Chapter 1: Thanksgiving Blues
Nothing said failure like the smell of burnt turkey on Thanksgiving. The smoky, charred-flesh odor clung to Lisbon's clothes and hair, following her around like an ominous shadow. Even the sweet scent of the HoneyBaked Ham, which now sat in the back seat of her SUV, couldn't mask the stench of the night's disastrous events.
Lisbon didn't care about the ruined bird. She didn't care about the wasted money, or the wasted hours on the Internet, searching for a stuffing recipe that exactly matched the kind her mother used to make, or even the whole afternoon spent in a hot kitchen, slathering a dead turkey with melted butter and herbs, when she could have been watching the Lions take on the Texans. Lisbon didn't care about any of that. All she cared about was how the bird had gotten ruined in the first place:
Lisbon's youngest brother. Also known as her pride, her joy, and, on days like today, the reason she was seriously considering driving across the border into Mexico and spending the rest of the holiday sitting poolside, by herself, at a nice hotel in Tijuana.
The day actually hadn't started off too badly – Tommy and James both showed up, which was something of a miracle in itself. Their initial handshake was cold and cordial, more like rival businessmen than brothers, but as the kids all piled inside, needing to pee and asking about cookies, things started to warm up. Lisbon got out the SpongeBob coloring books she'd bought for James' boys, set Annabeth up with an iPad, and tuned the TV in to the only thing Lisbon knew of that could possibly bring her estranged brothers back together: pro football.
At first, it seemed to work. Tommy and James both settled in on the couch to watch, and, even though there was an entire empty cushion between them, they were both scooping handfuls of Chex Mix from the same bowl. Lisbon snuck regular peeks through the kitchen door to monitor the situation, and when an hour passed without anyone sustaining an arterial wound, she started to feel like it was safe to breathe.
Lisbon was leaning against the counter, eyes closed, sipping a glass of red wine, when the easy chatter in the next room suddenly shifted. Tommy's voice rose above the hum, sounding sharp and angry. James said something back – not quite as angry, but getting there fast – and by the time Lisbon got out there, both men were full-shouting, right in each other's faces, and the bowl of Chex Mix was overturned on the floor.
Lisbon quickly herded Annabeth and the two wide-eyed boys upstairs with a "Madagascar 3" DVD, and then just barely managed to get between Tommy and James before they came to blows. Putting a hand on each of their chests, Lisbon held the men at bay while she pleaded with them, the whole scene playing out like a bad remake of her childhood.
Saint Teresa. Always the peacekeeper. Only back then, it was usually her father and Tommy she was trying to keep apart, and the whiskey stink on her dad's breath was typically the culprit.
Today, there was no alcohol involved, just red-hot rage. Lisbon had no idea what had set her brothers off – they were both yelling over each other too much to be understood. After a few minutes, she managed to get the basic gist: Annabeth had said something cheeky, James told her off, Tommy got all "you don't talk to my kid like that," and it escalated from there.
Lisbon pointed out that Tommy's "kid" was right upstairs, fully able to hear every shouted word. Annabeth and the boys were probably scared. This was their holiday, too, and right now, their dads were ruining it.
As usual, James was the first to back down, the first to respond to Lisbon's calm reasoning. He and Tommy both huffed to separate corners, their feet smashing broken Chex Mix into Lisbon's warranty-expired carpet. Tommy instantly grabbed his coat and Annabeth's, insisting that they were leaving. Lisbon had just talked him into staying when the squeal of a smoke detector suddenly pierced their eardrums. Lisbon's gaze jumped to the kitchen door, where she immediately spotted thin wisps of grey smoke oozing under the crack. At the exact same moment, the smell of scorched meat hit her nostrils. Lisbon's heart lurched.
With Tommy and James on her heels, she ran into the haze-filled kitchen and grabbed the bright red fire extinguisher from under the sink. Behind the oven's glass door, yellow flames danced and played, greedily swallowing up her perfectly-basted turkey. Lisbon shrieked and yanked the oven open. The fire roared even higher, and a big black cloud belched out right in her face, making her eyes water as she raised the canister and started spraying everything in sight. The oxygen-excited flames quickly died under a blanket of white foam, and for a moment Lisbon just stood there, heart racing, adrenaline pumping, feeling like Sigourney Weaver after she had conquered the creature in Alien.
James came up beside her and peered into the maw of the still-billowing oven. "Holy shit…"
Waving the smoke away, Lisbon reached in with bulky oven mitts to remove the charcoal remains of Thanksgiving dinner. She set it on the stovetop, and all three of them stared at what was left of the bird: a blackened skeleton with desiccated skin stretched between its bones. Completely inedible.
James said some of the butter had probably dripped down into the bottom of the oven, causing the fire. Tommy argued that she might just have a faulty, craptastic oven. As their bickering flared up again, a heavy gloom settled over Lisbon's heart like thick, black smoke. She didn't know why the oven fire had started. What she did know was that if she'd been keeping an eye on things in the kitchen instead of playing referee to two grown men, then maybe the fire wouldn't have gotten so out-of-control. And maybe, just maybe, they would be looking at a golden brown Thanksgiving turkey right now, rather than a charred briquette speckled with fire foam.
Fifteen minutes later, after the kids had calmed down and most of the smoke had dissipated, Lisbon's hopes for a family holiday were looking as unsalvageable as the bird itself: the boys were starting to complain about being hungry, Annabeth was busy "autopsying" the turkey, and Tommy was talking about leaving again.
"The bird's ruined anyway, Reese. Annie and I can just grab some McDonald's or something on the drive home..."
But Lisbon wasn't giving up that easily. She'd made eight phone calls – three to James, five to Tommy – just to get two of her three brothers in the same room. As long as no one was suffering from smoke inhalation – and she checked them all, just to make sure – then they were having this Thanksgiving, damn it.
Now, Lisbon was on her way home with "Plan B." Honey-glazed and lovingly covered in crinkled gold foil, the ham that was buckled into the back seat remained her only hope of reminding her brothers that Thanksgiving hadn't always been yelling and shoving and broken bits of Chex Mix. That there had been laughter and clinking forks and Tommy making armpit farts at the table. That they had been a family once, and could be again.
It was a lot to ask of an eighteen-pound hunk of meat.
Lisbon glanced over her shoulder at the ham, wishing she had something just a little bit more special – something that would really bring back the good memories. She'd been hoping her mother's stuffing would do the trick, but now all that remained of it was a dried mound inside the scorched cavern of the turkey.
Snow would be the next best thing – a thick blanket of the heavy-wet kind. There was nothing like a good, old-fashioned Lisbon-family snowball fight. But seeing as Lisbon's car thermometer was currently reading sixty-seven degrees, and the Sacramento skyline was cloudless, she didn't expect to see falling white flakes anytime soon. And even if there was some miracle – even if California and Illinois magically swapped climates for a day – Lisbon wondered if it would be enough.
She wondered if anything would ever be enough.
Just as this bitter thought swelled inside of her, something caught Lisbon's eye – a dusty old red-and-white advertisement, hanging inside the display window of a Mom and Pop convenience store called "Lenny's Market." Lisbon hit the brakes and heard the car behind her screech.
"Sorry!" she called, holding up her right hand between the seats, "Sorry…"
Lisbon quickly flicked her turn signal on and pulled up next to the store, which was still lit and had an "OPEN" sign in the door, even though the shops on either side of it were dark and shuttered. Shifting the SUV into park, Lisbon climbed out and hurried across the sidewalk, hoping they actually still carried the item she wanted.
A friendly bell jingled overhead as Lisbon stepped inside the store. The pretty redhead working the cash register smiled at Lisbon from behind the counter, and Lisbon smiled back briefly before aiming for the snack aisle. She had to keep this quick – every second she spent away from home was another second Tommy and James were left alone together. The thought made her shudder.
On the way to the row marked "CHIPS/CRACKERS," Lisbon passed a tall, dark-haired man, looking rather helpless as he perused several shelves of seasonings and spices. Just before she turned the corner, Lisbon saw him reluctantly take out his cell phone.
"Hey, Sarah…No, no, don't put him to bed – I'm still coming, I just couldn't remember which kind of oregano you wanted me to pick up for the stuffing…"
Walking by the next aisle, Lisbon couldn't help but raise her eyebrows at the sight of a very serious-looking Asian man standing in the cosmetics section, his arms laden with about fifteen different shades of sparkly nail polish. He stiffened slightly at her look, and she quickly averted her eyes, leaving the man to his business…whatever that was.
She'd just made it onto the row lined with Pringles cans and bright red bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos, when a third man brushed past her. Lisbon caught a fleeting glimpse of messy blond curls, sad eyes, a five-o-clock shadow and a rumpled suit, before the man shuffled away, the smell of whiskey trailing after him. No mystery where he was headed – little stores like these always had an extensive selection of cheap booze.
Lisbon sighed and turned her focus to the shelves in front of her, scanning past Fritos and Tostitos until at last she spied that red-and-white logo. Sitting by itself on the bottom-most shelf, the Cracker Jack box looked as lonely and forgotten as a brown, needle-less Christmas tree in a lot full of bushy green ones. Lisbon picked up the box and blew off a thin layer of dust to make out the expiration date: November 19, 2012.
Three days ago. Still, so what if they were a little bit stale? She'd certainly seen her brothers eat things that were far more questionable – if Tommy would swallow half a worm on a dare, then he shouldn't mind a few too-soft pieces of caramel corn. And besides, it wasn't so much about the snack as it was about what would be left in the bottom of the box once everything was eaten.
Lisbon swiped the rest of the dust away with her sleeve and headed for the register up front. The red-haired cashier flashed a warm smile as Lisbon set the box on the counter. Two bright diamond studs rainbow-twinkled in the young woman's earlobes.
"Cash, check or charge?" the redhead asked.
"Cash," Lisbon said, reaching for her wallet. Her fingers scrounged around inside her right jacket pocket, coming up empty. Lisbon frowned. She tried her left pocket instead – even though she never put her money in that side – and then started patting at her jeans pockets, too.
Car keys, check. Cell phone, check. Wallet? That would be a big, fat "no."
Lisbon could feel the sick knot forming in her stomach that always came with situations like this: lost keys, lost credit card, locked out of the condo…
As she continued to search, avoiding the cashier's eye, another customer came up to stand in line – a young Hispanic boy who was snapping gum and holding a rolled-up copy of The Enquirer. He started to fidget, shifting from side to side, as Lisbon re-checked all of her pockets, only to come up with the exact same wallet-less results.
Finally, face burning, Lisbon looked up at the cashier. "Um, I think I left my wallet somewhere…do you mind if I make a quick phone call?"
"Sure, no problem," the young woman replied kindly, and Lisbon quickly retreated off to the side.
While the boy made his purchases – the tabloid he was holding and a pack of grape Bubble Yum – Lisbon pressed the cell phone to her ear, hoping against hope that an employee of the HoneyBaked Ham Company was about to pick up. It was the last place Lisbon knew for sure she'd had the wallet – she could even remember setting it on the counter as she paid for the ham.
