redmen

The Red Man - part 3


Saturday, April 17

 

John watched a young businessman as he waited for Luke to answer. The boy was no more than twenty-seven or twenty-eight, obviously American, and had his head stuck in his laptop. Not literally, of course, but it might as well have been. He hadn’t looked up in at least thirty-five minutes. John could have stolen his briefcase, his carry-on—even his wallet, and he’d be none the wiser.

“Hello?”

Luke’s voice was tight and low. “Where are you?”

“In Atlanta.”

“How’s the weather?”

“John.”

“Because I was thinking of—”

“John!” Luke barked.

John paused. Luke never used that voice, not with him. “What is it?”

“It’s Mark.”

“What about him?”

“He and Mathew never showed up for the rendezvous. I went down to the target location and got there just in time to see their SUV being towed. I went to Starbucks and asked around. Apparently two unidentified men were taken into custody about thirty minutes earlier. By the description the girl gave, it’s Mark and Mathew.”

John looked around nonchalantly and got up. He strolled to the big picture window and stared out.

“John?”

“Are they still in Atlanta?”

“I don’t know. I went to two nearby police stations, but I have no idea where they are.”

“You need to find out.”

“Okay.”

“Use a ruse to get the information.”

“Like Buenos Aires?”

“Or Madrid. Either will do.”

“Okay.”

John paused again. A cloud had moved over the sun and the window showed his reflection and he stared at his own face. It was an attractive face. It had stood him well these years, made it easy for him to do what he did, but suddenly he was tired of it all. What had Luke said? ‘Back then, you said you were just in it for the kicks and that we’d be onto something else in a few month’s time.’

Had he really said that? He couldn’t remember the conversation, just as he couldn’t remember any of the feelings he used to have.

“John?”

“Yes,” he said slowly, “I’m still here.” A new plan was forming, bold and dramatic, but that was his MO, wasn’t it?

“Do you have any other instructions?”

“I do. Listen…”

As he began to relate the newly minted details and the order they needed to happen, an odd lightness began to fill his head, his chest. As if he were at the edge of a deep canyon, already taking that first step—

Just the thought of the descent—and the landing—filled him with a sick kind of joy.

***

Luke listened carefully and when John was done, he said, “Are you sure about this?”

“Never more.”

“Okay.” Then, “I’ll see you soon.”

“You will. And now I’ve got to run—my flight is boarding.” He hung up before he could changed his mind.

He returned to the waiting area and sat next to an elderly woman. They smiled at each other.

So, roughly ten hours flight time, then another five to the States, depending on his means of travel. It was going to be close and he’d be lucky if it didn’t blow up in his face. But if it worked, the payoff would be more than worth it.

“Are you going on holiday?”

John turned to the woman. She was dressed in her best clothes, like people used to do when they went on a trip. “Yes.”

“Me too,” she said confidingly. “I’m visiting my grand-niece. I’m so excited.”

John opened his mouth to respond, but just then, the pretty attendant at the desk announced, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is your first call for Flight 157 to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. We’ll be boarding shortly.”

The women next to him leaned over and patted his arm. “It’s going to be a good trip. I can tell.”

John made his smile extra brilliant. “I’m planning on it, ma’am.”

 

______________

Saturday, April 17

 

“I’m telling you, Lisbon, this is a mistake. A big mistake.”

“I know it is, Jane. You’ve been saying the same thing for two hours now, and all the insisting in the world isn’t going to make the British government back down.”

Jane paced from one end of Lisbon’s office to the other. Rigsby and Van Pelt watched him, Cho did not. “And Engert and Roberts will be loose or long dead. It’s what he’s” he pointed sharply to the window, “ is waiting for. We’re playing right into his hands.”

Lisbon ran her hands over her face, her hair, then clasped them over her head, saying toher desk. “Jane, I know. I get it. And there is nothing, nothing I can do.”

“So we’re going to let Engert and Roberts go without interrogating them further?”

“We’re not letting them go. We’re escorting them to England where they’ll be tried and convicted by their own government.”

Jane paced to the door again. In the bullpen, Luckner was on the phone as he’d been all morning. Talking to his supervisors, to the A.G. To anyone who’d listen. But it didn’t seem to matter—London had called, insisting that Interpol take the lead in the investigation and that was that.

“What’s going to happen to her?” he asked.

“Who?”

He nodded to Patel who was sitting at the conference table, working on her laptop. “Patel.”

Lisbon shrugged. “If Blount finds out she’s the reason why we got even the little we did, I imagine she’d be sent off to a field office somewhere.”

“If she’s lucky,” Cho added quietly.

“Which is why we’re not going to say a word, right?” Lisbon looked sternly at each one of them. They all nodded and she added, “If I have to, I’ll blame it on Jane.”

He didn’t smile at her weak joke, didn’t say that he’d gladly take more blame if he could just get a chance at Engert. He gazed at the bullpen, not really seeing it. He could take the back stairs, then come back up on the elevators.

“Jane,” Lisbon said, a warning in her voice.

He sighed and held up his hands. “I’m not going to do anything. Besides,” he sat down next to Cho on the sofa and crossed his legs. “There’s nothing to do. I might as well go home.”

“Well, we’re not so lucky. I need you, Cho, to write up your report. Rigsby and Van Pelt? The same for you. Make sure you cross every t and dot every i. We’re into serious overtime here, and I need to account for every detail.”

“Boss?” Rigsby asked with a hopeful gleam. “What about—”

“Yes,” Lisbon interrupted with another wave. “Work until noon and then take off. Go.”

Rigsby and Van Pelt headed for the door. Jane got up as well. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do for the next five hours. He knew if he went home, he’d just wander from room to room, too infuriated by the turn of events. He could sleep here, but wasn’t sure if he could do even that. He went to the door and held it open, waiting for Cho.

Who didn’t stand up. “Hey, boss?”

Lisbon was already working, writing something on a form—probably expenses. “Yeah?”

“Can I talk to you?”

She looked up. “Of course.”

Cho glanced at Jane. “Alone.”

Jane raised his eyebrow. Cho just waited, calmly.

Jane raised an eyebrow, feigning an insult that felt a little too real. “Okay,” he finally said. “I know when I’m not wanted.”

He took his time, though, opening the door then closing it, but Cho didn’t call him back. He even stood in the hallway a moment, thinking to read their lips, but Cho was still watching him, waiting for him to leave.

He huffed and went to the bullpen, ignoring Rigsby’s, “What’s going on?” and Van Pelt’s curious glance. He threw himself onto the couch wishing he’d had the forethought to have bugged Lisbon’s office, but who knew Cho would choose today to do something underhanded and sneaky?

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared up at the ceiling. It couldn’t be about anything but work. Cho would never talk about personal problems, not with Lisbon. They were close, but not that close.

At least, he hoped they weren’t. He twisted around to look. Cho had moved and was now sitting in front of Lisbon’s desk.

He made a face and settled back. Secrets were all right for others, but not for him.

He was trying to work up enough steam to get him off the couch and down to his car but exhaustion found its way first. He fell asleep while trying to make himself move.

***

“Hey.”

Jane opened his eyes, but slowly because his eyelids felt heavy, as if he were drugged.

Cho was crouched by his side, forearms on knees. “You awake?”

He closed his eyes. “No.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to be.”

“Why?”

“It’s time to go.”

“Go where?”

“C’mon.”

When he opened his eyes again, Cho was standing, his hand extended.

He yawned and let Cho drag him upright.

The bullpen was quiet and Jane remembered it was Saturday. Afternoon, by the looks of things. He stretched, not missing the way Cho quickly checked him out before glancing away. He smiled. “What time is it?”

Cho went to his desk and got his cell and his workout bag. “A little after three.”

“Where are Van Pelt and Rigsby? And,” he craned his head to look, “Lisbon and Luckner?”

“Van Pelt and Rigsby left around noon with one of Luckner’s men to escort Dr. Wallach to the airport. Luckner and the rest of his team are escorting the prisoners. Patel is with them. Lisbon is updating the A.G. Let’s go.”Cho jerked his head towards the elevators.

His voice was unyielding and if Jane had an idea to wait around to see what came of Lisbon’s meeting, he forgot about it. Cho would probably just hustle him off anyway.

Downstairs, it was just as quiet. Ken, the security guard who’d married his high school sweetheart the week before, waved. Jane waved back.

When they got outside, he found his sunglasses and put them on. It was a beautiful afternoon, bright and sunny. He followed Cho to their cars and when he angled to the right because his was parked in back, Cho said, “No.”

“Why not?”

Cho looked around, a quick back and forth, and Jane realized that he was nervous, shoulders tight, swinging his keys on his finger.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Cho.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course.”

His response was instant and Cho relaxed, muttering, “C’mon.”

Once again, he led the way, this time to his car. His overnight bag, the one he took when he went out of town, was in the back, but Jane didn’t ask about it. He had no clue what was going on. Cho was hiding something, some secret, but that was okay—it had been a difficult few days and he was content to go with the flow.

So he buckled up and said nothing as Cho steered them through the Saturday traffic, as they got onto I-5 and headed south.

He was tempted to remind Cho that they had been this way just recently, but he didn’t. He was pretty sure he knew where they were going, but he didn’t want to spoil the surprise. And he didn’t want to make a fool of himself—Cho could very well be taking him to a crime scene.

But no, as they got closer to the coast, Cho began the circuitous route that would take them to Carina Luna and Jane, still silent, felt his face grow warm. He leaned back and rested his head against the doorframe, trying not to get too excited—they wouldn’t be in their room for at least a half an hour.

They were ten minutes from the hotel, on the long, lonely stretch of road that paralleled the coast when Cho’s phone began to ring. He made a face, but answered it anyway.

“Who is it?” Jane asked lazily, not really caring.

“Lisbon,” Cho muttered, then, “Hey, boss.”

Whatever she said, it was serious enough for Cho to look quickly in his rearview, then brake and pull to the side of the road. Jane sat up and tried to hear, but all he got were long periods of silence punctuated by Cho’s, “Where?,” and, “Was anybody else hurt,” and “Uh-huh,” then finally, “Give me two hours, we can— Are you sure?”

Apparently she was sure. He said slowly, “Okay, if you’re sure.” Then, “Yeah, we will. See you on Wednesday.” He closed the phone and pocketed it. Then turned to Jane.

With his sunglasses on, Cho looked dangerous and secretive. Jane reached over and took the glasses off, letting his fingertips brush warm skin. That didn’t help much—his gaze was at its most wooden and Jane’s stomach clenched. “What is it? What happened?”

“About an hour ago, as Luckner and Patel were escorting Engert and Roberts to the airport, a black Humvee ran them off the road. Engert was killed instantly. So was Luckner.”

Jane had known the minute Cho had started talking that it was going to be bad, but bad, it seemed, could always get worse. “Christ. And Patel?”

“She’s in intensive care. The surgeon thinks she’ll make it, but says that the next twenty-four hours will tell. She broke her ribs, her right femur, both ulnas and her collarbone.”

Jane closed his eyes briefly, forcing away the image of Patel, broken and in pain. “What about Luckner’s men?”

“Two are dead, the other is fine. I’m not sure who died.”

“And Roberts?”

“He’s also in the ICU, but his injuries aren’t so bad.”

“How’s Lisbon?”

“Furious. She’s on her way to the hospital. Patel’s husband is flying in. He should be here tonight.”

“How do they know Engert was killed instantly?”

Cho tightened his lips. “Because he was shot in the temple and throat.”

“What does that mean?”

“That the marksman was either lucky or very, very good.”

Roberts had been right, poor bastard. At least he’d survived. “What about Luckner. Does he have a family?”

“Lisbon’s finding out.”

“I take it she told you not to come back?”

“She says there’s nothing we can do right now, but it’s up to you. Do you want to?”

Jane was already shaking his head. “No.”

“Me neither. Here…” Cho took his sunglasses and put them on. Then, as he reached for the gearshift, he reached for Jane instead. He dragged him close, kissing him hard. Then he let go and put the car in gear.

***

The hotel was as Jane remembered. Last year, they’d arrived almost the same time of day and memory after memory came rushing back. Cho pulled up in front and Jane laid his hand on his arm. “Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“I know this latest news has put a damper on your surprise but can we pretend, just for a few days, that nothing happened?”

He fully expected Cho to say, ‘you know I can’t do that,’ but all he said was a surprising, “Yes.”

Jane patted his arm again and got out. The bellhop was already waiting with a smile and a trolley. Jane paused, “Oh, I don’t know if we have enough luggage for that, but…” He waved him on.

Cho had just the one bag. Jane wanted to make a joke, something about why bother with clothes as he was going to keep him naked for the next three days, but held off. The bellhop was still in earshot and Cho wouldn’t appreciate being embarrassed that way.

When they entered the double doors, he looked around, turning in a circle. They’d painted the lobby a soft gold that picked up the light, making everything glow. He waved. “It’s different.”

Cho looked around. “It is?”

“They painted.”

“They did?”

“It was eggshell before. Didn’t you notice?”

“I guess Ihad other things on my mind,” Cho answered dryly.

Jane didn’t ask what things, because with the happy memories came the bad—of missing Cho so much. Of worrying he was in danger and there was nothing he could do about it.

“Agent Cho?”

He turned. A women, blond, with a polished face and suit, came across the floor towards them, her hand held out.

“I’m Sheila Crenshaw, the manager of the Carina Luna.”

They took turns shaking hands and Cho asked, “What happened to Miss Bryant?”

Crenshaw’s face grew still. “You were here for the incident, weren’t you?” She clasped her hands together, putting on a false expression of sympathy. “It was decided, after the trouble last year, that she should move on to another facet of the hospitality industry.”

Jane kept his expression blank at her diplomatic words, but only just. ‘Another facet of the hospitality industry.’ Please. That was double-speak for they fired her ass because she made some big mistakes.

He must have made a noise because Cho cleared his throat, loudly. “Thanks for finding room for us.”

“It’s not a problem, Agent Cho,” Crenshaw said as she turned to the desk. “I was brought in a few days after the incident and the owners were very grateful to the CBI. The situation could have turned out much differently without your expertise.” She stopped at the desk. “Henry will sign you in. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your stay more enjoyable.”

Jane had a few things in mind, mainly along the lines of, ‘leave us alone and you’ll get a big fat gratuity,’ and, ‘don’t blame me if you don’t bother to knock,’ but he couldn’t say either of those things so he just smiled. And gave the clerk his I.D. with a smile that made the boy blush.

Cho signed them in.

Jane craned his head to see what suite they were assigned, but Cho wouldn’t move enough to see. That was okay—it was too much to hope that it would be the magnolia-less Magnolia Room at this short notice and really, any room would do.

He went to stand in front of the wide staircase, hands in pockets, looking up at the ceiling. The shock from Lisbon’s news had faded and his excitement had returned. It had been a while since he’d been on a proper vacation and never with Cho.

“Sir?”

He turned. Cho and the bellboy were waiting for him by the by the double doors. Jane gestured, ‘After you,’ and they took off, through the doors and out onto the empty patio. It wasn’t yet five. The sun hadn’t broken the treeline and the patio was still awash in light. They could come back later when it was cooler and sit under the little string lanterns and eat dinner.

