"Uh-uh! No you don't!"
Kelly, his rear now fully lifted away from the seat of the wheelchair and thrust in Scotty's general direction, tipped a frustrated look back to his partner. "Scotty, come on now…"
"Sit back down, Jack."
"Don't wheedle me!"
"I'm not wheed – have I ever wheedled you? Truly?" Kelly brought up his best indignant expression. "If you weren't my friend, and I mean my very best friend, in the whole world, I'd take offense at that word coming outta your mouth, Jack. Of all the – wheedling…"
"Sit down," Scotty commanded, now rising himself. "Or I'll take you back to your room, tie you to that chair and leave you there for a week. Would you like that instead?"
Kelly sighed – for all his words, there was a truth to Scotty's tone. He plopped back down into the wheelchair, barely felt the twinge of pain that resulted. Temporarily chastened, he stuck a fist onto his cheek and rested his head, watched from behind the brown lenses of his sunglasses as Scotty settled back down into the shade of the umbrella table. Okay, no moving, but that didn't mean he couldn't give his overly protective partner some verbal grief instead. Sometimes that got under Scotty's skin even better, especially since he was already frustrated about the overdue expense report.
"I'm telling you, Jack," he grumbled. "Three weeks in this chair and I've got – chair sores – from all this sitting around. My legs…they're atrophying before my very eyes – before yours too, if you'd care to even look."
"I'm sure the Department could use a good man to push some paper around at the Pentagon," Scotty said without looking up, flipping a page of his own report. "They could find you some nice windowless space down in the basement somewhere. That might dry up your chair sores…or it could make you go blind. Which one would you prefer?"
"Scotty, come on, I'm bored."
Scotty looked up. "How can you be bored in this paradise, man?" He gestured at the busy resort patio clogged with happy, half-dressed touristas surrounding them. Even the sailboard gently bobbing in the bay behind them seemed to be nodding happily. "You've got the sun and the sea and a fresh tan there on your legs – which don't look any atrophied to me, by the way. You've got it made – no shot drills, no target practice, no judo training-"
"No swimming, no dancing, no dinner dates…" Kelly morosely returned, scowling at the scene - it'd been the same for days. If the damned sailboat suddenly flipped over he'd cheer with joy.
"You want a dinner date?" Scotty asked him. "Go for yourself, Hoby. Just be home before dessert gets put on the table."
"Jack, how can I just eat dinner and then run home to Mom?" Kelly demanded. "I've got a scar to show – a nice fresh scar, mind you. And it's not like I can just roll up a sleeve and point to it. There's a delicate way of handling this kind…"
"And what'll you do if you start wheezing right in the middle of that dessert of yours?" Scotty returned quickly. "You're not healed, man. When you're healed then you can get out of the chair."
"Ah…newsflash?" Kelly waved a hand. "I've been out of the chair, Duke. I get outta this chair every day to-"
"-exercise, I know. And that's all you're allowed out of the chair for."
"How about a walk, then? That's exercise, isn't it?"
"Later – I need to finish this report first. Why don't you take a nap right there? Just close your eyes and enjoy the breeze."
"'m not tired."
"Then read a book."
"No." Kelly made a face. "Hey, what if I-?"
"You haven't even heard-"
"I don't have to – it won't be on the 'okay' list. And if it's not on the okay list then the answer is no."
"How about a drink, then? Can I have one with a little more 'refreshment' in it?"
"How many pain pills have you taken today?" Scotty asked in that all too familiar doctor-sounding tone he'd adopted in the past three weeks.
"Just a couple at breakfast." Kelly held up a hand in salute for emphasis. "Scout's honor."
Scotty snorted. "That's not the Scout sign." He folded his fingers correctly. "Okay, go for a drink – maybe it'll make you sleepy."
