah," he nodded, and then he turned and stared at the door, his head cocked like he'd heard something. "Oh, thank God," he muttered and then he smiled at her. "Excuse me a moment," he said and stepped out into the hallway.
She heard quiet voices and then a soft explosion of laughter, and a moment later, Danny trailed back into the apartment followed by a very-amused looking Rusty.
"Hi," Rusty said, smiling at her. "Danny says you've got some shelves that need put together?"
"Yes," she said, looking at him doubtfully. Because her husband had always said that DIY was real men's work, and she had to think that if Danny couldn't do it then she really doubted that Rusty would be any more likely to manage. But he picked up the instructions and the screwdriver like he understood both and a second later he looked up at Danny quizzically.
"Did you actually look at these?" he asked.
Danny looked offended. "Yes, of course."
"Right," Rusty said slowly. "Because this," he pointed at the mess of wood and plastic "Is a bookcase. These," he went on, brandishing the instructions, "Tell you how to put together a lawnmower."
"Oh," Danny blinked.
"Yes," Rusty agreed. "Oh. Can you tell the difference?"
"I carried it upstairs," Danny pointed out, slightly sulkily.
"Uh huh," Rusty nodded. "Brawn and brain."
"Would you like a cup of tea, Danny?" Maisie cut in hastily, before the squabble turned nasty.
Danny looked amused. "Thank you," he said cheerfully. "Then we can watch him work."
"You mean supervise," Rusty said through a mouthful of screws. Maisie hoped he didn't swallow any.
She and Danny sat at the kitchen table, sipping tea and talking about books and Rusty managed to assemble the bookcase – despite the lack of instructions – within ten minutes. Of course she offered Rusty a cup of tea and she found a packet of cookies in the back of a cupboard and it was all so nice. Like having visitors. Or friends.
Really, they were such wonderful neighbours, and she couldn't help but hope that they were going to stay in the building for a long time, and she couldn't help but tell them so.
They exchanged a glance.
"Sorry," Danny began.
"We're not," Rusty added, apologetically. "It's - "
" - short term lease," Danny explained. "We'll be moving on soon - "
" - very soon - " Rusty contributed.
" - next month, probably," Danny nodded.
"Definitely," Rusty corrected, gently and firmly.
"We travel a lot," Danny added.
She was sorry. But she supposed she really wasn't surprised. They were nice and sweet and kind, but they were exotic and this probably just wasn't the sort of neighbourhood they were looking to spend their lives in.
"Oh, well," she said, smiling brightly. "Would you like some more tea?"
It was a week later and late at night. Normally Maisie preferred to be in bed at this time, but she'd found a Leslie Charteris she hadn't read in the bookshop that afternoon and she just hadn't been able to put it down since. Sheer, mindless escapism of course, that's what her husband had always said. Along with 'pointless' and 'a complete waste of time'. But it was thrilling reading about lives so far removed from the real world. And it didn't matter that those things didn't happen to anyone she'd ever know and maybe not anyone in the entire world. It was exciting and she read on, enthralled, as Simon Templar threw careless, cutting insults at the bad guy, making sure all his cruel attentions were focused on him, giving his friends a chance to escape.
The sharp knock at the door caught her by surprise and, laying the book on the coffee table, she moved cautiously to the front door and peered out the spy hole.
There were a couple of burly young men standing outside. She'd never seen them before in her life, but they were dressed smartly enough and the smaller one was holding up an identity badge. She couldn't quite make out what it said but it certainly looked official.
"Yes?" she called through the door.
"Mrs Cunningham?" the voice came back. "We're terribly sorry to disturb you, Mrs Cunningham, but I'm afraid there's been reports of a smell of gas? Have you noticed anything at all?"
"No..." she said slowly, trying to think back. She hadn't noticed, but then she'd been so wrapped up in her book that she really might have missed it altogether.
"I see.." the man said, sounding concerned. "Well, we could come in and check for you, if you like? Just to be on the safe side."
"Okay," she agreed hesitantly, and she opened the door but left it on the chain. It was silly, but you heard such stories. "Can I just have a closer look at your badge, please?"
To her horror the man laughed and started trying to pull the chain loose.
"No!" Panicked, she did her best to slam the door, but then the second man charged at it with his shoulder, breaking the chain, forcing the lock and sending her flying backwards.