When they got to the center path, the bellboy went left. Jane turned to Cho and leered as lasciviously as he could. Cho shook his head and murmured, “Stop it,” in that reproving tone that never worked, but he adored anyway.

“Here we are,” the bellboy announced. “The Magnolia Room.”

And indeed, it was the same suite, same yellow flowers that he’d forgotten to try to identify and it was odd—they’d only stayed a few days, but he felt like he was coming home, or maybe on a second honeymoon and he was smiling much it hurt.

The bellboy unlocked the door, then gave Cho the cards and left, walking away a little faster than he’d come.

“Well,” Cho said, holding the door open for Jane.

“How’s your back these days?”

“It’s okay. Why?”

“Because I feel like you should carry me over the threshold. Or I can carry you. As long as it’s not too far.”

“Jane?”

“Yes?”

“Get inside.”

Jane got inside.

Cho tossed his bag next to the bed as Jane went off to investigate. Thankfully, the management hadn’t done much to the room. The television was new and he thought the wastebasket in the study might have been changed from wood to brass, but other than that, it seemed the same. Just the same and his heart began to beat faster.

He found Cho out on the balcony, staring at the gardens, the narrow strip of beach. He’d taken off his jacket and his white shirt was brilliant, almost blinding.

Jane leaned on the doorframe, remembering a year ago, a similar situation, a similar feeling. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Do you want to take a walk? We’ve got plenty of time before dinner.”

Cho turned. His face was blank and still, like it had been an hour ago when he’d told Jane that the Red Man had done it again. Like it had been that night, weeks ago, when Jane had asked to make love to him.  “Talk to me.”

“I don’t want to go for a walk.”

“Okay, we won’t.”

“I want to forget that we managed to hunt down an international ring of murderers only to screw it up in the end.”

“Okay.”

“I want to forget that three of our own were just murdered.”

“Me too.”

“I want to spend the next three days in bed with you, with occasional breaks to eat.”

“Ditto.”

“I want to know that all this means as much to you as it does to me.”

His mouth dropped open because his shock matched Cho’s. Who stood there, eyes wide as if he couldn’t believe he’d just said what he’d said and it came to Jane that he was afraid. And except for one other incident, he’d never seen Cho truly afraid. Ever.

It wasn’t pleasant, knowing both times were on his account.

“Jane?”

“You’re waiting for an answer from me, and I don’t know what to say because I thought you knew…”

He broke off, confused as to how to say what should be so simple. From the time he was very young, he’d used his words, his voice, his body, to sell and convince—this shouldn’t be any harder, should it?

“I know you loved your wife,” Cho mumbled. “I know that most of the time, you’re thinking of her.”

Cho glanced down at his wedding ring and, instinctively, he clenched his hand into a fist. As if Cho would take the ring away by force. Which was ridiculous and he made himself relax. And he made himself take a step forward, then another until he was right before Cho, feeling as if he were trudging through quicksand.

He didn’t touch, even though they were so close he could see the fine creases in Cho’s lower lip, the dark folds at the corners of his eyes. He didn’t speak for a moment, either. Whatever he did or said in the next few minutes was important and he couldn’t use his old methods—this was too important for that.

“You’re right,” he finally said, his voice rusty hoarse. “I do think of her. All the time. Just as I think of my daughter. Just as I think of my father, for completely different reasons.”

Cho shifted from foot to foot, as if he were preparing to run and Jane reached out, still not touching. “No, I know you’re not asking me to forget them. I’m just—”

He had to stop again and start over. “Cho, I think of you all the time. I think of you when I’m in bed next to you, when I’m not. When I’m driving to your place, when I’m driving to mine. When I’m doing silly things like filling the gas tank or trying to decide what color of socks to buy.”

He laughed, barely. “Just yesterday when we were at the conference table, you went to get some tea. When you got back, I watched you, waiting for that moment when you take your first sip of tea. You always close your eyes, just a bit, and I know that look. I love that look, just as I love you.”

The words, said aloud for the first time, sounded perfect and horrible and he tried them again, “I love you. I’m in love with you.” There, that was better. Why hadn’t he said them before? He’d felt then, as far back as last year.

Cho’s expression hadn’t changed. Except—

For the tiny pulse in his neck, for the way he swallowed, like it hurt. And the red that bloomed across his neck and cheeks that wasn’t in anyway due to the setting sun.

“This wasn’t how I planned the evening,” Cho finally said.

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” Cho’s voice dropped to a harsh whisper, “I thought we’d go to bed and I’d ask you to fuck me, and then, maybe later on tomorrow I’d tell you that I was in love with you and ask if you felt the same way about me. But you beat me to the punch, like always.”

He’d tried for sarcasm but missed terribly and Jane asked, even though he knew the answer, “Are you disappointed?”

“What do you think?”

“I think this state has decency laws and you need to come inside. Now.” He grabbed Cho’s tie and yanked, back into the suite, the sudden dark making it hard to see, but it didn’t matter. Because Cho was kissing him over and over, whispering his name over and over. Not ‘Jane,’ but, “Patrick, Patrick…”

The second honeymoon feeling was back, stronger than before, and he sighed into Cho’s mouth, smiled when Cho actually smiled in return, a victory of sorts because lately he’d been nothing but serious when they’d made love…

“You’re not going to have to make a trip to the hotel’s gift shop for anything are you?” he murmured against Cho’s lips.

“What do you think?”

“I think you’re too much of a boy scout to come unprepared. I think your suitcase is filled with things that would make your mother blush. I think I want to get you naked. Ithink I want you to get me naked.”

By the time he was finished, Cho was busy kissing him again.

With a smile, Jane pulled away and went to throw the deadbolt on the front door, then close the French doors. He left the curtains open because he wanted the sun that streamed in, wanted to see as much of Cho as possible. He expected Cho to argue or protest, but he just sat down on the bed and began to take off his shoes.

When he reached for his tie, Jane hurried over and pushed his hands away. He wanted to do this.

And it was like all the times before, only not. Cho wasn’t completely loose, but he was pliant. Letting him remove his clothing, piece by piece, and as he slipped Cho’s shirt off, unbuckled his belt, he felt as if he was removing the first of the bricks in the wall that Cho had surrounded himself with. It made him feel weirdly powerful, incredibly thankful.

Finally, when Cho was naked, he took his own clothes off, but quickly, throwing them wherever and when he was done with that, he urged Cho down and stretched out next to him.

Had it been like this, that first night at the Magnolia Room? Had he felt this same sense of wonder and discovery?

Maybe, maybe not, and it didn’t matter, anyway—he skated his hand over Cho’s chest, barely touching the contours of sleek muscle, the faint trail of hair. When Cho shivered and arched up, trying to make contact, he pinched him gently and kept going, murmuring, “You’re so beautiful.”

Cho breathed a laugh. “You don’t have to sweet talk me. I’m all yours.”

“Are you?” Jane said absentmindedly. Here was a bit he loved in particular—the smooth plane of Cho’s ribcage where it rose then fell—a sharp concave drop to his hips. Beautiful. He rubbed his body against Cho’s like a cat, using the movement to slip over and on so they were chest to chest, hips to hips.

“And it’s not sweet talking,” he added. “It’s a fact. I love this…” He kissed Cho’s neck then chest. “And this…” He nuzzled his way down to the slight swell of Cho’s belly, feeling the muscle under his lips shift sweetly. “So sexy. Ithink of you sometimes, when we’re at the office. You’re five feet away from me and I think of this body under all that wool and I want to laugh out loud because I get to see you—I get to feel you—and no one else does. It’s wonderful.”

“Patrick,” Cho mumbled, moving restlessly, hips, hands, even his feet, scrubbing against the sheets.

Not yet, Jane thought. There was still so much more… “Tell me,” he whispered.

“Tell you what?”

“That you want this as much as I want this.”

“I want this. I want you.”

“Good.” Jane kissed, then licked the crease that ran at an angle, dividing Cho’s belly from hip, letting the coarse hairs tease his tongue and chin.

“Jesus,” Cho swore softly and grabbed his hair, wrapping his leg around his back, his ass.

Because oral sex had never been a favorite of his, no matter the partner. He’d tried a few times, but it was one of the few things his mouth wasn’t good at and he’d chalked it up to disinterest. But maybe it was something else because now he couldn’t wait and gently guided Cho into his mouth, slowly, mindful of his teeth, trying to make it good, trying to do the things Cho did for him.

“Jesus,” Cho swore again, pulling his hair so hard it hurt, and then again, when Jane brought his hand into play, “Christ, stop.” Even as he held his head firm, even as he spread his legs wide. “Stop.”

He did. Slowly, reluctantly. He didn’t have to ask why—Cho was shaking, breathing so hard he was almost panting, his head tipped back to catch air.

Jane knew that sensation and he kissed the inside of Cho’s thigh, murmuring, “Where is it?”

“In my bag.”

He slid sideways and reached down, rooting around until he found the slim box. He pulled himself up and tore the flap off only then realizing that it wasn’t the lubricant he’d bought days ago—it was the usual white tube of KY. “Hey—where’s stuff I bought?”

“You mean the, ‘Just for Her, Personal Warming Liquid?’ Ileft it at home.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Supposedly, it smelled like lavender.”

“Oh,”Jane said again, this time with a broad grin. “No wonder the lady at the register smiled at me. No doubt she thought I was being nice, buying it for my girlfriend. Or wife.”

“I’m not your girlfriend. Or wife.”

Cho’s voice hadn’t changed in tone, but that didn’t fool Jane. He took the lubricant out and tossed the empty box on the nightstand. The plastic was cold and he rolled it between his hands—this was another subject he had to get right. “No,” he finally said. “And, I’m not your girlfriend or wife, either.”

Cho just watched him.

“Well,” he shrugged because that wasn’t quite right. “In a way I am.”

Cho pushed up on one elbow. The sun had fallen further and it sent a broad band of gold across the room, across his hips and thighs. “What do you mean?”

He rolled closer and stroked Cho’s side, wondering if it was his own heat or the sun that made his skin so warm. “You know what Imean. That even though we’re both men, there’s something of that element in our relationship. We can’t always be top dog. And no,” he added hurriedly because Cho had started to frown, “that doesn’t mean what you think it means. We play those games all the time—everyone does. Pushing at rigidly defined gender roles. Using them to advantage if we can.”

“Like you do when you insist that people call you ‘Jane’ instead of ‘Patrick?’”

“Sort of. I’m used to the reaction now, but in the beginning I did it to throw people off and make them vulnerable.”

“But that only works because our gender roles are so rigidly defined.”

He smiled. “That’s what I love about you…” He leaned over and kissed Cho’s waist, his hip. “We’re always on the same page.”

Cho fell back and brought Jane with him. “I hate that expression.”

“I know you do.”

Cho cocked his head and stroked the side of Jane’s face. “I’m assuming you don’t use it on me?”

“You mean my tricks?”

“Yeah.”

He kissed Cho’s palm. “You assume right. You’ve always seen through my smoke screens.”

“Then, okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay. I’ll be your girlfriend.”

Jane looked up, his face still cradled in Cho’s hand. His expression was unruffled, his tone even, but not with the deadpan manner that fooled so many. No, this was different—acceptance, understanding. Trust.

He closed his eyes pressed his cheek into Cho’s palm, trying to remember that he was here for sex, not to write lyric poems because that’s what he felt like doing—writing or singing or finding some permanent way to express his love.

But if he couldn’t do that, he could do something else that might be more meaningful…

He straightened up and looked Cho straight in the eye. “Kim?”

“Yes?”

He held out his hand, the one with the ring, and said, “Take it off.”

Cho froze. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“I don’t think—”

“Then don’t. Don’t think. Just take it off.”

Cho hesitated, then reached out, his grip tentative. When Jane nodded, he pulled and held it up like an offering. They stared at each other for a long moment, then he stretched his arm out and without looking, dropped the ring on the nightstand.

It felt too odd, being ringless, and he needed to act, to move or he’d realize what he’d done and there was no way—

“Jane,” Cho said gently, halting his crazy panic attack. “Give it to me.” He took the tube without asking, unsealed it and flipped the top off. Still with that same calm, he took Jane’s hand and squeezed. Too much, but Jane didn’t say anything. He was breathing again as panic abated and desire returned. He kissed Cho and slipped his hand between his thighs.

He tried to remember how it had been, that first time with Cho, wanting to use it as a template for what felt good. But his mind was blank, as if all memory had been erased and his only existence was the all-encompassing now.

So he leaned up for another kiss, distracting Cho with his lips and tongue as he made the first tentative push. His finger slipped in, not easily, and he looked up to make sure Cho was okay.

He was frowning, eyes closed, a wash of sweat across his forehead and cheeks. He was in pain, real or imagined, and that was nothing Jane wanted. “Hey. Look at me.”

Cho opened his eyes.

He was ashamed, Jane realized. Ashamed of his fear. “Don’t. It’s okay if you don’t want to—”

Cho clasped Jane’s forearm, preventing him from moving, and shook his head. “No, I told you. I want this. Don’t stop.” He shook his head again.

“Okay. It’s okay, I won’t, I—”

Now… he slipped his finger in, pushing as gently as possible. Waiting for a moment, then more.

Now… he nudged Cho’s leg up so he had more room, then pushed harder, when Cho’s little sighs became groans and he gave his first awkward thrust.

Now… it was probably too soon but he added another finger, hoping it was okay, and it had to be because Cho gripped his arm, guiding and forcing him in and it was a roundabout way of making love but was really okay because…

Now… Cho groaned, “Patrick,” and grappled him up by shoulder and hair and made a space for him, not perfectly, but perfect enough and he found his place, then slid in, just a bit.

He just rested at first because it felt too good. Because he hadn’t had this in so long. Because it was important that he take it slow. Because he had to wait.

For Cho to look up.

And nod.

Now, he thought, as he leaned down to brush his lips against Cho’s chest. Now.

***

He didn’t fall asleep. He tried, because the moment he came, following Cho by maybe two minutes, his world of the immediate re-ordered itself and he realized he was tired. So tired and filled with a delicious lethargy that just the idea of moving made him that much more exhausted.

But, on the tail end of that thought, his mind woke up and he started to think. Of Luckner and Engert and Patel. He rolled to his back and stared at the ceiling, stroking his own chest, wondering if Patel had children or not.

Finally, when he remembered that he wasn’t supposed to be thinking about the last few days, he scooted off the bed, carefully, so he didn’t wake Cho, and headed for the bathroom.

And then changed direction halfway there, padding to the French doors instead. He opened them and stood there with his eyes half shut in pleasure.

The sun was too far down to throw out any light and a breeze had kicked up, sending a fresh rush of air that cooled his body. He smiled.

And was still smiling when he went to the bathroom. He cleaned himself up, idly thinking about room service, about a walk later on, about how sex with men was messier than with women, but probably because men had the easy part.

He imagined telling Cho that. He’d just give him that look and say there was an easy solution to his problem.

He grinned, turned out the light and went back to bed.

He didn’t get back in, not right away. He stood there a long moment, staring. Cho was still on his back, legs spread, one arm out flung, palm up. He looked peaceful and remote, all expression smoothed away. Like he was a fallen statue or a painting of a sleeping man.

