They were tired - they were all tired. A lot of small cases had added up to a month's worth of running around; no shooting, but errands and stakeouts and client meetings day after day, followed by late nights dredging up information. Murray bent over the computer, Cody poring over piles of printout, Nick shuffling letters and documents and photographs in an ever-changing kaleidoscope until between them, they came up with answers.
They were a great team. That wasn't up for question, and Murray wasn't questioning it. Out on the street, undercover or searching out information, they got the job done. And now, at last, the word was getting around.
They'd covered their bills with a little to spare and there was a comfortable caseload already, filling the in-tray and spilling over onto Murray's desk.
"Guys," he said hesitantly, flicking through the pages. "Maybe we want to think about splitting up on some of these cases."
"Splitting up? Why?"
Nick and Cody crowded the desk in an instant, leaning across one another and looking from Murray to the papers under his hand. "What's the problem?" Nick asked.
"We worked kinda hard last month," Murray ventured. "If we work on some of these new cases separately, maybe it'll be easier to get through them."
"What kind of cases?" Cody leaned forward, looking interested. "I don't mind taking some surveillance on my own. Or maybe-"
"Hold it right there, big guy." Nick gripped Cody's shoulder. Cody let himself be interrupted and dropped into a chair, raising his eyebrows at Nick and crossing his arms.
"You can't take on surveillance alone. Watching is one thing, what if you gotta chase someone? And how are you gonna stay awake all night? No way. No surveillance."
Murray conceded Nick had a point. "I didn't really mean surveillance type cases, Nick. I mean, I figure we'd all be involved in those, right? I meant these legwork ones... and some of them I can maybe finalize on the computer." He pushed some sheets across the desk toward his partners.
"On the computer's one thing. Or if there's letters to write, that sort of thing, sure we can do it alone." Nick picked up a sheet, frowning. "But when we're out there face to face with the crooks-"
"Employee surveillance." Cody leaned over the desk, reading. "Yeah, I could do that. See, it's a simple undercover role - go in to the surveyor's office as a new employee and watch for the information leak. That's a simple one-person job."
"Not on your life." Nick's bristles were up immediately. "Sure, only one person goes in, but what about backup? No-one in this agency goes undercover without backup."
"Nick, it's a surveyor's office, not the OK corral."
"And you're not John Wayne," Nick retorted. "Look, we work together or not at all, all right? Murray, I know we had a hard month, but we're all in one piece, you know? No-one got shot."
"Last time I got shot, you were right beside me," Cody said sharply.
Nick looked up from the papers then dropped them on the desk. His mouth worked but he didn't answer. Murray's heart clinched. Thinking about the Warwick case still knotted his gut, too. "Cody," he started in protest.
Cody looked slightly abashed, then shrugged. "It's true. Anyhow, nothing we got coming up looks dangerous. I think Murray's right."
Nick swallowed hard. "Do whatever the hell you like," he said roughly, turned and swung out of the room.
Murray expected repercussions from the scene, but although Nick seemed a little quiet, there was none of the shouting and stomping Murray had become used to when his partners were at odds.
Admittedly, since the Warwick case Nick had been quieter in general, and less likely to press Cody into confrontation. Even so, after his outburst Murray was surprised how calmly Nick took the news that Cody was starting Monday at G & M Bayliss, the surveyor in question.
Geoff Bayliss, their client, wanted to know how his competitors seemed to know his pricing almost before he did. The only answer was an inside leak. Cody, coming on in the guise of a junior clerk, was confident. "Some phone taps, keeping my eyes open - I'll have this sewn up by Friday."
Murray nodded, readying the bugs that Cody would need to plant in the offices. He'd installed the line tap himself a week ago, but so far it had yielded nothing of interest.
"What about you, Nick?" Cody asked idly, tapping a pencil on the table. "What's your Monday look like?"
"Three harbor tours," Nick said shortly, swinging his feet to the floor.
"Harbor tours?" Murray turned from his electrical devices. "Oh, Nick, no - I thought you and I could interview that deli owner downtown. The one who called us up about suspicious activity in his alley?"
"Sorry, Boz, no can do." Nick didn't sound even slightly repentant. "But I guess under our new policy you can do it on your own, right?"
Murray thought he heard a hint of sarcasm in Nick's voice, but when he looked at his partner, Nick was smiling innocently. "I guess I'll leave it til later in the week."
The Bayliss job was both uneventful and unproductive, and Nick remained elusive. Murray gave up waiting and interviewed the deli-owner alone, gleaning little in the way of information. An overnight stakeout in the alley seemed the only way to determine what, if anything, was happening after-hours. But between brake jobs for Straightaway, errands for Mama Jo, and one delivery job for a King Harbor lawyer, Nick seemed so busy that Murray barely saw him during the day.