"Hello, you've reached HoneyBaked Ham, the home for all of your holiday needs! The store you're trying to reach is not currently open. To find another HoneyBaked store near you, please visit HoneyBaked Ham dot com. To find out more about our holiday hours of operation, please press one. To learn about our products and selection—"
Lisbon hung up on the recording. Of course they would be closed by now – it was after six o' clock on Thanksgiving. Most people were at home with their families…
Feeling defeated, she returned to the checkout counter. The boy was still there, apparently waiting for his change – the red-haired cashier seemed to be having a problem getting the drawer on the register to open. Lisbon ducked in between them to pick up the Cracker Jack box.
"I couldn't find it," Lisbon said. "So I'm just going to put these back…"
The redhead nodded distractedly. The boy leaned over the counter, giving suggestions in Spanish as he tried to help her coax open the drawer. Lisbon turned away and began her walk of shame – the head-bowed, shoulder-hunched shuffle of one forced to return a product to its shelf due to a shortage of funds. She'd only made it about five steps before the little bell over the door jingled, and a cold, clear voice from behind said,
"This is a hold-up – everybody on the floor."
Chapter 2: White Mist and Red Blood
Lisbon froze. Her fingers clenched around the Cracker Jack box. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the young boy and the cashier, who'd finally gotten the drawer open, stop in mid-motion to stare at the man who'd just entered. The rest of the store had gone pin-drop still.
"I said, 'Everybody on the floor!' Now, or I'll shoot! Come on, do it! This isn't a joke!"
Heart pounding, Lisbon slowly raised her hands above her head and sank to her knees. There were soft shoe-squeaks and rustles of fabric as the other customers presumably did the same.
"Not you, Red," said the robber, who was still out of Lisbon's line of sight. "You fill the bag. The rest of you – crawl up here by the counter. I don't want anyone hiding in the back. Come on, move it!"
Lisbon saw the blond man's head peek out from behind a Lipton Tea display. He looked like a frightened little boy, pale and wide-eyed, and Lisbon felt a stab of pity. At least she'd been up against armed gunmen before – she'd worked as an EMT before going to medical school, and had responded to some pretty tough calls: gang shoot-outs, armed robberies, domestic violence...Sometimes doing an ambulance run was like driving into a war zone.
Usually, in cases like this, if everyone just kept their cool and did what the gunman said, chances were they'd all live to see another day. Lisbon motioned to the blond man to come out, and he did so, albeit reluctantly, shuffling forward on his hands and knees. He crawled up beside her, and after a few seconds, the man from the spice row appeared as well.
Lisbon stole a careful glance over her shoulder, and saw that the young boy was huddled a few feet away, his back pressed up against a rack full of shiny sunglasses. There were soft jingles and thumps as the cashier dropped the money from the register into a black leather bag. The gunman twitched impatiently, tapping his foot as he pointed his gun back and forth between the cashier and the shoppers. A plastic George W. Bush mask hid his face from view.
The redhead finished loading the bag and tried to hand it to him over the counter.
"Here," she said. "Just take it and go. Don't hurt anyone."
The robber shook his head. "I want the money from the safe, too. All of it. Let's go."
The cashier obediently started dialing the combination on the wall safe behind the counter. Her shaking fingers slipped and fumbled.
"I'm not going to hurt you," George Bush told her. "Just hurry it up." While she worked, he marched over to the other hostages, prowling in between them with the gun. "Is this everybody?" he asked, focusing on Spice Man.
"I-I think so – I didn't see anybody else come in…"
As he said it, Lisbon suddenly remembered, with an awful lurch, that this wasn't everyone – the Asian man who'd been buying all that nail polish had never emerged. She glanced in the direction of the cosmetics aisle, but there was no one in sight. Lisbon quickly looked at the floor, trying not to draw the robber's attention. He zeroed in on her anyway:
"You – did you see someone else come in?"
Lisbon shook her head. "No, no, there's no one –"
Ignoring her protests, the robber strode toward the back of the store, keeping his gun trained on the small group of hostages. "Hey, who's back here? Come out where I can see you!"
Spice Man took advantage of the gunman's momentary distraction to slip out his cell phone and press the "on" button. The blond man next to Lisbon leaned close and whispered in her ear:
"You need to work on your poker face."
Lisbon couldn't form a reply. She couldn't do anything except watch with her heart galloping in her throat as the robber advanced on Nail Polish Man's position. An image flashed through her mind of the poor cross-dresser, cowering behind a Revlon mascara display, just praying to live through the next thirty seconds.
Lisbon silently added her plea to his: Don't shoot him, he's just scared, please don't hurt him…
A sudden, sharp sound came from the cosmetics aisle – like a glass bottle, cracking against the floor. The gunman closed the distance in two steps. Lisbon squeezed her eyes shut.
"FBI," said a low, calm voice. "Drop your weapon."
Lisbon's eyes flew open. The robber stood frozen at the end of the beauty aisle, his weapon still pointed at the cluster of hostages.
The voice came again, louder and more insistent. "I said, 'Drop it.' Now."
"Okay," said the man in the Bush mask. "Okay…I'm putting it down, just be cool…"
Lisbon held her breath as she and the other hostages watched the robber oh-so-slowly lower the gun toward the floor. A foot, six inches, four inches – any second now, this would all be over…Just a few more inches…
The gun was barely a millimeter above the linoleum when the robber suddenly tightened his grip on the weapon and bolted sideways, running straight at the hostages. Lisbon and the others scrambled backwards as Nail Polish Man charged out of the aisle, firing at the fleeing robber.
Spice Man yelled at the cashier to "Get down!" and she did. Glass exploded as a stray bullet hit the countertop, followed by a spray of red when the next shot hit the robber square in the right shoulder. He fell forward, screaming, and landed next to the Hispanic boy, who had his ears covered and his eyes squeezed tight. Lisbon thought it was over then, but in the next second the wounded robber was back up, holding the terrified, struggling boy in front of him as a shield.
Nail Polish Man, who was apparently an FBI Agent, leveled his gun at the criminal's head. "Let him go."
Bush shook his head, his plastic face speckled with blood. "Not until you put your gun down." When the agent didn't move, the robber pressed the muzzle of his weapon harder into the boy's back. "Do it now, or I swear I'll blow his lungs right out of his chest."
The agent hesitated for an instant longer, his eyes flat and black, fixed on the robber with muted fury. But then those eyes flicked onto the silently crying boy, and the anger shifted to something else: Resignation. Surrender. You win.
Lisbon let out the breath she'd been holding as the agent lowered his weapon and slid it across the floor toward the criminal. The man in the Bush mask snatched up the agent's gun and shoved the boy away. The child stumbled a few steps and fell to his knees, and Spice Man rushed forward, quickly putting himself between the robber and the boy.
"Next time you want a hostage," Spice Man said boldly, "take me."
"Shut up," said the criminal. He shifted his gaze to the now unarmed FBI Agent. "You, on the floor with the others." Bush glanced over his shoulder at the shattered counter. "You, too, Red. Finish loading the bag and get over here. I want everybody's wallets and cell phones on the floor. Come on, toss 'em out."
He pointed both guns at Spice Man for motivation, and Spice Man reluctantly slid his cell phone, plus a brown leather wallet, across the linoleum. Lisbon could see the numbers "nine" and "one" glowing brightly on phone's touch screen. He'd never gotten the chance to finish dialing.
The twin guns now pointed at the agent. On his hands and knees like the others, the Asian man's dark blue tie dragged on the dusty floor as he tossed out his wallet first, then his phone. Without prompting, the Hispanic boy followed suit, shoving his own cheap Velcro wallet and prepaid TracFone across the linoleum. And then it was Lisbon's turn.
Swallowing dryly, she placed her cell phone on the floor.
"Wallet, too, lady – let's go."
"I-I don't have it…"
The criminal leaned right into her face, George W. Bush's plastic features grinning at her like a demented Leprechaun. "Do I look like I'm in the mood for games? Give me your wallet right now."
"She's telling the truth," the blond man piped up unexpectedly. "She doesn't have it." He reached into his jacket pocket and produced a red leather wallet with a bald eagle embossed on the front flap.
Lisbon's jaw dropped. "Hey! That's mine!"
The blond guy gave an innocent little shrug and tossed Lisbon's wallet into the pile with rest.
"I don't have a cell phone," he told the gunman. "You can pat me down if you like."
"I'll take your word for it," the robber said tightly. He sounded a little out of breath, and Lisbon could see a widening circle of blood soaking through his t-shirt. The wound wasn't fatal – but it had to hurt like hell.
"You almost done, Red?" the criminal called to the cashier.
She dropped the last few bundles into the bag and began to tiptoe forward, holding the bulging sack out in front of her.
Bush motioned for her to speed it up. "Come on, come on – I'm not going to hurt you."
The redhead crunched across the last of the glass and handed him the moneybag.
"Wallet, too," he instructed. "And your phone."
She dropped them in on top of the cash.
"All right, good. Now, everybody on your feet – we're going for a little walk."
Lisbon fell into line with the others as they were marched along single-file through a door marked "Employees Only," down a short, dingy hallway, and through a second, heavier door that had a latch like an old-fashioned refrigerator. As soon as Lisbon crossed the threshold, her breaths instantly turned to puffs of white. Bottles of milk - chocolate, regular, and strawberry - filled the metal shelves that lined the tiny room, along with a few plastic-wrapped crates of ground chuck, chicken wings, and spare ribs.
Once all the hostages were inside, the robber called the cashier back over to the door.
"I just need the keys, and then we're square."
Frowning, the redhead pulled out her car keys.
"No, the store keys," he told her.
The cashier handed them over, looking even more baffled.
"Thanks, sweetheart," said Bush. Then he raised his voice to address the room. "Now, I'm sure someone'll be along in a few hours to let you people out. But in the meantime-" He looked around at them all, still grinning that blood-spattered, Leprechaun grin "-enjoy your stay."
And with that, the robber withdrew his head and let the heavy door swing shut. Lisbon heard the sturdy latch slide into place with a loud "clack." The sound echoed hollowly in her ears as she turned to face the people she would now be forced to spend the rest of her Thanksgiving with:
Spice Man, Agent Nail Polish, a boy with purple gum stuck to his lip, a bewildered redhead who was still standing by the door as if expecting it to open back up any second, and the blond guy who'd stolen Lisbon's wallet.
Somehow, at this moment, Lisbon was having a hard time finding something to feel thankful for.
Chapter 3: Red Cross
For a few seconds, they all stood in shocked silence. Then Spice Man rushed over to the door and shoved on it. When nothing happened, he backed up and threw his whole body violently against the door three times in quick succession: wham-wham-wham!
Then he stepped back, breathing hard. He turned to find the others staring at him, and shrugged. "Worth a try, right?"
The blond man smiled. The FBI Agent looked flatly unimpressed. Lisbon ignored all three men and walked over to talk to the cashier. "Do you know of any other exits to this room, or any way we can make outside contact? A phone line, an intercom?"
The redhead just looked helpless. "I'm sorry…I don't even work here."
Lisbon blinked. "Yes, you do – you were just working the register."
The cashier opened her mouth to respond, but the blond man cut in first:
"What she means is, she doesn't normally work here. She's filling in for someone." He turned his eyes onto the redhead. "Aren't you?"
"Yeah. The owner, Lenny, goes to my church. He couldn't get anyone to cover this shift, and his daughter had a Thanksgiving play at her school, so I told him I'd do it."
"So you've never worked here before tonight?" Lisbon asked.