He loved watching Cho, even though he didn’t get many chances. It embarrassed him, having Jane watch him. He always shrugged it off, but if Jane didn’t stop, eventually he began to fidget and finally, get up to do something else.  As if Jane’s gaze was a physical thing that either hurt or was too heavy.

It had to be something to do with his upbringing.

He hadn’t pushed for information, knowing that Cho was private at the best of times. but maybe it was time to start asking. He’d earned the right, hadn’t he? Maybe they could throw a dinner party, invite friends from work and maybe one of Cho’s sisters—it would be fun and a good way to work into the family. Maybe they could take a trip to Oakland. Maybe he could learn a little Korean.

He was thinking on that, envisioning his method of attack because it was going to be an uphill battle, when Cho made a sound, almost a grunt. He moaned again, this time louder, then clawed at the sheets. Jane climbed into bed and eased into his unwitting embrace, hoping his presence would stop the nightmare in its tracks.

It did until the next one came, an hour later.

 

________________

Sunday, April 18th

 

A noise, loud and sudden, broke him free of the dream and he woke with a jerk. He listened, breath held tight in his chest, but the noise didn’t repeat.

“It’s the people next door.”

He turned his head. Jane was on his side, turned towards him, eyes closed. “Do you want me to check it out?”

“Can you arrest them?”

“No. I’d just scare them a little.”

Jane smiled, then said without opening his eyes. “Then never mind. Earlier, they were on their patio, laughing and talking. The man has a laugh like a donkey. They just went to bed. At least they’re inside now.”

Cho twisted to look over his shoulder. Jane had opened the French doors sometime after he’d fallen asleep. Or passed out was more like it because he couldn’t remember anything after coming, Jane still inside him. He had a vague recollection of being cleaned up, but maybe that was part of the dream.

He rolled to his side and remembered that a just a few hours ago, Jane had fucked him. He tested the pain and found it acceptable.

“Are you okay?”

Jane had opened his eyes and was watching him. “Yes.”

There wasn’t much light, and his face was featureless, almost flat, his voice low. “Sure?” He began to stroke Cho’s chest with his fingertips. He hadn’t put the ring back on—it was laying on the nightstand where Cho had dropped it and just the thought, what it meant that Jane left it there…

He’d thought the sex would hurt, but it had been the physical pain he’d prepared for and he covered Jane’s hand, holding on too tight. “I’m sure.”

“Good. The last thing I want—” Jane leaned over and kissed him—“is to hurt you.”

“I know.”

“But I do it all the time, don’t I?”

He frowned. He was tired and still in a post, getting-fucked-by-Jane daze, but that didn’t make sense at all. “Huh?”

“I’m hurting you. Imean…” Jane pulled back. “I’m assuming it’s me because they only started after I began spending so much time at your place, right?”

He’d hardly call a few nights a week, ‘so much time,’ but they’d deal with that later. “What are you talking about?”

“The dreams. Well,” Jane shrugged. “Nightmares, really. You’ve been having for almost a year now.”

Cho froze.

“You had two tonight. Which is one more than usual.” And when Cho didn’t answer, he shrugged again. “I know we’ve been pretending that everything’s fine, but I’m tired of pretending. I can’t do it anymore. Not when—”

He stopped and shook his head sharply, as if trying to dislodge something that was stuck in his throat.

Cho gripped his hand and said, “Wait—” He turned on the lamp, then settled back down.

In the yellow light, Jane looked suddenly old or maybe just older. The lines around his mouth and eyes were stark and deep and Cho thought, ‘this is what he’ll look like when he’s sixty.’ Still attractive, but on the downslide of beauty.

Normally, the thought would’ve had little effect. Normally, he’d just shrug it off as his imagination gone wild.

But things weren’t normal. The sea change he’d waited for had happened and it wasn’t just having Jane in him, taking and giving at the same time. It was the realization that he’d laid a bet on a future he hadn’t planned on but had hoped for nonetheless. And now that the bet had been called? It was time to deal with it, deal with the fact that he was in it for the long haul. And no amount of disregarding and delaying would change that fact.

For better or worse.

So, he took a shallow breath and said, “Yeah.”

“Yeah, what?”

“Ever since the case last year. The Red Men case, I mean, I’ve been having nightmares.”

“You told me that you don’t dream.”

“I don’t.”

Jane thought about that, then asked, “What’s it about?”

“You.”

Even though he was trying to speak evenly, as if this were no big thing, his voice must’ve given him away, because Jane said, “Come here. Come—” and drew him over to lie on his chest. He was warm and solid, and Cho wrapped his leg around his hips.

“Tell me,” Jane said.                                  

“Yeah, just give me a moment, I can’t—” Now that he had the chance to talk, he couldn’t remember any details, so he squinted, hoping that would work. “Okay. I’m in a house. Just a normal house with two floors. Sometimes it’s the house I grew up in, sometimes it’s not. But it always has a long flight of stairs.”

Jane stroked his head, his shoulders. “What are you feeling?”

He’d never asked himself that question and was surprised at the answer. “Okay. Tense, but not scared.”

“Go on.”

“So, I get to the top of the stairs and walk down this long hallway. I think at this point I’m in a different house, but I’m not really sure how Iknow that. I get to the door—”

He had to stop—the images were now perfectly clear. Jane tightened his arms and in a moment, he was able to continue. “So I get to the door and open it up and the room is covered in blood. It’s everywhere. On the floor, the walls, the bed.”

Jane made some noise. “Is there anyone in the bed?”

He rubbed his cheek against Jane’s chest in apology for having to do this. “No, the room is empty.”

“No face on the wall?”

“No.”

“What happens next?”

“Usually I slip in blood, but sometimes the room just disappears and suddenly I’m outside. In a garden full of dead bushes and trees.” He had to stop again. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

“I take it the garden is this garden?” Jane jerked his head towards the French doors, the grounds beyond.

“Yeah.”

He wrapped his leg around Cho’s. “You don’t have to keep going. You can tell me in the morning.”

“No, it’s okay.” ‘I’m ex-military. I’m a cop. I can handle it.’ “So I’m in this garden and I’m trying to get to the beach.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, I just know I need to be on the beach.”

“Okay.”

“The wall isn’t in the dream and I’m almost there, I can feel the sand under my shoes. But then I hear this noise…”

He paused again. Saying things out loud was supposed to release their power, right? What a lie—just saying the words made everything more real and he couldn’t help the shiver that went from the back of his neck down.

“Wait…” Jane let go and sat up, reaching for the comforter, dragging it up until they were cocooned. Then he pushed Cho on his back and covered him, kissing his temple, his cheeks. “Is this better?”

Cho nodded. In the morning, when the sun was up and the shadows were gone, he knew he’d be ashamed of his fear. But the morning was six hours away…

“So, I hear this sound—it’s like a flute or something and I know someone’s behind me.”

“How do you feel now?”

“Petrified.” Jane stroked his arm. “Anyway, I hear this noise and I turn. And you’re there.”

Jane stopped his petting. “Me?”

“Yeah.” He closed his eyes, speaking quickly—he needed to get this over. “You’re not wearing your jacket or your vest. Your shirt is unbuttoned and you’re covered in blood. Even in the dark, I can see it. Like the sun is shining only where you are only it’s not the sun. There’s blood all over you and you’re smiling. You’re so happy.I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so—”

He squeezed his eyes tight. What would happen if he opened his eyes and Jane was there, covered in blood like in the dream? His stomach rolled and he reminded himself that he’d never gotten sick over the sight or smell of blood, not even at the most horrific crime scene.

“Am I hurt?” Jane whispered, “Did Red John get me?”

He shook his head sharply. “No, that’s not it. I don’t know how I know it, but I know that you’ve just cut someone up. You’re holding someone’s heart in your hand.”

There was a long, long pause, then Jane asked, even softer, “Do you think I’m Red John?”

His eyes flew open, his jaw dropped. “No.”

“Do you think I could become Red John?”

He opened his mouth. And nothing came out. Because, yeah, he’d seen it enough in his line of work. How violence could twist people into doing things they’d never imagined they could do. How it ruined lives and families. And how people sometimes became the thing they hated the most.

“That’s not good,” Jane asked when he’d taken too long to answer.

He shook his head. “It’s not that.”

“Then what?”

“I think having your revenge might be a mistake.”

“That’s not what you said last year.”

“Last year I didn’t know how much I loved you.”

His statement was bald, bleak, and Jane’s mouth dropped open. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“I need to find Red John,” Jane said after a moment.

“I know you do. I do, too.”

“He needs to pay for what he did to me.”

“I know. And he needs to pay for all the people he killed.”

Jane frowned, going on as if he hadn’t spoken, “And what he did to my wife and daughter.”

“I know, I know. It’s just…”

“What?”

“I’ve been thinking…” This wasn’t going to sound right. “What would your wife say if she knew you had killed someone because of her?”

“Don’t.”

“You don’t talk about her much, but I know you loved her and she loved you.”

Jane swallowed hard. “She did.”

“Jane, there are a lot of things I don’t get about love, but one thing I do know is that when you love someone, you want that person to never be hurt and to always be happy. It’s in all the books.”

There was a long pause while Jane digested his words. Finally, he said, “So, you think killing Red John won’t make me happy?”

“No, I think it will. For about forty-eight hours you’ll be higher than you’ve ever been. And then I think you’ll come down and you’ll be so lost, no one, not even me, will be able to find you again.” It was one of his worst fears, that Jane would sink so far into his guilt and grief that he’d never break free. And it could still happen even though things had gotten better, even though he’d made them better.

This time the pause was horrible and thick and he wondered if he’d gone too far. But it needed to be said. He’d needed to say it so Jane knew where he stood because he wasn’t going to let Jane destroy himself just for Red John.

He cupped Jane’s cheek and traced the crease that bracketed his mouth. “All I’m asking is that you’ll think about it. And when the time comes, you’ll think about me and Lisbon and all the people who care about you before you kill Red John. Before you change your life forever.”

“This isn’t a subtle attempt at blackmail, is it? One of those, ‘do as I say or I won’t sleep with you anymore,’ kinds of things, is it?”

“Would that work?”

“No.”

“Then, no, it isn’t.”

By the time he’d finished, Jane was nodding, barely. “Okay. No promises on the outcome, but I’ll think about it.”

“Okay?” he said hesitantly.

Jane’s smile was weak. “Okay.” And, he continued in the same breath, “And the next time you have a nightmare that involves me, could you please tell me?”

He wanted to do something to express his relief at Jane’s surprising surrender, but all he managed was, “Next time I have a nightmare that involves you, I’m going to wake you up and tell you all about it. You’ll never be able to sleep again.”

Jane pinched his waist and he jerked away playfully, then winced at the pressure, remembering the two-hour old memory.

Of Jane, seducing him with words and touch, heavy, moving so carefully, watching his expressions. It had been an odd experience—feeling so vulnerable, so exposed, and not just physically. Being the target of Jane’s complete attention, his every move and response examined and scrutinized had been wonderful and overwhelming, both at the same time.

Just like now. Jane was watching him with that same searching gaze. “What?”

“I was wondering—did you like it?”

“Yes.” Which was a bit of a lie. It had hurt, a lot, but that kind of pain wasn’t a big deal. And afterwards, when the pain lessened…

“Good.” Jane licked his chin. “I wanted to show you that it doesn’t need to hurt. That it can be good.”

Cho brushed his hand over Jane’s head. That was an odd comment and it got him thinking—

“Because I want to do it again,” Jane murmured. “And when we get back to Sacramento, I want to make love to you in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in living room.”

“Not at Lisa’s?”

Jane bit his jaw. “We can. We can do it wherever you want. In the elevator, in the car, at the office. And my house, we can’t forget that.”

“I’d have to be invited to your house for that to happen.”

Jane stilled, then brushed Cho’s cheek with his own. “I know. I’m sorry about that. I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable there again but I’ll try.”

“It’s okay.” Even though it really wasn’t. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Jane shook his head. “No, it’s not right. When we get back, I’ll make some changes.” He kissed the underside of Cho’s chin, then his throat.

He wanted to hear what those changes were, but the thing Jane said a minute ago reminded him of a question he’d never asked and now was as good a time as any… “Hey?”

“Hm-mm?” Jane said into the hollow at the base of his throat.

“I’ve always wondered. I mean, that first time, last year.”

“When you made love to me?”

“Yes.”

“What about it?”

Cho reached down and combed his hair through Jane’s curls. “That wasn’t your first time, was it?”

Jane stopped moving, stopped kissing. Then he shook his head and said, “No,” his voice muffled.

“When was it?”

Jane straightened up and ran his hand over Cho’s chest, his gesture oddly practiced, as if he were performing one of his magic tricks. “A long time ago,” he finally said.

“When you were a kid?”

“Little more than one.”

Cho opened his mouth to ask for details, then didn’t. Jane wasn’t looking away but it seemed to Cho as if he were holding his gaze on a dare. Or warding off any condemnation or pity by simply not flinching. Knowing Jane, the latter would be the worst, so he just whispered, “It’s okay. I don’t care.” Also a lie, but they’d work around to that. “When you feel like talking, we’ll talk.”

“And when you feel like talking about your family, we’ll talk about that as well.”

“Jane—”

“Nope. Quid pro quo, okay? And I want to hear about your old girlfriends, too.”

“What old girlfriends?”

“Oh, Iheard all about them from Lisbon.”

“Jane—”

“Okay, no,” Jane shrugged and went back to kissing, this time starting with his clavicle. “I don’t know anything about them, at least not the juicy details. Which you’ll tell me when you feel up to it.”

“Yeah,” Cho said after a moment because the tense moment from before was gone and he could afford to be generous. Besides, Jane was right—fair was fair. “Okay.”

“Don’t be grumpy. I’m sure you’ll get more out of it than me.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that I’m not holding out hope that you’ll actually deliver on your part of the bargain.”

“That’s rich coming from a man who changes the rules at the drop of the hat.”

“Whatever.”Jane said absently, then again when he moved his mouth to Cho’s shoulder, then down his arm, “Whatever.”

But Cho wasn’t ready to let go of the subject even though his dick was buying what Jane was selling. “Well?”

Jane stopped. And looked up. “Kim?”

“Yeah?”

“We have two more days. Do you really want to spend that time talking—something we can do at home—or spend it doing?”

When he put it that way… “Doing.”

Jane kissed the curve of his elbow, licking into the crease, smiling when he jumped because who knew the inside of the elbow could be so sensitive? “Good. And now that we’re on the same page, let’s order room service.”

“Jane—”

“This is your big romantic gesture. Don’t go cheap on me now that you’ve gotten me to concede to your wicked demands.” He leered so dramatically, so over the top, that Cho could only roll his eyes and say okay.