Cody ran in a little after five Wednesday evening, looking flustered. "Guys! Murray, can you get me a wire?"
Murray obeyed, running downstairs and grabbing the device. As he methodically taped it to Cody's chest, Cody hurriedly explained there was an evening meeting between four senior staff members. He'd manufactured an opportunity to work late, and hoped to be in a position to pick up information. "I think this is it, Murray." He looked around. "Where's Nick?"
"Oh, he's been out all day. He, uh-" Murray scratched his head. "I know. He went to talk to Joanna about a parking permit for the Mimi."
Cody stared. "A parking permit - for the Mimi? Murray, what on earth do you mean?"
Murray shrugged. "I don't know. That's what he told me. And I guess it's giving him some trouble, because he's been gone since eight this morning."
The Riptide rocked in her moorings and Nick ran down the wheelhouse steps. "Hey, Boz. Hey, Cody. How'd you guys go today?"
"A parking permit? For the Mimi?" Cody regarded Nick with raised eyebrows. "You wanna tell me some more about that, buddy?"
Nick coughed. "Uh, you know, for when we have to set down in the city - wait a minute." Nick narrowed his eyes, looking from Murray to Cody. "What's going on here? Cody, why are you wired?"
"I think I got 'em, Nick!" Grinning broadly, Cody grabbed Nick's shoulder. "This'll get the evidence tonight."
"Isn't this boss, Nick?"
"Yeah. Where are we covering you from, Cody?"
"No cover, Nick. No-one suspects a thing. All I do is work late, come home and roll the tapes. Neat, huh?"
"Real neat." Nick's jaw worked. "C'mon, man. Let me and Murray back you up."
"You'll only be wasting your time. You know what, you guys should go stake out that alley behind Hyfer's deli. That way we can wind up two jobs instead of one!"
"Cody's got a point," Murray mused, and Nick, although he looked black, nodded. He even helped Murray load the surveillance equipment into the Vette.
But when they set off, instead of heading down the boulevard toward Hyfer's, Nick swung the Vette through town and onto the freeway heading north. "Where are we going, Nick?"
"Just something I want to check out first, Boz."
Murray thought, later, that he really shouldn't have been surprised when they pulled up just down the street from G & M Bayliss, Inc. But he certainly was surprised when Nick pointed at a lighted third-floor window and said, "That's Cody's office. The other one down there, that's the boardroom, and I guess that's where the meeting is."
The rest of the building was dark, just like the others on the street. Murray peered up at the two lighted windows, then turned to his partner. "So now what?"
Nick drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "We can get in through the basement. There's a door at the rear - some kind of janitor's space under there."
Murray shook his head, confused. "Wait, Nick. Why'd we want to get in there? We're supposed to be staking out the deli. And anyway... how do you know?"
"Why'd we want to get in there?" Nick took a deep, controlled breath. "Because Cody's in there, undercover, without backup, listenin' in on a roomful of crooks. Just because it's white-collar doesn't make it any less dangerous, Boz. Those guys got investments riding on the information they're selling... we're talking serious bucks."
"I know, Nick, but no-one suspects Cody of anything. There's no reason-"
"That's a gamble I ain't taking. Can you pick up the audio here?"
Murray stared at Nick in dismay. "No. I didn't... it's recording to tape back on the boat. I haven't brought a receiver. I never thought we'd need it."
Nick swore. "Guess we're going in blind, then."
"Is that wise? If we show up, won't we alert the bad guys?"
"If we waltzed in the front door, yeah. But if we hang out in the stairwell, we'll be close enough if we're needed."
Nick got out of the Vette and headed down the street. Murray, taken unawares, scrambled out and hurried after him. "Nick, Cody's gonna be pissed. It's hardly necessary - and the stakeout - "
"Shhhhh!" Nick hissed, grabbing Murray's arm and shoving him roughly behind a parked car.
"Shut up." Nick shook Murray lightly and pointed.
Murray's outrage at Nick's behavior as well as his protests evaporated. Three men marched out of the Bayliss building. Two of them looked determined and purposeful. The third was Cody, and he looked disheveled and wore one of his most charming smiles - a sure sign he was in trouble.
His shirt was ripped and half-open. Murray gulped. "I guess they found the wire," he breathed.
Nick only grunted as Cody was bundled into a dark sedan. As the door slammed behind him, Nick turned and ran for the Vette, dragging Murray behind him.