She sat on the floor and stared up in terror as the two men entered her home.
"You just stay down there," the second man snarled, and turned round. "Max! Get the door shut, can't you?"
The man called Max pushed the door shut, or tried to. "It's broken, Kev. You did the locks in."
"Get out!" Maisie yelled, shrilly, stumbling to her feet.
"Stay down, bitch," Kev snapped, taking a step towards her.
Hastily, she crouched back down on the floor. "Please," she said in a shaky voice, tears in her eyes. "Please just leave."
They ignored her of course. "Fucking books," Kev complained, looking round the room. Then he laughed. "Fuck, yeah, TV and VCR. Get them while I check the bedroom for the old bag's jewellery."
He stepped towards the bedroom and Maisie found herself on her feet, throwing herself towards him. "Stay out of my bedroom!" she screamed.
"Jesus Christ!" He turned, shock written on his face, and he backhanded her hard.
She fell with a soft, helpless moan, her vision dark and blurry, and it hurt.
There was a moment when she must have blacked out and when she came back to herself everything was still a little fuzzy, but it seemed there was a new commotion and a fresh set of voices.
"What the fuck?"
"Think you boys should leave right now."
"Oh, big mistake."
There were noises, the sound of a fight, and groggily she pulled herself up into a sitting position and blinked heavily.
She was just in time to see Rusty stumble backwards from Max, his hand at his mouth. But there was blood pouring from Max's nose, and he was bent double and holding himself in an intimate area, and he looked wildly round the room and bolted for the door.
She was still trying to get her head together as Rusty threw himself across the room to where Kev had Danny in a headlock Somehow, Kev managed to elbow Rusty in the face without even looking round, and he fell back, and Danny's hands were pulling desperately at Kev's arm, and he was obviously struggling to draw breath, and Maisie was terrified and then Rusty stepped up behind Kev and broke a vase smartly over his head.
Kev crumpled soundlessly to the floor.
"Guess we win on points," Danny said breathlessly, massaging his throat.
"Good guys one, bad guys nil," Rusty nodded. "Let me see," he added, moving Danny's hands out of the way and grimacing. "Black and blue is not a good look on you. Anyone ever tell you that?"
"Oh, because you're doing so much better of course," Danny said, his sarcastic tone belied by the gentle thumb tracing over Rusty's rapidly-swelling lip.
There was a moment and Maisie found herself smiling at the sight of the tenderness.
Rusty cleared his throat. "Mrs Cunningham? You alright?"
"I...I think so," she nodded cautiously, and Danny crossed the room and carefully helped her to her feet and guided her over to sit on the sofa. "Thank you...I mean...thank you." She couldn't believe they were here. Couldn't believe she'd been saved."
Kev groaned and started to sit up. "What...what the fuck?" he said muzzily.
"What should we do with him?" Rusty asked, knocking Kev back onto his back firmly.
Danny looked at her. "Mrs Cunningham? Do you want us to call the police?"
She shied away from the idea automatically. The last time she'd called the police they'd been so patronising and so slow to turn up, and she didn't want to have him in her house till then. And then she'd need to make a statement and identify him and courts and trials all swam in front of her eyes. She didn't want that. She didn't want any of that.
Carefully, Danny sat down next to her, a cold compress in his hand, which he pressed gently to the side of her face. "Doesn't look like the skin's broken, but you're going to have a nasty bruise there," he told her. "You want us to take you to the hospital?"
"No," she shook her head. She felt sore and shaky, but it wasn't that bad.
"Got any painkillers?" Danny asked.
"Ah, yes," she nodded, thinking. "In the bathroom cabinet."
"Okay, I'll go get you some in a minute," Danny promised.
"Hey, what about me?" Kev howled suddenly.
"What about you?" Rusty asked curiously, tying Kev's hands behind his back with the tie from Maisie's drapes. He caught her looking and smiled apologetically. "Sorry, Mrs Cunningham. I'll put it back as soon as I can."
"That's quite alright, Rusty," she told him graciously, fighting a feeling of decided unreality.
"Oh, and I'm sorry about the vase too," Rusty added, grimacing at the shards on the floor.
"That's more than alright," she told him, struggling not to smile. "It was a wedding present and, to be honest, it was hideous forty years ago."
"Still," Danny remarked, frowning at Kev." What about him?"