***

The next three days passed quickly. Later, Cho remembered them as hours of happiness, but chopped up as if he were experiencing them as segments of time, and not whole days…

Jane playing in the surf even though the water was really too cold to play in, then running up to where Cho was sitting and shaking water all over the place, laughing when he shouted with pretend anger and reaching up to wrestle him down…

Jane shopping in the hotel gift shop, curious about everything while Cho pretended boredom. Only to go back later when Jane was asleep to buy the small crystal amethyst he’d picked up several times and held to the light…

Jane convincing him that making love in the glass-walled shower wasn’t a guaranteed way to break his neck. Proving his point, hot on his back as they both held onto the rails, his face pressed against the cold tile, thinking that he shouldn’t love it this much, getting fucked by Jane, but knowing it was too late, that he was already addicted…

Dinner on the patio while the quartet played in the background, remembering his loneliness from the year before, the time he’d fantasized about being here with Jane, just like this, the reality so much better than his poor imagination. Talking about nothing much as the night drew on, until Jane, looking beautiful in the transitory light, said, “Let’s dance,” and Cho, caught in the moment, actually considering it before saying, “No.” Then adding, “Let’s go back to the room,” when Jane looked disappointed but resigned.

They checked out at noon.

Jane wanted to go the long way home, so they drove east, taking side roads where they could. They stopped for an early dinner in a town so tiny it didn’t seem to have a name. Jane thought it should be called Applegrove because of all the orchards and went on about living in a small town and how great it would be.

Cho just nodded, listening and not listening, answering Jane’s comments absently. Because the further from the Carina Luna they got, the darker his mood became. He knew why—for three days, he’d lived in the false world that it was just he and Jane and nothing else. For three days he’d managed to forget their failure. That they’d had the Red Men in their hands and they’d let them go. Been forced to let them go, he reminded himself, because that mattered.

And, as they got closer to home, the more he felt as if he were strangling, like his tie was too tight even though he wasn’t wearing a tie. The pressures of everyday life, of his job, weren’t something that he generally thought too much about—things were as they were. But now those same things—or rather, his attitude towards them—had changed again and he wasn’t quite ready to jump back into his regular life.

When they got to the outskirts of Sacramento, Jane grew quiet as well and by the time they got to downtown, they were both silent.

He was navigating the late afternoon traffic when Jane touched his arm. “I need to pick up my car.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Saturday seemed a week ago. “Do you want me to drop you off?” He should check in with Lisbon, but a small part of him said he had another fourteen hours of vacation and he should take them.

Jane shook his head. “No, let me out by the gates. You go home and I’ll be there before you know it. I’ll even get dinner. Is Thai okay?”

He wondered if Jane realized what he’d just said, that he’d used the word ‘home’ as if he meant it and no other. “Sounds good.”

He stopped around the corner from the guard shack. Jane unbuckled his belt and opened the door, but before he could slide out, Cho touched the back of his hand and said, “Don’t be long.”

Jane paused, half in the car, half out. “Did Agent Cho just touch me, out in public?”

“Yeah, Agent Cho did. And Agent Cho will kick your ass if you’re not home in twenty minutes.” The word felt odd on his lips and he hoped he wasn’t doing anything stupid like blush.

Jane grinned and got out. He took his jacket off and draped it over his arm, then strolled around the corner, waving cheerfully.

He watched Jane go, wondering if he should follow just to make sure he didn’t sneak up to the office, then decided not. He was tired and home sounded so good right now. Home, with Jane.

He grinned, put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb.

 

_________________

Wednesday, April 21

 

John often thought, when comparing his life to others, that he was just plain lucky. He’d always managed to get the best of any situation, in small ways, in large ways.

Take, for example, his current situation. He could have arrived at the CBIheadquarters at any hour, but he managed to get there just in time to see Agent Cho and Mr. Jane pull up to the curb. They talked briefly, then Mr. Jane got out and Agent Cho left, driving right in front of him.

He was smiling, John noticed. And wearing a t-shirt instead of a suit. They must have taken the afternoon off and he pictured them on a beach somewhere, enjoying each other’s company.

He’d give anything to follow, to call a cab to drive to an address he’d learnt by heart. But no, he thought as he watched Mr. Jane turn and enter the building, his dance card was full and Agent Cho, unfortunately, was going to have to be put away, untested, untasted.

The parking lot was almost empty and the officer posted at the guard shack nodded when he walked up.

“Officer,” John said, not bothering to hide his accent, but making it even more exact, more British. “I’m with Interpol.” He handed over his documents. His very fake documents. “I’ve just come from hospital where my colleague, Inspector Patel, is situated. I’ve been instructed to pick up a folder she left by accident this weekend.”

The guard shook his head. “I don’t know anything about that. You can ask upstairs.” He handed John’s documents back, then nodded towards the entrance. “Just go through there. They can show you what floor you want.”

John smiled. “Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

The entryway was the familiar guard and metal detector set-up. He handed over his papers again. The guard examined them more carefully than the other—he even asked to see John’s I.D. But those documents were perfect, as well—even if the guard knew what to look for he’d still be fooled and John was in under a minute.

Really, it was too easy.

At the end of the corridor, there was a handy sign listing all the departments and which floor they were on. He was tempted to stop at Major Crimes because he’d love to get a glimpse of what they considered a ‘major crime.’ It would be nothing on his scale, globally-speaking, but again, that would have to wait.

He pushed the arrow button on the lift and clasped his hands together.

When he exited on the first floor, he stood there for a moment drinking it in. To his right lay a series of rooms—no doubt personnel office or interview rooms. To his left was a large open space filled with the usual desks and equipment and straight ahead were more glass-enclosed offices. They had to be for administration.

Even though the place was almost empty, it hummed with low-level noise, perhaps due to all the exposed brick or maybe because of the glass. But it had a pleasant air, nonetheless, and he noticed with absent-minded surprise that his heart was beating faster. It had been a long while since he’d felt fear and he reminded himself that he’d done much worse things, been in much worse situations. And since this was a situation of his own choosing, well…

A beautiful redhead passed by on her way into the office. She was carrying an armful of folders. He remembered her from the Carmel airport—Agent Van Pelt. He smiled at her but didn’t move, waiting until his heartbeat slowed, until his facial muscles relaxed. Then he strolled down the corridor.

Agents Michaels and Johnson were nowhere to be seen. Agent Van Pelt had sat down at a desk and was watching him curiously over her shoulder. Agent Rigsby was hunched over his computer. Further down, in an office at the end of the corridor, he could just make out Mr. Jane’s blond head. He was talking to someone on the other side of the desk. Probably Agent Lisbon.

John could pull a weapon and shoot them all. It would be so easy.

But, of course, he had no weapon and was here to do more damage than that. So he put on a smile he knew to be charming, and continued on. When he got to the office, he saw that Mr. Jane was indeed chatting with Agent Lisbon. He was sitting back in the chair, one leg crossed over the other. He looked happy, relaxed. As happy and relaxed as Agent Cho. John wished he had a camera because that smile was going to be gone in seconds and he’d like to get a before and after shot.

But enough of that. He opened the door and leaned in. When they both looked up, he announced blithely, “I’m John. I believe you’re looking for me.”

 

_____________

Wednesday, April 21

 

“Jane, if you don’t calm down, I’m going to lock you in a holding cell.” Lisbon jerked her head at Rigsby and he dodged to the side, blocking Jane’s way again. “I’m serious.”

“No you’re not,” Jane said without turning around. “You’d never do that. You need me.”

“Yes, well, I know you’re good at what you do, but we’re pretty good, too.”

Jane peered on tiptoe around Rigsby shoulder. When their visitor had made his announcement, the entire office had exploded into activity. Lisbon had called for back-up, then escorted John to Interview One with strict orders not to let anyone in, especially Jane. She’d instructed Van Pelt to get on the phone with Blount, then she’d called Washington. She was still waiting to talk to Luckner’s replacement.

And Rigsby, he was assigned the task of keeping Jane in her office while they got organized.

“I’m just trying to help.”

“If you want to help, call Cho.”

“I already did. It went straight to voicemail.”

“Then call again. We’re not going to start this without him.”

“Lisbon, he’s on vacation. He’s not picking up. Would you?” He glared at Rigsby, who just shrugged.

She started to answer, and then held up her finger as her attention was drawn back to her cell. “Okay, well, when he calls in, please tell him it’s urgent.” She listened a moment and then muttered, “Thank you.”

She hung up and pocketed her phone. “How long has it been?”

“Since Icalled Cho?” Jane looked at his watch. “Nineteen minutes, give or take. He’s—”

Van Pelt knocked on the door and opened it, forcing Rigsby to the side. “Boss?”

“What’d he say?”

She edged around Rigsby and came to stand by Jane. “He’s arranging for an escort to England, but in the meantime, he understands if we want to go ahead.”

“That’s generous of him, considering,” Jane mumbled. Rigsby had moved back in place and was watching him steadily. Unless Jane wanted to be tackled, there was no way around.

“Well,” Van Pelt said with a shrug. “His exact words were, “‘If you can get anything out of the bastard that hurt Rita, be my guest.’

Rigsby grinned. “Good impression, Van Pelt.”

She smiled over her shoulder. “Thanks.”

“Lisbon,” Jane pleaded.

“Yeah, okay.” She stood up and pulled on her jacket. “You and I will go in. Van Pelt, make sure we have two cameras running—we don’t want to miss anything due to a technical screw-up. Rigsby, call Cho again. Maybe he’ll pick up for you.” She gave Jane a glance, then nodded to Rigsby. He moved out of the way and they trooped out, Jane in the lead.

But before they got to the interview room, he pulled her aside. “You know what I’m going to do, right?”

“You’re going to humiliate, confuse and conflate.”

“Yes, like always, but I just need you to be as non-reactive as you can.”

“Jane—”

“Lisbon.” He stared deep into her eyes. “This man came to us. We both know he’s up to something and it could be anything. Another bomb, a spree killing, anything. He’ll let us know—he wants us to know—but he’ll also want to play with us. Ineed to get him to that point faster than he wants to go.”

She watched him carefully. He could see that she hadn’t thought that far ahead, so surprised were they by John’s appearance. She turned to Rigsby and muttered, “He’s right. Get this building locked down and inform the A.G. of Jane’s suspicions. Don’t panic him, but let him know we’re working on some answers.” She reached for the door and turned back. “And get Cho in here.”

“Will do, boss,” Rigsby muttered with a quick look at Jane.

“Ready?”

Jane nodded. Rigsby nodded. Even the officer at the door nodded. Lisbon took a deep breath, then pulled the door open and they went in.

The room was the same as always—low lighting, a little too cool and it had to be his own excitement that made him feel as if were entering a field of energy that hit his skin in invisible waves. He wished he could look in the mirror to see if his hair was standing on end because it felt like it must be.

Lisbon pulled out a chair and sat down, but Jane stayed standing, observing the man at the desk.

He was sitting, back straight, hands folded in front of him in a very precise manner. But not ex-military. No, this was someone so used to commanding respect and obedience that his arrogance had become second nature.

He was about six-one or -two and had prematurely gray hair. It had a silvery cast and made a striking contrast with his ice-blue eyes. That, plus his even, attractive features gave him an air of glossiness, even to his nails and his slick half-smile.

His clothing was good, but not overly so—his suit was inoffensively bland and cost maybe a thousand dollars. The watch, however, was a Tag Hauer, worth around five. Not chump change by any means and Jane didn’t wonder at the dichotomy—he knew what this was. The suit was the costume, hiding in plain sight as it were, but the watch, peeking out from the crisp white shirt was a ‘screw you’ to the rubes in the audience.

Jane had used the same gimmick many times and he wanted to rub his hands together—this was going to be so much fun. But he didn’t. They were both waiting.

“Mr. Jane,” the man finally spoke, the gleam in his eye acknowledging Jane’s ploy as if saying, ‘Very well, I concede the first hit.’

“John,” Jane said agreeably. “If ‘John,’ is your real name.”

“It is, Mr. Jane. Oh, and Miss Lisbon,” John murmured sweetly. “We can’t forget about you.”

Lisbon smiled, just as sweet. “It’s “Agent Lisbon.’”

“My mistake; I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not.”

John smiled. “No. I’m not.” He turned back to Jane. “Mr. Jane, please sit. We’ve got so much to talk about.”

His voice matched his beauty and Jane wondered how young he’d been when he realized its power, when he’d realized he could make people do what he wanted when he used that seductive, mellow tone.

He smiled again and reached for the second chair, dragging it around the table to sit at right angles to John, as he’d done with Roberts. He laced his fingers together in imitation and smiled confidingly. “Indeed we do. I almost don’t know where to start.”

“At the beginning?”

Jane waved that away. “No, we know most of that already. Schooled at Oxford, studying religion, no doubt bent on being a priest. You were the third man.”

John cocked his head. “The ‘third man’?”

Jane nodded. “We’ve got a picture of you, taken when you were quite a bit younger. You’re standing next to Joseph Littlefield and Mark Engert and even though you’re only in half the shot, it’s you.”

“Ah, yes,” John said with a thoughtful nod. “I remember. I’d told Joseph to destroy that photo.”

Jane tapped his chin, pretending to muse, waiting for John’s eyes to track his gesture. He didn’t, and Jane’s inner glee only increased—it was rare that he was challenged so thoroughly. “That must have made you angry because even then you were taking care not to let your face be photographed, at least at school. That takes a lot of foresight and control.”

“It does.”

“Of course, it’s more than a little pathological, but we wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have some issues, now would we?”

He smiled congenially and John smiled back, just as congenially. “Such as?”

“Your father.”

“What about him?”

“Oh, I think we’ll find that he’s at the core of all this…” He fluttered his fingers, making the gesture too flamboyant. John gaze didn’t wander.

“Why?”

“The usual thing—daddy issues. He wanted you to follow in his footsteps, but you had other plans.”

“Close enough.”

“You started out small—petty larceny, small forgeries. Things that were big at the time and now seem so small.”

“One has to start somewhere, Mr. Jane.”

Jane leaned in. “Jane, please.”

John cocked his head. “I supposed everyone says, ‘like the girl’?”

Jane grinned happily. So charming, so in control. “And so, the years go by, and with each small crime comes the desire to make your mark in another way. Coming from a certain class of society, a better class of society, you had many open doors at your disposal.”

John nodded. “All except the highest and those could be… Pushed, if needed.”

A reference to the royal family and Parliament? Blount would find that interesting. “But that didn’t stop you, and you soon discovered that two are better than one.”

John shrugged. “Not exactly, but again, close enough.”

“So you and your companion set up shop and are joined by a second and a third to make four. Why four?”

“Because three weren’t enough and five were too many. And it’s a nice round number, don’t you agree?”

“Eh,” Jane said with a shrug. “I think it suited the, ‘Mathew, Mark, Luke and John,’ framework better, even though you had to manufacture a Mathew. Another dig at your old man?”

He had his first hit, true and palpable. John’s eyes narrowed and his smile grew a little less charming. But for just a split second, and then his features smoothed out again. Across the table, Lisbon shifted slightly in her seat.

“You think we didn’t know that?” Jane added with a flick of his fingers, and this time, John glanced down, following the movement. Yes. “It wasn’t that difficult—all those Mathews, the connection to the Catholic church… How many did you go through? Mathews, Imean?” Lisbon shifted again—he was going to have a lot of explaining to do when they were finished.

“You’re very good, Mr. Jane,”John murmured. “Just as the newspapers and magazines all said.”

Jane nodded modestly. “A fan. I’m flattered.”

“Hardly a fan.”