Sure, and no waiter in sight. Not that he really wanted one – he just wanted to get something out of his partner. Scotty'd been way too broody the past few days. The aftermath, Kelly knew. Scotty often bottled up a lot of his own emotion after the end of a trying situation. And this traitor business rightly qualified as trying. Usually his partner would find something to do to relieve the stress he'd sucked up into his mind and body, and then be back to his old self. A few trips to the gym or a call home to Mom usually did the trick. But after seven half-remembered days at the Mexico City Hospital - for the both of them - they'd returned to Acapulco and an endless round of doctor appointments, bandage changes, physical therapy, medication schedules, debriefings… and exhaustion. With little time left for anything else, Scotty had developed a short temper and some particularly bad dreams. Kelly could at least tend him through the nightmares, but there had to be something he could do to get Scotty out of his funk, besides trying to heal as fast as he could. Actually, getting out of Acapulco might be the best thing to do. He'd be cleared for duty soon, and the shot drills, target practice and judo training - which he'd be most happy to begin again because it would be something to do - could take place anywhere. Maybe he'd make a call later, start pulling for an assignment on the other side of the world. He smiled to himself – Japan. Scotty really liked Japan…
That decided, Kelly let his gaze wander over the tourists enjoying themselves in the sun-splashed Acapulco afternoon. There'd been a girl yesterday, a pretty petite thing that'd winked at him as she'd strolled past, but no sign of her today. And he'd kept an eye out all the while he'd been needling Scotty. And it was needling, not wheedling… This time he did sigh. He was bored and infinitely restless. He was through with napping and reading. He'd already cleaned his and Scotty's guns – both sets. He'd snuck a couple of weights into their room and worked them on various trips to the bathroom. He'd ordered in and ordered out, watched the sailboats cruise the bay and the chicks cruise the patio – and otherwise sat in this chair. There'd been a few meals with pretty company ad enjoyable sympathy, but nothing more. Because Scotty was just taking too much care of him. And wrestling with his own tortured self.
"Still working on that, huh?" Kelly now asked, pointing to the pages his partner was studying once more.
Scotty casually laid his pencil aside and calmly gathered up the papers. "Almost done," he said, and put them onto the seat of the chair beside him.
"Don't sweat it, man," Kelly shrugged, sensing an opening. C'mon, man, let me in… "Just write it off to hospital services, or something like that."
"Your medical plan paid for everything hospital related," Scotty reminded him.
"Oh…" Kelly thought furiously for a second. "Then call it a – 'charge to procure information.'"
Scotty released a breath and let his gaze drift. Kelly saw it – a jumble of emotion that rolled unchecked for a quick moment across his partner's face. "I don't even know if that's where it went," Scotty said with unusual resignation, settling his features again. He looked away and swallowed something back. His voice went soft. "I don't even remember half of what I did once I saw that knife in your back."
Okay, Duke, it's okay… "You remembered enough to put in the report," Kelly told him quietly. "That's better than I managed. It went all fuzzy for me once I got in that canoe."
Scotty shifted, shook his head. He kept fiddling with the pencil, tapping it onto his thumb. "I just wish…"
Kelly leaned in and stilled the pencil with a comforting hand; Scotty's fingers were cold. "I know," he said, giving them a little squeeze before he plucked the pencil away.
"If you'd just …" Scotty began.
"I couldn't - it took too long…"
"You know I hate it when you-"
"I know," Kelly told him. "And I hate to see you beat yourself up over this. You did all you could do - there wasn't anything else you could've done better." And thanks to you I'm still here. He cleared his throat and decided to push a little. "I'll remind you, sir, that here's no room for regret in this business, and that's straight out of our revered spy manual." He pressed forward. "Surely you remember the page number, sir? The chapter on mission components, I believe?"
Scotty slowly, almost shyly, looked back up. C'mon, man, let it go, Kelly silently urged.
Scotty debated a moment more. "Page one thirty-six," he finally answered.
"Certainly," Kelly nodded, holding back his smile. Good for you, Jack. "One thirty-six and I quote, 'The assignment must be viewed as either a success or failure…'" Then he couldn't help his grin, and let his mouth go. "…and doesn't count any little trivial issues like wishes, desires, stabbings, so called running off, uncommon thieves or hospitalization."