The chase through the dark streets was one of the most hair-raising of Murray's career, even including San Francisco. Twice he was sure Nick would roll the sports car, but somehow it kept the road, tires shrieking in protest.
The crooks obviously knew they were being followed - Nick was making no attempt to keep hidden. "Where do you think they're taking him?" Murray panted, clinging to the dash.
"Somewhere they think they can kill us all," Nick said grimly. "We just gotta hope they're not gonna hurt him in the car... let's hope they think they can use him as a hostage to get clear of us."
Murray paled. "I didn't think of that. Nick, if we hadn't come... and he's been in there all week with no backup -"
"No he hasn't. I been right down the hall."
"You what?" Murray forgot to be afraid of the road, turning to stare at Nick.
"Not safe," Nick said grimly, taking a corner on what Murray could've sworn was two wheels. Murray lurched against the door. "Hey, I think they're stopping." The Vette screeched to a halt.
Murray tumbled out, struggling to get his bearings. They were up above the city on a tree-lined street where the streetlights were few and far apart. "Harbor Lookout," Nick said in a low voice, pointing, and Murray realized their convoluted route had brought them only a few miles from home.
"Some kind of pickup point?" Murray asked under his breath.
"Maybe. Although they know we're behind them. C'mon." Nick led the way across the street and jumped the low chain separating the sidewalk from the lookout parking lot. "This way."
A few yards further ahead, the two thugs ran toward an idling car, dragging Cody between them.
"Hold it!" Nick hauled his gun from his belt in a smooth movement Murray had always envied, then fired into the air. "We got you covered."
One thug half-turned and that was enough for Cody. He dropped and rolled, kicking out. Roaring, Nick sprinted forward into the fray. Murray started to follow, then changed direction as the second thug kicked at Cody and ran for the car.
Struggling for breath, Murray whipped a pen from his pocket protector and scribbled the license plate on his shirt-cuff. He'd always liked the shirt, but a detective had to make sacrifices.
The car sped off into the night, and Murray turned and headed back to his partners.
Nick and Cody were both on the ground, breathing hard. Cody was leaning on Nick, and Nick had arranged himself around Cody like a shield. "Tried to stop em, Boz, but I didn't wanna leave Cody," Nick said as Murray came up. "He's okay, but I didn't know that at the time."
"Got the license plate," Murray said absently, squatting down. Cody's chest was mottled with bruises, and he was starting a black eye. Nick's shirt-sleeve was torn and Murray could see an angry red graze beneath. "I think I better call an ambulance."
In the end, Murray waited at the lookout for the police while Nick drove himself and Cody to the hospital. Given Nick's aversion to medical procedures, there was an even chance he'd head for the boat instead, but Cody was moving like it hurt him, and if there was one thing guaranteed to get Nick inside a hospital, it was an injured Cody.
It was a quick take-down; one team stayed and examined the sedan Cody had been kidnapped in, and Murray rode with Parisi as she flew through the dark streets, headed downtown, guided by staccato commands over the radio.
"Did you end by giving Nick his parking permit for the Mimi?"
Joanna slid the car to a stop. Just ahead, three black and whites, lights flashing, crowded around a late-model blue sedan. Murray thought it looked like the car that had been waiting at the lookout. "I think that's them!"
"It's them," Joanna confirmed, looking at Murray strangely. "I haven't seen Nick all week. And there's no such thing as a parking permit for a helicopter."
She got out of the car and headed over to the action. Murray followed slowly, fists clenching as he watched the men being pulled out of the car by uniformed officers. "They're nothing but thugs, Lieutenant. They hold human life cheap-"
"They probably do, Murray, but for now I'm going for charges of assault, unlicensed firearms and kidnapping. Listen, I'm going to have to ask you to wait in the car."
It was a full quarter hour before Joanna got back behind the wheel and turned the car in the direction of Harbor Memorial. "Seems like Cody was spotted early in the week, and the meeting tonight was a setup, on purpose to get him out of the way. They're saying they were just planning to scare him, but I have a feeling that if you and Nick hadn't been backing him up, the outcome would have been very different."
Murray paled. "He was planning to go alone. But Nick wouldn't listen."
"Nick's bull-headed stubbornness pays off for once." Joanna laughed. "We'll know more when we get their full statements, and Cody's statement too of course. One of them wouldn't stop talking about some janitor, a new guy - you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
"No, I-" Murray stopped, remembering Nick's words. I been right down the hall. "Wait," he said slowly. "Nick, maybe. He could have been posing as a janitor."
"Backing Cody up? That sounds like Nick."