“Enough of one to know that you knew you had to keep me away from the conference last year. By hook or crook.”

“Indeed,” John agreed with smile that grew mischievous as he turned to Lisbon. “You probably thought it was his vanity running amok when he told you what was going on?”

She didn’t react, didn’t respond. Just as Jane hoped, and he wanted to hug her. She was a good at her job. Not as good as Cho, of course, but good enough to know when to sit back and let the suspect hang himself.

John turned back, but Jane got there first, “So your father—or so you’ve probably rationalized all your life—set you on this course. I’m assuming you target technology and the like because it can do the most damage to large corporations—get them where it hurts, so to speak.”

“Well, that and the fact that it’s very lucrative.”

Jane nodded. John’s mannerisms were starting to soften, bit by bit. “I’m sure it is.” Said with just the right amount of condescension and snobbery and John’s eyes narrowed again. “I mean, if you have to work, you have to work. I understand.”

“I don’t think you do. Just because you rubbed elbows with a better class, that doesn’t make you one of them.”

“Whatever.” Jane waved that away as if he were bored. “I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“Sarah Guy.”

John stilled. Another hit. “I vaguely remember a girl named Sarah.”

“Liar. You remember her very well.”

John smiled. He’d already recovered from the blow. “She was a few years younger than me.”

“And in love with Joseph Littlefield?”

“Yes.”

“Was it you that murdered her or did Littlefield?”

“No one murdered her. She died of an unfortunate accident.”

“And then, a few short weeks later, her father dies. That’s quite a coincidence, don’t you think?”

“The world is made up of coincidences.”

Jane raised one eyebrow. He’d told Cho much the same thing, years ago. “What happened? Did she find out you were, what, going to steal her father’s work?”

“Mr. Jane, you have quite the imagination. Sarah Guy was of no importance and her father’s work, as you call it, wasn’t valuable by any stretch of the imagination.”

“Oh, no, I’m sure you weren’t interested in…” He turned to Lisbon with false confusion. “What did Interpol call him? Britain’s top mind in artificial intelligence?”

“I wasn’t aware of his research.”

“And yet, for some reason, you killed his daughter because of it. But,” he shrugged interrupting John before he could respond. “It really doesn’t matter. What about the Johnsons?”

John frowned, truly puzzled this time. “Who might they be?”

“You know—the couple here in California that you shot then tossed into their own freezer so you could use their house as a base of operations?”

John was nodding. “Ah, yes. I forgot them for a moment.” He glanced at his watch.

“All the dead bodies starting to run together?”

“Not at all. They just weren’t that important.”

Jane felt his smile harden. Lisbon glanced at him, but she made no other move and he didn’t have to look at her to know that the effort to stay passive was showing in every line of her body. He wanted to touch her arm and say it was almost over—there were beads of moisture on John’s upper lip—he was starting to sweat. “And then there was Mr. Wilson and the Sullivans.”

“I know those names mean something to you, but they mean nothing to me.”

“They’re just the people—and I’m sure they’re the tip of the iceberg—that paid with their lives so that you could do what you do. So you could add some bizarre meaning to your equally bizarre existence.”

John chuckled. “My life isn’t that awful, Mr. Jane, I assure you.”

“Of course it is,” Jane responded quickly, “You’ve been waiting to die the minute you decided everyone else was to blame for your lot in life. Since you decided that if you couldn’t be happy, then no one should.”

He sat back and crossed his legs and rested his laced fingers on his knee. John followed every movement. “You killed your own associate to further your own ends. You killed innocent people because they were in your way. And now you’re bored even of that. You’ve come to give yourself up as some grand finale, to prove some ridiculous point. Why else make the long trip when you could have so easily strolled into Scotland Yard or Interpol? Blount would have welcomed you with open arms.”

John said nothing for a moment, then he agreed gently, “But where’s the fun in that?”

Lisbon stirred again and Jane remembered his own flippant words—was it only a week ago?

“I could have so easily killed you out on that tarmac,” John said thoughtfully, looking at his watch again. “But I didn’t.”

“So reasonable,” Jane answered, just as soft. “So thoughtful. Why didn’t you? I’ve always wondered.”

“Because it wasn’t you that made the mistake. Mathew had become a hindrance, but you…” John hesitated.

“‘But me,’ what?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t kill you because I like you.”

Lisbon snorted softly under her breath.

“It’s true, Agent Lisbon. I admire Mr. Jane. I’ve often wished I had half his talent, but I’ve had to satisfy myself with my relatively poor skills.”

Jane smiled. “And what a nightmare for the world would that would’ve been.”

“Hmm.”

“But, I suppose you’re referring to your ability to manipulate your men and convince them to kill for you.”

“That’s a rather crude way of putting it, but in a nutshell, yes.”

“That kind of long-term influence is hard to maintain.”

John made a face. “Not in the least. You become a god to someone and there’s very little work that needs to be done after. Continual pressure doesn’t even enter into it.”

“What hubris.”

“But a reality, nonetheless.”

“There’s reality, and then there’s reality.”

“And reality—any reality—is another thing one can control. It’s just a matter of will and projection.”

“Well, project all you want, in the end it won’t matter,” Jane said, finally letting his voice harden, relieved that the charade was almost over.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning you’re going to go to jail for a very long time—or hang—if they still do that in your country. And Sarah’s mother and Mr. Wilson’s daughter will find closure at last.”

“You’re assuming a lot, Mr. Jane.”

“I’m prone to that, I must confess.”

“You’re prone to much else.” John glanced at his watch again, then back up. He cocked his head and smirked.

Here it came, the thing that John had been holding back, the denouement, as it were. “Such as?”

“Vanity. And arrogance.”

“Yes,” Jane said slowly. “Lisbon tells me that all the time.”

“I’m sure she does. Your vanity is all-encompassing—does Agent Cho appreciate that, I wonder?”

Jane could actually feel his smile slip from his face. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Now who’s the liar?”

John’s voice had changed, become sharp and biting and Jane said through a dull kind of shock, “So it is Cho you’ve been following.” Lisbon took a quick breath. Jane touched her arm, telling her, ‘not yet,’ telling himself the same thing because it wasn’t time to let his thoughts travel where they wanted to travel—he had to stay focused.

“‘Following’ is such a dramatic word.”

“Would you prefer ‘stalking?’”

“I prefer neither, actually, because it doesn’t matter.”

“Why?”

But John ignored the question, saying instead, “I mentioned arrogance a minute ago.”

“Yes?”

“It’s your arrogance that led you here. If you were a comic book hero, it would be your ultimate weakness.”

“Meaning?” Jane mimicked sarcastically.

“Meaning, do you ever watch television?”

“Sometimes.”

“Well, if you did, you’d realize that it’s the product of bad fiction, that the villain gives himself up and spills his guts for no reason.”

His heart tripped. Lisbon sat up straighter. “Meaning?”

John leaned forward, so close, Jane could smell his cologne and the underlying musk of sweat. Could see his light beard and the thin ring of black around his blue irises. “Meaning, do you honestly think that I flew thousands of miles just to verbally spar with you?”

“I suppose the answer would be no, as unflattering as it is.”

“That would be correct.”

Jane slid closer until they were inches apart. He’d give anything to put this man under and tear his mind apart, but Lisbon, of course, would never let him. “Then what did you fly thousands of miles for?”

“Better yet, Mr. Jane, you should ask me the one question you should have asked thirty-three minutes ago.”

“And what question is that?”

“All this talk of knowing me so well, of knowing my methods so well. Did it never occur for you to wonder what the one remaining member of my team is up to?”

Jane stilled. And took a sharp breath. “Luke,” he whispered. John was right—vanity, and events—had made him forget someone he should never have forgotten.

John nodded. “Luke.”

Lisbon had enough of being quiet. She leaned forward and snapped, “Luke? Who’s Luke?”

“Ask Mr. Jane.”

“He’s the fourth man, Lisbon. The last Red Man,” Jane said without taking his eyes from John’s. “And Iwouldn’t worry about him. He couldn’t get through security if he tried.”

“Another wrong assumption, Mr. Jane. I imagine you don’t even know who you’re looking for, much less where. Besides, he arrived in the States days before I did.”

“The SUV that ran Director Luckner off the road?” Lisbon said, deadly soft. “The man that killed Engert?”

“And missed someone important, but no one’s perfect, not even Luke.”

Lisbon shook her head. “You had your own man kill his teammate?”

“Of course, I did. That shouldn’t come as such a surprise—I always make sure my messes are cleaned up. I thought you knew that.”

“He’s bluffing, Lisbon.”

“Jane,” John said, using his name for the first time, “look at me—am I bluffing?”

Lisbon shoved the chair back and leaned over, fists on the table. “Where is he?”

John looked at his watch again, making a production of it. “I can’t say exactly; we didn’t have much time to plan. But, if things are happening the way I instructed, he should be pulling up to a certain river-front flat any time now.” He tapped the crystal as if in emphasis.

Jane froze.

John looked up and nodded. “Yes. I wonder what your Agent Cho is doing right about now?”

It was so still, this moment. Jane could hear the thump of the ancient air conditioner, the chime of one the elevators. And below all that, an odd rhythmic rushing sound, an in and out like the tide—it took him a second too long to realize it was his own heartbeat pounding away.

“I thought that might be a shock. You should see yourself, Mr. Jane. You look like a deer in—”

By the time Jane was on his feet, Lisbon had her cell out and was rushing the door, pushing it so hard it slammed against the outside wall. Rigsby and Van Pelt hurried from the observation room.

“Rigsby,” Lisbon said as she punched in a number. “Get a unit at Cho’s place. Tell them the situation, but to wait for us. You two, go.”

She jerked her head and they ran for the elevator. She turned to the guard. “Call for back up. If that man in there escapes, I’ll have your badge.”

He tried to answer, but she was already on the move, running to follow the others and Jane shouted, “Lisbon!”

When she turned, he pointed to the stairs. “Faster.”

They took off, skipping steps, Jane almost falling at one point, so reckless was he going. And then they were on the first floor, out the door, racing for her car.

“Hey!” She threw her phone at him, saying, “Keep calling,” even as she hit the remote.

They got in. Jane punched buttons, fumbling a little—he’d called this number so many times his fingers should be able to dial on their own, right? For some reason he was having trouble making them work.

“Jane?”

916. Then a 3 and a 7, but everything after that was blank—

“Jane!”

“What?” he answered without looking up.

“Hit the pound sign, then 2. And fasten your seatbelt.”

***

Afterwards, when he related the events of that afternoon to the higher ups, he glossed over the part where they drove from the office to home. He never liked to admit that he lost his mind for a while there, that he couldn’t seem to regain control, that he couldn’t remember Cho’s number. That he couldn’t stop thinking about bag of used tea leaves he’d left on the kitchen counter the week before and how much Cho hated that.

And that he wasn’t sure if he could stand it, losing a loved one again, being alone, again.

***

The ride up was a necessary evil. The elevator was old and loud, but it didn’t really matter—Luke was waiting for him. Jane knew that as well as he knew his own name. Subterfuge was pointless.

When the car jolted to a halt, they found Rigsby and Van Pelt in the hall, flanking the door, preparing to enter. Lisbon darted next to Rigsby and turned to look back at Jane. She jerked her head, telling him to find cover.

He paused. The door was open a crack. Off to the left, near Lisa’s apartment, was a small white paper bag with the words, Hotel Carina Luna on it. It wasn’t his, so that meant Cho had bought something on the sly, probably a gift for him because for all his words and his stoicism, he was a closet romantic.

Jane nodded stoically, as if answering a question no one had asked him yet. Lisbon was going to hate him for this, but it couldn’t be helped. There was no point in all this firepower. He knew his role, knew what was waiting for him on the other side and nothing, not her guns or his own cunning was going to save him from that.

He gave her an apologetic smile that she didn’t see, took a deep breath, and dove for the door.

______________

Wednesday, April 21

 

He was so mad. So goddamn fucking mad and he tested his restraints again, trying to pull his wrists apart, trying to move his legs. Still too tight—he should have known better—there was a reason flex-cuffs were used in situations like these.

“You can struggle all you want, Agent Cho, but you won’t be able to break free.”

Cho didn’t look around. The man, Luke, was standing by his windows, looking down at the river as he’d been doing for the last half hour. He was waiting and Cho knew what he was waiting for—who he was waiting for and he couldn’t help himself—he yanked again, this time twisting at the same time, hoping the plastic would give.

“Really,” Luke called out. “You’re going to cut off your circulation and lose those hands. Then what good would you be? To your department? To Mr. Jane?”

“Fuck you.”

Luke snorted and moved away from the windows, circling around to the kitchen. He grabbed a chair, dragging it until he was a good eight feet away and sat with a sigh. He was white, tall, with dark hair. He reminded Cho of Mark and the first Mathew—they all had the same bearing that said ex-military or something like it. Luke was taller than the others, though, and moved as if he were long used to sneaking around in other people’s homes, long used to tying other people up.

The odd thing was, he seemed familiar, but Cho couldn’t place him.

“It won’t be long now. I think another fifteen minutes will do it.”

Cho thought so too and he imagined it, Jane pushing the door left so conveniently cracked, coming in to find the apartment trashed, Stewart Jenkins dead in the corner of the apartment, and this asshole with a gun…

Luke cocked his head. “How is your arm?”

He’d pulled on his jacket when he’d gotten out of the car earlier, and he couldn’t see the bullet wound. He could feel it, though—it lay a few inches from his shoulder and hurt like a son of a bitch. “Fine.”

“Not dizzy from blood loss?”

Luke’s duffle bag was near the couch, maybe four feet behind him. If he could move his legs, he could tip back—there was a chance he’d fall close enough to reach it. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to pick up anything because he’d still be tied up. And landing on his hands and arms would hurt, never mind his head. “No.”

“Because, contrary to what has happened, I don’t want you to die.”

“Good.”

“Of course, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be here at all.”

“Whatever.”

Luke smiled for the first time. He had very even, very white teeth. “You really are a man of few words, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

Luke crossed his legs and sat the gun on his knee, making sure to point the barrel straight at Cho. “Is that your family?” He nodded to the wall.

“Yes.”

“You don’t have any pictures of Mr. Jane.”

“No.”

“That’s odd.”

Cho just stared. Like he’d ever explain his complex relationship with Jane to this asshole.

“What does he think of that, I wonder?”

“Ask him.”

“I’d like to, but I’m afraid he’s going to want to talk to me even less than you do. Besides, I’m not really here to talk.”

“What a surprise.”

“I imagine it is. Just as I imagine that you’re blaming yourself for your current predicament.”

When he didn’t answer, Luke added, “That’s pointless, of course. If you need to blame anyone, blame that man over there.” He jerked his thumb at Jenkins. Or rather, Jenkins’ body. “If it hadn’t been for him, you would never have been shot.”

“And you’d never have gotten the jump on me.”

Luke thought about it, then shrugged. “I think we’re fairly matched—it could’ve gone either way. Who is he?”

A fool who should’ve left well enough alone, who shouldn’t have been so worried about a relatively minor charge that he came looking for the man he thought responsible for his brother-in-law’s incarceration.