That made his partner smile, even if it was over the ridiculousness of it. "We were born lucky, is that it?" Scotty reminded him.
"That is exactly, it, Herman," Kelly told him encouragingly. "A little roughed up, maybe, but still whole. Well, speaking for myself there are a more few dents and dings, but nothing that keeps me from running smooth and clean. But you, sir…" He gestured broadly with both hands. "You are a model of health and vitality. And you shouldn't be wasting this absolutely tourist-perfect day suffering your brain over such evil, vile things as numbers. What say you take yourself down to the beach and find a little spot to swim and admire all those friendly tourists and helpful locals? I'm sure I'd be fine here by myself…"
Scotty shook his head, but kept his smile. "Nice try, Duke, but no dice."
"Then you could take me for a little stroll to the water…"
"Okay, fine, you win, a little walk – strictly for exercise. But not until I'm done this report, okay? D'you think you can sit still for a couple more minutes? And don't ask for any wheelies on the way, all right? No wheelies." Then the look in his dark-eyed gaze softened into gratefulness. "Thanks, man."
The familiar comfortableness slipped back between them, so right and so normal. It was okay and by tonight it'd be better, perfect. Kelly took up his watered down drink and toasted his partner and best friend. "All right, Jack. All right. To the report with you now." He slid the pencil back over.
As Scotty slipped on his sunglasses and bent his head to the task once again, Kelly saw approaching movement – a lovely sway of bikini-clad hips, that blonde bob of hair – it was her. Definitely cute. Definitely alone. And definitely heading his way.
She caught his eye as she sashayed toward him – and winked. He gave her his best smile and let his hands shake in a show of hungry tremors. She stepped to the right, but gave him a flirty little glance and a matching smile. Forget Scotty and his hovering. Kelly's hands reached for the wheels and got the chair going – not that it'd be easy with all the people crowded out here, but maybe some sympathetic tourist would give a nice looking guy in a wheelchair some assistance…
Kelly halted and turned his head, eyes automatically scanning the area for threats, his periphery vision telling him Scotty was doing the same. But there was something oddly familiar in that greeting – just who…oh, for-
Goza hurried around the tables and people and rocked to a stop in front of him. Then he leaned in. "Chico! Hey, you don't look too good," he greeted, trying for deadpan. He ran a hand down Kelly's bare left arm. "You got fat!" he declared.
"Goza!" Kelly exclaimed delightedly. "Is that really you? What did you do to yourself?"
He shook his head in wonderment – the man was a fashion disaster in a colorful striped sport jacket, a new straw hat, a pair of shades, white tennis shoes of all things – and was that a hula girl posing on his tie?
Goza proudly smiled down at himself. "I look really nice, eh?"
"Beautiful," Kelly chuckled and glanced over at Scotty. "Wonderful isn't it?"
Scotty only grinned. A good and happy grin, Kelly noticed. Yep, Japan would be a good present for Scotty…
"I took the hundred dollars you give me and I invested it in jai-alai – I won seven hundred!" Goza told them.
Kelly gave Scotty a raised brow – well, at least they definitely knew where the money went. "Procurement," he whispered over. Scotty just grunted back but got his pencil moving. "All right," Kelly nodded approvingly at Goza.
"Now I think I go back to Vera Cruz," the Mexican announced with an air about him revealed an odd seriousness. Vera Cruz – his hometown Kelly recalled. Funny that he could clearly recall their first meeting and the scuffle with each other but little else after that, other than the man's constant presence by his side.
"Well, I think the Acapulco police will throw a celebration," Kelly told him with a grin. "To celebrate your…reform."
The smile slid off Goza's bearded face. He gave a slight sigh of resignation. "You're right, kid," he nodded. "I got a very bad reputation."