The red-haired woman shook her head.
Spice Man raised his eyebrows. "Wow, and I thought I had bad luck…"
"Luck is the residue of design," said the blond man cryptically.
Lisbon turned back to the redhead. "Well, what time is Lenny coming back?"
"He isn't – that's why he gave me the keys. At eight o' clock, I was supposed to put the money in the safe and lock up for the night."
"So, basically, we're stuck here?" Lisbon asked.
"Maybe," said the blond man absently, trailing his fingers along the cold beige wall. "Maybe not."
"Someone might've heard the shots," Spice Man offered. "There're loads of businesses on this street…"
The redhead looked over at him with a hopeful expression. "That's true – maybe somebody already called the police."
"Doubtful," the blond man murmured. "Most of the shops near here are closed for the holiday, or boarded up completely."
The redhead's shoulders slumped. An invisible gloom seemed to settle over the cold room.
Spice Man looked around at them all sympathetically. "If it makes anyone feel any better, I'm an Assistant to the District Attorney."
"Why would that make us feel better?" asked the FBI Agent, who was now prowling the room with the blond man, presumably searching for another exit.
"Well, you know – when we catch the guy who did this, I can make sure he goes down for it."
"Justice for the privileged few," said the blond guy. "How comforting."
"Hey," Spice Man protested, "I didn't mean it like that."
"We know what you meant," Lisbon told him quickly, before a spat could break out. "And we appreciate it."
She fixed the blond man with a defiant glare, almost daring him to make another snarky comment. But he just smiled, shrugged, and started rolling a shelf out of the way so he could look at the wall behind it.
The Assistant District Attorney still looked a little upset, like he wanted to explain himself. The redhead took a step closer to him, setting her hand on his arm.
"Hey…I saw what you did out there," she said softly. "You were really brave."
The ADA, whose cheeks were already getting pink from the cold, blushed and ducked his head. "No, no, it was nothing. You were the brave one – you totally kept your cool the whole time."
The cashier laughed. "Yeah, right."
"No, seriously, you were great. Most people would've flipped out." The ADA leaned a little closer to her, smiling. "In fact, I would love to know the name of this steely-nerved lady who probably kept us all from getting shot."
"Grace," the redhead told him shyly. "What's yours?"
"Rigsby. Wayne Rigsby. Pleasure to meet you, Grace." He reached out to shake her hand. "So, what do you do? I mean, when you're not facing down armed gunmen and saving the lives of your fellow citizens?"
Grace giggled. "I'm a high school coach – Girls' Soccer and Lacrosse."
Rigsby's eyes lit up. "Lacrosse? No way! I love Lacrosse…"
The ADA and the Coach beamed at one another, and Lisbon rolled her eyes, quickly moving away from the "meet-cute" scene. She walked over to the boy, who'd pulled the rolled-up Enquirer from his back pocket and was now leaning against a crate to read.
"Anything interesting in there?" she asked.
He shrugged, one-shouldered. "No. No mucho."
The magazine was cracked open to a two-page spread featuring a pretty brunette in a bikini, with a large, badly-Photoshopped fish tail where her legs were supposed to be. Lisbon smirked. Then something else caught her eye and her smile faded.
"Hey," she said, reaching out to touch the boy's left forearm, "you're bleeding…Tiene un corte en el brazo."
He looked down at the small gash, which was just over an inch long and weeping a steady stream of red. His face went a shade paler.
"It's okay," Lisbon said. "I'm a doctor." She pointed at herself. "Yo soy un médico."
The boy's eyes widened and he took a step back, shaking his head. "No doctor. Estoy bien. I am fine."
Both the blond guy and the FBI Agent had wandered back over to see what was going on.
"Don't be afraid," the blond man told the boy. "You won't get in trouble. No hay problema. Ella es una buena mujer. Ella quiere que le ayude."
Lisbon didn't catch all of what he said, but the boy relaxed slightly and held out his arm for her to take a look. The cut wasn't too deep – if they were in the ER, Lisbon would probably put in a stitch or two, just to be on the safe side, but since they were in cold storage, she'd have to make do with what was available.
While Lisbon looked around for something suitable to make a bandage, the FBI Agent stoically laid his coat on top of a crate for the boy to sit on. The ADA, Rigsby, also took his coat off and draped it over the boy's shoulders like a long black cape, earning a soft smile from Grace.
"What's your name?" Lisbon asked the boy, as she set to work cleaning the wound with some bottled water she'd found on one of the shelves.
"Enrique," the boy said.
For some reason, this made the blond man grin. "Do you like magic tricks, Enrique? ¿Magia?"
The boy nodded, and the blond guy promptly pulled a cold drumstick out of Lisbon's ear.
Enrique laughed. "¡Maravilloso – do it again!"
The blond wallet thief happily obliged by pulling more drumsticks, milk caps, and even a half-frozen penny out of Lisbon's ears, nose, and pockets, until she finally got the "bandage" secured in place. It wasn't exactly sterile, but until they could get out of here, a clean lump of Kleenex tied on with a piece of plastic wrap would have to do.
"All done," Lisbon told the boy. "Todo hecho."
Enrique was still giggling from the sight of a wishbone emerging from Lisbon's nostril. She gave the blond man an exasperated look and he quickly wiped the smile from his face.
"Time to stop now," he stage-whispered to the boy. "I am making la señora gruñona angry."
Lisbon glared at the man. "I am not a 'grumpy lady!'"
The blond guy held up his hands in mock-surrender, and the boy started giggling even harder. Grace and Rigsby were standing off to the side, watching the scene with amusement, and even the FBI Agent's stony expression had melted ever-so-slightly. Lisbon gave up.
"Fine," she said. "Maybe I am grumpy. It's Thanksgiving, and we're in a meat locker. Sue me."
"On what grounds?" the Assistant District Attorney asked.
Grace smiled at his lame joke, but then her eyes wandered over to the FBI Agent and her face turned serious. "Hey…Can I ask you something?"
"Okay," the agent said.
"If you're an FBI Agent, why didn't you come out sooner to help us?"
The agent paused a beat before giving his answer. "I was assessing the situation," he said finally. "I couldn't make a move until I knew everyone's position."
The blond man smirked. "That, and he had a lot of merchandise to set down before he could draw his gun."
The FBI Agent's jaw tightened almost imperceptibly. Lisbon glared at the blond man, who was quickly establishing himself as an instigator.
"Oh, relax," the blond guy said airily. "No one here thinks you're J. Edgar Junior. It's obvious those nail polishes weren't for you."
Lisbon turned back to the agent, frowning. "They weren't?"
"No," the FBI Agent said gruffly.
"In fact," the blond man went on, "he wasn't even buying them – he was returning them."
"Then why didn't he just bring them up to the register?" Grace asked.
"Because they were stolen," the blond man announced dramatically. "Someone in his life took those polishes without paying for them, and I'm guessing it was…" He cocked his head, studying the agent for a moment. "Hmmm, not a daughter – you're the type who would bring his daughter into the store, make her own up to what she'd done. Sister? No…no siblings. And no wedding ring, either, so it must have been a girlfriend, yes?"
The wallet thief took the agent's icy silence as a sign of victory. "Yes, a girlfriend. A 'bad influence' girlfriend, who didn't have to steal – no, she wanted to steal. Clearly, you're a man of means – that tie alone is over fifty dollars – so you could easily provide for her cosmetic needs. She did it for the rush, didn't she?"
The blond man's eyes were sparkling. "A federal agent, and a girl who just can't help but break the law. You know how that's going to end, don't you?"
The FBI Agent said nothing, his face as blank as ever, but there was something burning behind his eyes.
"I think we've all heard enough," Lisbon said quickly, fixing the blond guy with a sharp look. "And besides, who are you to talk about stealing? You stole my wallet."
"At least I did it the civilized way. I didn't put a gun to your head."
"You're the reason a gun got put to my head – if it wasn't for you, I would've been out of the store before the robber ever came in."
"Meh," said the blond man. "You weren't that eager to get home, anyway. None of you were."
Lisbon opened and closed her mouth in flabbergasted fury before the words came tumbling out. "How the hell could you possibly know that?"
He motioned at the half-smashed Cracker Jack box, which she'd abandoned on a nearby crate. "Your hopelessly nostalgic purchase, designed to bring back warm memories of holidays past? That smell of charred poultry clinging to your hair and clothes?" The blond man playfully flicked the end of her long, dark hair with his fingertip. "My dear, you literally reek of domestic failure."
"And what do you reek of?" Lisbon shot back. "What's the longest you've ever been without a drink? An hour?"
He just grinned infuriatingly. Lisbon could feel a flush rising in her cold cheeks, and she suddenly realized that all of the others were staring at her. Enrique's bubble gum was clearly visible in his half-open mouth.
Lisbon took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. That was inappropriate. I'm just cold and frustrated, and despite what you may think, I really do want to go home."
"Well, in that case," the blond man said cheerfully, "I think I can help." He straightened up off of the shelf he'd been leaning against and looked around at the group. "I will bet you one hundred dollars that I can get us all out of this room before eight o' clock."
"Oh, yeah?" Lisbon asked skeptically. "How?"
He shook his head. "Uh-uh. First, I need to know if there are any takers. One hundred dollars, to get us all out by eight: going once, going twice…"
"I'll take that bet," Rigsby said, looking a little excited.
Grace frowned at him. "You're an Assistant to the District Attorney – should you really be taking bets?"
Rigsby waved his hand dismissively. "Oh, no worries – it's just a little friendly wager."
The blond man smiled and held out his hand. "Deal?"
"If you get us all out of here by eight, then yeah, deal," said the ADA, reaching out to shake the wallet thief's hand. "But there's no way you're gonna pull it off…"
"Oh, ye of little faith," said the blond guy, his eyes roaming the room until they landed on a large, frost-covered poster that hung on the north wall. He walked purposefully over to it, and Lisbon and the others followed. While they watched, the blond man rapped his knuckles three times in the middle of the poster, which was entitled: "Safe Meat Handling Practices."
Absolutely nothing happened.
"Is this the part where you're supposed to be saving us?" Lisbon asked.
The blond man held up a finger. "Just listen." He knocked on the poster again—thunk, thunk, thunk—and then on the empty wall to either side: tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap. And Lisbon understood: the wall behind the poster sounded different – deep, and echoing. Hollow.
"You think there's an opening back there?" she asked.
"Only one way to find out," the blond man replied, and with that, he reached up and tore the paper off the wall.
The space behind the poster had been painted over many times – but even six coats of beige latex couldn't completely conceal the cracks and hinges of a small metal door. Rigsby and the FBI Agent quickly pried the hatch open with some nails they'd managed to pull from one of the crates, and everyone moved in to get a look.
Lisbon's shoulders slumped as she looked into the small, dark space beyond. A rusty, antique-looking metal handle lay at the bottom of the otherwise empty compartment.
"It's just another safe," she complained dejectedly.
The blond man shook his head. "Look closer."
She stepped right up to the hole and stared into it, still unimpressed.
"Closer," he instructed.
Teeth gritted, Lisbon stuck her head all the way inside the compartment. "Is this close enough?" she asked. "Because there's a spider web on my face…"
"Perfect!" the blond guy called. "Now look up."