He’d attacked Cho the minute he’d gotten home, standing still in his own doorway, bemused as to why all the furniture in the front of the loft had been pushed to the walls, still holding the gift he’d gotten for Jane. Their fight had knocked over the couch, the chair, the table by the door. He was lucky, though—when Jenkins pulled the gun, he’d mostly missed. “No one that needed killing.”

“His own fault for getting in the way, then.”

“No, it’s your fault.”

“Hmm, you’re right about that, I suppose,” Luke mused. “Do you want know why I’m here?”

He wanted to roll his eyes, but all he said was a bland, “I’m all ears.”

“I know. It’s a cliché, yes? The hardened criminal, babbling on, giving the good guys time to rescue the damsel in distress. Only, you’re hardly a damsel, now are you, Agent Cho?”

“It depends. Which way did you have in mind?”

But Luke didn’t respond to his parry. He just cocked his head again and said, “And Mr. Jane is no knight in shining armor.”

Cho waited.

“Would it surprise you to find that my initial order was to kill you?”

Cho didn’t blink. “I thought you were here to sell Girl Scout cookies.”

Luke ignored that. “It was part of John’s big plan. The perfect revenge on the man who foiled one of his plots. And yes, his name is ‘John’—don’t think you’re scoring any points in that regard. By now, he’s at your office and—

Cho forgot he was bound and jerked forward. “He’s at the CBI?”

“Calm down. It’s not what you think. He’s there to give himself up to Agent Lis—”

“If he hurts any of them, I’ll—”

“And if you interrupt me one more time, I’ll not say another word. Your choice.” When Cho nodded his head in angry agreement, he said, “Good. So, by now your Mr. Jane is on his way. I’m supposed to kill him, of course, just to make everything neat and tidy.”

“What’s his beef with us?”

“Not ‘us,’ specifically. You. And it’s not really a ‘beef,’ as you call it.”

Maybe he was dizzy from blood loss. “Huh?”

“He saw you, you see. Last year in California.”

“And what, he took an instant dislike and decided I needed to die?”

“Oh, no. Quite the opposite.”

It took him a minute to realize what Luke was saying. “You’ve got to be kidding.” All this because some guy wanted to get into his pants? How idiotic and humiliating—Jane was going to laugh his head off.

Luke shrugged. “I know. John’s impulse control has never been highly developed and he’s not good at sharing, which is what all this is about. Still—”

He stopped and raised his head. Then looked at his watch. “I seem to be off by about five minutes.” He rose and strode to the windows to look down. “Damn.”

“What is it?”

“Several police cars just pulled up. John must’ve jumped the proverbial gun. He told me he’d wait. Oh, well…” He turned around. “I knew this was a long shot—it seems a change of plans are in order.”

Luke hurried across the loft, out of Cho’s line of sight. Cho heard the sounds of something heavy being dragged across the wood floor, then Luke was back. Without a word, he gripped Cho’s skull and pulled his head against his belly. “Now, listen carefully. I’m not going to kill you, but if you shout out or warn them in any way, I’ll shoot whoever comes through that door. Including your Mr. Jane. Do you understand?”

Wanting to growl, ‘stop calling him, my Mr. Jane,’ Cho nodded reluctantly.

Too reluctantly because Luke sighed and murmured, “No, I can see you’re not going to behave. Hold on…” He let go. There was a soft rustling and then he was back. Cho got a glimpse of black fabric and he jerked his head and clenched his jaw. It was no use—Luke was too fast. He forced the fabric between his teeth, pulling the gag in place.

He tied it, then leaned over to speak in Cho’s ear. “I know you hate this, but it will all be over soon. They’ll come in, I’ll say my piece and you and I will take a ride. If all goes well, you’ll be back here by midnight and you and your Mr. Jane can return to your normal lives.”

He had the nerve to pat Cho’s cheek and Cho jerked his head again, hoping to get in a good head butt. Luke had anticipated that as well—he jumped back, then breathed a soft laugh. “I’d do the same, in your shoes, now shush.”

Cho ignored that. He was scanning the area, trying to find some way to make noise. Luke had cleared the space well—there was nothing in arm’s reach and no way to gain any traction so he could shove himself back, sideways, or forward.

He was trying to remember what Jane had once told him about escaping from handcuffs when there was a noise, a soft whine that he knew too well. It was the door to the stairs. It couldn’t be Jane—he always took the elevator, but it could be Lisa. She liked to run up the stairs. She said it was a better workout than a five-mile run and he growled behind the gag. If Luke hurt her, he’d never—

There was another sound. A growing rumble that was also very familiar. In the past, when he’d first moved into the loft, it had meant that Lisa and her husband were home. But lately the sound had taken on a new meaning.

Jane.

He made some involuntary protest. Luke grabbed his forehead and pressed his head back against his stomach again, holding the gun to his cheek.

They waited.

For a moment that went on and on. Long enough for Cho to realize he was sweating and growling behind the gag, praying silently, ‘don’t be Jane, don’t be Jane, don’t be…’

And of course, because Jane was Jane, it was.

With a bang, the door flew open and Jane jumped across the threshold like he was jumping through a ring of fire. Cho caught a quick glance of a surprised Rigsby before he ducked out of view. Which meant that Lisbon and Van Pelt were out there as well.

“Luke, I presume,” Jane announced as he slid to a stop about eight feet from the door. He smiled and raised his hands above his head. As if Luke was pointing the gun at him. But it wasn’t that absurdity that made Cho frown—it was the weird blankness in Jane’s eyes, as if he were sleep walking.

“You presume right, Mr. Jane,” Luke answered matter-of-factly. “Should I presume that Agent Lisbon, et al, are out in the hallway?”

“I’m on my own.”

Luke sighed. “I saw Agent Rigsby when you opened the door, Mr. Jane. Please bring them in. They might as well hear this. I hate to repeat myself.”

Jane let his arms fall gradually. He hadn’t yet looked at Cho. “Lisbon!” he shouted, “C’mon in. The cat’s out of the bag.”

Luke snorted softly and leaned over, whispering, “Now that my little surprise is over, I’ll take the gag off, but not the cuffs. I’m sure you understand why.” He tapped Cho’s cheek with the gun and suddenly the gag was off and on the floor.

Cho shook his head, working his dry mouth, his sore jaw. He hated being gagged and he was still glaring when Lisbon sidled in, gun raised. She was followed by Rigsby and Van Pelt. They were all wearing vests and equal looks of anger and suspicion. She glanced down at Cho, asking silently, ‘You all right?’ He nodded.

“Agent Lisbon,” Luke said. “This is a very simple situation. If you threaten me in any way, if you try to take my weapons away, I’ll start shooting, using Agent Cho for cover.”

“Lisbon,” Jane said.

Lisbon said nothing.

“Lucky for me, I’ve had ample time to inspect the area—there’s one way in and no possible access from the windows. So,” he rested the gun on Cho’s shoulder. “Please be smart about this and place your weapons on the ground and slide them over to me. If I’d wanted Agent Cho dead, he’d be dead, but that doesn’t mean I won’t kill all of you if you try to stop me.”

Jane shifted from side to side, and said evenly, “Lisbon?”

Lisbon hesitated too long and Luke jabbed the gun’s barrel into Cho’s cheek.

“Lisbon,” Jane said for the third time. “Please.”

Lisbon exchanged a startled glance with Cho—he could count on one hand the times he’d heard Jane say, ‘please.’ No matter what happened, he needed to stay alive, if only for Jane’s sake.

Lisbon finally nodded, then held her gun up, palms exposed. “Fine. You want to talk, we’ll talk. Rigsby? Van Pelt?

They did as she ordered. As she was bending down, she saw the body and stiffened. She lay the gun down and jerked her head at Cho. “Jenkins?”

“He showed up at the wrong time.”

Jane barely glanced at the body. “So what?” he asked Luke. “You tell us a sad story like your boss did and we feel sorry enough to let you go?”

“No. No sad stories. I’m going to leave here with Agent Cho and—”

“We don’t negotiate with hostage takers,” Lisbon said tightly.

“Agent Lisbon, if you’ll let me finish?”

She glanced down at Cho again, then said, “Go on.”

“As I was saying, I’ll leave with Agent Cho and as soon as I reach my destination, I’ll release him. Unharmed. At that time I’ll give him the key to a locker. In that locker is enough information to put John Denham away for life.”

‘Denham,’ Cho thought. At least now they had a name.

“Why?” Jane asked.

“No. I said no stories and I meant it.”

“You’re the hit man for the group, aren’t you? You’re the one that killed all those people. Fifteen here in California, but what about—”

Luke sighed. “Mr. Jane?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t want to do this, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so…”

He bent sideways and Cho didn’t need to see Lisbon’s and Rigsby’s twin looks of alarm or hear Van Pelt’s horrified gasp to know that something bad was going to happen. He stiffened up just as Jane lurched forward like a puppet, hands up, saying, “Wait. Wait!” but it was too late.

All he saw was a flash in his peripheral vision, then he felt a bright sting on his right bicep that blossomed into pain. Warm blood ran down his arm as the pain got bigger. Jane stopped in his tracks, his face almost white.

“I’m doing this to show you that I’m serious,” Luke said. “I can’t be bought or coerced or tricked. My only purpose was to give you the key and convince you to not follow me. I didn’t plan on this showdown but I’m on a deadline and I’ve wasted enough time as it is. Thanks to your friends downstairs, I need to take one of you with me. I’d prefer it to be Agent Cho as he’s ready to go. Which is to be, Agent Lisbon?”

Cho answered for her, “I’ll go with you.” He exchanged a long steady look with her. Luke would be a fool to take an unwounded hostage, and they both could tell he was no fool—he’d handicap the new hostage in some way just to lessen the chance they’d cause a fuss.

Luke tightened his grip on Cho’s shoulder. “And the men downstairs?”

Lisbon held up her hand, pointing to her pocket, then got out her cell and dialed. “Sir?” she said after a moment. “We have a situation.”

***

It had been a while since Cho had been on the wrong end in a hostage situation, but even he was surprised by the speed with which Luke got them all tied up. Neatly, efficiently, first by giving them the cuffs and having them bind their own feet and wrists, then tying them up in different parts of the apartment. He left Jane for last and Cho thought it had to be his imagination that he handled Jane more carefully, tying him to the kitchen table so he was facing Cho.

After he was done, he got his bag and packed his gear away. Then he cut the cuffs binding Cho’s legs to the chair. If Cho had any idea of running or tackling him, that was answered in the way he almost fell when he tried to stand.

“The cuffs were tight,” Luke said conversationally as he steadied Cho’s arm. “Give it a moment, then we’ll be on our way.”

“Where?” Jane called out from the kitchen. He’d recovered from his shock but he still wouldn’t meet Cho’s glance. As if Cho wasn’t even there, and it was starting to piss him off.

Luke ignored the question. He shouldered his bag then guided Cho towards the door. “Agent Lisbon?”

“Yes?”

“I hope for your colleague’s sake, your boss has done his job.”

“He has.”

Luke nodded and without another word, he pushed Cho to and through the door, too quickly for him to do anything but limp into the hallway, unable to give Jane a last look goodbye.

***

They took his car. As they were heading down on the elevator, he came up with plan after plan, dismissing each as pointless, unworkable, or just plain stupid. And it didn’t matter—when they got to the garage, Luke nixed any escape idea by simply grabbing his tied hands, pulling his keys from his pocket. Then, using his own arms as painful leverage, stuffing him in his own trunk.

As the engine came to life and began to move, Cho tried to visualize it, where Luke was taking him. He got to the first stop sign by the river before he became hopelessly confused. It felt as if they were moving away from the highway, keeping to the river district, but that couldn’t be right—he must be disoriented.

He waited for sirens, for a voice over a bullhorn saying to, ‘Pull over and show us your hands,’ but whatever, whyever, nothing happened. Just the motion of the car moving steadily, sometimes slowing down, sometimes stopping. Until they sped up, turned corners so tight that he slammed against the sides of the car. Finally, they came to a screeching halt. He tensed up, preparing for the worst, for bullets, for shouts or screams. But the car just rocked a few times and then nothing until he heard a soft click.

He waited, trying to breath softly so he could hear better. Still nothing and he touched the trunk lid with his boot. It rose smoothly. He waited again, long enough to call himself a coward, then got to his knees.

He was in a garage. A cavernous garage that looked like something from a movie set. There was junk everywhere and the windows were all broken. It wasn’t a movie set, though—he knew where he was. He and Rigsby had checked the place out in ’07—they’d been on the trail of a double murderer, and crap, it wasn’t even five miles from his own place.

He crawled out of the trunk, stumbling because his legs were still numb, and then looked around. It didn’t surprise him to find that he was alone, but it did surprise him to see a stool five feet away. On it was his cell phone, a knife, and a key.

***

He had to dial with his nose, grumbling the whole time because he’d opened up the bullet wound scrambling out of the car, but thank God for cell phones and speed dial. He hit speed dial 1. If it rang, he didn’t hear it.

“Are you okay?”

Jane’s voice was gratifyingly raspy and Cho closed his eyes in relief. The odds of Luke going back and killing him were long, but still… “Put me on speakerphone.”

“Sure, just—”

Jane fumbled for the buttons, hitting a wrong one first, then, “Okay, you’ve got us—”

“Where are you?” Lisbon interrupted.

“I’m fine,” he said, answering Jane’s question first. “Rigsby, I’m in that garage we investigated years ago. Johnny Merrin, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember. Hold on, we’ll be there in a few minutes.”

There was the sound of running feet and he leaned on the stool. He was so damn tired. “Hey boss?” He so didn’t want to do this, but she’d kill him if he didn’t.

“Yeah?”

“You should probably call an ambulance.”

“Why?” Jane asked sharply.

“Because that asshole Jenkins shot me. It’s not too bad,” he said quickly before they both overreacted. “It’s just a graze but I think I lost some blood.” Or rather, more blood, but he wasn’t about to say that. He waited and when he got no response, he mumbled, “You guys there?”

There was a muffled noise, then Jane came back on. “It’s just me. She’s calling Rigsby to get the address. I didn’t see the blood. What happened?”

“Can I tell you later? I need to sit down.” The garage was starting to tip and his head wanted to tip with it.

“Yeah, okay, just, just—”

Jane stopped abruptly and Cho nodded which didn’t help with the dizziness. “Yeah, I will.” Whatever they had to say to each other, it was going to have to wait. “I’ll see you soon.”

He didn’t try to hang up as he fell more than knelt when vertigo hit him, hard.

He wasn’t out for long—he came to when a SUV hurled through the big doors and screeched to a halt. Rigsby and Van Pelt jumped out. He tried to stand.

“Jesus, Cho,” Rigsby swore as he helped him up.

Van Pelt had something in her hand and as she turned him around, she said softly, “Watch out.” She snipped through the cuffs and his arms swung free.

“Aw, shit,” he moaned, almost falling again at the pain that streaked down his shoulders. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“Don’t be a baby,” Rigsby said, but his face was still screwed up with worry and he was careful when he helped him walk to the car. “Sit here.”

“Where were you shot?” Van Pelt asked.

“Left arm,” Cho gritted out. The pain wasn’t receding—it was, in fact, getting worse and he hoped he didn’t do anything stupid like throw up or pass out.

