Hustle by otherhawk and InSilva
Disclaimer: we don't own any Ocean's 11 character nor any character from "Hustle".
A/N: Day 24 of the 2011 Advent Calendar
A/N: On 12th January 2010, I was waiting for otherhawk to finish writing some fic so that she could send it over to me. I don't do waiting for fic well so I asked her for an opening paragraph so that I could while away the time by writing a bit further and send it back to her. Then she could write a bit more and send it back to me and so on. And nearly two years later, this is what resulted. :)
Sometimes we didn't pick this up for six weeks or more at a time. Sometimes we turned it back round in a day. We hope it hangs together OK. And lots and lots of virtual cookies for guessing which of us wrote which bits. Because to be honest, there are parts that neither of us can work out the authorship of. :D But all the good bits are hers. ;)
There are characters in here from the wonderful BBC series "Hustle". Hopefully it doesn't matter too much if you don't know the show.
Hope you enjoy and I'm posting this because although I told otherhawk she should, she is travelling today and I'm not.
A/N: And that's the end of the Advent Calendar. Hope you've enjoyed that too and much love and thanks to otherhawk for letting herself be talked into a crazy idea. Really, she puts up with an awful lot.
Merry Christmas! Hope you have a good one.
In their time they'd broken into casino vaults, banks, museums, art galleries, and at least one place that Danny was pretty certain had counted as an actual palace. Breaking into a bike shed at ten o'clock at night should have been a lot easier.
"Hurry up, will you?" he hissed, glancing round the apparently deserted square.
"Gotta work with what I've got," Rusty told him mildly, still doing something to the lock that, admittedly, would have been much easier with lock picks.
"Well, work faster with what you've got," he muttered.
An eyebrow was raised and Rusty's lips twitched.
"What?" Danny demanded.
"I got you. Your anxiety levels are not helping."
"This is not anxiety. I do not do anxiety."
"No," said Rusty, finally cracking the lock. "You don't do losing either."
Danny glared at him. Losing was not an option.
"I know, I know," Rusty soothed, holding the door open for him. "Now let's get what we came for and close this up again before the others arrive."
"Right," Danny said, peering into the gloom. "You see anything?"
Rusty squinted over his shoulder. "No," he said decidedly. "Got a torch?"
Danny twisted round and stared at him. "Do I have a...In this suit? Where, exactly, do you think I'd have managed to hide it?"
"You're full of ingenuity and gumption," Rusty told him, with a wide grin.
"Uh huh," Danny shook his head and, with great gumption, found the lightswitch. "Ah," he declared. "Bikes."
"Mmm," Rusty squeezed past him and vanished deeper into the shed. "Hey, this is a five-speed Raleigh Chopper," he called, in seeming wonderment. "I had one when I was a kid. For a couple of days. Fred Summers swapped me it for a magic deck of cards, and I swapped Luke Davies it for a place to hide from Fred."
"He ever catch you?" Danny asked, smiling.
Rusty stepped back out from behind a stack of parts. "Am I here now?"
"Right. You see anything useful?"
"Well, it's all..." Rusty tailed off and waved a hand.
Danny dug the paper out of his pocket and studied the careful copperplate handwriting once more.
"In Henry's novel hiding place is a transport repository.
You'll find a useful object within this depository."
Washington Square had been easy enough to work out. Well, that was a lie. It had taken a map of the town and some fierce thinking. And when they'd got there, there was only one serious contender for the transport repository. But now they were inside...
"What would be useful to a thief and a conman?" Danny wondered aloud.
"This thief and conman could do with a-"
A Hershey bar materialised.
"You see? Ingenuity and gumption." A wrapper was torn open as Rusty foraged under a bench. "What do you make of this old friend of Saul's, anyway?"
"Albert?" Danny shrugged, inspecting a saddle closely. "Seems a class act. And the guys he's got with him-"
Yeah. They seemed classy, too. And the whole evening had started out just fine. Saul and Albert's town that they'd worked as kids. Drinks, food, laughter, company. Stories. A lot of stories. Old times and new times and cons worked and close escapes. And then Saul had mentioned the Benedict Job and Albert had casually dropped in a couple of slick cons into the conversation and suddenly, there was rivalry out of nowhere. And a second generation rivalry. Danny Ocean vs Mickey Stone. Suddenly, as well, there was a whole game afoot. There'd been hurried discussions and Saul and Albert had retired with a bottle of malt and then two hours later, there was this insane competition. Which was completely insane. Danny had nothing to prove; neither did Rusty. They still wanted to win.
Something useful...Danny stared around the shed and then...
"Aha!" he exclaimed, jumping forward and seizing it.
"What you got?" Rusty asked.
Danny held up his find in proud silence.
Rusty stared for a moment. "It's a space hopper," he said levelly.
"Yeah," Danny agreed, smiling. He managed to stand up to Rusty's almost patient look for a couple of minutes before he turned the giant ball round to show the little brand name.
"'The Useful Company'?" Rusty read. "The Useful Company makes space hoppers? How many uses for a space hopper are there? I can only think of three. No...wait...four."
Danny frowned. "Okay, I've got amusement, some kind of floatation device, guess you could hide something in it...what else you got?"
"Cut the rubber and you got good insulating material. Could shield a circuit. Might even be thick enough to compress explosives."
"Good," Danny said brightly.
Oh, you have no idea, do you?
I know that if we're relying on a space hopper for anything, we're probably already in enough trouble.
"So that's five," Rusty went on. "And I guess that you could use it to bribe someone who was the right kind of drunk"
"Don't think I've ever been that kind of drunk," Danny mused.
Rusty ignored him and kept talking. "And I suppose you could use it to - "
" - wouldn't be very comfortable, surely," Danny pointed out with a frown. "And it makes a good distraction, I guess."
Rusty paused. "How would it be a good distraction?"
You seem pretty distracted to me.
"Right. We're supposed to be in a race, remember?"
"Okay," Rusty smiled. "What's next?"
Danny checked the paper. There were four little cryptic rhyming couplets. Albert and Saul had been smiling like they wouldn't stop when they'd handed them over.
"Don't forget, boys," Albert had said, all laidback drawl and geniality bred from the finest malt, "tackle them in any order."
"First back wins," Saul nodded.
"Wins what, exactly?" Mickey had asked the question that was on Danny's lips.
Albert and Saul looked at each other and then back at the four of them.
"Respect," they chorused.
Rusty had taken a photo of the space hopper on his cellphone and was busy concealing it underneath a tarpaulin. Danny opened his mouth to suggest this might not be playing fair and then settled instead for a look of approval. He looked back at the paper.
"Where Napoleon lost? This bar's the place.
Find someone here who's losing face."
"Waterloo, right?" Danny said, following Rusty out of the cycle shed and clicking the padlock behind them.