Lisbon tilted her head up, expecting to see aged wooden boards. Instead, the space above her head stretched long and wide open, going up and up until it disappeared into darkness, like a miniature elevator shaft.
"It's a passage," she said in amazement. "This must go all the way to the top of the building."
Lisbon pulled her head out, and Rigsby instantly stuck his in. "Whoa," he murmured, his voice echoing up the shaft, "It's like a chimney, or –" Suddenly, he jerked his head back out, shaking it back and forth and brushing wildly at his face. The rest of the group stared at him.
"Spider," he explained sheepishly. Then he cleared his throat and looked at the blond man. "Okay, but how does this help us? We can't climb out through there – no one would fit."
"No one your size would fit," the blond guy corrected.
They all turned to look at Enrique.
The boy raised his eyebrows. "¿Qué?"
Chapter 4: The Golden Spotlight
As it turned out, no one needed to climb, after all – the bottom of the compartment was actually a wooden platform that could be raised and lowered on cables that ran up the sides of the shaft. A dumbwaiter. And the antique-looking handle Lisbon had been so quick to disregard was actually a crank. With a little investigating – and quite a bit of paint-peeling – the blond man and the FBI Agent managed to uncover a small hole in the wall just below the door for the dumbwaiter. They fit one end of the crank snuggly into the new opening, and soon the platform was rattling loudly up and down the shaft.
At Lisbon's insistence, they did a proper test run: the group loaded as much meat and milk as they could onto the dumbwaiter – enough to approximate the boy's weight – and hoisted the platform to the top of the shaft. Once it was certain that Enrique wasn't going to plummet to some horrific death, Lisbon helped the boy carefully wedge himself inside the compartment.
Situating his body cross-legged on the platform, he blinked out at her with wide brown eyes that looked much too serious for a nine-year-old. Lisbon gave his bony knee a reassuring pat. "Hey, with any luck, you'll be home before your parents even have a chance to worry."
The boy shook his head. "They do not worry, anyway. Mamá and Papá work late, get home late. A la media noche."
Lisbon smiled. "Then you'll be home in plenty of time. Hopefully, we all will be." She glanced over her shoulder at the others, then turned back to Enrique. "After you get out, see if you can open that door – le puerta – from the other side," she told him, pointing at the heavy door to the cold storage room. "If you can't, get to a phone and call the police – llame a la policía. Tell them where we are. ¿Entiendes?"
The boy swallowed nervously, his brown eyes flitting between Rigsby and the FBI Agent. "Sí," he said.
"Good," said Lisbon. She patted his knee again, but he wasn't looking at her – his eyes had fallen on the blond man.
The wallet thief stepped forward, smiling. He placed the cold penny in the boy's hand.
"For luck," the blond man said. "Para la buena suerte."
Enrique looked at the FBI Agent again, then back at the blond man.
"It's okay," the blond guy told him. "Just go."
The boy nodded, clutching the magic penny.
"You ready?" Lisbon asked.
He nodded again, more firmly.
"Go slow," Lisbon instructed Rigsby, who was manning the crank. "I don't want his clothes getting snagged on anything."
The ADA nodded. "You got it." He started cranking. "Nice and easy…"
Inch by inch, Enrique's bent arms and folded-up legs disappeared from view. After a few minutes, Rigsby was panting, filling the air with white fog, and the FBI Agent stepped forward to take over at the crank. When the dumbwaiter was almost at the top of the shaft, they heard the boy call out:
"¡Alto – I see a door!"
The agent paused, breathing hard. A loud metal banging noise came from above, followed by a creak of rusty hinges and a cry of triumph:
Joyful footsteps paraded around on the second floor, a little boy running just because he could, and Grace and Rigsby beamed at each other, their faces red with cold and happiness. The FBI Agent's eyes crinkled just a little around the corners, and the blond man caught Lisbon's eye, grinning. She grinned back in spite of herself. It was a team effort, after all.
As the sound of Enrique's footsteps gradually petered out, Rigsby scooped up the coat the boy had shed earlier and held it out to Grace.
"We could still be in here a while," the ADA said. "The kid might not be able to open that door by himself."
The young redhead smiled as Rigsby draped the garment across her shoulders. "Thanks."
The FBI Agent wordlessly offered Lisbon his own trench coat, but she shook her head.
"I'm good. Thanks."
He shrugged and put the coat on himself.
The blond man, in his threadbare suit jacket, was the only one who looked like he was really starting to feel the cold. His nose and ears were bright red, and he kept shifting his weight from foot to foot and rubbing his arms. Lisbon recalled her hope from earlier that night – that Sacramento and Chicago would trade weather for the day – and almost smiled. People really did need to be careful what they wished for…
The blond man, who was watching her closely, suddenly smiled.
"You just thought of something," he said. "Tell me."
Lisbon shook her head. "It's nothing." She took a step closer to him. "So…how did you know about that dumbwaiter? It was behind the poster – you couldn't have seen it."
"Oh, there was another one out in the main part of the store. It was painted-over, but I could tell what it was. I figured if one room in this building had a dumbwaiter, some of the others might, too – and that was the only part of the wall we couldn't see."
"Ah," Lisbon said. "Clever."
He gave a little half-shrug, not denying it.
"Hey," Rigsby said, wandering over with Grace by his side, "that was some magic act – you could headline in Vegas. You don't have a show, do you?"
The blond man smiled. "No."
Rigsby looked disappointed. "Really? Because I swear I've seen you someplace before…"
"You look really familiar to me, too," said Grace.
"I just have one of those faces," the blond man said.
Grace smiled. "No, you don't. You don't look like anyone else. I feel like I've seen you recently, too – do you go to St. Augustine's?"
This actually made the blond guy laugh. "Definitely not."
Rigsby was now squinting hard at the blond man's face, as though it were a particularly frustrating Sudoku puzzle. "Damn. This is gonna drive me nuts…"
Lisbon rolled her eyes. "Well, while you're busy figuring that out – " She turned to look at the FBI Agent. "—What's your story?"
"I'm Cho," the agent said succinctly.
"Agent Cho," the blond man corrected.
Lisbon reached out to shake Cho's hand. "Teresa Lisbon."
"Doctor Lisbon," the blond man corrected, as Lisbon clasped Agent Cho's cold fingers.
Cho had a firm grip. She liked that.
"Thanks for trying to help us," she said.
He nodded. "Yeah. Sorry about that."
"You never told us your name," Grace said to the blond man.
"It's Jane," he replied. "Like the girl."
Rigsby snapped his fingers loudly, making everyone jump. "That's it! You were on that TV show! Patrick Jane's Can You Handle It? Oh, man, that thing was great…"
Lisbon raised an eyebrow at Jane. "You were on television?"
"In another lifetime," he said softly.
Actually, Lisbon could kind of see it – with a shave and a haircut, plus a sleek new suit instead of the dilapidated three-piece he was wearing, he would clean up pretty nicely. And that smile…well, it was definitely television-worthy.
"'Can You Handle It?'" Grace repeated. "What was it, like some reality show?"
"More like a talk show," Rigsby explained. "People would come on there and make claims – you know, like, 'I'm not cheating on my husband' or 'I'm not the baby's real father,' and Jane would look them in the eye and then announce to everyone whether they were telling the truth or lying."
"Like a mind-reader?" Grace asked, looking at Jane with interest.
"No such thing as mind-readers," Jane told her.
Rigsby was hardly paying attention to their interaction – he still appeared to be caught up in the nostalgia of the show. "Man, there was this one guy who swore up and down he'd never cheated on his wife…After about ten minutes, Jane had him confessing to three different affairs. By the end of the episode the guy was practically in tears, begging for his wife's forgiveness." The ADA's eyes sparkled. "It was great."
Jane said nothing, his gaze faraway.
"So, why did they cancel that show, anyway?" Rigsby asked. "It had killer ratings."
"Oh," said Jane, his eyes still off in the distance, "I expect the murders did the trick."
Grace stared at him. "Murders?"
Agent Cho raised an eyebrow. "Someone got killed on your show?"
"Not exactly," Jane told them. He'd begun to fiddle with something on his left hand, and Lisbon realized for the first time that he was wearing a wedding ring.
They all waited for him to continue. And, after a moment, he did:
"One afternoon, a man called in to the show. He said his name was John. He claimed to have raped and murdered twenty-two women over the course of six years, never leaving behind a single clue. He claimed to be an unstoppable criminal mastermind, with an entire legion of other killers and rapists under his command, just waiting to carry out his every order. Then he asked me whether I thought he was telling the truth."
"What did you say?" Grace asked in a small voice.
"I told him he was a forty-year-old virgin, probably still living in his mother's basement. A shy, maladjusted little man, heavily immersed in an unhealthy fantasy life. Someone so desperate for attention that he'd call up a talk show claiming to be a serial killer, just for the fleeting sensation of being someone important. I told him to get off the porno sites, stop spending five hundred a month on phone sex, and go to a coffee shop for some actual, human interaction. I told him to get a life…"
Jane swallowed, staring down at his hands. "That night, when I got home, I found my wife and daughter murdered in their beds. There was a cup of Starbucks coffee on the bedside table next to my wife's body, and a note taped to the wall above our bed: 'Do you believe me now?' Right after I read the words, someone hit me from behind. Knocked me unconscious. When I came to, the note, the coffee and the killer were all gone."
Grace brought a hand up to cover her mouth. "Oh, my God…That's awful."
"Yeah." Rigsby nodded, wide-eyed.
"I'm so sorry," Lisbon said softly. "I can't even imagine…"
"They catch him?" Cho asked.
Jane sighed. "They arrested a local man with a history of drug use and violent behavior. Jared Renfrew. According to the police, he was in a drug-induced rage when he broke into my house, searching for money and valuables he could use to buy more drugs. When he realized the house was occupied, he panicked and killed my wife and daughter, knocked me out, and fled. They found him passed out on the beach, five miles from my home, covered in my family's blood. The trial lasted four days."
"Conviction?" Rigsby asked.
Jane nodded. "Double life sentence."
"But what about the coffee?" Lisbon asked. "And the note?"
Jane turned to her, his eyes fierce. "Exactly. Those details make no sense with the official story. Since I was the only one who ever saw them, the police chalked it up to post-concussion confusion – injury and emotional trauma mixing with the day's earlier events to create a false memory. But I know what I saw."
"What about Renfrew?" asked Cho. "What's his version?"
"I've been to see Jared several times since his conviction," Jane said. "His story remains the same: he has no recollection of entering my home or killing my family. The last memory he has from that night is of purchasing heroin from an unfamiliar white man in a red baseball cap. Jared promptly injected the heroin and passed out. He awoke the next morning in the hospital, under police guard. They told him he was under arrest for murder."
Lisbon frowned. "If he only took heroin, then it's not likely he went into a rage. Heroin slows both heart rate and respiration – users tend to become drowsy and lethargic, not manic. Did they test him for other drugs?"
"The hospital's initial blood test was compromised due to technician error. A second test revealed heroin – and nothing else – in his system, but the prosecutor argued that another drug could have left his system by the time the hospital realized its mistake and re-did the test. Renfrew claims he only did heroin, though."
"And you believe him," Grace said softly.
"I've looked into his eyes," Jane said, focusing on her. "He has even allowed me to hypnotize him, and his version of events doesn't change."