“I can’t see anything,” Rigsby mumbled. “I thought you big, bad military types laughed at gunshot wounds.”

“We do.” His hands were warm and he looked down. Fresh blood was seeping from his jacket sleeves and he remembered the dreams. His stomach roiled.

“Yeah, well, tell me if you’re gonna puke. These are new shoes.”

“Rigsby?” Cho muttered. He could hear a siren’s wail, getting closer and closer. He hated hospitals.

“Yeah?”

“Bite me.”

“Guys,” Van Pelt said primly, and then turned to run for the door when the ambulance pulled up outside. She waved them in.

Cho tried to stand when the EMTs hurried up with the gurney. Which was a foolish, Jane sort of thing to do because as soon as he got to his feet, the world tipped again and this time he tipped with it.

***

“Will you sit down?”

“I’m fine here. I can see everything.”

“You look like you’re going to faint.”

“I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”

“You’re being an ass.”

Cho opened his eyes, feeling as if his eyelids weighed a ton. The light was too bright and he quickly closed them again to a squint.

“Jane?”

“Yeah?”

“What did you mean, about John following Cho?”

“It wasn’t me they were tailing.”

“Why Cho?”

Cho tried again. He didn’t want to lay here while they discussed him and his crazy stalker guy.

He was in bed, in a hospital room surrounded by a privacy curtain that wasn’t very private—it kept fluttering open and he could see other beds and the nurse’s station. His wrists and arms were bandaged and he had a splitting headache. But other than that…

He sighed.

“Well, look who’s back,” Lisbon murmured, turning towards him. She was sitting by the bed. Her vest was hanging off the back of the chair as if she’d just come in from the field. She looked tired.

“Sorry, boss,” he whispered.

“For what?”

“Screwing up.”

She took his hand and even through his confusion, he was surprised. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. I’m just glad you’re okay. And,” she shook her head. “I don’t want to hear anything about Luke escaping. You did what you had to do and if anyone’s to blame, it’s me. Besides, from what John has told us, we’ve got enough on him to make catching him fairly simple.”

Cho opened his mouth again, but Jane interrupted. “Maybe he should drink something before you start giving him the third degree, Lisbon. There’s water on that table over there.”

Lisbon rolled her eyes.

Cho glanced to his left, feeling like his head might fall off if he moved too quickly but he had to see.

Jane, for some reason, was standing in the corner of the room by the big window, arms crossed tight about his chest. There was something still wrong with him because he was looking at the space over Cho’s shoulder.

“Are you okay?”

Lisbon snorted. Jane just muttered, “I’m fine.”

“When can I get out of here?”

Lisbon rose to get the water. “In a while,” she said gently. “You’re here for observation.” The pitcher was the kind with a handle and plastic straw. She couldn’t get the lid off.

“For a minor gunshot wound?”

“No, for a minor concussion. When you tried to stand in the garage, you passed out and hit the fender before Rigsby could catch you.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah. He’s feeling pretty bad about it, so go easy on him, okay? Damnit…” She got her fingernails under the lid, but it still wouldn’t come off.

“Oh, for…” Jane finally moved. He strode over and grabbed the pitcher out of Lisbon’s hands. “I’ll do it.”

He muttered something else, too soft for Cho to hear.

“Boss?”

“Yeah?”

He jerked his head to the curtain.

She nodded and picked up her vest. “I need to get back to the office,” she said calmly. “Jane, call me if anything happens and let me know what the doctor says.”

Jane didn’t look up from the water he was pouring. “Why, Lisbon? He’s not dying. He’s fine.”

She sighed and turned back to Cho. She gave him a small smile that said, ‘he’s all yours.’ “I’ll call later on to see how you’re doing. Your leave has been extended until next week so get some rest.”

She left, leaving a foot-wide gap in the curtains. Rigsby and Van Pelt were waiting near the nurse’s station. Rigsby started forward, but Lisbon shook her head and waved him back.

And that’s all he saw because Jane closed the curtain with a snap then turned to the bed. “Here.” He held the straw to Cho’s lips.

Cho drank. It felt like heaven and when he lay back, he actually felt better. “Thanks.”

Jane nodded, standing there as if lost, looking down at the cup.

“Will you sit down? It’s hard to look up at you.” A lie, but it worked. Jane sat with a thump that looked like it hurt. “Are you really okay?”

Jane smiled weakly and shrugged. He leaned over, elbows on knees, and turned the cup a few times. “I think that’s my line.”

“Are you?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m…” He smiled again, still looking down.

“Then will you look at me?”

Like he was preparing himself for the worst, Jane finally glanced up.

Lisbon had been right—Jane looked like he was going to pass out. His skin dry, papery, and his eyes were rimmed with red. Cho ignored the pain in his arm and reached out to touch the back of his hand. “What’s wrong?

“Nothing.”

“Don’t do that.”

Jane shrugged and began to scrape off the label that announced ‘St. Mary’s is here for you!’ “I just finally get it. That’s all.”

“Get what?”

“Remember last year? At the Carina Luna?”

“What about it?”

“You said something to me. Something I brushed off at the time, but now I get it.”

“What did I say?”

Jane tore off the label—he didn’t manage all of it and he started in again. “That you were tired of seeing people hold guns to my head. I finally get it.”

Cho held his breath. He’d said similar things over the years. Different words with the same meaning: ‘watch out for yourself,’ and, ‘don’t do anything stupid.’ All really saying, ‘I care about you and when you get hurt, so do I.’

It was something he’d given up on, trying to get Jane to understand. “It doesn’t feel good, does it?”

Jane shook his head violently. “No. It doesn’t. When I saw that bastard hold his gun to your head, so casually, like it would mean nothing if he shot you…And then when he cut you—” He squeezed the cup too hard and the lid popped off.

Cho couldn’t help it—he burst out laughing. Not long or hard because it made his head and arms hurt and he was in a hospital, after all. But a genuine laugh that released the thing that had been living inside his chest for so long. He took a deep, clear breath, then another.

“That’s me, keep ’em laughing,” Jane said as he simultaneously tried to put the cup on the table and clean up the floor.

“No, leave it,” he said. “Leave it; come here.” He tugged on Jane’s hand, making him drop the cup and rise out of the chair.

The bed was too narrow. Jane had to sit on the edge at an awkward angle, half on, half off. He thought he should let go of Jane’s hand because the room wasn’t that private, but he was tired, too happy to be alive and screw whatever anyone thought.

And maybe it was being so out of it, but it took him a moment to realize that the wedding ring was gone. He hesitated, then rubbed Jane’s finger.

“It’s in my pocket,” Jane said, almost ruefully, answering his unasked question. “I’ll put it back on, but I just thought I’d give it a spin, going without it for a while.”

“How does it feel?”

“Weird. Like I’m not me.” And then, when he saw whatever Cho’s face was showing, he leaned over, an arm on either side of Cho’s chest. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that it’s been a part of me for so long.”

“It still is.”

“No, not like it was,” Jane whispered sadly. “Not anymore. I realized that when I watched that maniac drag you away.”

Jane tried to say something else, his expression still too lost, and Cho pulled. He resisted at first and then didn’t, laying over Cho carefully. And it couldn’t be comfortable, twisted up like that, and Cho said, “Here,” and, “Come here.”

Jane sighed and swung his legs on the bed, a too heavy weight, and buried his face in Cho’s neck.

 

_____________

Thursday, April 22

 

John shifted about on the cot, trying to easy the ache in his back. He’d gotten no sleep the night before even though they’d moved his prison companions to another facility. It had been almost comical—what they thought he’d do was beyond him. Hypnotize them into organizing a jailbreak? Convince one of them to kill him?

He smirked. And then sighed because he wasn’t going to be able to sleep, not now. He’d tried to get information out of the guard that had brought his dinner, but the man had ignored his questions as if he were deaf.

But it didn’t matter. He’d overheard one of the guards mention that they’d be done with their prisoner by noon tomorrow. Which meant that early afternoon, he’d be dead, thanks to his safety net. Not something he’d been hoping for, because it was only now, after the plan had unfolded, that he’d realized he really did want to live.

But that was the heart for you—filled with vagaries and contrariness. It was just as well that he’d finished with all matters of the heart, years ago.

He settled back with a smile and laced his fingers over his stomach, wondering what his father would say when he heard the news, wondering which rifle Luke would use.

 

________________

Friday, April 23

 

Jane peered into the refrigerator. He was sure he had mayonnaise, but all he could find was Dijon mustard and ketchup. When he went to the store, he was going to have to buy more than just a few staples. The cupboards were as empty as the refrigerator.

“Are you listening to me?”

“Of course, I am, Lisbon. I just don’t see…” Ah, there it was, behind a half-gallon of milk and a big jar of peaches he’d bought at a roadside stand. He’d completely forgotten about those. “How it can possibly help. He’s gone and you’re not going to find him.”

“He’s a murderer, Jane. You, of all people, should be lining up to bring him to justice.”

“I know.”

“And what about Cho? He was going to kill Cho.”

“No, he wasn’t.”

“How do you know that?”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that Luke came with the intention of killing Cho—John said as much and he wasn’t lying. But something happened.”

“He discovered religion?”

Her voice was heavy with sarcasm and he answered mildly, “Hardly. I just think he didn’t see any point in it. People change, Lisbon. All the time.”

“Jane—”

“If Interpol or Scotland Yard or whoever finds him, great. But I’m not going to hold my breath. It’s clear he had everything planned out.” When she didn’t say anything, he asked, “Is Denham gone?” and tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder. He opened the loaf of bread—it was fresh, bought forty-five minutes ago and he closed his eyes in pleasure at the warm, homey smell.

“The flight took off about an hour ago. And barring an act of God, he’ll be in London by morning.”

“Did he say anything else?” He brushed the bread with mayonnaise, thin, because Cho had said that he was eating too much and needed to cut down on calories.

“Not after his initial ranting, no.”

Next came the bacon, lettuce, and tomato. His stomach growled—he was hungry, but that’s what he got for spending most of the day in bed. “He’s angry.”

“He’s insane.”

“No. Just a privileged egomaniac who wanted complete control over everything, including his own death.”

“You have to admit, though, it was pretty insane, ordering Luke to kill him.”

Jane shrugged. “Insane? Maybe, but I understand him. He wanted to end it all in a blaze of glory. Now all he has left are his endless plots.”

“He can plot, but it won’t do much good. Those dates and locations that Luke left us are pretty damning. He murdered a young girl and dumped her body into the Mediterranean just to get at her father’s research. Revenge is going to be useless.”

“It’s not the question as to the value of revenge, Lisbon. Revenge is what he’s built his life upon. And,” he said before she could say what he knew she was going to say, “my situation isn’t the same thing. Not at all.”

“Hmm.”

He paused in the middle of cutting the sandwich in half. “Did you talk to Cho?”

“About?”

Her voice was too innocent and he wanted to say, ‘about Cho’s nightmares and his worries about me.’ He didn’t. There was nothing he could do about it—Lisbon and Cho had their own relationship, established long before he came on the scene and it didn’t include him. Besides, it was too pretty a day to be angry.

“Never mind. I don’t want to know.” He finished cutting the sandwiches, then put them on a plate. “What else is eating you?”

She hesitated and a ‘Lisbon, you can’t fool me,’ was on his lips, but then she sighed and said, “I was hoping Luke would give us more than a few dates and locations.”

“Like a manifesto as to why they did what they did?”

“Yeah.”

“Never going to happen.”

“Jane—”

“Lisbon.” Jane straightened up, sandwich forgotten, and leaned one hip on the counter.

Cho had been reading on the couch earlier and he’d left the blanket in a wad on the cushions. Jane liked it—it made his home seem less like a mausoleum. “Lisbon,” he said again, “this isn’t a movie. There’s not going to be a neat wrap-up as to why John’s issues with his father drove him to steal and murder. You can probably get Blount to interview the father but what good would that do? Unless he’s the leader of the pack—and he’s not—he’ll be as bewildered as all parents when they find out a child has turned into a proverbial black sheep.”

“Maybe Roberts told Blount something we can use.”

“Isn’t he still in the hospital?”

“He’s out of ICU. Blount flew in yesterday and visited him.”

Jane raised an eyebrow—that was news. “And?”

“He didn’t get much. Just that Mark had told him that John had supposedly killed his own mother, when he was eight years old.”

Huh. “Was that literal or figurative?”

“Probably figurative. From what Blount said, the mother was killed in a car accident while John was away at school.”

“Hmm.”

“What do you think it means?”

“Nothing that could matter now.”

She said nothing for a moment, then gave him a grudging, “Maybe you’re right.”

“Sadly, I probably am.”

“There’s one thing I can’t figure out.”

“And what’s that.”

“Mathias.”

“What about him?”

“Well,”she said. “The other men used their real names, right? John, Luke, and Mark. So I get that John wanted a Mathew.”

“Hm-mm.”

“But why did Joseph Littlefield call himself, ‘Mathias?’ Imean, why didn’t he call himself ‘Mathew?’”

“Arrogance.”

“Which was their MO, right?”

“No, it wasn’t just that, although it was part of it. Didn’t you pick up on it when we interviewed John?”

“No,” she said hesitantly. “What do you mean?”

“He said, ‘Mathew had become a hindrance.’ It was clear their relationship, whatever it was, was on the outs and it was probably Joseph’s subtle way of saying, ‘screw you,’ to John.”

“Huh.”

Jane nodded, even though Lisbon couldn’t see it. “Iimagine Joseph was afraid of John and unwilling to make a clean break, so he had his rebellions in little ways. It’s just a guess, though.”

She was silent for a long moment, then said. “Inspector Patel is going to be moved out of ICU tomorrow.”

Jane smiled. He knew she was off the critical list, but still… “That’s good to know.”

“And Director Luckner’s funeral is the day after tomorrow.”

“Oh?”

“Will you tell Cho? I’m going to go—he might want to, too.”

“Will Blount be there?”

“Jane—”

“Lisbon, if he’d listened to Cho in the beginning, maybe none of this would have happened.”

“So it doesn’t matter that a killer is on the loose, but it matters that someone made a mistake and you want to rub his nose in it?”

He picked up the knife and balanced it in his hand, testing the weight.

“Jane,” she said quietly after he didn’t answer. “I know better than to ask you to stay behind, but if you do go, try not to piss him off.”

“He’s such a fool.”

“Yeah, and you have such a hard head. England and the U.S. have been friends for a long time. Don’t do anything to mess that up.”

He dropped the knife and rolled his eyes, annoyance forgotten. He began to put away bags and jars. “Did Dr. Wallach get home?”

“He did. After a stern lecture from Blount about personal safety.”

“He’s a scientist. They live in a different world than you and I.”

“I guess.” She hesitated and he could practically hear the thing she couldn’t ask. “How’s he doing?”

He didn’t have to ask who ‘he’ was. “Fine. His arms and wrists are still stiff.”

“Any more headaches?”

“None that he’s telling me about.” He got out a tray and put the plate on it, plus two apples and two bottles of water.

“Jane?”

Here it came, but she was going to have to say it. “Yeah?”

“What was that all about? The thing with John, Imean.”

Jane shrugged and said evenly, “Apparently John had a jones for our Cho.”

