Three Singles to Adventure

1.

Murray Bozinsky dreamed of adventure. His long, nimble fingers raced over the keys, sending Bozzer's tiny figure bravely into the fray. This way and that, each feint and attack perfectly executed, the use of the escape hatch timed just right, and the foiled Brickbats milling uselessly on the screen.

LEVEL COMPLETE.

Murray leaned back in his chair, smiling with serene contentment. Bozzer lived for danger. In the hands of his creator, Bozzer was unbeatable.

In real life, Murray didn't get a lot of adventure. He'd thought when he joined the Army that he'd been on the brink of a life of masculine prowess. But Basic Training hadn't just been hard, it had been painful, and almost before he knew it, he'd found himself back behind a desk, his adventures coming to him second and third-hand via field reports on his inventions.

But the Army had given him one real adventure. A magical night in New Orleans, with two shining knights and a fair lady. Murray grinned at his own fancy.

If he'd called Nick and Cody knights they'd have laughed at him, he knew, but he couldn't stop thinking of them that way. They were the men he'd always dreamed of being: strong, competent, assured. They were only lieutenants-second lieutenants-and he'd been a captain, but they carried themselves with such assurance and authority, he'd taken them as his superiors without a moment's hesitation.

Murray reached out and turned the computer off, still smiling. Bozzer lived for danger, but even Bozzer had never had such a bodacious night as he.

2.

Private eye. Murray savored the word to himself as he finished installing the last computer below decks. It was the most exciting thing he'd ever done, even including that time he'd hacked the Pentagon's computerized memo system on a dare and had an aide run out to fetch a dozen red roses for the Secretary of Defense.

Murray chuckled to himself, remembering, then sobered. He'd never have to resort to pranks like that again for thrills. In the detective business, there'd be glamor and excitement every day, he was sure. Beautiful women like Kimba, stakeouts, disguises, just like in their first case. Murray couldn't wait.

"Hey Boz!" Nick and Cody clattered down the stairs. Cody bounded straight into the room but Nick hesitated for a moment, eyeing the tachypad, before marching in with a determined air.

"Hi guys! What's up? Have we got a case?" Murray asked eagerly, hurrying over.

"Yeah!" Cody looked jubilant. "A background check for an employment agency, how about that? I have the details right here." He held out an envelope.

Murray took it, eyes lighting up. "A background check! Boss! I'll get the address, and then what, guys? Are we gonna stake out his home? Maybe put a tail on him? And hey, I got these great gadgets-we can use them to tap into his phone calls and-"

"Murray, whoa." Nick held up his hands. "Easy, man. All we have to do is see if he really did get his MBA from UCLA. I don't think we're going to need a phone tap for that, you know?"

"Oh." Murray's face fell. "I guess not. I could disguse myself as a college professor, I guess-"

Cody put a gentle hand on his arm. "Me and Nick were thinking more along the lines of calling the college, Boz. Asking them to check their records. What do you think?"

Murray looked from one of his partners to the other, and nodded slowly. "You're right," he said with a lugubrious sigh. "You're right."

3.

The detective business certainly was filled with adventure, and danger, and hours of unadulterated tedium. But none of that was the enduring magic that kept Murray on the Riptide, happier than he'd ever been in his life.

No, what Murray had found on board the Riptide was friendship such as he'd never imagined. Friendship that surpassed everything in his experience, even that long ago dream of masculine prowess.

Nick and Cody were closer than any two people Murray had ever seen. Closer than Murray had ever dreamed people could be. He'd watched them first with surprise, then as he began to understand, with awe.

The more he saw, the more he wanted. And in the end, his awe became envy.

Nick always had Cody. Cody always had Nick. Whatever happened, whatever harsh words were spoken, whatever mistakes were made. It wasn't a question or a maybe: Nick was there for Cody, and Cody had Nick's back.

Murray knew they liked him. He was fully sensible of the fact they'd let him move in, taken him as a partner-him, Murray Bozinsky. And he valued the friendship hugely. He just couldn't help wishing himself a part of the deeper dynamic going on on the boat.

4.

Cody went east to visit his mom religiously, once a year. Always at Easter, which Murray found an odd choice of holiday until he realized nothing would make Cody leave Nick from Thanksgiving until well after New Year.

The first Easter, Murray had stayed up late finishing an exciting piece of code to enhance the Riptide's own surveillance system and intruder alert. Nick had been quiet since Cody left; not moody exactly, but not communicative, so after a couple of abortive attempts Murray had left Nick to his paperback and headed downstairs to the machines.