"Waterloo," Rusty confirmed, fiddling with the padlock.
The Waterloo Bar stood on the corner of Ninth and Main looking glitzy and fancy and the kind of place where anyone who was losing face would be thrown out of in short order. It had flaming torches at either side of the entrance and some sort of water feature playing over the door. It also had two very large and imposing looking bouncers standing in front of the door. Talking to Mickey Stone and Danny Blue.
Danny looked at Rusty. Think their shoes aren't smart enough?
"They're coming out of the bar," Rusty pointed out in a low voice.
Just then they were spotted as Mickey and Danny Blue - and Rusty was never going to own up to the slight feeling of resentment he'd experienced when they were all introduced - turned and started to walk away from the bar.
"Gentlemen," Mickey said, smiling. "Nice to see you haven't got completely lost."
"Yeah," Danny Blue agreed. "It's no fun if the competition aren't worth the candle."
Rusty blinked innocently. "Oh, is this the place?"
"We just figured on getting a quick drink before we went on," Danny added.
"And not like - "
" - well, there isn't any rush, is there?" Rusty nodded, smiling widely. "We already know we're going to win."
"Oh, yeah?" Danny Blue demanded indignantly. "Well, just so you know, we're doing alright. Better than alright. We got one and we know two more. How many have you got?"
"Danny," Mickey sighed, but he was looking at them sharply.
Lie, truth or -
"Oh, I don't think we should tell you that," Danny said consideringly.
"Privileged information. Secrecy. You understand," Rusty contributed.
"Yes," Mickey said slowly, frowning at them. "Well, we've got to get on. We'll see you back at the hotel. If you think it's worthwhile turning up."
They smiled a friendly goodbye and walked up to the door.
The bouncers looked at them and shook their heads. "Sorry gents, not tonight."
Rusty looked quickly over his shoulders, but the other two were long gone.
Oh those -
"Course, we're at a disadvantage," Danny Blue pointed out as they headed down to the river.
Mickey looked up from the clues long enough to give him an encouraging look.
"They're Yanks," he went on. "Stands to reason they're gonna know the town better. S'their territory. Like to see them take on a treasure hunt round the East End in the middle of the night," he added darkly.
Mickey laughed and turned his attention back to the cryptic. "Something tells me they'd manage it. If they're as good as the stories Saul was telling, then they've got to have a certain something."
"A je nay say qwa."
Mickey stopped and stared.
Danny helpfully explained.
"They look all dapper and dandy and laidback to the point of having life support switched off but underneath all that they're..." he hesitated and then shrugged. "They're good."
"Yeah," Mickey agreed and there'd been the faintest note of uncertainty and question in Danny Blue's voice. "But so are we."
Danny grinned, confidence back up to the usual 11. "You bet we are. Now then. You figured out the next bit?"
The bouncers were very clear on exactly what would and would not enhance the tone of the Waterloo Bar. And Danny and Rusty, apparently, would not. Which was something of a new experience, and one that Danny couldn't help but dislike intensely. He had no idea what the Brits had said but he and Rusty were well and truly personae non grata.
They'd tried charm, bribery, flirtation and, when all else failed, reasoned and logical argument. And they'd come up against a solid brick wall of "Not tonight, gents."
"Back door," Rusty suggested, as he paid for his pretzel at the stall opposite the bar. "Or the floor above."
"Yeah..." Danny said, unhappily, looking back at the front door and the bouncers. An obstacle they couldn't get past. An obstacle that Mickey Stone and Danny Blue, their apparent rivals, had put in their path that they couldn't get past.
Rusty looked at him and sighed. Can we deal with one challenge to your pride at a time?
"Game's not over yet," Rusty pointed out. "Third inning stretch. Second quarter. Everything to play for."
Danny blinked. "Do you have any idea what you're talking about?"
"You wouldn't know if I did." Rusty took a bite of pretzel and stared back at the bouncers. And really, he looked just as unhappy at the situation as Danny felt.
"If we knew who owned the bar," Danny mused quietly.
Rusty grinned, pulled out his cellphone and dialled a number. "Livingston? You got a minute? You near a computer?"
Danny stepped closer in time to hear Livingston's somewhat annoyed voice. "I'm on a date, Rusty." Then a sigh. "And yes, I am near a computer."
He looked at Rusty. What kind of date...?
Rusty shrugged. "Sorry. Don't want to interrupt, or anything. It's not important. I'll talk to you - "
" - Wait!" Livingston interrupted. "It'll really only take a minute?"
"Just need to know who owns the Waterloo Bar on Ninth and Main," Rusty said. "If you're sure?"
"Two seconds," Livingston told him, sounding distracted, and then Danny could just hear him say. "Sorry, Paul, this'll only take a moment. Favour for a friend."
"So, Paul, huh?" Rusty asked. "What's he like?"
There was a pause, and then Livingston spoke loudly and clearly. "No, I haven't managed to find that information for you yet. A little too soon for me to be definite. But, you know, I've found some really compatible...it's looking good."
Danny bit his lip. "Good," Rusty said approvingly.
"Thank you," Livingston said, distractedly. "Now just a...okay. The man you want is an Adam Ballard. Owns a string of bars nearby. Dukes, Sam's Place, the Avocado Club..."
"Thanks, Livingston," Rusty said, and Danny leaned in closer to the phone.
"Thank you," he echoed. "Enjoy your evening."
"I will. And let me know what this is about sometime, huh?"
Probably, possibly, maybe they might.
Rusty hung up and glanced back towards the bouncers.
"Paper? Pen? Envelope?" Danny checked and smiled when Rusty held all three up. "Ultimate Boy Scout," he muttered.
A pout, a glare and some frantic scribbling later and they were sauntering up to the bouncers.
The closer one sighed when he saw them coming. "We already told you - " he began.
"Oh, we know that," Danny said, smiling easily. "We just wanted you to give this to Adam when he came in. Tell him we'll meet him in Duke's instead. We can begin the consultation there."
The bouncer laughed. "Yeah, right, fine. We'll pass on your message to your little friend. 'Cept how'll we know this Adam?"
Rusty stepped forwards, frowning. "Adam Ballard?" he said slowly. "You know, owns this place? You work for him?"
The bouncers looked at each other. "Mr...Mr Ballard?"
"That's right," Danny nodded. "We're downsizing consultants. Those gentlemen you were talking to before were unfortunately let go during a previous consultation of ours. It's just the economy, of course, but some people bear a grudge. Anyway," he smiled brightly. "I'm absolutely certain that we'll be seeing you again very soon."
"Wait!" the bouncer said hastily. "Why don't you go in now and tell Jackie behind the bar that Tony and Kev said that she should give you a couple of drinks - "
" - as many drinks as you want - " the other bouncer interrupted.
" - on the house, just to make up for this terrible misunderstanding?" The bouncer looked hopeful. "And maybe Mr Ballard doesn't need to know about it?"