Maisie shivered. She didn't want the police called but she didn't want him to just run off. He might come back. And next time Danny and Rusty might not be there. Or worse; they might be there and not win.
"Mmm..." Rusty was staring down at Kev's face. "We know him, you know. Him and his friend."
"We do?" Danny sounded surprised. Maisie was astounded.
"Seven months ago," Rusty said. "Just before that trip to Reno. They both work for Marcus Garrity."
Maisie was watching Kev. And, by the sudden intake of breath and the way the colour drained from his face, the name meant something. Of course, it meant nothing to her.
"Marcus know you're moonlighting?" Rusty asked Kev with interest. "Marcus know you've got a sideline robbing old ladies?"
"Oh, Marcus, doesn't know," Danny cut in with a smile. "And the reason I know that Marcus doesn't know is that you're still walking around."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Kev protested weakly. "Why don't you just let me go?"
"Of course we're going to let you go," Rusty assured him. "Then we're going to call Marcus."
"Let him know what you've been doing," Danny contributed.
"If I were you, I'd grab your friend and leave town in a hurry," Rusty said seriously
"Marcus wouldn't believe you," Kev scoffed.
Danny smiled. "Yes he would. He likes us. And he owes us a favour."
"Several favours," Rusty added.
Kev smiled at them defiantly.
Danny sighed and the warmth and humour drained from his face leaving...something else...in its place. "Look. This is the easy way. There is a hard way."
"You want to try the hard way?" Rusty asked softly, staring fixedly at Kev without the slightest hint of the smallest shred of pity.
Seemed like Kev saw what she was seeing and maybe even a little more. "No, no," he shook his head frantically, cowering away from them. "I'll go find Max. We'll leave town tonight, and we'll never come back. I swear it."
"Good." Danny smiled as Rusty hauled Kev to his feet and dragged him towards the door. "Oh, one more thing," Danny added with what Maisie thought of as Columbo-like absentmindedness. "This easy way? It's a one time offer. We ever see you again - "
Rusty nodded. " - you ever come near Mrs Cunningham again - "
" - we ever even think that you're pulling this sort of job again - "
" - we won't be nice about it," Rusty smiled. "Understand?"
Kev nodded urgently and Rusty shoved him out the door and hauled the drape-cord off him painfully at the last second.
As Rusty closed the door she heard the sound of feet pounding down the stairs, like hell was close behind.
She turned to look at them, wondering now that the danger was passed. Seemed that there were a few things that just didn't make sense and she didn't know what Danny and Rusty were capable of anymore. They knew criminals – they were capable of frightening those hoodlums. She had to wonder who they were and she stared at them, wondering what she was supposed to do, how she was supposed to feel.
The silence was long and awkward.
"How's your head?" Rusty asked eventually, softly, and Danny looked anxious.
"You sure you don't want to go to the hospital? Or we could call a doctor," he suggested.
She smiled. It didn't matter what else they were; they were nice boys.
"It's not too bad, thank you," she said quietly.
Danny still didn't look convinced. "Do you want to call anyone?"
She hesitated, and Rusty looked up from examining the front door. "You're going to need new locks. I can fix it tomorrow but this door's not going to close properly tonight."
And she didn't want to be alone in that case. Didn't want to be alone anyway. "My son, Ted," she said hesitantly. "I'll call him."
Rusty brought the telephone over and handed it to her and then they moved to a respectable distance, giving her some privacy, and Rusty pulled out one of those new-fangled mobile telephones. Calling the mysterious Marcus Garrity, she'd bet.
It was a while before Ted answered. And when he did, he sounded annoyed. "Hello?"
"Ted? It's Mom," she began apologetically. "I'm sorry to bother you so late, but I'm afraid - "
" - this really isn't a good time, Mother," he interrupted, sighing. "Can't this wait till morning?"
She bit her lip. "Two men just broke into my house," she blurted out. "They hit me."
There was a silence. "Are you alright?" he asked at last.
"Yes," she assured him quickly. "My neighbours, they saved me. Chased the robbers off."
"Good," he said, with a sigh of relief. "Did they take anything?"
"No, they didn't get a chance - "
" - well, that's good too," Ted said firmly. "Did you call the police yet?"
She struggled to explain. "No, I - "
" - fine, I'll take you round tomorrow morning," he decided. "First thing...no, I have a meeting. Lunchtime, maybe. I'll give you a call. Bye for now."