He'd awoken late, the sun streaming through the skylights, illuminating the Roboz in a set of bunny ears, clutching a tray on which reposed a huge chocolate egg.

"From Nick," read the card, "Sorry I'm a grouch".

Murray went upstairs, surprised and touched. He found Nick in the galley, and for once accepted bacon and eggs.

"Thank you for the Easter egg," he said, almost shyly, when the meal was done.

Nick grinned wryly. "Sorry, Boz. I'm a bear when Cody's not around, I know."

Murray stared, surprised at the admission. "Why?" he asked simply, before his brain could wonder if asking was a good idea.

But Nick just looked surprised at being asked. "It's not easy to explain," he said, and paused. "Feel like a game of scrabble?"

Murray accepted the subject change, and while Nick cleaned up he laid out the board. It was a long game: Murray could have beaten Nick easily if he'd put his mind to it, but he'd long ago limited himself to one bingo per game when he was playing with his partners. And he let Nick get away with at least three words that Cody would have thrown him overboard for.

Nick giggled as Murray let him get away with JUCKLE, pretending to accept it as a slang term for a pilot's harness. "You're too good to me, Murray. When Cody gets back, we'll have to find the dictionary again, huh?"

Giggling himself, Murray nodded. Even with the made up words, Nick was a comfortable twenty points behind him. He recorded the scores-and the words-gravely, then held the paper up for Nick to see.

Nick groaned. "Aw, you're beating me anyhow?" He drew his new letters, frowning.

Murray bent his own head over his letters, eyeing the triple-word-score that Nick's incautious move had opened up. He was reaching for his tiles when Nick's voice stopped him in his tracks.

"About me and Cody," Nick said, slowly, and there was a deep, thoughtful note in his voice.

Murray looked up, almost alarmed. "You don't have to explain," he said awkwardly. He'd thought the subject closed an hour ago.

Nick shrugged. "It's not that I mind talking about Cody, you know," he said. His blue eyes were sure and candid, looking at Murray with more gravity than Murray was used to from the volatile Italian. "Putting it into words is where it gets hard."

Murray merely nodded as though he understood.

"Cody and I met in a war-zone. From the minute I laid eyes on the guy, I was saving his ass or he was saving mine. It was..." Nick shook his head, and his eyes were far away. "In a war like that, you gotta have something to hold to, Boz, otherwise you lose yourself. Some guys got religion, some got their mamas, some got their ladies. Some turned killer, and some-" he sighed "-some-" Nick choked and shook his head. There were tears in his eyes.

Murray extended a hand across the table toward him. "You don't have to do this," he said in a low voice.

Nick continued as though he hadn't spoken. "Me an' Cody, what we had was each other. I knew he wasn't gonna make it without me, and he knew the same about me. Two years, Mur, that guy was barely outta my sight. We patrolled together, flew together, marched together, bunked together. When we rotated back to the States, he took discharge and I didn't."

"I didn't know that," Murray said softly.

"If it wasn't for my service record, I'd've been dishonorably discharged," Nick said, raising his head and looking Murray square in the eye. "I ended up up on charges-drunk and brawling. Lucky for me the general they brought me in front of knew Pitbull, and they put it down to PTSD. So they let me off with a warning and a month's unpaid leave. They didn't call it a suspension, but it was one just the same."

Murray stared at his partner, fascinated. It was quite an admission, but this time Nick didn't seem upset. Merely focused.

"I found a grain of sense, and I went to the V.A. and got Cody's phone number. We caught up, had a few drinks..." Nick stopped as though he'd been about to say more, then started again. "It turned out things weren't working out for him either. That's how we ended up in the Military Police, and you know the rest."

"I know the rest," Murray said, nodding. It was a compelling account of two guys depending on each other in a world gone to hell, even if it didn't exactly answer his initial question.

But Nick wasn't done. "We learned to rely on each other so deep over there that it's... it comes first. He comes first. And when he's not around, man, it rips me up. It's like I don't know how to be me, sometimes, without him to show me. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's all I got for you, Boz."

Murray never got his triple word score. Nick's explanation occupied his mind so fully that he laid down his tiles in AROUND for seven points, and Nick's clever use of MAPS, including as it did an S on the ubiquitous JUCKLE won the game.

5.

When Nick left for Reserves, he hugged Murray as well as Cody. It thrilled Murray beyond belief, making him realize he really was becoming a part of their family, not just their geek friend. And when Nick squeezed his shoulders and whispered in his ear, "You take good care of Cody for me, you know?" Murray was ready to die of pride. Even if he didn't really think Cody needed taking care of.