Scotty let out a little snort and Kelly barely managed to cover his. Reform and Goza didn't exactly go together. Then again, situations could change a man. And he was glad Goza was here – there were things to be said…
"Hey, Goza, push me." He thumped the wheels of the chair. "I want to get out of here for a bit."
"You're crazy, kid," Goza declared, turning about. "What's better than this place?"
"Hoby…" Scotty called in light warning.
"Sitting, Jack. I'm sitting," Kelly insisted as Goza took hold of the handles of the wheelchair. "And my amigo will take good care of me, right, Goza m'man?"
"Sure, kid, sure."
"Go, go," Kelly urged him, as the other man began maneuvering the wheelchair around the umbrella topped tables. "Quick, before he changes his mind." Goza readily complied and sped them away from the throngs of bodies clustered all around them toward the edge of the sea wall that wound around to the hotel garden beyond. For a few furious moments they kept a companionable silence between them as Goza steered the chair along at a good clip farther away from the afternoon party crowd, then Kelly just couldn't resist poking fun at the man.
"I gotta tell you," he began, giving Goza another examination. "That is one loud jacket, man – just where did you find that?"
"Looks good, eh?" Goza smiled, abruptly stopping to admire his striped sleeves.
Kelly shoved himself back into the seat from where he'd slipped forward. "I tell you, Duke," he said, wrapping his fingers around an arm support to keep himself in place. "It won't be hard to spot you in a crowd."
That wiped the smile of Goza's face. "You think of the worst things, kid." He resumed pushing Kelly and went silent.
Kelly risked settling himself into a comfortable slouch, enjoying this tiny slice of different scenery. The pain was all but gone now, and his arm was gaining strength, thanks to those bathroom weight sessions. He'd even managed to hit a few balls with the racket earlier, and hadn't stumbled even once, hadn't even breathed too hard. He was anxious for a swim – so far he'd only been allowed a few surface strokes, but nothing underwater, nothing that might strain the lung. Strict and careful exercise, and all performed under Mother Scott's careful supervision. Another week, the doctor'd told him this morning. Which to Scotty meant another week using the wheelchair. The chair was a good magnet for the chicks, even if it meant he could only go so far as having dinner because Scotty was keeping tabs on his free time and calling it a need to rest. Well, there was that blonde back there – he'd leave the chair for her, test the rest of the works as it were, if only he could find a way to keep Scotty from finding out. Maybe a long lunch would be better than an evening dinner…
"You feel good, kid?" Goza asked, popping his thoughts, slowing to a more careful stop this time just inside the small garden area.
"I do, Goza."
Goza seated himself on the wall and took off his sunglasses. He peered at Kelly more intently this time. "You okay now? They hurt you pretty bad."
Kelly pushed his own shades onto the top of his head. "I'm okay. I got lucky – I had you with me. I couldn't have done it without you, m'man. I mean that."
Goza smiled at him. "We went through a lot together, eh? True compañeros. And we beat all those ladrónes at their own game. It was good, kid."
"Verdad," Kelly affirmed.
"But you make people worry, kid." Goza pointed. Scotty was approaching at a leisurely stroll.
Kelly waved at him. "So I've been told."
"He cares for you a lot, kid," Goza told him. "He cut the girl for you."
Kelly pressed his lips together and nodded. "I know." He'd gotten the details from Scotty after reading it in the report, and after he'd spent some of his own time reproaching himself for never suspecting the girl until it was too late. He didn't want his partner to ever have to go through that again.
"He knows a lot of things," Goza commented, nodding at Scotty.
"Yes, he does," Kelly agreed, following the gaze. Best damned partner in the whole world…and I'm the luckiest one to have him.
"Hey…" Goza stood and reached into his jacket pocket. "Here, I got something for you…"
"My watch!" Kelly took it. "Where'd you…? I thought – did you go back there? For me?" He slipped it on, snapped the clasp closed, held up his wrist for inspection.
"Looks good," Goza nodded approvingly. "Not even a scratch. Probably get you eighty American dollars back at that pawn shop." He colored a little then, and it made Kelly laugh; so much for that newfound reform.