"Thank you," she said numbly, as he hung up. He had been concerned. And he was going to help. Just that she'd wanted to see him now...
Danny and Rusty were looking at her. She thought that maybe they'd heard enough to know that Ted wasn't coming. She wiped at her eyes and smiled shakily at them. "I'll be fine," she told them. "I'll put a bookcase in front of the door or something."
They exchanged a long, long glance and then turned back to her. "Listen - " Danny began.
" - don't feel obliged - " Rusty added.
" - but if you like, we could stay here, just for tonight. Just to make sure you're okay," Danny finished.
She hesitated. Because she would feel safer, but - "I can't ask you to do that?"
Danny smiled warmly. "Your sofa looks comfortable enough. And in the morning, I'll make breakfast and Rusty can fix your door."
Really, she gave in very easily, and in ten minutes she found herself sitting comfortably with them on the sofa, the door forced shut, all three clutching cold compresses and cups of tea. "Do you mind if I put the TV on?" she asked, politely. She didn't think she could sleep just yet.
"Go ahead," Rusty said, smiling lazily.
She flipped through the channels and came across the beginning of 'Arsenic and Old Lace'. She hesitated; probably not something they'd enjoy. She wasn't sure what young people were watching these days but it almost certainly wasn't -
"Cary Grant!" Rusty sounded delighted. Danny was smiling with anticipation.
"You like it?" she asked, her eyes wide.
"'He wouldn't have died of pneumonia, if I hadn't shot him,'" Danny quoted.
She laughed aloud. "And Boris Karloff!" she remembered.
The movie played and she smiled and felt safe.
What more could she want?
In the end, Ted was busy and she told him that she didn't really want to go to the police anyway. She'd rather just forget it all. And besides, Rusty had fixed up the door, better than new. Everything was alright. And Ted had come round at lunchtime, just for a quick cup of coffee, just to check that she was doing okay. And that was nice.
He'd caught her up to her elbows in flour, of course. It had been years since she'd baked; not since Ted had left home, but she hadn't lost the knack, and she found herself smiling happily at the chocolate cake as it cooled on the counter.
It wasn't really enough to say 'Thank you for saving my life'. But it was something, and she was sure they'd appreciate it, and she'd carefully put it on her best plate and carried it into the hall and knocked on their door.
It wasn't Danny or Rusty who opened the door, and immediately she was caught off guard. The tall, black man smiled at her. "Hi there, ma'am, can I help you?" He glanced down at the chocolate cake. "Woah, you must be looking for Rusty."
"And Danny," she nodded.
The man glanced over his shoulder. "You guys tricking innocent ladies into baking you cakes, now?"
"They're what?" Another man appeared in the doorway, this one small and awkward-looking with cables draped round his neck. "Oh! Cake!" He looked up at her. "I'm Livingston, by the way. And this is Frank."
A second after that, and at long last Danny appeared at the door. He smiled at her immediately. "Mrs Cunningham, nice to see you. How are you feeling this morning?"
"Fine," she said, and meant it. "I baked you a cake to say thank you." She glared at Frank. "And they didn't trick me into anything. They saved me. Two thugs forced their way into my house last night. Danny and Rusty fought them. If it wasn't for them..." she trailed off and she could cry just thinking about what could have happened.
"Wait." Frank was frowning at Danny. "That's how you two got hurt? Then what was all that about the drunk who'd lost his pants and blamed you?"
"That was a lie," Rusty called from somewhere inside the apartment.
And now Livingston was staring and Maisie really wasn't sure what was going on. "So when Saul was lecturing you about being stupid before a job..."
Danny smiled and shrugged again and didn't say anything.
"They're heroes," Maisie said, because she could and because it was true and because she'd never said it before.
"Yes," a new voice agreed and an older man stepped into the doorway. "Mrs Cunningham, wasn't it?" he said, smiling at her. He had the most charming smile she'd ever seen and even though he was still easily twenty years too young for her, she found herself blushing. He took the cake out of her hands gently. "Why don't you come inside and Daniel can make us some coffee and Robert can cut this delicious-looking cake and you can tell the rest of us what really happened last night."
She could almost giggle at the look on Danny's face. "Saul - " he began, warningly.