Danny patted him on the arm as they walked past and into the bar. "Thanks, Tony. We'll certainly keep your willingness to help in mind."
Albert poured the last of the malt into Saul's glass and looked with regret at the empty bottle.
"A fine drink," he sighed. "Like a good wine, a great whisky has real class."
"It fulfilled its purpose in life," Saul said solemnly and beckoned over the nearest waiter. Two arrived and he spoke to the one on the right. "'Nother bottle of this, please."
He looked back over at Albert to see him smiling widely and with genuine affection.
"It's been far too long, Saul."
"Yeah, well. You insist on burying yourself the wrong side of the Atlantic, what do you expect?" Saul said gruffly.
Albert was silent for a moment then he said, "There's such a thing as an aeroplane now, you know. Newfangled invention from the Wright Brothers. I think it may catch on."
"Mmm," Saul nodded, pouring the newly arrived whisky into Albert's glass. "Heard that Alexander Graham Bell was suggesting something called a telephone. Seems like it might be popular."
"Maybe we could try these scientific breakthroughs out," Albert suggested, raising his glass.
"Maybe we could," Saul shrugged, clinking glasses.
"Hurry up, Mickey, I'm fr-freezing!"
"Patience, Danny. It's a virtue you should work on."
Danny Blue busied himself thinking dark unvirtuous thoughts.
"You sure about this?"
"No," Mickey admitted from somewhere up above him, somewhere dry and a whole lot warmer. "But it's a strong possibility. Keep looking."
"What's the clue again?" Danny asked, teeth chattering.
"You'll find recorded under time's great span
The names of both your fellow man."
"Should be 'men'," Danny commented in between shivers, shining the torch up under the arches of the Bicentennial Bridge. "Man doesn't scan."
There was a pause.
"Rhymes though," Mickey suggested.
Rhymes...? Danny stopped and glared up at his partner in crime even though there was no chance of his partner in crime seeing the glare.
"You want to remind me why I'm the one with my shoes and socks off going paddling and why you're on dry land and making sarky remarks?"
"Danny, the very fact that you have to ask the question tells me you don't know the answer."
"I don't," Danny agreed. "That's why I'm ask- Hold up."
His torch picked out the immortal words "Saul and Albie were here".
"Gotcha," he grinned.
The Waterloo Bar was busy inside. People were pushed into every nook and cranny, and it was all bright clothes and brighter drinks, loud voices and louder laughter, like the aim of the game was to be as noticeable as possible.
They'd been propositioned three times before they made it across the floor to the bar. Twice separately and once together by a very beautiful woman with very definite ambitions.
"Should've brought the space hopper," Rusty commented, as the techno music pulsed towards some kind of conclusion.
Danny frowned, consideringly through the crowd ahead of them. "Ten pin bowling," he agreed.
The plan had been to get a couple of drinks and ask the bartender a couple of questions. And drinks proved easy enough, and free when they mentioned the bouncers outside. But actually hearing what the bartender was saying, well. That just wasn't happening. Danny had a feeling that she thought Rusty was asking her on a date. He wasn't getting involved. One potential threesome per night was his absolute limit.
They sipped slowly at their drinks and surveyed the room. "Someone who's losing face..." Rusty mused.
Right. Danny looked round the room, already feeling frustrated. No one in here looked like they had any face to lose. Or would notice if they did. He found himself staring at the neon lighting effect over the bar. Hearts and diamonds. And there were clubs and diamonds running along the balustrade. Little pictures of playing cards on the beer mats. Huh. They had a theme. "Artwork," he explained shortly, pointing it out to Rusty.
Rusty smiled appreciatively and started searching through the bar. "Beer mats are all deuces, ashtrays are tens..."
Danny wasn't seeing anything either. Face cards. None in sight.
It took ten minutes for them to be absolutely certain that there was nothing face-like in any of the obvious places. Which only left the unobvious places. Rusty wrangled his way into the kitchen and came out with a bowl of buffalo wings and nothing useful. Danny snuck into the staff room and came up with nothing. The gents toilets, however, offered a large, brightly-painted mural of a group of men playing cards.
"Face cards," Danny said, pointing hopefully to the hand they could see. King, Queen and Jack of Hearts.
Rusty didn't look convinced. "Yeah, but he's picking up, not losing," he pointed out. "And the cards he's just drawn are the Ten and Nine. He's not losing anything."
It was true. And in any other circumstances, Danny would think that Rusty might just be thinking more, seeing more than the challenge warranted. But they were dealing with Saul.
"So what do you think, then?" he asked as they stepped out of the restroom.
In response, Rusty glanced sideways. Towards the entrance to the Ladies.
Danny stared. Oh, you have got to be kidding...
Saul picked up one of the sheets of paper with an early, unused clue that had been completely scrubbed out
"A conman's life is hard and he will know no rest:
All he can hope for is to be and be with the very best."
He glanced over at Albert.
"Albert Stroller, you are such a sentimentalist."
Albert grinned. "Wasn't me scratching that message into the underside of that bridge."
Saul huffed. "We were there a long time. I wanted to record the fact for posterity."
"Remember young Dougie Grayson and that Space Hopper," Albert's eyes were misting over with memory and malt.
There was a moment as they both remembered a hot summer's day in the early Seventies and an accident waiting to happen that neither of them could do anything to stop. A boy, a toy and high above him, a roof being repaired.
Time had hung for a long, long moment and they had been the wrong side of Washington Square and they'd been shouting and running and somehow they'd made it across the other side. Falling masonry had shattered on the sidewalk but they'd managed to protect the kid.
There'd been dust and a few superficial cuts but Dougie had been fine and the damn Space Hopper hadn't even been punctured. A white-faced Tom Grayson had taken them all in his cycle shop and his wife had taken Dougie away for milk and cookies and Tom had fetched out a bottle of whisky and thanked them over and over whilst the Space Hopper sat on the counter and smiled.
"Always thought Space Hoppers had an evil smile," Saul mused.
"Tom didn't. Declaring the Space Hopper to be a good luck charm and never to leave the shop again..."
"That was the whisky talking. That and superstition. Tom Grayson always was a superstitious man."
Albert shrugged. "His business is still going."
"True, true," Saul sighed. A sly look crossed his face. "Anyway, that's not half as interesting a story as ending up inconvenienced in the Waterloo Bar."
Albert gave Saul a hard look. "We are not talking about that."
Saul grinned. "The boys will want to know."
"Depends whether or not they work out the clue," Albert said shortly.
Saul poured more whisky and smiled and said nothing.
There wasn't a plan, per se, there was just another couple of drinks. Doubles. Triples, even.
"Ladies restroom," Danny said slowly.
"We don't fit in there," Rusty agreed.
Danny turned his head and looked at Rusty thoughtfully. Actually...