"I figured that watch would be no good to those ladrónes back in Patzcuaro," Goza went on, still looking a little uncomfortable. "So I go back there and get it for you. And," he shrugged but let a sheepish smile slip through, "a few other things…Compañeros, verdad? That's what we do for each other."
Compañeros…Kelly nodded. "I gotta tell you, Goza, if it hadn't been for you – well, I don't think it would have turned out the same."
Goza cleared his throat, glanced off. "Well, kid…it's good to see you okay. It was close, eh? Well…" He scrubbed a hand through his ever scruffy beard, then adjusted the hat on his head and rose. "So I guess…I go now…"
"Hey, wait." Kelly eased himself up out of the chair because he couldn't do this sitting down, not to the man to whom he owed his life. "Now, you just – I have…"
"Hey, hey kid," Goza quickly protested. He stepped in, hooked a hand under Kelly's elbow to help.
"It's okay, I'm all right," Kelly told him, straightening. "No matter what Scotty back there might think. Goza, my man," he smiled, and held out his hand. "Gracias, thank you, for – everything. You did some things a lesser man couldn't. You saved my life. I'm glad you came back – I've been wanting to tell you this but I didn't know how to get ahold of you. I even had Scotty take me back to that pawn shop but the owner said he hadn't seen you."
Goza reluctantly shook Kelly's hand, but his grip was firm. "It wasn't so much, kid," he demurred, waving a hand. "Silly gringo like you – how could I let you go off by yourself?"
"It was a lot," Kelly gently corrected him. "You're a good man - and a good friend. It's good to have a good friend like you in this sort of business."
Goza laughed at that. "Sí, amigo. And you need to be careful just who you call friend in this business of yours."
"True true," Kelly affirmed. "Now, m'man, what say we invite ol' Scotty back there to join us and-"
There she was again, standing right on the other side of the wall. And very definitely staring at him. With very startling blue eyes. And with curves in all the right places. And…
"Ah, Goza…um, well…"
The other man nudged him. "Hey, kid, I think you better be careful. I think maybe your luck with women is not so good lately."
"Yes, well…but this could be a change for the better. Push me over to her, will you?" He sat carefully back down in the chair. She was smiling at him now - and definitely waiting for him. And you couldn't keep a girl like this waiting…
"What about him?" Goza pointed back to Scotty, now jogging for them. He began to push Kelly forward.
"What, Scotty? Well, you go with him, Goza. He keeps saying how much he's been wanting to talk to you. Hi, there!" He called brightly over to the girl and waved. She waved back.
"No problem for me, kid. But I don't think he wants to talk to me just yet…"
"Hey!" Scotty's shrill whistle sailed over to them. He was only a few steps away - those longs legs had moved fast. "Hold it, Jack! This is exactly why-"
"Just until dessert - I promise!" Kelly called back. He held up his hand. "Scout's honor!"
Scotty slowed. "That is not the Scout sign, man." But he gave just the tiniest nod. "And it better only be until dessert."
"I promised, didn't I?" Thanks, man, for letting it go…
"And one more thing…" Scotty stopped and stood, fisting his hands on his hips. Well, maybe he wasn't going to let it go quite so easily. "Stay outta the bathroom, man. I found those weights. You want to rip a tendon or something? That'll set you back another two weeks - you want that?"
"Might not be so bad," Kelly murmured as Goza stopped him before the lovely, bikini-clad thing. He reached up, took her tiny hand into his, turned it over and pressed a kiss to the inside of her wrist. "My sweet child, I've waited so long to meet you…"
"Be careful, kid," Goza reminded him.
Be careful - yes, he'd be very careful. He'd treat her most tenderly, and hopefully she'd do the same for him. It was a sunny Acapulco afternoon just made for margaritas and she was here to share it with him. And dammit if that sailboat out in the bay really was nodding happily at him.
Born lucky - believe it.