She didn’t speak for the longest time, then she said weakly, “Oh.”

“‘Oh’, indeed.” He knew she had more questions, but her good sense, and her own belief that privacy mattered intervened.

“Okay. Well, tell him we all miss him, especially Rigsby.”

“Tell him to come by.”

“To your house?”

“Of course my house, why not?”

“Please. You’ve never invited anyone over. Ever.”

“I know,” he said softly, then brightened, “Hey, I have an idea.”

“What?”

“Why don’t you and the kids come by tomorrow night. We’ll do a little barbecue, have a couple drinks.”

“I don’t know.”

“C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

“Do you think all this change is good for you?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“Lisbon, I’m wounded.” And he was. He’d kept a lot of his life fenced off, yes, but for the most part he was more adaptive than anyone he knew. He’d had to be, growing up the way he had.

“Okay,” she said. “Yeah, if there’s nothing else going on, we’ll be there.”

“I won’t except no for an answer, so I’ll see you at sevenish.”

“What can we bring?”

“Just yourselves.”

“Then we’ll see you at seven.”

She hung up and he sat the phone on the counter. He wasn’t sure having a dinner party was a good idea. The logistics would be tricky—a few rooms would have to be off limits—he hadn’t even shown them to Cho. Not yet.

But it would be nice having music and laughter in this house again.

He picked up the tray and headed for the stairs. At the last minute, he snagged the envelope that Lisbon had couriered over the day before and tucked it under his arm.

The stairs were cold on his bare feet and he reminded himself that in a few weeks he’d be longing for cold. It was almost the end of April, after all.

Cho was out on the deck, asleep on the lounge chair. He was wearing a blue t-shirt and a pair of Jane’s shorts that he’d stolen while Jane was in the shower. White bandages peeked out from under both sleeves. Lower down, the bandages on his wrists were already grey. They could come off any day now—according to Cho’s sister, they were healing nicely.

He put the tray on the table and sat down. The sun had moved across the patio in the short time he’d been downstairs and it fell across Cho, dividing him in two. Contrary to his complaints about gaining weight, he looked thin, as if he’d managed to lose ten pounds in the space of two days.

And that wasn’t the only change.

When he’d picked Cho up from the hospital, he’d insisted on packing a few things and staying at his place. He’d thought to tease him about not trying to avoid clean up duty, but didn’t. Even though he’d already made sure Jenkins’ body was gone, even though he’d set the loft to rights, no one would want to return to the scene of the crime so quickly.

So he’d just said, sure, and done the packing himself.

When they got to the house, he waited for Cho to wander around, to do some investigating because he was a detective, after all. But no, the minute they got inside, Cho grabbed his hand and insisted on making love.

‘Insisted,’ he thought with a small smile. Hardly the right word because Cho would have stopped if he’d asked. He didn’t ask. He just followed when Cho pulled him across the room to the sofa, fell when Cho pushed him down. And when Cho tried to undress him, his hands clumsy, he did it for him.

They made love on the cold couch, Cho above him, moving too carefully until Jane reminded him that he wasn’t the one that had been injured.

And afterwards, after he got them showered and dressed again, Cho had followed him around the house as he opened windows and doors, touching him every now then, on his shoulder, his back, his arm.

It was a little weird until he realized that it was the normal reaction of anyone recovering from a stressful situation. So he got Cho into bed, not telling him that they were using the guest bedroom, and watched him as he slept.

Just like now and he reached out to wake him up for a late lunch, but before he could touch, Cho jerked, a small movement as if he were trying to raise his hand. Jane leaned over and murmured, “Hey,” then louder, “Hey, wake up.”

Cho jerked again, then slowly opened his eyes. He stared at Jane for a moment, then said sluggishly, “I fell asleep.”

“You did.”

“I had a dream.”

He shifted closer and rested his arm across Cho’s stomach, covering him without seeming to cover him. He’d said the same thing last year when he was the one having nightmares, and how odd—they’d stopped some time ago and he’d never noticed. “About?”

“I was trying to teach you how to surf, but you kept falling off the board. You were wearing a suit.”

“Which one?”

“The grey silk one. Shiny.”

Jane didn’t point out that he hadn’t worn that suit in a long time, well before his days with the CBI. Cho must’ve seen him on TV. “Anything else?”

“My sister was there.”

“Which one?” Cho’s right arm was hot, the left one was cold.

“Luce.”

“What was she doing?”

“I don’t know. I think she was making dinner or something.”

Jane smiled. Cho was still avoiding the subject of his family. His sister had visited him in the hospital, conveniently while Jane had run home to get a change of clothes. But he was confident he’d prevail in the end—Cho may be wily, but no one beat Jane out of something he really wanted. “No nightmare?”

“Not unless you consider trying to teach you how to surf a nightmare.”

“I would.”

Cho smiled. And slipped his hand up under Jane’s shirt and stroked his waist. “I like this shirt on you.”

The shirt that had once been white but was now a kind of tan and he wanted to say, ‘This old thing?’ but Cho’s touch did all sorts of interesting things to his heart and his body so he just leaned closer and kissed him once, twice. “You’re lips are hot.”

“So’s the rest of me.”

Jane snorted at the silly joke, at the way Cho’s voice had dropped, sexy quiet.

He kissed him again, but chastely. They’d made love earlier, still carefully, but Cho had twisted too hard at a crucial moment and had re-opened the knife wound. It hadn’t bled much, but the sight had worried Jane and he put a moratorium on sex, at least for a while. Cho had argued that he was being ridiculous and spent the next two hours trying to change his mind. And was still trying, apparently.

“Lisbon sent some stuff over.”

It was a distraction and it worked. Cho lost his sleepy, sexy look. He sat up. “What is it?”

“Something from the locker.”He grabbed the envelope without rising, then said, “Move up a little. “ Cho scooted forward and he slipped in behind him, legs on either side of his hips. They both sighed and he murmured, “That’s better. Here…” He held the envelope up and Cho took it.

On the outside, Lisbon had written in her small, neat script, ‘Patrick Jane or Kimball Cho; FYEO’. Which could either be good or bad and his curiosity increased. “Open it.”

Cho unsealed the flap, muttering, “It’s probably some insane statement as to why they murdered all those people.”

“Maybe.”

Cho reached in and took out a smaller envelope and a note from Lisbon.

Jane snatched the note before Cho could and read, “‘I took the information Luke left on John Denham. No one else has seen these and I only saw the top one. L.’”

“Crap,” Cho said.

The smaller envelope had a separate inscription, not in Lisbon’s hand. In strong, black lettering, it said, ‘This is all there is.’ “Well that’s suitably cryptic,” Jane murmured.

Cho opened the envelope and looked inside. Then took out a stack of photos.

All in all, they were relatively harmless. Taken from a distance, each with varying degrees of clarity. Six were from the Carina Luna case, the first was of the two of them, doing nothing more than walking through the gardens, not even very close together. The next four weren’t so innocent.

“Those people could be anyone,” he murmured as he reached around Cho to straighten the photos. They were grainy, obviously shot with some infrared device. “All you can see is the veranda and the chair near to the bed. They’d make poor blackmail material.”

Cho said nothing.

The next, oddly enough, was a picture of Cho and Van Pelt, sitting in a restaurant. They were smiling at each other—Cho was leaning close to hear what she was saying. “Where was this?” Jane asked, telling himself he wasn’t jealous. Not at all.

“We wanted to get away from the hotel so we went out to dinner. Michaels and Johnson joined us later.”

“Hmm.”

Cho twisted to look over his shoulder.

“I’m not jealous.”

Cho hesitated, then nodded. “Okay.”

“Seriously.” And he wasn’t—his brief shock had faded. “But who took it? Whoever it was, they were inside the restaurant. See? They would’ve—”

Cho sat up straight, pulling out of Jane’s embrace. “Shit!”

“What is it?”

“I knew he seemed familiar. Damnit!”

“Who? Luke?”

“Yeah.” He fell back into Jane’s arms with another soft, “Damnit.”

“I take it he was there?”

Cho nodded. “I noticed him, but I wasn’t really worried about it. He was at the bar, watching Van Pelt.”

“Well that stands to reason. She’s a beautiful woman.”

“Yeah, but he was watching me, too. And if you say that I’m a beautiful man, I’ll elbow you where it hurts.”

“Okay,” Jane said with a little shrug—it was true, but, whatever. “So, even back then they were keeping tabs on us and by us, I mean you.”

“It would’ve been longer than that, though,” Cho said absently. “If they knew enough about you to plan so far in advance?”

“Maybe,” Jane countered. “They seemed to be pretty good at working on the fly. What are the others.”

“I’m not sure I want to look,” Cho muttered. But he fanned them out anyway.

These were newer and Jane tapped the top. “Well, there’s your proof that I saw Mark at the Catamaran Club.”

“I believed you.”

“Sure you did.” The photos, five in all, were of Cho. Walking towards the clubhouse, on the phone, pocketing the cell with such a look of disgust that Jane had to laugh. “I didn’t know you were so mad.”

“Seriously? You wreck a Lamborghini and you don’t think I’d be mad?”

“Mashburn paid for everything.”

“Jane—”

He ignored Cho’s chiding tone and said, “What’s the next one?”

It was the last one, taken recently. So recently that it wasn’t hard to remember the way it had felt, the water so cold and Cho so warm when he’d pulled Jane onto him. They hadn’t kissed or anything like that, but still, based on the photo, no one seeing it would doubt they were lovers. Because Cho was smiling that smile he only let loose once in a while—impish and gleeful, his teeth startling white. And Jane, he was just a partial blur, but it was clear all his focus was on Cho.

He rested his chin on Cho’s shoulder and murmured, “I like it.”

When Cho didn’t answer, he hugged him, trying to press out the embarrassment, the outrage. “What are you thinking?”

“That it’s bad enough that Lisbon saw the first photo. That I’m glad Rigsby didn’t see any of them.”

Jane didn’t give a hoot who saw the photos, but all he said was, “Hmm.”

“Luke said that John knew all about us. I’d thought he just meant that they knew we were with the CBI.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Of course it does. I don’t want to be blackmailed.”

“Would it have worked?”

“What do you think?”

“Ithink you would have told John to go screw himself.”

“I would have.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Just because I’d never negotiate with a blackmailer doesn’t mean I don’t care about being blackmailed.”

Cho’s voice was tight with anger and Jane nodded. “Yeah, okay, I get it.”

They said nothing for the longest time. Cho would probably want to burn the pictures, but Jane would hold on to the last one—he wouldn’t frame it, but he’d like to look at it, every now and then. It was charming.

One thought led to another and he laid his cheek on the back of Cho’s neck, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer to his question. “You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”

“What?”

“Does it bother you, all the pictures of my wife and daughter in the house?”

Cho twisted around, pushing Jane back. His anger was gone; in its place was a sad surprise. “No, of course not. This is your house and they lived here. I never want to take that away from you.”

Jane swallowed away the fleeting grief, the lasting joy, and kissed the point of Cho’s shoulder.

“Now, if it had been Kristina Frye—” Cho added, his sadness transforming to sly humor.

Jane rolled his eyes. “Will you give it a rest? It was one phone call.” Something about wanting to meet him for dinner so they could discuss one of her clients. Cho had deleted the message before Jane could get the number.

“I mean, if you’d consulted her, maybe she would’ve told you about Luke and I wouldn’t have gotten—”

Jane nipped his shoulder, hard enough to stop him mid-speech. “More like, you would’ve gotten killed,” said absently because he noticed that something else had fallen out of the envelope. “What is that?” He reached between Cho’s thighs where the bit of plastic had fallen.

Cho pushed up against his arm. “I thought we weren’t going to have sex again today.”

Jane muttered a soft “Hush,” because he wanted nothing more than to make love to Cho out in the sun. Maybe tomorrow, but definitely not today. He found whatever it was and held it up. It was a portable drive. “Ten bucks says this is Luke’s guarantee that there isn’t more digital proof.”

“Ten bucks says you’re right.”

“Do you want to see what’s on it?” He tossed it in the air.

“No.”

“It could be something good.”

“Jane.”

“All right,” Jane said with a laugh. Then again, “All right,” as he pulled Cho gently around so he could cradle his head, so he could meet him, kiss for kiss.

All right.

 

______________

Saturday, April 24

 

Luke pulled into the harbor at just past noon, making it seem as smooth as possible. It had been years since he’d crewed, and even then, he hadn’t had much to do, thanks to John and his control issues. But he remembered enough and she slid next to the dock like he’d been sailing all his life.

He made quick work of tying her up, then grabbed his knapsack and went to find the port captain.

Who turned out to be a bone-thin man in his late sixties who barely looked up when he asked, “Passaporte, por favor.”

Luke gave him the documents, mentally going over the list of completed chores—wipe the boat down, zap the GPS’s hardware to erase the data, make sure no personal items were left on board…

“American? Are you here for a visit, Mr. Martinez?”

“To see my cousin, yeah.” And, when the captain looked up, he said with a feigned embarrassed shrug, “My cousin owns the bait shop.”

“Pete?” The captain cocked his head and repeated, “Pete? He is your cousin?” He gave Luck a slow smile.

Luke smiled back. “One of them.”

“I have heard about your family, especially that crazy Bill.”

Luke nodded modestly. “Yeah, Uncle Bill has done some crazy things, that’s for sure.”

The captain gave his documents back and held out his hand. “I’m Ernesto. If you need anything, I can help you out. If you speak as bad as Pete, you’ll need it.”

“My Spanish is worse than Pete’s, so thanks, Imight take you up on that.” He turned to go, down the gangway to the town.

As he was walking away, Ernesto called out, “Tell him I said I’ll be by later on. Welcome to Mexico!”

Luke looked over his shoulder and waved cheerfully. By the time Ernesto closed up shop it would be after six. By the time he discovered that Pete had no cousin Luke, it would be after seven. Long enough to be on the road, miles away. Long enough to disappear.

As to John, well, he’d made his bed fifteen years ago and all Luke could hope for was a lifetime of jail because if he ever got out…

He re-adjusted the knapsack and picked up the pace.

________________

 

He’s dreaming. He knows it, already long familiar with the creep out of deeper sleep to one of fugitive image and sound, and—

Red, everywhere. Red, red, red and he thinks, even in his dream, no.

No, this shouldn’t be happening here. Not now.

He makes some move, willing his eyes not to see, telling himself that—

‘Hey,’ a voice says, somewhere behind him.

He turns.

Jane is standing in the doorway to the balcony. He’s wearing his suit, his beautiful new blue suit, and for some reason, he’s barefoot. He smiles and jerks his head, saying without saying, ‘C’mon, I’ve got something to show you.’ He backs up, into the light that is suddenly too bright, too hot.

Cho follows. One step, two, then three.

Across the room, across the threshold, not surprised when cold tile changes to warm sand.

 

 

fin.

 

 

Part 1 . Part 2 . Part 3

 

Story notes:
Patrick Jane/Kimball Cho
The Mentalist
70,800+ words
Episodes referenced: The first eps of the second season and the story, The Red Men
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me.
Thanks to Enmuse for her thoughts on the first draft, and Spasticat and Dlasta for the rest.