Downtime, страница 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
An imprint of Torquere Press Publishers
PO Box 2545
Round Rock, TX 78680
Copyright Ó 2004 by James Allen
Cover illustration by S Squires
Published with permission
ISBN: 1-934166-69-3, 978-1-934166-70-3
All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. For information address Torquere Press. Inc., PO Box 2545, Round Rock, TX 78680.
First Torquere Press Printing: February 2007
Printed in the USA
Mom always said the only two things I needed to succeed I carried with me. Though the Glock strapped to my side had gotten me out of trouble more than once, I think she'd been referring more specifically to my head and heart. But soul searching had never been and would never be my strong point--not even while doing nothing in particular besides freezing my ass off in an empty warehouse in drizzling cold London.
I'd spent the better part of three days holed up with only said Glock and MI-6 Agent Leonard Gladstell, whose perpetual chatter and good cheer were getting on my nerves. We were consuming way too much coffee, considering that the only john in sight was a portable toilet in the vacant lot next door, and we still hadn't heard a peep on the location of the defector we intended to bring home.
To make things worse, Leonard was under the impression he was in charge of the op, since the case officer had come down with the flu and hadn't done a whole hell of a lot since, except to bitch about it with the occasional call. I'd managed to keep to myself through most of the long hours, reading whatever was at hand, including the city map Gladstell had given me. That's how desperate I was to avoid being drawn back into conversation with the guy.
It was just my luck he showed up for his shift with warm cinnamon rolls and more hot coffee. I can put up with just about anyone who comes bearing cinnamon rolls. Leonard, smiling like he knew it, dropped the box on the crate next to the computer I'd set up and made himself comfortable on the sleeping bag I'd draped over another crate. "You look a little cheerier today, Agent Nash. Another week and we shall have you calling London home."
I was seriously missing the crisp New York September I'd left behind. Though Gladstell relentlessly promoted England as God's gift to mankind, it wasn’t my foreign land of choice. "I wouldn't live in this swamp if you paid me."
His smile widened. Nothing offended this guy. And I knew because out of sheer curiosity I'd tried everything.
"How many times have you had the privilege of working here, Agent?"
I waved two fingers in the air as I burned my tongue on a sip of scalding coffee. Leonard nodded sagely. "And have you seen anything of London apart from a hotel room and the inside of a musty warehouse?"
I had to admit I hadn't. "I was going to do some sight-seeing last time, but that was pretty much a wash. Literally."
He laughed. "You Americans. A little rain and you run indoors in a panic. I do recall it raining in New York the last time I was on assignment there. No one seemed to need medical aid after exposure to it."
"New York rain's not as lethal."
He sighed without ever losing the smile. "I'd guess you were not really a morning person, Agent, if I'd ever seen you anything but foul-tempered."
"Sorry." I was not at my best after a night and day spent with only a sleeping bag between me and cement that felt more like a sheet of ice. I should have gone to the hotel last night, but I was starting to think we were going to lose our man and I hadn't wanted to abandon my post. "It's not just the rain, but the damned wind. I've already lost two umbrellas and the third's not doing too well." I nodded at the pitiful heap of bent wire and sagging cloth lying like a wounded blackbird near the warehouse door. "And that was just from the hike over to that icebox passing for a bathroom."
"Come now. You look like a stalwart fellow. This can't be that much of a hardship for you."
"Well, I usually survive this sort of assignment pretty well. It's just that I left my electric blanket at home." Scooping out a warm cinnamon roll, I got up and stretched aching legs and back. Sitting and waiting were two of my least favorite occupations. "You going to be okay? Guess you've got Creighton to keep you company."
His lips twisted. "I may keep the phone switched off for a bit."
I almost felt sorry for him. When a case officer whined in your ear, you listened whether you wanted to or not. "Good idea. I'm going to take another look around before I go back to the hotel."
"We're not under surveillance, I assure you."
"Then what the hell's taking so damned long?" I'd figured it was due to Nosik, who the case officer had referred to as a lone wolf, trying to get to us without the help of any confederates. But even so, he should've showed up by now, unless he was dead or wounded.
For the first time, a grim look took up a position front and center on good old Leonard's face. "The word is that we may have lost him. But we're to hold the fort, nonetheless. Until we know for certain."
"Until we know for certain," I repeated. "Great. Just great. I'm going back to the hotel and soak myself in a bath hot enough to boil lobster."
"Stout heart, Agent. It can't be more than another day or two, either way."
I had the feeling Creighton already knew for certain and he was just hovering over his chess pieces until he figured out a way to break it gently to the higher-ups that we'd lost Nosik. There wasn't much point to scouring the place now. No one gave a shit that we were here, freezing our asses off for a fish who'd slipped off the hook. And meanwhile back home, Reese would be finishing what he'd started when I'd left for the airport: packing up to move out and find someone who wouldn't leave him stranded without a date every Friday night.
It just wasn't my week.
It apparently wasn't Leonard's either.
"I'm disappointed, too." He broke into my brief deluge of self-pity, sounding surprisingly sympathetic. "I was rather intrigued to meet him, you know. After all we've been through together."