Lisbon kept her medical opinion about the use of hypnosis in memory recovery to herself. She did have a question, though, and Rigsby asked it for her:
"What about the blood, though? Renfrew was covered in your family's blood…"
"I believe that he was set up. I believe the man who sold him that heroin put a little something extra in the mix, something guaranteed to knock Renfrew out for hours – long enough to murder my family and plant the bloody clothes. This man, the man in the red baseball cap, is the real killer. He's the one who called in to my show, and then murdered my wife and daughter as punishment after I belittled him. I told him to get a life, so he took mine. He left the coffee and the note there for me to find, so that I would know it was him…"
"And then took them away," Cho said grimly. "So no one would believe you."
Jane nodded. "Yes."
"You know how crazy that sounds, right?" Lisbon asked gently.
Jane smiled sadly. "Yes."
Rigsby cleared his throat. "But, I mean, if this John guy really is real, if he's still out there and the police really have no clue that he even exists…"
"…Then who knows how many more murders he's already gotten away with," Grace finished for him in a hushed voice.
"Thirteen," Jane answered promptly. "That I know of." They all looked at him, and he shrugged. "I've done a little investigating on my own, since the police – " His eyes slid onto Cho "—had better things to do. After he killed my family, John developed a little calling card: coffee mugs."
Lisbon raised her eyebrows. "Coffee mugs?"
Jane looked intense, almost manic. "Yes, coffee mugs. Sometimes he leaves one overturned in the sink. Other times there's one missing from a matching set, or broken in the struggle with the victim, or simply set in some random place inside the house – someplace a mug wouldn't ordinarily be. It's just a little detail – easily overlooked."
"Then why bother to do it?" Lisbon asked.
"For me," Jane answered. "He does it for me. He wants me to know…"
Jane's voice trailed off, his eyes haunted, and Lisbon felt a shiver trickle down her spine. The others were silent, their minds undoubtedly churning with similar strange, disturbing thoughts. Lisbon was about to join them in their ruminations, when another thought hit her. She checked her watch, then looked over at the door.
"Hey," she said. "Shouldn't that kid have let us out by now?"
Rigsby frowned, looking at his own watch. "Yeah, I wonder what's taking him so long…"
"Maybe he had trouble finding a phone," Grace suggested.
"I told him to try the door first, then call the police," Lisbon pointed out. "He should've made it back downstairs by now…" She glanced around at them all for confirmation. "…Right?"
Jane just smiled at her, his breath a ghostly mist out in front of him. "Oh, he's not coming back."
Chapter 5: Red Rum
Lisbon stared at him. "What do you mean 'he's not coming back'?"
"You really don't know?" Jane asked, cocking his head at her. He jabbed a thumb in Cho's direction. "He does. Go on, tell her."
"The kid's an illegal," Cho said quietly.
Grace frowned. "How do you know that?"
"It's obvious," Jane said, before Cho could answer. "He got frightened when he realized Lisbon was a doctor because he's never had proper medical care before. He also got unmistakably nervous when she mentioned calling the police, said both of his parents were working until midnight on a national holiday – some form of illegal labor, most likely – and he gave us a false name."
Jane picked up The Enquirer from the crate where Enrique had left it and unrolled the magazine so they could all read the name in the cover headline:
Enrique Iglesias' Secret Mermaid Encounter: 'I knew no one would believe me'
Lisbon glared at Jane, hating him for being right yet again, and hating herself for being such a sucker.
"So what if he's an illegal?" Grace asked. "Why does that mean he won't come let us out?"
Jane huffed a laugh. "What, and risk having to stay here until the police arrive? Risk having to answer questions about his family and where he lives? He was an illegal alien trapped in a room with a federal agent and an Assistant District Attorney – he was lucky to make it out without being discovered. No way he's coming back."
"Still, that's no excuse to just leave us in here," Lisbon complained. "He had other options."
"Yeah," Rigsby agreed. "He could still call the police anonymously. He doesn't have to give his name – he just has to tell them what happened and where we are."
"Something he will do, no doubt, once he's a safe distance away," Jane said. "Just as soon as little 'Enrique' manages to find a pay phone, Sacramento's finest will be on their way. But until then, we're on our own."
"Great," said Lisbon flatly.
The others said nothing. After a moment, Cho blew on his hands, the air puffing between his fingers like dragon smoke. Rigsby and Grace shifted closer together, both looking pale and cold in the bluish fluorescent lighting.
"Oh, cheer up," Jane told them, though he looked the palest and coldest of all. "I'm sure it won't be long, now. And think of it this way – you'll all have stories to tell your families when you get home."
"Yeah," Lisbon muttered. "If they didn't maul each other to death while I've been gone."
At the thought of Tommy and James, she reached over and picked up the half-crushed Cracker Jack box. While the others watched in silence, Lisbon bent and pinched the cardboard, attempting to get the box back into something resembling its original shape. The box was flimsy, though, and the results ended up looking more deformed than when she'd started – the weak cardboard was now wrinkled in some places, bulging in others. It was a perfect metaphor for everything else about this Thanksgiving:
Every time Lisbon tried to make things better, they only got worse.
After another short while of trying to bully the snack box back into shape, she noticed Rigsby staring at it with a kind of raw, open longing. Lisbon knew that look. It was the same one her brothers used to wear when they came in from playing soccer – the look that said, "If you don't have dinner ready in the next sixty seconds, we're going to start eating the house." Lisbon could practically hear Rigsby's stomach growling from five feet away. He raised his eyebrows hopefully at her, and she scowled.
"This was the only box they had," Lisbon told him.
"I'll pay you back for them," he said quickly. "Honest."
"Technically, I haven't even paid for them yet," she said.
Rigsby looked at Grace. "I'll pay you back for them, then. I'll reimburse the store." He gaze traveled back to Lisbon like a sad, hungry, enormous puppy.
"Oh, fine," she snapped, shoving the box at him. "Just take it."
"Thanks," he said quickly, already tearing through the cardboard and stuffing a handful into his mouth. "Fanks a wot!"
Lisbon rolled her eyes. It didn't matter, not really. One crumpled box of caramel corn and coated peanuts wasn't going to change anything for her or her brothers. She watched the crunchy snack disappear into Rigsby's mouth at a rate that made her glad she knew the Heimlich maneuver. Once he finished steam shoveling the last pile of caramel corn into his apparently bottomless stomach, Rigsby reached for one of the strawberry milks on a nearby shelf. With a promise to pay for that, too, he quickly guzzled the contents of the bottle and reached for another.
Grace shuddered. "How can you want to drink anything cold right now?"
Rigsby shrugged. "I'm thirsty." He looked around at the others. "Anybody else want one?"
"Pass," said Cho, looking at Rigsby's strawberry-chocolate mustache in distaste.
"Liquid that goes in will have to come out," Jane sing-songed softly, staring down at his shoes.
He'd been mostly quiet these past ten minutes, so Lisbon hadn't really been paying much attention to him. Now that she was, she saw that his hands were jammed in his pockets, and he was shaking even harder than before. She could also make out a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead, despite the cold. Lisbon frowned. Grace looked over at Jane, too, and her pretty head cocked in concern.
"Are you all right?" the redhead asked.
"Oh, yes. I'm fine." He flashed them all a wan smile, not quite meeting Lisbon's eye. "Right as rain."
"No, you're not," Lisbon said. And, remembering one of her earlier observations, she was starting to understand why. She stepped closer, trying to get a better look at him. "Withdrawal?"
He did meet her gaze, then, and his smile softened, almost like a pleased parent. "Yes."
Grace stared at Jane, horrified. "You take drugs?"
"No," said Lisbon. "Alcohol. Chronic, heavy drinkers experience side effects when they stop cold turkey." She turned back to Jane. "When was the last time you had a drink?"
"Hmmm," he said. "A doctor's question, yet spoken with an edge of emotion. I'd wager that someone in your family—"
"Stop deflecting," Lisbon ordered. "Answer the question."
Jane dropped his head, defeated. "Going on seven hours. Hence the theft of your wallet – which was very lovely, by the way. Bald eagles are such noble birds. Did you know they were actually named that because—"
"Hush," Lisbon said, gently guiding him over to one of the crates. "Sit." He did, and then reluctantly held still while she took his pulse. "Your heart rate's a little fast. Feels like you have a slight fever, too – any previous history of DTs or withdrawal seizures?"
Jane shook his head.
"Headache?" she asked.
"Like the inside of a tympani," he admitted.
Jane glanced at Rigsby. "Not as nauseous as he will be after drinking a half-gallon of expired milk."
Rigsby's eyes popped wide. He quickly grabbed one of the empty bottles and started searching for the printed date.
Lisbon rolled her eyes and refocused on Jane. "Right now, your symptoms aren't life threatening, but you still need to go to the hospital for monitoring. Things can get a lot worse before they get better, and there are some medications that can help make the symptoms abate."
"I know a quicker way to make them abate," Jane said. He mimed guzzling a beer and then grinned at them all. No one smiled back. Jane raised his eyebrows, his smile fading. "Ooh. Tough crowd."
"There are programs that can help you," Lisbon said.
Jane looked up at her, sad and serious. "I know."
"If you won't go to the hospital, at least go someplace where you won't be alone – even if you start drinking again within the hour, there can still be complications. You're not out of the woods, yet."
"Duly noted," Jane said.
"So you have somewhere to go?" Lisbon pressed. "Someone to keep an eye on you after you leave here?" It felt cruel, asking him if he had someone now that she knew what had happened to his family – but she had to know.
"I have someplace to go," Jane said, his eyes flicking inexplicably onto Grace. The redhead frowned at him, looking baffled at first, then coming to some sort of realization that made her mouth fall open. The young woman quickly averted her gaze, and Jane turned back to Lisbon. "And I won't be alone," he promised.
Lisbon nodded. "Good."
It was probably the best she could hope for.
The room lapsed into cold silence as most of them shifted and rubbed their arms, while Jane continued to tremble from a combination of fever, chills and detox. After a moment, Agent Cho wordlessly removed his trench coat and tossed it at Jane, who smiled gratefully and wrapped it around himself. Another minute or so passed with their breaths soundlessly misting the air, and then Grace spoke up.
"What did you mean earlier, when you said none of us really wanted to go home tonight?" she asked Jane.
He sat up a little straighter, brightening at the distraction. "Well, in Agent Cho's case, it's obvious – he has to go home and face his girlfriend, who's just stolen merchandise and put him in the uncomfortable, dangerous position of trying to cover up her crime." Jane glanced over at Cho. "Not the first time, either, I expect. And we've already been over Dr. Lisbon and her domestic fiasco – feuding brothers, alcoholic father, I'm guessing?"
Lisbon narrowed her eyes at him, refusing to rise to the bait.
"But what about the Assistant District Attorney, over here?" Jane pressed on.
Rigsby froze, and an image of a buck in the bright glare of oncoming headlights flashed through Lisbon's mind.
"What about me?" Rigsby asked.