"No," Rusty said levelly.
"It wouldn't take that much. That furcoat over there, take off your pants, put on some make-up – "
" – Oh, you've thought about this way too much," Rusty said, shaking his head.
"You've never objected to taking your pants off in a bar before," Danny said sulkily.
"Maybe I have and you've just never listened," Rusty suggested. "You need a better plan."
Danny put his glass down. "I need a better plan? Why is it always me who needs a better plan?"
Rusty turned to stare at the restroom door.
"Why is it never you who needs better details? I can't always be to blame."
"How sure are we that the losing face thing is in there?" Rusty wondered.
"If you'd just take off your pants, everything would be better," Danny pointed out.
Heard that before.
"We're pretty sure," Danny agreed. "About the restroom."
Rusty pulled a detective badge out of his pocket. "Then it doesn't matter if we have to leave immediately after, right?"
Danny grinned. "What do you think, two minutes?"
"Call it one and a half," Rusty suggested.
They were on their feet immediately, sauntering slowly over to the women's restroom door. Rusty knocked sharply on the door.
"Police," Danny called in a low, unthreatening voice. "Ten seconds, we're coming in."
There was a couple of stifled screams and the sound of shuffling and worry.
They exchanged a long look and silently counted to five. Then Danny opened the door and they stepped inside.
There were three women inside, all staring uneasily at them.
"Good evening," Danny said with a smile. "We're the police." Rusty held up the detective badge by way of evidence. "There was a report of someone taking drugs in here earlier this evening. We've just got to look around."
Rusty was already looking around, and Danny caught the moment when Rusty spotted it. He turned. The far wall. Built around the mirror. Another mural, another card game, and the man in this one was losing. Badly. Two Kings up his sleeve, two Queens in his hand, and the guy opposite was reaching across the table and taking the lot.
"Ah!" Danny said brightly. "I believe this is the place." Ostentatiously, he ran a finger across the shelf and sniffed it loudly. "I see. We'll need pictures of this."
Rusty was already holding up the camera phone. It wasn't pointed at the shelf.
Their exit was less fraught than they'd feared. The women hadn't actually screamed but they'd followed them out and the bubble of conversation following them was growing louder. They needed to stay one step ahead before it burst.
Tony and Kev were nervously polite as they left.
"Everything alright, sirs?" Tony asked.
"Jackie give you a drink OK?" Kev smiled winningly.
Danny smiled back. "Everything's fine."
Rusty hustled him on because any moment now there might be a-
"Hey! I'll have you know we run a clean joint!"
"Time to move," Rusty said in Danny's ear and they were doing just that, picking up the pace until they were a decent distance away from Tony, Kev and the righteous indignation of the bar manager.
Danny paused under a lamplight and squinted at the paper, Rusty peering over his shoulder.
"Time's great span? A clock?" Danny wondered.
Rusty raised his head and smiled and pointed. "Or a bridge."
In Danny's view, there was only one slight issue to decide. Which of them was actually going to go paddling. Because it would only take one of them. Only one of them would need to get their feet wet. Only one of them and he had just bought these shoes last week. Italian leather, hand-made, beautiful craftsmanship. Which meant that really, all in all, taking everything into account, the decision ought to be-
He staggered forward and found himself up to his knees in the bitterly cold water, letting out a startled cry. He turned round and fought chattering teeth long enough to glare at Rusty.
"You p-p-pushed me!"
"No sense in both of us getting wet." Rusty sounded extremely unrepentant.
"Y-you p-pushed me!"
Rusty nodded. "I know."
"I'd walk through f-fire for you!"
"Then you won't mind the water."
Danny's eyes narrowed. "Why?"
Rusty shrugged. "I was the last one who went for a swim."
The last one... "Oh, that's not fair! That was Basher's fault!"
"Uh huh. You knocked me in."
"I helped you b-back out!"
"I'll do that too. Once you've checked the bridge."
Scowling, Danny stalked off through the water.
"If I drown you'll be sorry," he muttered and maybe there was a little more petulance in his voice than could really be excused.
"If you drown I'll be astonished," Rusty answered immediately. "The water's barely up to your knees."
Shivering a little, he squinted up at the bridge. He couldn't see anything… "Alright. If I get eaten by piranhas you'll be sorry."
"Piranhas?" He could hear the grin in Rusty's voice. "What is this, 'George of the Jungle?'"
"Apparently there's more piranhas in America than you'd think," he said, frowning up at the bridge some more. Really, nothing. If, after all of this, after getting soaked, they were in the wrong place, he was going to have to do something drastic. Maybe he could 'accidentally' knock Rusty into the water too…though that was apparently how he'd got into this in the first place. "People keep them as pets and then throw them out. Basher told me."
"Mmm." Rusty sounded decidedly non committal. "You found anything?"
"No," he said with gritted teeth. "You know, some things go quicker with two. And, what, do you think Basher's been reading the National Enquirer?"
"Takes one person to make an omelette," Rusty told him seriously. "And I think Basher writes for the National Enquirer."
"It's not here," Danny said, staring at the bridge.
"You thought about trying the other side?" Rusty suggested.
Huh. He hadn't, actually. He glanced across the expanse of water unhappily. Wasn't that far, but still.
"You could roll your pants up," Rusty said helpfully.
Danny turned his head and stared. "Or I could climb out of the water and actually walk across the bridge," he pointed out.
There was a long pause. "Oh," Rusty said at last. "I hadn't thought of that."
"It's a bike shed," Danny Blue said doubtfully. "Mickey, you absolutely sure about this?"
Mickey was patient. "Yes, Danny."
"It's just, it says depository, and that's like the place Kennedy was shot from, right?" Danny persisted "Not a bike shed is what I'm trying to say."
"Trust me," Mickey sighed. "This is the place. Now, let's see about getting the door open."
Danny shrugged. "You reckon they've got past the bouncers yet?" he asked with a grin.
"Hopefully not," Mickey said absently, studying the padlock. Picking locks wasn't their speciality. They weren't thieves, after all.
"You reckon they've already been here?" Danny added. "Cos if they haven't, we've got to be two up."
"Oh, they've been here," Mickey said grimly, straightening up and turning away from the padlock with disgust. "We're going to need to get a hacksaw."
Danny blinked. "At this time of night?"
"When did you first know they were going to be special?" Albert asked, pushing the cheeseboard in Saul's direction.
Saul broke off a lump of Stilton and was silent for a moment, considering.
"The day I met them, I wasn't even working. I'd taken myself off to the dog track and I was sitting in the box seats, watching my dog that couldn't lose defy the odds and finish last. Somewhere behind me there was a commotion and I saw this blond kid hurtling through the crowd, security in hot pursuit. Everyone's eyes were on the chase and I don't know what it was...instinct, maybe...but I found myself looking at the one person who wasn't staring. Dark-haired young man. Using the distraction to lift a letter from an inside jacket pocket of a man in the row above him. Man who was craning his neck like the rest of 'em."