I'd known about Leonard's rep for code-breaking long before I ever met him. What amazed me was that as long-winded as he could be on all other subjects, he'd hardly said a word about the work he did and the accolades it'd won him on both sides of the pond. "That's why you asked to be in on this?"
"I didn't ask. Nosik requested it."
And Leonard couldn't resist the opportunity to revel in his success. Hell, I wouldn't have been able to, either. "Why doesn't Creighton get them to up the ante?"
"The firm doesn't consider him worth the cost."
"They would've if he'd wanted to settle down in Merry Old England."
That comment won me an annoyed glitter, not to mention some scathing sarcasm. "Compete with hot dogs, apple pie, and Penthouse? We don't stand a chance."
I decided I was lingering long enough to justify another cinnamon roll. "Don't forget sunshine, ice cold beer, and real football. Did I mention sunshine?"
"Didn't you say something about a hot bath, Nash?"
And still no punch in the nose. The guy had remarkable restraint. I grinned at him. "Stout heart, Agent Gladstell. Sooner or later we'll round up your pal and you can come visit him in the M.C.C. Compare notes, bask in his admiration, all that."
Leonard's smile returned, wholeheartedly amused. "You are a right bastard, you
A right bastard. There were a lot of people who'd agree with that assessment. I knew I was being a little harder on Gladstell than was fair. It wasn't his fault my personal life was about as bright and promising as the weather.
Leaving the last two rolls to Leonard, I gave him the half-empty but still warm thermos and headed out. I didn't want to go to the hotel. I wanted to hop the next plane home and dive under my ratty brown and green comforter and sleep two days straight with a pair of warm arms wrapped around me. I had a feeling by the time I did get home,, the best I could hope for was the comforter.
The phone at the bottom of my pocket chimed and I fished it out. Speak of the devil. "Reese? What's up?"
There was a rueful snort at the other end of the line. "Languishing in my absence, I see. Just wanted to let you know I mailed my key to the apartment. I thought about leaving it under the mat but, you know, burglars and all. Not that you can't take care of yourself."
"Give it a rest. You know I hate that crap." I kept walking. It was either that or freeze.
"I'm not baiting you." I could hear the sigh he was holding back. "Look, it just isn't working. I've got my life and you've got--whatever the hell it is you've got."
"Right now, I've got an agent who's playing hide and seek and I'm working on a serious case of frostbite."
"Gotcha. Not a good time, then?"
And people called me a pain in the ass. "Can we talk about this when I get home?"
His laugh was abrupt and humorless. "I already have plans for Christmas. How does New Year's work for you?"
I decided to ignore that one, too. "I'll be home in another day. We can meet for dinner."
He was quiet for so long that I wondered if we'd been disconnected. Finally he spoke up, in that flat, resigned tone I'd gotten used to hearing in the past two weeks. "As fantastic as make-up sex is with you, I think I'm going to have to pass this time. You're not a keeper. I just wish I'd figured that out five months ago."
Not a keeper. "What the hell does that mean?"
"You know what it means. You don't want to belong to anyone. Stupid attitude, but hey, it's your life to fuck up as you see fit."
"Damn. Talk about attitude."
His soft snort was a weary echo of his resignation. "Shift it 'round to me all you want. You bailed before I did and you know it."
"People don't belong to each other. With each other, maybe--"
"Lessons in true love, courtesy of the man who hasn't got a clue. God, I should've figured you out in the first five minutes, forget months. Trouble is, I'm too much of a damned sucker for chocolate brown eyes and a great ass."
Reese and his usual flair for the dramatic. You'd never guess he was a headshrinker, he was so full of it. Or maybe you would. "C'mon, Reese. Dinner, Tuesday." I went out on a limb, hoping I'd be able to wrap this one up and catch a flight by Monday. "How about Cooke's? I promise to eat my vegetables."
"I don't think so. Maybe I'll catch you at the Firehouse sometime."
He was as likely to show up there as I was to eat at Cooke's without him. "So that's it? Going without even a goodbye?"
"Goodbye, Morgan." Quiet, as he was only when he was dead serious.
"Jesus. You know, you're not being fair. You know how I feel about you."
"Goodbye," he said even more firmly and the line went dead. I snapped the phone shut and shoved it into my pocket. For five months, Reese had been pulling at me to take more time off and spend it with him; invest in something besides work, he'd said. And my superiors had come down on my ass for the little time I did take off, hinting around that plum cases come to those who are so seldom at home, they couldn't describe the wallpaper in their own bathrooms under threat of torture.
Maybe Reese was right and this was for the best. He'd always felt like he was competing with my job, for some reason I'd never figured out. I had the feeling he was starting to hate it, and that was one step away from hating me. As the phone went off again, I sighed. This day was picking up speed as it raced downhill.
Not Reese this time, I realized, at the blast of choice invective that greeted my hello. Unit Chief Faulkner wasn't one who believed in nurturing the inner agent. "Hey, boss. You got my voicemail?"