"You have a young son, but clearly you and the mother are separated. Still on icy terms, too, from the sound of that phone call. You were trying to come together for the sake of the child, give him a normal family holiday – whatever that means – but you forgot something your ex asked you to bring. Something difficult to find, no doubt. Something she knew you'd have trouble with, and that's exactly why she asked you to do it. She wanted an excuse to put your son to bed early, an excuse to punish you, but the truth is, she would've been ticked off even if you'd shown up on time with an entire spice rack in your coat. The good doctor here wasn't the only one looking for a recipe to bring the family back together." Jane nodded at the empty Cracker Jack box, which was now wedged in between two strawberry milk bottles.
Rigsby looked down at his hands, then up at Lisbon. "Yeah, well, at least we were trying, right? Better than giving up."
"Definitely," said Grace firmly. She reached out to give Rigsby's arm a gentle squeeze, and he smiled at her. Grace smiled back, then fixed her gaze on Jane, almost like a challenge. "What about me?" she asked. "I don't have any family problems."
"Everybody has family problems," Jane reasoned.
"Well, sure – there's always little stuff. Maybe somebody left the milk out and it went sour—"
Rigsby's stomach gurgled loudly.
"—Or somebody forgot to pay the electric bill once or twice," Grace went on. "But nothing serious. My boyfriend and I are happy."
At the word "boyfriend," Rigsby's shoulders deflated a little. Lisbon shot him a sympathetic look.
"Who left the milk out?" Jane asked.
"I did," Grace said.
"And who forgot to pay the bill?"
"That was me, too."
"So you can't think of anything that he did? You can't remember one single time your boyfriend really screwed up?"
Grace frowned. "Not off the top of my head."
"And that doesn't strike you as odd?" Jane asked.
"No. Craig's a good man. We're happy together. That's what I've been saying."
"No, what you've been saying is that your boyfriend is perfect. The man who never leaves the milk out, or forgets the electric bill. The man who bought you those sparkly diamonds, not because it was your anniversary, or Valentine's day, but just because. He's every girl's dream, isn't he? Too good to be true. And that's the problem, isn't it?" Jane fixed Grace with that intense stare of his, wide black pupils burning right into her. "No one is that good. There must be something there, under the surface. Something he keeps hidden from you. Some tiny, nagging doubt that makes you pull away, just a little, when he leans in to kiss you. Something that makes you wonder, deep down, if he really is the man he says he is."
Grace crossed her arms, looking defiant. "You've never even met Craig. You don't know him at all."
"Do you?" Jane asked.
"Yes," Grace said, jutting her chin out like a little girl refusing to put on her mittens.
"Wrong," said Jane. "You're far too trusting. It's going to get you into trouble one of these days. In fact, it already has gotten you into trouble."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Jane gestured at the room around them. "Look where we are. If you hadn't trusted your friend Lenny, I can guarantee you we'd all be about twenty degrees warmer right now."
Grace frowned at him, her forehead puckering. "What're you saying, that Lenny lied about his daughter having a play tonight, just to get out of work?"
"No, I'm sure the play's quite real."
"Then how did my 'trustfulness' get me into trouble?" Grace asked. "If anything, it's the opposite – the store got robbed on my watch. I'm the one who let Lenny down. He trusted me…"
"No," Jane said quietly. "He set you up."
Chapter 6: White Lies
"Set her up for what?" Lisbon asked.
"To be here when the store was robbed," Jane replied.
Grace scoffed. "What? That's stupid."
"Actually," said Jane, "it's quite brilliant." He looked around the cold room like a professor addressing his lecture hall. "It's no secret that small businesses are hurting in this economy. And we can assume, based on his decision to keep this store open late on Thanksgiving, that your friend Lenny is one of those feeling the pinch. He has a young daughter, he can't compete with the new Super Kmart's prices, and the shops on either side of him have already crumbled under the pressure. Who could blame him for feeling a little desperate?" Jane's eyes sparkled. "And we all know what kinds of measures desperate people go to, don't we?"
"You think he had his own store robbed for the insurance money," Cho said.
Jane shrugged. "Why not? It's a win-win – he gets to keep the stolen money, plus the insurance company's payout."
"Insurance fraud is at an all-time high right now," Rigsby conceded. "But what does that have to do with Grace being here? Why not just fake the robbery during his own shift?"
"Well, you've just said it yourself – insurance fraud is getting more and more common. The risk of getting caught is higher than ever," Jane said. "So what would make a robbery claim indisputable? What would make the police and the insurance company guaranteed to believe that the store was indeed actually robbed?"
"A witness," Lisbon answered quietly, not quite able to meet Grace's eye.
Jane grinned. "Not just any witness – a good, honest, church-going witness with absolutely nothing to gain from lying."
They were all looking at Grace, now. The redhead looked back at them with fiery defiance.
"You're wrong," she said to Jane. "Lenny's a good person. He would never do something like this."
"He did try to protect you," Jane said gently. "When you were opening the safe, the robber said he wouldn't hurt you. He said it again when you were coming out from behind the counter: 'I'm not going to hurt you.' The rest of us got no such assurance. Lenny must have told him that no matter how things went down, you mustn't be harmed."
Grace's defiant expression wavered a little.
"You have to admit, it does kind of make sense," Rigsby told her softly.
"His daughter's play would make a solid alibi," Cho put in. "Steer any suspicion away from his involvement."
"And he did give you the combination to the safe – that's a big responsibility for someone who'd never even worked here before tonight," Lisbon pointed out.
"He gave me the combination so I could put the money from the register inside," Grace said, "and he gave me the keys so I could lock—" She broke off, turning her head sharply to look at Jane. "The keys…why would the robber take the keys to the store?"
Jane smiled, matter-of-factly. "So he could lock up on the way out. If the store got robbed for real, that would take a cut out of the profits, wouldn't it?"
Grace brought a hand up to cover her mouth. Lisbon could see tears shining in the young woman's eyes.
"Oh, my God," Grace murmured. "That son of a bitch."
"Hey," Rigsby said. "We don't know for sure that he did it…"
They all fixed him with a unanimous, skeptical look.
"I mean, it doesn't look good," he went on quickly. "But it's all just speculation. We can't really prove anything."
"Well, we might be able to," Jane said.
Lisbon raised an eyebrow at him. "How?"
He looked over at Grace, who was still absorbing the shock of betrayal. "How good of an actress are you?"
Chapter 7: Black Magic
A/N: A big, huge, enormous THANK YOU to Bruna Fights Back over at FFN for fixing up my Spanish for me! I am so grateful to you for taking the time to do that! And thanks to everyone who's still hanging in there after all these annoying delays - your boundless patience is greatly appreciated.
Chapter Seven: Black Magic
Jane had barely finished setting the stage when the group heard the wail of police cruisers arriving outside. He looked to Lisbon and Cho, who both nodded their readiness. Rigsby and Grace were already in position. Out in the store, Lisbon heard glass breaking, followed by a jingling bell and a stampede of squeaking, thumping shoes. A young, familiar Hispanic voice piped up among the lower-pitched adult ones:
"¡En la parte de atrás! – back there!"
Lisbon glanced over at Jane and raised an eyebrow. Apparently, he wasn't always right.
"Hey," Grace whispered, not opening her eyes. "Was that Enrique?"
"Shhh," said Rigsby. "You're supposed to be—"
There was a loud clang directly outside the door, and they all fell silent.
"It's okay," a gruff male voice called from the other side. "I'm Officer Roberts with the Sacramento Police Department – we're gonna get you out of there."
There was another clang and a sound of scraping metal before the door finally peeled open. An African American man with grizzled grey hair and a deep blue police uniform quickly pushed the door wide.
"Is everybody all ri—" he started to ask, but stopped short at the sight of Grace.
The pretty redhead lay in peaceful repose on the floor. Cho's coat was bundled underneath her head as a makeshift pillow, while Rigby's was spread out beneath her. Grace's eyes were closed, delicate lashes splayed across lifeless white cheeks. Her hair was a splash of bold fire around her pale, motionless face. Rigsby knelt over her, grimly holding a single, bloody tissue in his hands. The rest of the red-stained Kleenexes were clumped in the center of her unmoving ribcage.
"Oh God," said the officer, reaching for his walkie-talkie. "I'll call for an ambulance…"
"It's too late," Lisbon told him. "I'm a doctor. She's already gone."
Officer Roberts stared at Lisbon. "I don't understand – what the hell happened? The kid said everyone was fine…"
As if on cue, Enrique nudged his way into the entrance. His face paled and he shook his head in disbelief. "No, no puede haber muerto…She can't be…" He started to rush over to Grace, but a female officer quickly appeared in the doorway and herded him out of the room.
Enrique's protests of "No! She was okay! She was okay!" continued to ring through the hall as the woman led him away, and Lisbon felt a swoop of guilt. They'd never intended for the boy to see any of this…
Officer Roberts looked at her, still waiting for an answer, and Lisbon forced herself back into her role.
She gazed at the policeman somberly. "There was a piece of glass embedded in her chest. She must've been hit when the countertop exploded, and didn't even feel it. After the boy escaped, she started having trouble breathing. The shard nicked her heart, causing blood to fill the space around her lungs…"
Lisbon looked down at the floor, conjuring soul-draining memories of real failure – of kneeling atop a gurney with sweat-plastered hair, that awful flatline beeeeeeeeep squealing in her ears – then she met the officer's eyes once more, and delivered her last line with a convincing waver: "We did everything we could, but it wasn't enough to save her."
The officer shook his head sadly. "Damn…"
Cho walked over, holding up his badge. "Agent Cho, FBI. Has the store owner been contacted yet?"
"My partner, Officer O'Dell, got in touch with him just before we arrived at the scene," said the officer. "He should be here in a few minutes."
Cho nodded. "Good. All right, let's get these people out of here and seal off the area."
Lisbon was not sorry to leave the refrigeration room behind. Warm air rushed up to greet her as she shuffled out into the hallway, the heat prickling pleasantly at her stiff red cheeks. The sensation reminded Lisbon of coming inside the house after a long afternoon of snowball wars and igloo-building. Nothing like tromping into the kitchen with her brothers, ice clumps still clinging to their hair, and finding four steaming mugs of hot chocolate waiting on the table. Somehow, their mother had always timed it perfectly…
Lisbon started to smile at the memory, but quickly caught herself and transformed her expression into something suitably gloomy. It wouldn't do to look too happy. Not yet, anyway. Rigsby didn't seem to be having any trouble staying in character – he kept throwing worried glances back over his shoulder at the refrigeration area, and Lisbon realized it wasn't all part of the act. He genuinely felt bad about leaving Grace lying there alone on the frigid concrete floor.
When they got out into the main part of the store, Lisbon spotted the one member of their party who wasn't acting – little Enrique was leaning up against a frozen soft drink machine, looking despondent. Lisbon walked over to him.
Keeping his face downcast, the boy scuffed one of his beat-up tennis shoes on the floor. "I…I try to come fast," he said in a broken voice. "But I have to climb down the fire ladder – la escalera de incendios. And then, the door-" He gestured hopelessly at the shop's front entrance "-It is locked. I call la policía as soon as I can…" He scuffed his shoe again, and Lisbon could see him blinking rapidly, trying to air-dry his tears before they could fall.
Something inside of her cracked. How many times had she seen Tommy like this – shoulders hunched, jaw set, throat working like mad to fight back the inevitable? This set-up, or "sting," or whatever Jane wanted to call it wasn't worth hurting a child like this. Lisbon looked pleadingly at Jane, but he shook his head and held up a finger: Give it one more minute. She glared at him and turned her attention back to Enrique.