Saul shrugged and chewed some cheese. "Call me incurably curious but I tailed him. He met up with the blond kid in the street outside and there was this...this whole unspoken conversation going on. Intrigued the hell out of me."
"What did you do?" Albert was interested.
"Complimented them both on a fine diversion and an equally fine lift. Offered to buy them both a meal."
"And they accepted?"
"Not at first. Then I specified pink milkshake and hot dogs and Rusty's eyes lit up and Danny let out this sigh and..."
"OK, I'm biting. How did you know that would work?"
Saul grinned. "Can you not accept that I'm psychic?"
"Not unless you're wearing a turban and calling yourself Madam Arcati," Albert retorted.
Saul's lips twitched. "Trace of ketchup and mustard on Rusty's fingers. Hint of pink gloop on the side of his mouth. Guessed right." He tilted his head on one side. "You?"
"Met Michael first. He is quite dazzling. The way his brain works... I was running a tour guide scam and he was sat in a London art gallery, staring at the same painting for five consecutive days. The fifth day, after I'd ditched the tourists, I sat down next to him."
Albert smiled in fond recollection.
"Art lover or thief, I asked him. He smiled at me and said nothing. Because, I went on, a thief would know about the pressure pads on the back and the camera angles and the laser beams and the absolute need to get the timing right. His smile got wider and then I realised and I smiled back at him. Oh...you're not stealing it, I told him. But you're going to make someone think you have. He looked impressed and he offered to buy me a meal."
Saul smiled. "What about Danny Blue?"
"A recent addition to the team. Danny has a lot of potential. I predict a bright future for him. He's lucky. And that always helps."
Danny Blue's luck apparently ran to finding a hacksaw.
"Where...?" Mickey began and then shook his head. "Never mind."
Some furious sawing and some quiet and not-so-quiet swearing and the chain gave way and they stepped inside the cycle shed.
"Something useful..." Danny murmured, his eyes scanning the racks of cycles and accessories. He waved a hand. "Well, it's all..."
"It's all out on display," Mickey said thoughtfully.
"Yeah..." Danny agreed. It was. He glanced at Mickey and recognised the look. He took a moment out to think and then his face cleared. "They won't have taken it away-"
"-no, that's not honourable-"
"-but they'll have made it bloody difficult to find."
"My thoughts exactly," Mickey nodded. "Let's look in the last places first."
Having successfully located the other side of the bridge, Danny found himself staring up at the graffiti.
"Saul and Albie were here," he read out loud as he took the picture. Then he grimaced, reading a little further down, in a different hand. "So were Danny and Mickey."
"You want to add our names?" Rusty's voice floated down from somewhere in the warm and dry above.
Danny nodded. "That or Kilroy." Their names. He scrawled them hastily. Seemed a shame to fly in the face of tradition. Maybe, some day in the future, there'd be a reason to mention this place to Linus. Maybe, some day in the future, there'd be a reason to mention this place to Linus without specifying which bridge in which city. Would be a shame to make it too easy, after all.
"You want to get out the water now?" Rusty asked, sounding amused. "Before your feet go all wrinkly?"
"Too late," he said gloomily, wading over to the bank and gratefully taking the hand that Rusty reached down. Once he'd been pulled up, he gazed mournfully down at his muddy pants and ruined shoes. "Next time, I'm sending you to get a boat."
"Uh huh," Rusty nodded, looking absently at the final clue.
"Whatever happened to being prepared?" Danny went on, sulkily. "I would have expected you to be carrying a canoe in your pocket."
"I'm just pleased to see you," Rusty assured him.
Danny grinned. "Okay. What does it say?"
"To see where the greatest riches are found,
Follow Ray's advice and head underground."
They looked at each other.
Oh, why do I think this is going to lead to an important lesson about friendship?
They had found something useful. Or at least something that was labelled as useful, in the form of a spacehopper.
It had been hidden under a tarpaulin. Mickey didn't think that was fair at all. Still. He grinned. As long as they were all playing by the same rules, he could outcheat anyone.
"I always wanted one of these when I was a kid," Danny commented. "The girl next door had one. Never let me have a shot. She only let Kyle Thomson play with it."
"Fascinating," Mickey said. "I never get tired of these glimpses into your psyche, Danny."
"Yeah, well, I got my own back, didn't I?" Danny said with a grin, sitting on the space hopper experimentally and bouncing. "When we were all a bit older, I let him borrow my motorbike, while I borrowed the girl next door."
Mickey sighed and quickly snapped a picture of the space hopper with Danny bouncing on it.
"Oy! I don't think so," Danny objected. "It won't do my image any good to be seen playing on a spacehopper."
"When we get back, I'll have Ash make copies," Mickey said calmly. "I'm sure Stacey would love one. Now come on. We're still in a race, in case you've forgotten."
"The Yanks are probably still figuring out how to get past the bouncers," Danny objected sulkily, standing up.
"I wouldn't count on it," Mickey said grimly. He unfolded the final clue.
"To see where the greatest riches are found,
Follow Ray's advice and head underground," he read.
Danny frowned. "The greatest riches….that sounds promising."
"Mmm." Mickey wondered.
Danny's smile was bright and intense and Rusty probably couldn't have stopped him talking if he wanted to. Which, fortunately, he didn't.
"We're thinking about this the wrong way," he said quickly, thoughts and words falling over each other. "They told us to leave this one till last...it's not gonna be the same as the others. It's not going to be something random. All these clues...they've all had stories behind them. The writing on the bridge, whatever the hell Saul and Albie were doing in that ladies restroom, the space hopper...it's all about the sentiment, isn't it? So we're not talking sewers and we're not talking buried treasure. It's obvious. What's the greatest riches in your life?"
"Chocolate," Rusty said promptly.
Danny turned his head and stared, thought process temporarily derailed.
Rusty shrugged. "Like I'm going to feed your desperate need for reassurance."
Never stopped you before.
I'm feeling contrary.
With a sigh, Danny pulled a Cadbury's Flake out of his pocket and handed it over.
Rusty accepted it happily. "So Saul really is teaching us an important lesson about friendship? Huh."
"Well, apparently he's teaching you an important lesson about confectionary," Danny retorted sulkily.
"Working with the people who trust and the people who matter? 's better than chocolate," Rusty said indistinctly through a mouthful of flake.
I'm still not going to make you choose.
Danny grew serious. "There has to be something in this clue that'll mean something to us. Something personal. Something that'll lead us exactly where they want us to go."
They stared at the clue some more and they saw it at the same moment.
"Under - "
" - Ground."
"The last time Saul was here - "
" - the Spanish Bonanza on - "
They said it together. " - Lorimer and Ground!"
