It was another night of working far too late on case reports when timekeeper Raymond Leon received a call.

"Good evening, Mr. Leon."

The call was already unexpected, but the caller even more so. Leon tensed before he could realize it, an automatic response to his recognition of that voice.

"Or maybe I should call you Raymond? Just like old times."

It was a voice he had hoped not to hear again. Ever. But in this line of work, he knew it had to be unavoidable.

He inhaled through his nose, letting the breath out as an audible sigh; all the better to keep the other man from realizing just what a reaction he had induced, but he probably already knew.

"Fortis. How did you get this number?"

"No need to be so suspicious," came the reply in his familiar easy tone. Easy, but not quite so much that one could miss the sharper edges if they knew to listen for them. "It's amazing what you can turn up in the public record. With a bit of arm-twisting, you know."

He knew. Leon knew exactly what he meant by it. It'd been decades since he'd dealt with the man personally, but there were some things one just couldn't forget.

"What do you want?"

"No need to be so quick to the point, either." This one came with a laugh. "Not like I'm wasting any of those government-funded hours tick-tocking away at your wrist, am I? Thought we could have a chat, catch up a bit."

"My time is as much a commodity now as it ever was." Leon allowed a bit of edge to slip into his own voice this time. It was the only way to get anywhere with him, now and as it always had been. "If you're going to waste it, I'm not going to give you the opportunity."

"Except you already have, haven't you?"

Leon could practically hear the grin on the other end of the line. He tightened his grip on his phone.

"Just tell me why you called."

There was a small noise; it could've been a laugh, could've been a snort or something else, but the disbelief it expressed was definite. "You're a persistent bastard, you know that? S'why I always liked you. S'why you were useful."

"Get to the point."

"Well, that and the fact you're one hell of a runner. Always wondered how you did it, with those short little legs of yours—"

"Fortis."

Another laugh. "Right, all right. It just so happens that I've got the solution to your little Bonnie and Clyde problem right here."

Leon didn't have to think to know exactly what he was talking about, but he pretended to anyway, pausing as if in consideration.

"I'm listening."

"Honestly, Ray. You know I'm not just going to hand it over for free."

Of course. Had it been anyone else, any other trash from Zone 12 trying to use a tip for a bribe, he would have hung up without a second thought . . . but Fortis had a way about him that was difficult to ignore, even after so many years.

"What do you want?"

"I don't think you really need to ask, do you?" Another one of those odd little laughs. "I want the reward, obviously. Ten years, no less. And you, on the other hand—you want that collar."

This time it was Leon's turn to snort. "You're sure about that?"

"I am." His voice now was less ease and more edge. "Because you're like me. When people step outside their place, defy you, piss all over your turf and then have the balls to laugh over it… Why, there's nothing that burns you up inside more, is there?"

There were a few other things Leon could think of, to be honest. But he couldn't exactly say Fortis was wrong, either.

"And that's why you want that collar. You need it, before even more people start stepping out of line."

He took another slow breath, pausing before his reply.

"I don't need it bad enough to make deals with thugs."

To which Fortis only laughed, yet again. "From my side of things, it rather looks like you do. Besides…" He trailed off for a moment, and once again Leon could hear that damn grin. "It wasn't so long ago that you weren't so quick to discount the help of a thug."

"It was." His hand tightened on the receiver again. "Times have changed."

"Have they really?"

The silence that followed was mutual. Leon wasn't sure if his own unwillingness to answer was due more to his refusal to be baited by Fortis any further, or to the fact that part of his life was not one he ever recalled with any fondness.

As the silence continued, he thought the line might have gone dead. Then Fortis spoke again:

"They've holed up at the Century in Dayton. I'll be sure to confiscate their time before you arrive. You know, to save you the trouble."

He hung up.

His voice had resumed that light, easy, and altogether dangerous tone, the one that suggested he knew exactly what havoc he wrought and exactly how badly it would harm others and bring the benefits back to him. He did, after all. He always did, and anyone around him—hell, anyone within proximity of him—would be a fool not to know that.

The times really had changed, Leon was certain of that. But some things never did.

He stared down at his reports, the text fading into blocks of illegible ink before his eyes. Fortis had a way of wreaking havoc on him with words alone. He always did.

He got up at once, abandoning the reports to find Jaeger. He wasn't heading into Dayton at this hour alone.


disclaimer: all characters and concepts referred to are the sole intellectual property of their respective creators and owners, of whom I am none. etc, etc.