"You did the best you could," Lisbon said gently, putting an arm around the boy's bony shoulders. "You did great." She pulled him closer, and he leaned into her, smelling like sweat and old sneakers and grape bubble gum. Lisbon felt tears burn at her own eyes. She stroked her fingers through Enrique's glossy black hair and murmured, "It'll be okay. Todo saldrá bien. I promise. Trust me."
The sound of a bell made her look up. A dark-haired man in a suit and tie hurried inside the shop, his eyes traveling over the damage. He spotted the female police officer, O'Dell, and strode over to her.
"Are you Lenny?" the officer asked.
The man nodded. "Yeah…God, I can't believe this – is everyone all right?"
"The customers are all okay," Officer O'Dell said slowly, "but the cashier was fatally injured during the course of the robbery. I'm so sorry…"
The man's tanned face turned milk-white. "Grace…? She-she's dead?"
"I'm sorry," O'Dell repeated.
"No…" The man began to shake his head. "No, she can't be. Where is she? At the hospital?"
"She's in the back, in the refrigeration area," the officer started to say, "but you can't—"
The man in the suit rushed past her, heading for the door marked "Employees Only."
"Sir, wait!" Officer O'Dell called, hurrying after him, "You can't go back there yet!"
Jane stepped forward and blocked the officer's path. "Just give him a moment. Let him say goodbye."
O'Dell nodded reluctantly. Jane caught Lisbon's eye and started edging closer to the "Employees Only" door, which the owner had left ajar. Lisbon gave Enrique's shoulder one last reassuring squeeze before heading for the door herself. After everything they'd been through tonight, this was one moment she didn't want to miss. Cho and Rigsby ambled over, too, and they all met on the threshold. Jane playfully pressed a finger to his lips and began to tiptoe down the hallway with exaggerated steps, looking like Wile E. Coyote. Both officers immediately opened their mouths in protest, but Cho silently held up his badge and motioned for the officers to stay put.
Lisbon huddled in close with Cho and Rigsby at the employee door, listening hard. So far, all she could hear was the owner, Lenny, crying softly. Jane, who was all the way over by the refrigeration door, grinned and beckoned her closer. After a quick glance at Cho – who gave her a flat look that seemed to say, Okay, but don't screw it up – Lisbon crept forward to join Jane.
Gradually, the quiet sobs spilling through the open door morphed into shaky words:
"Oh God, Grace…I'm so sorry. I never thought this would happen. Never, never in a million years…"
Lenny started to cry again, and Lisbon began to wonder if they were torturing an innocent man for no good reason. She quirked an eyebrow at Jane, who grinned and held up his index finger. Wait for it…
The storeowner sniffled loudly and went on, "Oh, Grace…It wasn't supposed to happen this way – you weren't supposed to get hurt…"
Lisbon's heart rate kicked up a notch. Jane smiled wider.
"He swore you wouldn't get hurt, he swore it to me…I made him promise…"
"Made who promise?" Jane asked loudly, stepping into the doorway.
Chapter 8: Like a Red Rubber Ball
A/N: Once again, a huge thank you goes out to FFN's wonderful Bruna Fights Back for taking the time to edit my horrible Spanish in these last two chapters! :) Another big thank you to anyone who's still reading this fic - it's been a long road, and I so appreciate you sticking with me 'til the end.
Lisbon could only imagine the frozen, stunned look on Lenny's face. The long beat of silence almost spoke for itself.
As soon as the owner found his tongue, he began backpedaling immediately. "I…what? Who are you? What are you doing back here?"
"Lost a button," Jane said, holding up his arm. Lisbon could see that there was, indeed, a button missing from his ragged jacket cuff. "Did I just hear you right? You said someone promised you this woman wouldn't get hurt?"
"No, no – you misunderstood. I promised Grace she would be safe working here tonight. I told her this was a safe neighborhood. That's all you heard…"
"Nice try," Jane told him. "But you're a terrible liar. And, from the sound of it, a murderer, too."
"That's insane – I would never hurt Grace."
"Maybe not," Jane said, "but the man you hired to rob your store wasn't so careful, was he?"
"I never hired anyone. I had nothing to do with this…"
"Well, if we can't agree, then I guess we should leave it up to the police to decide," Jane replied cheerfully. "Shall I call them in and tell them what I just heard?" He took a deep breath and raised his voice. "Officer?" He got a little louder, almost yelling. "Offic-!"
"Shhhhhh!" Lenny hissed. "All right, all right. Just – what do you want?"
"Hmmmmm…" Jane tapped a finger to his chin, pretending to think it over. "I'll take half the insurance payout, plus your watch."
"You can't have half," Lenny whispered angrily. "No way."
"Are you really in a position to bargain? Once the police start looking into you as a serious suspect, the trail won't be hard to find. The price for my silence is low compared to a lifetime in prison for felony murder, don't you think?"
"Fine," Lenny snapped. "Half the insurance money, plus my watch, and you keep your mouth shut."
"Just one quick question: If you were so anxious to protect this woman, why not hire someone you actually trusted?" Jane asked curiously.
"I did trust Kenneth. I trusted him with my life." Lenny sounded disgusted. Something metal clinked against the floor. "Here, take this and get out. You can come back next week for the money, but I'm done answering your questions."
"That's all right," Jane said pleasantly. "I think I have all I need." He raised his voice again. "Cho, is that all we need?!"
Agent Cho brushed past Lisbon and strode into the room. "It's enough," he said quietly.
"What the hell is this?" Lenny protested.
Lisbon poked her head into the refrigeration room in time to see Cho holding his badge up for Lenny to see. "Agent Cho, FBI. You're under arrest for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, insurance fraud and assault."
Lenny's shocked eyes quickly turned murderous as they fell on Jane. "You little bastard! You set me up!"
"Now you know how I feel," Grace said coldly, opening her eyes and sitting up. Then she winced and rubbed the back of her neck. "Ooh, stiff…"
Every last drop of color drained from Lenny's face. Lisbon had worked in the medical field for almost a decade, and she'd never seen anyone turn so white so fast. She took a step closer, just in case the guy actually fainted.
"Grace…" he mumbled feebly. "You're alive…"
"No thanks to you," the redhead replied, accepting Rigsby's hand as he hurried over to help her up.
"But…I…" Lenny was at a loss for words, and Cho took the opportunity to handcuff him, read him his rights and march him out into the hallway.
Lisbon and the others followed, exchanging triumphant grins. Jane happily admired his new gold watch, while Rigsby told Grace how great her performance was.
"My nose was itching the whole time," Grace laughed.
They emerged into the main store a smiling, chattering group, buzzed on the high of a successful operation. Even Cho looked pleased, although for him a pleased expression and a grim one weren't all that far apart. For Lisbon, it was like the rush after stitching up a spurting artery – seeing the patient stabilize, knowing she'd done her part to save a life. Or, in this case, solve a crime.
The best moment, however, was the look on Enrique's face when he saw Grace: The purple gum fell right out of his mouth. He immediately ran over and threw his arms around Grace in the mother of all bear hugs, exclaiming,
"¡Es un milagro! ¡Un Milagro!"
"No miracle," Jane told him, once Enrique finally let go. "Just a trick."
In a quick flash, Jane made a red plastic bottle cap appear from inside the boy's ear. Enrique grabbed hold of the cap, eyes sparkling.
After that came a flood of confused questions from the police officers, which Cho, Lisbon, and the others all tried their best to answer. Once the whole story had been told – in both English and Spanish – things began to settle down. Cho transferred custody of the prisoner to Officer O' Dell, and everyone took turns giving formal statements.
Lisbon finished relaying her official version of the events to Officer Roberts, then went to join Rigsby and Cho, who were huddled in a far corner, talking in low voices. She had a feeling she knew what they were discussing, and had a few ideas of her own to add to the conversation. As soon as she was finished there, Lisbon moseyed back to the front of the store, where Jane was teaching Enrique how to make the bottle cap vanish into thin air, and then reappear.
While Lisbon watched, the boy held the cap between two fingers and then flicked his wrist, managing to almost completely conceal the plastic in his palm.
"Getting better," Jane told him.
The boy beamed and went back to practicing.
Lisbon gave Jane an appraising look. She noticed his hands were stuffed in his pockets, probably shaking too badly to do the trick himself. "How're you feeling?"
"Oh, I'll live," Jane murmured, his wistful eyes never leaving the boy. Lisbon wondered if he was thinking of his own child.
"Hey," said Grace, ambling up beside Lisbon. "Officer Roberts just needs to get Enrique's statement, and then we're all set."
Shoulders wilting, Enrique stopped playing with the bottle cap and headed over to where Officer Roberts waited with a pen and notepad.
As soon as the boy was out of earshot, Grace looked at the others in concern. "Will he be all right? After everything he did for us, I don't want him to get in trouble…"
"We'll keep an eye on him," Jane told her. "It's all a matter of timing."
Before Lisbon could ask what he meant by that, Cho and Rigsby walked up to join the group.
"That was a pretty good sting," Cho said, looking around at everyone. "You'd all make good cops – except you." His eyes had fallen on Jane. "Consultant, maybe. Not a cop."
Jane smiled. "Like Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I can see that…A brilliant mind, assisting Sacramento's finest on their toughest, most hard-to-crack cases. An indispensable asset, called upon in the darkest of times. A clever observer of human behavior, able to pinpoint even the slightest indications of deception…"
"A dangerously over-sized head," Lisbon said sourly, "in desperate need of deflating."
Everyone, including Jane, laughed.
"Seriously, though," Rigsby said, his expression sobering slightly, "You do have kind of a talent. Agent Cho and I have been talking, and we both think you might be onto something with this serial killer, John."
All of the mirth had died from Jane's face. He was now looking back and forth between the two men almost hungrily. "You…" Jane swallowed roughly. "Will you look into it?"
"I can pull some strings," Cho said. "Have our guys look over your family's case and any others with a similar MO. See if there's a pattern."
"I can help you," Jane said quickly. "I know this killer. I've been to all the crime scenes, and I've spoken to the families involved."
"How'd you land that kind of access?" Rigsby asked curiously. Jane opened his mouth to answer, but the ADA held up a hand. "No – never mind. If it's anything illegal, you probably shouldn't tell me."
Jane shrugged. "Fair enough." His hopeful eyes turned back to Cho. "What do you say?"
Cho gave him a flat, appraising look. "I say your input could be valuable. But you have to get sober, first."
"I can do that," Jane promised. "I will do that."
Cho studied Jane's face for a long moment. "Okay," the agent said finally. "Give me a call when you're ready, and we'll talk." He handed Jane a scrap of paper with a phone number written on it in dark, slanted letters.
Jane clutched the paper tightly, like he was afraid it would disappear or blow away.
"And I'll use my resources to look into Jared Renfrew's case," Rigsby added. "If he really is innocent, then maybe we can find enough evidence to reopen the investigation."
Momentarily speechless, Jane stared at Rigsby, then looked back at Cho. "Thank you." The words sounded frail and rusty, like he didn't get a chance to use them very often. "Both of you."
"Sure," said Rigsby, smiling. "No problem."
Agent Cho gave a curt nod.
"Do you have a number where we can reach you?" Rigsby asked. "In case there's an update on the investigation?"