But by the time Nick had been away a week, Murray had figured out exactly what he meant.

Almost the moment Nick had stepped off the boat, Cody had got himself a date. He'd been out nearly every night since, and when he was home his eyes were too bright, his smile too cheerful. Murray, an insomniac himself, was sure Cody wasn't sleeping, and he knew Cody was skipping meals.

What Murray couldn't figure out was how to broach the subject.

Sunday night, Cody took out Sara, a willowy readhead he'd met on the beach. Murray figured he'd be out all night, judging by the cut of Sara's dress and the suggestive wiggle of her hips as she walked up the Riptide's gangway, but at 9:30, he discovered he was wrong.

Deep in the Roboz's innards, he nearly slipped and broke one of the delicate diodes when the Riptide rocked violently in her mooring. Murray grabbed a baseball bat and slunk quietly up the stairs, visions of thugs and home invasions running through his brain.

But instead, he found Cody. Sitting at the table in the salon, coffee cup clasped in two hands, tension in every line of his shoulders.

Hesitantly Murray sat down next to him. "Is everything okay, Cody?"

Cody shrugged. "Turned out Sara's kind of a fast mover," he said unsteadily. "I-uh-wasn't expecting that."

Murray nodded. He'd noticed a long time ago that for all Cody's-and Nick's, for that matter-masculine prowess, the kind he'd wished for himself all those years ago, neither of them seemed to like girls getting too friendly. Certainly not on the first date. He'd always put it down to an old-fashioned chivalry, but now, seeing how upset Cody obviously was, Murray wondered if there was a deeper cause.

"I didn't expect you home before morning," Murray agreed cautiously, getting up and turning on the salon lamps. "Say, did you have dinner?"

"Dinner?" Cody blinked. "Uh, yeah. It wasn't til dessert-" he stopped. "How was your night, anyhow?"

"Oh, great." Murray poured himself a coffee and leaned against the counter, watching.

Cody's knuckles were white around his coffee cup, his head down. He looked as though he was fighting a battle with himself. It was obvious to Murray that Cody couldn't do without Nick any more than Nick could do without Cody.

"Why do you take those girls out if you don't want to?" Murray asked firmly.

Cody's head jerked up, eyes wide and startled. Murray had never seen a deer in his headlights, but he was pretty sure if he ever did it would look exactly like Cody did now. "It's okay," Murray said more gently. "I was-uh-just wondering. Forget it."

Looking back down at his coffee cup, Cody shrugged. "I figured you'd expect me to," he said.

Murray stared at him, open-mouthed. It was the last thing he'd expected Cody to say. Slowly, he went back to the table and sat down next to his partner. "Wh-why would you do something you don't want to do b-because of me?" he stammered.

Cody glanced at him sideways. "It's... easier," he said finally, which to Murray didn't explain anything. But looking at Cody's face, he realized it was the only answer he was going to get.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, Murray sipping his coffee and wondering. At last, he spoke. "What do you usually do when Nick's not here?" he asked at last. "Before I moved in, I mean."

"Take the boat out and go fishing," Cody said readily. "I... I don't like to be in port uh, alone."

Murray understood that Cody meant without Nick, and nodded. "Why don't we do that, then?"

"Are you sure?" Cody looked surprised, then almost excited. "You really mean you'd like to go fishing?"

Murray grinned widely. His opinion on fishing aside, he wanted to get away from the stranger he'd been living with the last week. "Cody, I think it's the most boss idea ever," he said solemnly.

6.

The years tempered envy to content, and content to a fine understanding. Murray knows he'll never be inside that dynamic. But he's somewhere better: he's the trusted third, the balance and the ballast.

He'll never hold the same place in their hearts, but he's learned, at last, that he doesn't need to. He has his own place, just as precious: they love him differently, but no less strongly.

It's an adventure beyond measure, a thrill he never knew to dream of, and something now he could never live without.

"You want eggs, Boz?"

"No, thanks." He helps himself to his cereal, then takes it upstairs, sinking onto the end of the bench. The coffee's brewed, but it's too strong for him in the morning: he'll content himself with his cereal and the newspaper until the second pot. Cody always makes that one, meaning it's tame enough to drink.

They join him shortly, Cody in sweats and t-shirt, sleepy and tousled. Nick's more awake, damp from the shower, and they sit close together in the corner of the booth, arguing backwards and forwards over their bacon and eggs.

Murray puts his paper aside and watches them, his partners, his dearest friends. The heart of his adventures. The adventure of his heart.

"You know what, guys? It's really going to be a boss day."