"The Ground building," Rusty said after a second. "It's on the other side of town. There's a bar under it."
"Mmm." Sounded promising. He sighed. "You think there's more to it?"
"How would Mickey and Danny Blue know that story," Rusty asked.
Danny nodded. "I think there's more to it."
"It's got to be something we can figure out," Mickey explained. "And it's not going to be obvious."
"With Albie it never is," Danny pointed out.
"I've been thinking about the clue. About the wording of the clue. 'Ray's advice' Does that mean anything to you?"
"Ray Mears?" Danny hazarded vaguely.
Mickey sighed. "Do you remember Albie's old friend, Ray Palmer?"
"Yeah, of course. Albie's always talking about him. An' we met him last month." An old guy, even older than Albie, with so much genial charisma he probably got woodland creatures following him around. And that was fine, but Danny still didn't get it. "So we're to bring them Ray Palmer?" he said slowly.
Mickey stared at him in bemused amusement.
"No, hang on, I can get there..." He concentrated. "Ray was always taking pictures, right? He took loads of us, all together. He said he wanted to keep all his good memories."
"Exactly," Mickey grinned pleased.
"So we've got to take a picture of us...no!" Danny saw it. "We've got to take a picture of them, right? Without them knowing or something?"
"That's my guess," Mickey nodded and made to start walking again.
Danny trailed behind, brow creased. "Only...how are the Yanks meant to get that? Have they met Ray Palmer?"
Mickey stopped and looked round quickly. "That's a very good question..." he said slowly.
"Maybe there's more to it," Danny said, looking at the clue again.
They sat on the bench across the street from the Ground building and contemplated the bar. It was closed and empty, signs in the window declaring "Happy Hour Every Weeknight!" and that had long since passed. Danny pursed his lips. Could be that he'd called it wrong. There just didn't seem to be any thread to pick up on. He'd hoped that actually seeing the place would spark something.
Rusty was staring at the bar too but watching him with that impossibly highly-tuned intuition. Waiting for the cloudburst of inspiration. Danny smiled to himself and realised that he'd been hoping Rusty would see the answer in the fine print of the details.
"We're missing a piece," he said.
And there was that look on Rusty's face that he'd seen oh, so many times. Rusty didn't like being beaten by a puzzle any more than he, Danny, liked losing.
Danny sighed. "I think we need to make a call."
Mickey and Danny Blue were leaning up against park railings. The park was quiet and still and dark apart from the distant sound of someone sleeping under the stars: the snoring took away any menace that the park might have possessed.
"We don't know where they are," Danny said.
"Even if we knew where they are, we're not sure what the crack is."
Danny swivelled his head in Mickey's direction. "So what's the next step?"
Mickey looked thoughtful. "What time is it in the UK?"
A series of phonecalls, questions and answers and thank yous.
"Bloody hell, do you know what time it is?" from Ash.
"What time is it?" Mickey wondered
"It's ten am."
There was a pause.
"I haven't been to bed yet." Ash sounded grumpy. "It's ten a.m. and I haven't been to bed yet."
"Work through it, Ash," Mickey smiled. "We need a phone number;"
And in another part of London.
"Mickey Bricks, Bash. Also known as Mickey Stone. Works with a guy called Danny Blue."
There was a silence and then a regretful noise. "I've heard of them - they're a hot to trot outfit. But I don't have contacts. Sorry, mate."
"Thanks anyway, Bash-"
"You know who might..."
Concentration. Fixed and unblinking because this was the enemy and the enemy thought it was besting him and that wasn't even an option. It had been hoursdays and he couldn't have told you what the month was, let alone the time, but he was nearly there. Nearly, nearly, nearly...
Both his landlines rang simultaneously and Roman jumped and dropped the fine-pointed screwdriver. He snatched up both phones at once.
"Whoever you are, you'd better have a damn good reason for calling and you'd better be prepared to be disappointed with the response you're going to get," he snapped.
"Is this someone's idea of a prank call?"
Denials. As genuine as he could make out.
"Then talk to each other."
He lay the phones down on the bench, mouthpiece to receiver and went back to more important things.
The street was deserted and silent. Rusty wouldn't have been surprised to see some tumbleweed roll past. They were stood in the middle of the road outside the Ground building, waiting for Mickey and Danny to show.
He turned to Danny. "Does this remind you - "
" - Gunfight at the OK Corral," Danny nodded. "Definitely."
Least he made it through that one.
"Don't think the Brits are packing anyway," he commented easily.
"What?" he asked, catching Danny's eyes.
"Think you've been spending too much time with Linus, that's all."
"Huh." He thought about that for a second. "Didn't know vocabulary was contagious."
Danny wasn't listening. "That them?" he asked, staring down the street.
Rusty turned to look.
"All I'm saying is we could have done this somewhere else," Danny Blue complained as he followed Mickey down the street. "Somewhere inside, maybe? WIth a few drinks. Maybe a TV. Maybe some central heating. That's all I'm saying."
"I'm sure they have a reason," Mickey told him absently.
"They're evil bastards?" Danny suggested. "Maybe that's the reason."
"I doubt it," Mickey said. "They're out here too, remember?"
Danny looked at him. "Maybe they're leading us up the garden path. Maybe they're back at the hotel, having a good time, thinking of us trudging around in the dark and laughing."
"I don't think so," Mickey said consideringly. "It sounded like they needed our help too."
"Yeah, well, I'll believe it when I see it," Danny Blue scowled.
Mickey stopped dead and looked up the street. "You'd better start believing."
They walked towards each other slowly, and Danny grinned as he heard Rusty softly whistling the theme to 'The Good, The Bad and the Ugly'.
"Not the right movie, Rus'," he pointed out.
Rusty shrugged. "'s easier to whistle."
Mickey smiled widely at them. "Gentlemen. Good to see you."
"You have any trouble with the bouncer?," Danny Blue smirked.
"We got a few free drinks out of them," Danny said slowly. "That count as trouble?"
"Guessing by the metal shavings on your sleeve you gave up on the lock and went for a hacksaw," Rusty said, his eyes fixed on Danny Blue's jacket.
"Yeah?" Danny Blue bristled as Mickey sighed. "Well, thanks for that, Sherlock Holmes. That was what we call cheating, don't know if you've ever heard of it?"
"We have a passing acquintance with the concept," Rusty nodded gravely.
"And you know, some of us don't carry round lockpicks anyway?" Danny added indignantly. "Because some of us aren't thieves."
"Danny..." Mickey said warningly.
Danny grinned. "So."
"So," Mickey agreed. "What are we thinking?
"I'm thinking we could go inside." Danny jerked his head in the direction of the bar.
Mickey looked at the very shut bar and raised an eyebrow. "I suppose we could..."
Rusty cracked the lock and held the door open.