"I got it. Is your sorry ass still in one piece, Nash?"
"Let me check." I glanced over my shoulder. "Looks like it. Sorry to let you down, boss."
"You're a real comedian. And for Christ's sake, stop calling me 'boss'." He sighed. "The British Museum. Get over there. Word is your boy's interested in a more public venue. And make sure you take Gladstell with you, okay? Let's not piss off any delicate sensibilities. Any more than you already have."
"If I have, you can blame it on neurological impairment due to hypothermia."
"You're lucky I didn't send you on Dornan's team to Siberia, pal. Wrap this up neat or your next assignment's going to take you to scenic Des Moines."
"Someone cross the state line with an overdue library book?"
"Move it, Nash."
I swallowed a laugh but let the grin crack my near-frozen face. "Love you, too, boss."
He snorted. "Now I know you need a break. Two weeks, Agent. I told you soon as Nosik's bagged, you're gone. If I see you back here before mid-October, Des Moines will be looking damned good to you. Got it?"
If you asked for a day off, chances were that you'd be working seventy-two hours straight on some god-awful rookie chore that'd make sure you never asked for another day off in your life. But once you got to know Lou, you figured out that you didn't have to ask. Lou knew whether you needed a day or two off. And in my case, he was right. I was a little wrung out, though I hadn't noticed it really, until now. I was probably coming down with something nasty, thanks to three days trapped in a damp refrigerator.
Aware that I was standing in the middle of the road, fast losing sensation in my extremities, I gathered up Leonard and we headed for the museum. I'd never been much on museums when I was a kid and I still wasn't; but once we'd gotten inside, it was something to see. I found myself regretting that we didn't have time to look around, but I had to figure that seeing everything in every gallery would take at least a year. As it was, Nosik only had an hour to show up before the place closed for the day. I kept an eye out for our man and tried to ignore Leonard's rambling if authoritative lecture on the Egyptian exhibit.
"Here we have Nenkheftka or rather, a good likeness of the old fellow." Leonard stopped in front of a statue decked out in the usual wrap-around skirt, jewelry, and heavy black wig. I had a few friends in New York who dressed similarly, but Nenkheftka carried off the look better. The clothes--or lack of them--showed off a well-proportioned, muscular physique. Broad shoulders, good tan, nice smile. What more could you want in a man?
And Reese thought I was unreasonable.
I eyed old Nenkheftka curiously. I could tell by the hint of a smirk on his face that he'd been the sort of Egyptian who knew how to tell a good joke. And I had the feeling he'd kept some pretty juicy secrets, too. At my side, Leonard was giving the statue the same once-over, but with a different sort of interest, probably. He threw me a sidelong glance brimming with pride, as if he'd unearthed Nenkheftka himself. "Remarkable, isn't it? Limestone. Fifth Dynasty. Note the way he's posed, in mid-stride. Typical of--"
"Where'd you guys get all this stuff, anyway?"
Leonard seemed pleased to have finally impressed me. "Explorers over the centuries have collected artifacts from every corner of the world. So much that we will never be able to display all of it. Did you know..."
I took another shot at tuning him out. This is what happened to a guy who worked every day at the same desk under the same clock with the same view. No wonder he'd been so excited about getting out and having a face-to-face with old Nosik. Getting a taste of adventure--if you could call camping out in a cold, deserted warehouse for days on end any kind of adventure...
I didn't ask. Nosik requested it.
"Goddamn it to hell." Was t
As I grabbed him, he looked at me in alarm. I didn't get a chance to explain. At the other end of the exhibit, I saw a stout man in blue plaid slacks and a cheap windbreaker. Gray hair a wind-blown fringe around his head, cheeks and nose red in a sallow, sagging face, he'd come in from the cold in one sense, anyway; just not the one we'd had in mind.
Nosik's attention settled on me and his jowls lifted with a smile of polite interest. Not the sort of benevolent look you normally see from a guy in the process of hitching up his windbreaker to extract a bulky, ancient Stechkin. The gun might be forty years old, but Nosik clearly had every confidence it would do the trick as he centered on Leonard.
I dove behind the exhibit, dragging Leonard with me. When I looked up, Nosik was gone. "Son of a bitch."
"He's after you. Stay down." Ignoring my own advice, I took off in the direction Nosik had gone. I spotted his bald head in the crowd and was pushing my way through when the cell chimed again. For God's sake. "Yeah?"
"How do you feel about me?"
"Reese? What the hell--" Nosik vanished behind a door just at the bend of the corridor and I put on a burst of speed, determined not to lose him.
"You said, 'you know how I feel about you'," came the reminder patiently from faraway New York. "And the fact is, I really don't. But after I hung up, morbid curiosity got the better of me--"
"Reese, this is really not a good time. Can I call you back?" Reaching the door, I leaned lightly against it to listen for any sound inside.
Reese's voice came from the phone I'd lowered to my knee. "Are you serious? Jesus, Morgan, you are a piece of work. You try your best to get to me and when you finally do, you pull this disinterested shit every damn time. Do you have the vaguest idea how hard it is to love a guy like that?"