Saul didn't look in the slightest bit warned. Rather the opposite in fact. "I'm sure we'd all like to hear the story. Wouldn't we?"
Frank and Livingston certainly looked eager.
In the end she didn't stay long at Danny and Rusty's that day. There was coffee and cake and she was made very welcome, but she could still tell that she'd interrupted something. There were papers stuffed down the backs of chairs. A little model that Rusty had casually laid a jacket over. Bags waiting by the doorway. A sense of urgency in the air. She'd made her excuses after one cup of coffee, left them to it.
It was the last time she saw them, as it turned out.
The next day there were people running up and down the stairs all day. The sound of yelling and heavy boots. Frightened, she stayed inside and watched TV and saw her building on the local news.
The exact details were a little difficult to follow. Some of it was about unions and construction bosses, and then there was some sort of scandal, some money that had been found where it shouldn't be and a lot more money that hadn't been found at all, and then there were stories of violence and intimidation and horror, and in the centre of it all, somehow, was Mr Kingsley from upstairs, who was now rumoured to be Mr Kingsley in Canada.
Whatever had happened she decided to keep her head down until the fuss died down. And when it finally had, she discovered that Danny and Rusty had moved out at some point over the last few days and they hadn't left a forwarding address.
It was silly but she missed them. She really did. She missed seeing them in the hallway, she missed the feeling she was just starting to get used to, that there was someone there if she needed help. She missed them.
But life went on, and she'd gotten into the habit of talking to people now. More than she had in a long while, anyway. She didn't always wait until Ted called her. Sometimes she called him first. And it was when she was getting ready to go out to the first meeting of her new book group that the doorbell rang.
She glanced out the spyhole and was more than a little shocked to see a young man with green hair and multiple piercings wearing motorcycle leathers and dark glasses. He was holding up an ID badge and a package, and she wasn't about to make the same mistake twice.
"Go away," she said firmly.
"Mrs Cunningham?" the young man called gently, in a strong New York accent. "I gotta package here for you. It's from a Mr Danny Ocean and Mr Rusty Ryan? That mean anything to you?"
Oh. It did. She hesitated.
"Listen," the young man went on. "How about I put my ID badge under the door? Then you can see I'm for real, right?"
"Okay," she agreed slowly, and a second later she was examining a very real-looking badge proclaiming the young man to be Mike Scott from Westward Couriers Inc. After a moment's indecision, she opened the door onto the chain. The chain was much stronger now, of course. Rusty and Danny had got her the very best they could find.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Cunningham," the young man smiled happily. "Here's your package and the letter that goes with it. Package is marked fragile," he warned, as she took it eagerly and tore open the letter.
She didn't know enough to be sure whose handwriting it was, but the note was simple and to the point.
"Dear Mrs Cunningham,
Just us returning your plate. We kind of left in a hurry, business got a little ahead of us, and we didn't have time to go round and say goodbye properly. We're sorry about that.
Anyway, here's the plate back, and thank you for the cake and for making life here more pleasant than we'd expected.
Hope this finds you well.
All our best,
Danny and Rusty"
She found herself smiling. Just the fact that they hadn't forgotten. That they'd even thought to give her plate back. They just went a little further than anyone else would think they had to, and it wasn't out of any sense of etiquette or duty. It was just because that was who they were.
"Oh, Mrs Cunningham, one more thing," the young man added, rubbing his fingers absently round his mouth. "You're our lucky ten thousandth customer this year. Means you've won a prize."
"Uh huh," she sighed. She'd seen these kind of things before. "And what do I need to do to claim it?"
The young man looked slightly startled, though it was difficult to tell, under the piercings. "Nothing," he said, handing her over another envelope. "It's a ticket for a Caribbean cruise and ten thousand dollars spending money," he explained, matter-of-factly.
She choked. "It's what?" she demanded.
He shrugged. "'s a good prize," he said, like it was absolutely nothing to him. "Only thing is, there's the twelfth annual mystery writer's convention going on at the same time on the ship. There's a VIP pass for that included, if you're interested in that kind of thing." He glanced at his watch. "Oh, I gotta run. Thanks, Mrs Cunningham. See you later."
He vanished down the corridor.
She stared down at the envelope in her hands and then stared after him.
Oh, those stupid, stubborn...she went back indoors, shaking her head.
In the end though, she couldn't help smiling.
They were nice boys. And that's all that mattered.