"After you, gentlemen."
"Don't go getting ideas," Danny Blue warned him, giving him a scowl as he walked past him and down the stairs as if he suspected that the bar itself was boobytrapped.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Rusty murmured.
Mickey hit the lights and they all took a moment to take in their surroundings. A sports bar with various memorabilia in glass cases hung proudly on the walls and surrounded by photos of athletes in action. Made you exhausted just looking at them, Rusty decided.
Danny headed straight behind the counter.
"Whisky?" He held up a bottle.
"Like I said," Danny Blue began, "some of us aren't-"
Rusty laid a fifty dollar bill down on the counter. "If it makes you feel better."
"Whisky," Mickey nodded. "Thanks. It's cold out."
Danny brought the bottle and four glasses back round and they sat down in the nearest booth.
"Been having fun?" Danny asked, pouring the drinks.
"I see you were the one that got wet," Danny Blue commented, nodding down at Danny's muddied legs.
Rusty's lips twitched.
"Yeah. Apparently, it takes one person to make an omelette," Danny said, shooting a sideways glare in Rusty's direction.
"So, the club, the bridge, the cycle shop...you have three of the clues," Mickey checked.
Rusty and Danny didn't need to look at each other. There was no point in hiding the obvious.
"That's right," Danny acknowledged. He raised his glass and inclined it in Mickey and Danny Blue's direction. "As do you."
Mickey nodded slowly and sipped the whisky and Rusty was close to whistling Western theme tunes again.
"The last clue makes no sense," Mickey said at last.
It was a move. A definite opening.
"It partly makes sense," Danny offered.
Rusty saw the interest perk up in Danny Blue. There was a breath of hesitation from Mickey and then he nodded and smiled.
"Part of it makes sense," he agreed.
Danny was smiling too. "You show me yours and I'll show you mine."
Mickey was grinning. "That seems a little too convenient."
"Too right," Danny Blue snorted.
The grins and the smiles died away and Mickey and Danny were looking at each other, studying one another, weighing each other up.
"Alright," said Danny eventually. "We know a place."
There was a silence and for a long moment, Rusty thought Mickey wasn't going to play.
"We know what we've got to do when we get there," Mickey said eventually.
"Which is?" Rusty asked quickly and without too much hope.
"Which is on a need to know basis," Danny Blue replied firmly.
Rusty shrugged. "Well, we-"
"-need to know," Danny finished.
Mickey picked up the bottle of whisky.
"Maybe we can talk about it," he suggested, topping up their glasses. "Tell us how you got past the bouncers."
Danny's eyes were bright. "Ingenuity and gumption."
Mickey laughed and Rusty looked hard at him. It had sounded genuine. From the way Danny Blue was staring at his partner with disbelief, it possibly was.
"Okay, okay," Mickey said placatingly. "Let's start with safer ground. How did you meet Saul?"
The stories snowballed. Tales of cons and tricks and near escapes and still Danny Blue wasn't completely convinced by the Yanks. They were too damn plausible. Too good at what they did. All this could be one long round the houses and he and Mickey could wind up with their trousers round their ankles while Robert Redford and Cary Grant skedaddled out the door and back to Saul and Albert. Laughing. Danny Blue nodded to himself. Laughing loudly.
Except...except there was more to the Yanks than that. He could sense it. These two were close - closer than he and Mickey were, for sure. Closer than Mickey and Ash maybe. Little half-gestures and looks. The way that Danny's face had tightened when Rusty had mentioned the job in Cincinati. The way that Rusty's knuckles had gone white while Danny was talking about a mark named Boris Rushton. Yeah, there was a whole heap of darkness and danger and do or die there. And he found to his surprise that he liked them for it.
Rusty watched Danny pad back with another bottle of whisky - their third - their fourth? - either way, they probably needed to leave another fifty on the counter.
Mickey was in the middle of a story involving a tiger, a statue and a bottle of bubble bath which sounded as unlikely as Martha's Vineyard with the spider, the vase and the trash collectors and therefore was undoubtedly true.
There was an easy charisma to Mickey. A quiet confidence that you could rely on. No wonder marks queued up to place their trust in him. And it wasn't all surface. Rusty had seen the way Danny Blue looked at Mickey: the man inspired loyalty. Rusty approved.
Mickey sat and listened to another tale of impossible and improbable falling out of Danny and Rusty. They were tight. They called themselves partners but they were more than that - friends, for sure - more than friends, maybe. They were knitted together in a way that he hadn't seen before.
From what he could work out, Danny was the ideas man, Rusty took care of the details. But delineation didn't seem to matter in quite that way because he could see how something sparked and grew organically until it was theirs.
There was no rivalry between them. No need to prove themselves in that way and Mickey thought wryly of Danny Blue's ongoing burning need to become the greatest con artist known to man. Ambition wasn't what the Americans were about. Except that the ordinary and the routine bored them and doing the dazzling and the unexpected gave them a reputation they hadn't gone looking for.
Mickey was impressed. Both personally and professionally.
Danny sipped the whisky and smiled as Danny Blue cut across Mickey for the umpteenth time with an elaboration or an extra detail. The kid reminded him of Linus, all keen and desperate to impress. Well, if Linus oozed self-confidence and brio. It looked like Mickey had his biggest fan and his biggest rival sitting next to him. Hero worship and rivalry and Mickey seemed to be doing a good job at managing that balance.
And underneath all that, there was a protectiveness. Somehow - there'd been a glance at a baseball bat in a glass case - the story had come out that Mickey had been in jail.
"Not because of a job," Danny Blue said fiercely. "He just took exception to someone getting cosy with his wife."
"Ex-wife," Mickey corrected absently and then he'd shrugged. "I went a little crazy. Three years at Her Majesty's pleasure."
Vulnerable and open and so easy to score points and Danny Blue looked suddenly scared that they were about to do just that.
Rusty leaned across and topped up Mickey's whisky
'You did better than me," Danny said quietly. "When my wife left, I ended up inside for four years."
Danny Blue stared at him. "You were up on assault charges too?"
"Nah," Rusty shook his head. "He stole Incan matrimonial-"
"-headmasks," Danny finished, smiling both at the injoke and the disbelief on Danny Blue's face. He looked at Mickey and said softly, "I went kind of crazy too."
Mickey had smiled and it was warm and inclusive because they both knew the joy and the pain of loving and losing.
Yeah. Danny liked them. There was lots to like.
He drew a deep breath and inclined his head towards Rusty, asking the question because this was their decision. He heard Rusty suck his teeth thoughtfully and then he felt rather than saw the half-shrug of agreement.
Danny sat up straight and looked Mickey in the eye. "This is the place."
"This is..." Mickey looked startled. "Here?"
"This is the Ground Building," Rusty added. "This bar is under Ground."
"Under Ground!" Danny Blue exclaimed with a grin. "We got it, Mickey!"