It did, Murray reflected, sound like Nick. Although a whole week of lies and a secret undercover role was extreme. Sometimes Nick's protectiveness toward Cody could even surprise Murray.
Nick and Cody were still in an examination room when they arrived at Harbor Memorial. Joanna flashed her badge and they were ushered in. Shirt off, Cody lay on the examination table, his chest dark with bruising. Nick was sitting in a chair beside the table with a pretty nurse bending over his left side. His right arm rested on the table, and he was holding Cody's hand so tight his knuckles were white.
"That's the last stitch," the nurse said, straightening up.
Nick let Cody's hand go and leaned forward, shaking. Cody put a hand on his shoulder and said something quietly. Nick nodded.
"Give us a minute, please," Cody said more loudly, glancing apologetically at the nurse, then at Murray and Joanna.
Murray nodded his understanding and started to follow the two women from the room.
"Not you, Boz," Nick said gruffly, and Murray turned back.
He stood awkwardly at the end of the examining table as Cody slipped to the ground and squatted beside Nick's chair. Their voices were too low for him to hear the words, but Nick's face was gray with pain.
Cody gathered Nick close. "I'm sorry," he said, more loudly. "You were right, I should've let you back me up."
"No more working alone." Murray came closer and bestowed a hesitant pat on Nick's shoulder. "I - I should never have suggested it. It was stupid -"
"No." Nick coughed then sat back, wiping his eyes with his right hand. His left was pressed against his body, and Murray saw the angry line of stitches up his forearm.
"Nick! You're really hurt!"
"Just a scratch." Nick shivered and Cody stood up, then put a hand on his shoulder. Nick leaned into him. "See, Boz, splitting up might work for some agencies. But I - I can't know you guys are out there, doing something maybe dangerous. We're a team. Lots of times splitting up makes sense, you're right about that, but I just can't do it. You know?"
"I know," Murray said quietly. "So all those brake jobs and harbor tours and parking permits... you've been at Bayliss, too?"
"Except when I followed you downtown to see Hyfer."
Cody laughed at that. "See, Boz, it's not just me he doesn't trust to do it right."
Nick tried a smile but it didn't reach his eyes. He looked exhausted. Murray stepped back as Cody bent to Nick's side again, and quietly opened the door.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant, but if it can wait, I think it would be best if we gave our statements tomorrow. And miss, is there any paperwork or anything I need to fill out? It's been a long day, and it really would be best if we could get Nick home."
Murray lay awake most of the night, thinking and listening to the occasional small sounds from the other end of the boat. None of them gave him cause for alarm. Neither of his partners were badly hurt, and if there was one thing Nick and Cody knew how to do, it was care for each other.
Apologies were rare between them, and Murray knew none was expected from him either, even though it was his suggestion that had sparked the whole fiasco. It had seemed such a simple idea in theory, but in practice, working alone had felt uncomfortable and awkward. And, Murray reflected, instead of easing their workload, with both his partners injured it'd make the last week of the month busier than ever.
Needing to use the head, he slipped out of bed and headed to the other end of the boat. There was a light in Nick and Cody's stateroom and the door wasn't quite closed. Murray hesitated outside the bathroom door, then angled his head, peering into his partners' cabin.
Cody was curled up in his own bunk, facing the wall. Nick was sitting up, knees drawn up, a paperback in his hand, his injured arm cradled against his chest. The reading light above his bunk was on. As Murray watched, Cody muttered in his sleep.
Nick was up in an instant, perching on Cody's bunk, rubbing his shoulders. Cody said something, sleepy, thick, questioning.
"I'm here, Cody. Right here. C'mon, baby, y'know I ain't gonna let anything happen to you."
Murray bit his lip, drawing back. Something nearly had happened to Cody. If not for Nick's stubborn protectiveness, his refusal to allow Cody to work alone despite their agreement -
"Move over, big guy. C'mon. Come here."
Murray let himself into the head, determinedly pushing his partners out of his mind. They'd all made it through, the backup had been there. Nick would protect Cody through hell and back and out the other side. Murray had always known that. He allowed himself a warm feeling at the thought that Nick had left his post long enough to watch over him as well. "Not that Hyfer was any sort of danger."
The bathroom door clicked closed behind him and he heard a sharp, indrawn breath from Nick and Cody's cabin. Nick's voice, low and soft, followed him up the stairs to the salon.
"Nothin' to worry about, Cody. I got you, man. I got you."
Murray went back to his own cabin and to bed, smiling. The Riptide Detective Agency was home, safe, together, the way it belonged.
He closed his eyes, a sense of peace stealing over him.