There was a subtle change in Rusty's attitude and Danny knew how he felt. Disappointed. Still. Mickey hadn't said anything yet. Danny held his gaze and his face was the one he wore when the pot was a rich one. Like he had nothing to lose.
"It's a photo," Mickey said suddenly. "This guy that Albert knows, Ray Palmer, was all about finding true riches in friendship because your friends are the ones who are going to keep you in one piece."
"He used to take loads of pictures," Danny Blue elaborated. "He was all about the sentimental over the Arthur Ashe."
They both looked at him blankly.
"Cash," he explained in the manner of Basher. Really at some point those two had to be introduced if only to witness the conversation.
"A photo," Rusty repeated and there was just a hint of the unconvinced in there.
Mickey and Danny Blue heard it too.
"It's true!" Danny Blue said hotly.
Mickey had a resigned smile on his face. "Would I lie to you?"
"Yes," Danny told him. "But not about this."
Rusty turned and looked at him. "A photo?"
Danny shrugged and waved a hand at the room. "Take your pick."
Danny Blue got up, jumped round the back of Mickey and started scanning the walls. After a moment, Rusty joined him.
"We don't think it's about a particular photo," Mickey said.
"Well," Mickey went on, "actually, I suppose it is."
Images flashed through Danny's mind of Saul and Albert and of friendship and memories and he smiled. "I suppose it is."
"Here!" Danny Blue suddenly shouted.
The others gathered round. On the wall was a black and white photo of two baseball players, arms around each other, purporting - judging by the signatures - to be Willie Mays and Holt Irvin. Only they weren't.
Danny Blue had his camera phone out in a flash.
"No." Mickey shook his head and pulled Danny's arm down. "That's not it."
"Then wha-" Danny Blue looked round at the other three. "Oh!"
They tried but there was no way to fit all of them in the picture and take it. Which meant that when the Mexican cleaning lady arrived and once she had stopped screaming and Rusty had spoken to her in gentle, calming Spanish and Danny had given her some money for her time, she was given the job of taking the photo.
"What did you tell her?" Danny asked out of the side of his mouth as the four of them stood around the picture of Saul and Albert and smiled.
"Said we were friends of the owners. Showed her we'd paid for the drinks. She's offered to do the washing-up. Ah! And another one, senorita, por favor," Rusty requested, handing his own phone over to her.
Photos duly taken, Rusty thanked the woman again and Mickey and Danny collected the glasses and took them back to the bar.
"Albert's friend is right," Danny said. "It's all about the friendship."
Mickey smiled. "Yeah. It's-"
"Where's Danny?" Rusty asked suddenly, looking round.
The smile and the ease fell away from Danny. The kid couldn't have taken the picture and run, surely.
"Once upon a time I would have done," Rusty muttered unhappily as they all three charged up the steps and stopped awkwardly at the top.
"I got us a cab," Danny Blue announced. "What with it being morning. You didn't think I'd run out on you, now, did you?" he added with a grin.
Saul woke up with a start to find that it was morning and the metaphorical candles had well and truly burned out. He grimaced a little as the headache made itself known full force. One of the bottles of whisky might have been a mistake. Possibly the first one.
Blinking uncomfortably at the daylight, he reached out and shook Albie's shoulder lightly.
Albie looked up at him owlishly. "Whassit?"
"It's morning," he said, his voice just above a whisper. "And the boys aren't back yet."
Frowning, Albie looked around the room, as if expecting the two twosomes to suddenly materialise out of nowhere. "You think they're still trying to figure out the last clue?"
"Doubt it," Saul said, before looking sideways at Albie. "Unless you think Mickey and Danny aren't up to it?"
Albie chose not to dignify that with a response. "Where are they then?"
"They could be anywhere," Saul said gloomily. "I tried to call them the day after a job a few years back and by that time they were in Hong Kong."
"Ah." Albie considered this for a long moment. "I don't think our Danny would like Hong Kong. He has enough trouble with France."
"Perhaps we should call them," Saul mused.
There was a noise outside the door. As one they turned to look.
Perhaps they didn't need to.
Somehow they'd got to playing poker in the cab, the stakes the most elaborate and impossible cons imaginable, and then this had naturally led on to Rusty and Mickey competing to see who could pull of the fastest card switch with increasingly ludicrous handicaps.
That might have been Danny's fault a little. Mickey was quick and brilliant and his hands were deft and adept. It had been a pleasure to watch him deal.
They'd finally arrived back at the hotel and they'd spilled out of the cab onto the pavement, Danny Blue arguing loudly about just how useful swapping the King of Hearts for the King of Diamonds could ever really be, and the doorman smiled indulgently as he let them in, which probably had something to do with the hundred that Danny slipped him.
It had been a long night and it wasn't over yet. In fact, right now, Danny didn't think he'd mind particularly if the night carried right on going.
Albie and his friend were right where they'd left them. And, judging by the abandoned bottles, they'd had quite a night of it too. Mickey grinned on seeing Albie smile. Normally, he despised being manipulated, but somehow when it was Albie, he never minded. By the way the Yanks were smiling affectionately at Saul, they didn't mind too much either.
"So how did it go?" Albie asked brightly.
In response, Mickey threw his phone over, the pictures already lined up, and at the same moment, Rusty threw his phone towards Saul.
Saul and Albie looked at the pictures, smiling. "Well, well," Albie said. "You have done well."
"I see you went in the river," Saul remarked, looking at Danny's legs, before turning to glance at Rusty. "Willingly?"
Rusty grinned and didn't comment, and Mickey felt himself smiling a little more. They hadn't got on to that part of the story.
"Going to tell us what you were doing in the ladies in the Waterloo?" Danny asked Saul mildly.
There was an explosion of laughter, and they were sitting down, swapping stories, and Rusty called room service to organise some breakfast, and before he could blink, they were looking at more food than the six of them could possibly ever eat.
"I'm not trying to be funny, but are we expecting someone else?" Danny Blue asked.
"No," Saul and Danny said immediately.
"Just enjoy it," Mickey advised and he watched, amused, as Danny shrugged and picked up a Danish pastry. He turned to look at the Yanks. "Going to tell us how you got past the bouncers now?"
Danny grinned. "Ingenuity - "
" - and gumption," they chorused.
It was later and food had been eaten, more drink had been drunk, and they were relaxed and it didn't seem like the day could get much better.
"Suppose we're never going to find out who's better," Danny Blue commented.
"Doesn't really matter, does it?" Rusty pointed out lazily.
"No, it doesn't," Mickey agreed. He looked at Danny thoughtfully. "It would be interesting to work together, don't you think?"
"Could be," Danny returned. He grinned. "Since you're in America, tell me - "
" - ever sold the Golden Gate bridge?" Rusty finished.
There was a buzz in the air.