Jane glanced over at Grace. "She knows where to reach me."
Rigsby cocked his head at the pretty redhead, baffled. "How do you-?"
"It doesn't matter," Grace said quickly. "I'll go grab a pen, okay?"
Rigsby nodded. "Okay. Thanks."
Jane, meanwhile, was waving his hand, trying to attract Cho's attention. "Uh, Agent? I think you're needed over there…" Jane pointed to where Officer Roberts was taking Enrique's statement. Lisbon noticed that the officer was frowning, and Enrique was shifting uncomfortably.
Lisbon, Jane and Cho hurried to the boy's side.
"Everything okay?" Cho asked the officer.
"Yeah, he gave me his statement and everything, but I still need his contact info – I asked him for it, but I don't think he understood me. My Spanish is pretty limited…"
"That's okay," Cho said. "I'll get his address. And I'll make sure he gets home safe."
Officer Roberts nodded. "Appreciate that, Agent."
Cho put his arm around the boy's skinny shoulders and gently herded him toward the exit. Jane and Lisbon followed, walking side-by-side.
"How did you know the officer was asking for his contact information right then?" Lisbon asked.
"Body language," Jane replied succinctly.
She tried not to look too impressed. "Ah." If he really could get sober, then the FBI was about to get one hell of a consultant. And on that note…
"Here," Lisbon said, pulling a card from the small stack she always kept in her back jeans pocket. She pressed the paper into Jane's hand.
"Alcoholics Anonymous," he read aloud, as they pushed through the partially-shattered glass door and stepped out onto the dark sidewalk.
"Sacramento General has a really great program," Lisbon told him. "They've helped a lot of people. And you did promise Cho you'd get clean…"
"It was your idea, though, wasn't it?" Jane asked. "You put him up to that."
Lisbon just shrugged, unwilling to feel guilty for doing the right thing.
Behind them, the door jingled and Rigsby and Grace stepped outside. Lisbon could see that Rigsby was holding a small piece of paper with a ten digit number scrawled on it in loopy, bubbly handwriting. Jane spotted the paper, too, and waggled his eyebrows at Rigsby as if to say, Got her number for you, didn't I?
Rigsby blushed and stuffed the number in his pocket. Lisbon rolled her eyes. A few yards away, Cho was opening the back door of his sleek black Jeep Grand Cherokee for Enrique. The boy climbed inside and waved at them all as he buckled in. Lisbon grinned as she and the others waved back. Even after Enrique pulled the door shut, she could still make out his faint movements behind the tinted glass.
"You're not going to turn him in, are you?" Grace asked, as Cho returned to the group.
"I said I'd get his address," Cho said. "I never said I'd give it to them."
Grace smiled in relief.
Rigsby, too, was grinning. "Smooth."
The store's bell jingled again as the two officers stepped outside. Officer O' Dell led a very disgruntled-looking Lenny over to her cruiser, while Officer Roberts began to cordon off the doors with yellow crime scene tape.
"Darn it," Grace said suddenly. "I should've called Craig from the store phone while I was in there. He's probably worried sick by now…"
"At least he'll be at home waiting for you," Lisbon grumbled. "There's no way my brothers toughed it out on their own for over three hours. I'm either going home to an empty house, or one that's about to be declared a murder scene…"
"Oh, I don't know," said Jane. "Sometimes ordeals like these can actually bring people together."
Lisbon snorted and started to say, "Not my brothers," but broke off when Jane smiled and nodded at something behind her. She turned just in time to see Tommy's beat-up blue Dodge Ram pull in behind the police cruiser. Her youngest brother leapt out of the driver's side while James threw open the passenger door. They spotted Lisbon instantly.
Both men ran over and began smothering her with hugs, either not knowing or not caring that they were hugging each other a little bit in the process.
"Oh, thank God," Tommy murmured, wrapping his arms around her even more fiercely. "When we heard about what happened…"
"How did you hear what happened?" Lisbon asked, her voice somewhat muffled by James' jacket. "How did you even know I was here?"
"The news," James said, reluctantly releasing her.
Tommy held on just a few seconds longer before finally letting his big sister go. "Yeah, they said there'd been a robbery here, and we could see your car parked out front. Then they said a woman had been killed, and we thought…"
Lisbon's stomach twisted. "Oh, God. I'm so sorry. I should have found a phone right away and called you guys. I never meant to put you through that…"
"It's okay," Tommy mumbled, going in for another hug. "You're okay. That's all that matters."
James nodded. His eyes looked wet as they traveled over the shattered glass door and the robber's dark blood drops spattering the pavement.
"God, I can't believe someone actually died here, tonight…" he said softly.
"Oh, no," Grace told him quickly. "That was just me they were talking about on the news. I was fake-dead."
James and Tommy both stared at her.
"Long story," Lisbon said.
Tommy patted Lisbon's shoulder. "Well, we've got plenty of time to hear it back home. The kids just started an Ice Age marathon, and Annie actually found a part of the bird that's edible..."
"Well, by her definition," James put in, starting to steer Lisbon in the direction of the truck. "Come on, you can ride back with us, and we'll pick up your car tomorrow."
"Okay," Lisbon agreed. "But we better get that ham out of my backseat before we go."
At the mention of the glazed ham, she saw Tommy's eyes shine a little bit brighter. Lisbon grinned and glanced back over her shoulder. She saw Jane starting down the sidewalk, waving his goodbyes to the others.
Lisbon looked back at her brothers. "Um, can you guys just give me a sec?"
She jogged over and caught up with Jane, falling into step beside him. "Leaving without saying goodbye?" she teased.
"I waved, but you were looking elsewhere."
"Ah. Well, it wasn't really goodbye, anyway – I'll be seeing you around the hospital in the next few weeks." She nodded at the AA card in his hand. "Won't I?"
Jane winced. "Eh. Maybe. We'll see."
"So, you're headed home right now?" Lisbon asked.
"And you won't be alone?"
"How far is it?" Lisbon pressed, hoping he wasn't planning to walk twenty blocks by himself while suffering from alcohol withdrawal. It seemed just like the kind of ludicrous thing he would do.
"Oh, it's not far," he assured her. "I'm right at the corner of Fourth and Palms."
Lisbon nodded. "All right. Good. Go straight home, then. And if you start to feel any worse, make sure you call the hospital. Okay?"
Jane's eyes sparkled. "You are a bossy one, aren't you? I bet you're in charge of your whole department…"
"Been running the Sac Gen ER for the past three years," Lisbon admitted, with a touch of pride.
"Well, they're lucky to have you," Jane said softly, ducking his head.
Lisbon smiled. "Thanks…"
There was a pause, then she added, "You know, if you do come by the hospital, maybe you could update me on your family's case. Let me know how the investigation's going and everything…"
"I could," Jane said thoughtfully.
"I'd like that."
They came to a stop at the street corner, and Jane held out his hand. "So…until we meet again, Dr. Lisbon?"
She nodded and clasped his hand firmly. "Until we meet again, Mr.—Oh!" Lisbon gasped as he pulled her into a sudden, Tommy-fierce hug.
Beaming, Jane released her. "Sorry about your wallet, by the way."
Lisbon chuckled, still a little flush from the unexpected hug. "That's okay. It was kind of ugly anyway."
"Just remember – you should always check your pockets after a handsome stranger brushes past you."
Lisbon cocked an eyebrow quizzically. "A handsome stranger…? Oh, you mean you."
Jane grinned. "Funny. That's funny." He turned and started to cross the street. "Oh, I almost forgot – tell Rigsby he owes me a hundred dollars!"
He flashed her one last impish smile over his shoulder, and Lisbon rolled her eyes at him before turning to wander back down the sidewalk. Cho, Rigsby and Grace were all still standing in front of Lenny's, and Lisbon made her way over to them.
"I hope he'll be okay," Grace said, watching Jane amble off down the street.
"He should be," Lisbon told her. "He doesn't have far to go – he said he lives right at the corner of Fourth and Palms."
Rigsby frowned. "No one lives at the corner of Fourth and Palms – there's nothing there but a BP station, a Taco Bell and a homeless shelt…" His eyes widened in realization. "Oh."
Lisbon felt a small pang in her chest. Indeed, Jane would not be alone tonight – she knew from her EMT days that Sacramento shelters never had any shortage of residents.
Rigsby looked over at Grace. "So that's where you know him from?"
"I volunteer there on weekends. I-I didn't want to say anything…I thought it might embarrass him." She looked slightly miserable.
"Well," Lisbon said firmly, "he won't be there forever, right? He's got motivation, now. He's got a reason to pull his life together."
"Do you really think he'll be able to do it, though?" Grace asked, her eyes following Jane's distant progress down the block.
Lisbon thought about it honestly for a moment. In the short time she'd known him, Patrick Jane had stolen her wallet, sleuthed out the details of everyone's personal lives, rescued them all from a locked refrigeration room, and uncovered a conspiracy to commit robbery.
A small smile touched Lisbon's lips. "I think he can do anything he puts his mind to."
"Me, too," Rigsby chimed in. "My money's on Jane, all the way."
Grace beamed at his answer, then all three of them turned to look at Cho. The Asian man cocked his head slightly, watching for a moment as Jane strolled off down the sidewalk. Finally, Cho shrugged and said,
"You never know."
Lisbon's smile widened. For some reason, his opinion had mattered the most of all.
"Oh, and speaking of your money," Lisbon said cheerfully, her eyes back on Rigsby, "Jane says you owe him a hundred bucks."
"What?" the ADA protested. "Why would I owe him—Oh, right…But that was only if he got us out by eight, right?" Rigsby quickly checked his watch. "And it's after nine, now, so really there's no way to know, unless someone checked the time right after we got rescued…"
"Seven-fifty-six," Cho reported promptly.
"Damn," Rigsby grumbled.
Lisbon glanced toward Tommy's truck and saw her brothers leaning on it, waiting. "All right, well, I guess I'd better get going. It was nice meeting you all – I hope we'll see each other again someday. Maybe next time it'll be under better circumstances…" Lisbon smiled wryly and took a step back, waving goodbye to her three new friends.
A soft chorus of "bye"s and "nice to meet you"s followed Lisbon as she headed for the truck. She stopped short at the sight of her SUV, remembering the ham. Lisbon reached into her jacket pocket for the keys, but her fingers brushed against something else – something that crinkled. Frowning, Lisbon pulled out a small, clear plastic bag. Inside, she could see a tiny red rubber ball and five grey metal jacks.
"Need a hand with the ham?" Tommy asked, trotting up behind her. "Hey, are those jacks?"
Lisbon nodded, still staring at the package in her hand.
"Man, we haven't played that game in forever," said James, who'd walked over with Tommy. "Remember that time the ball knocked over Mom's favorite vase, and you and I tried to glue it back together so she wouldn't notice?"
Tommy grinned. "Yeah, I remember you accidentally glued your hand to the top of it, and she wondered why you just kept standing there not moving."
Both men laughed out loud, and Lisbon felt a funny flutter in her chest. It had been so very long since she'd heard that sound…
"Where did you get these, anyway?" James asked, plucking the bag from Lisbon's palm.
"They must've been in the Cracker Jacks box I bought," Lisbon said slowly. "Or, tried to buy anyway, but I don't know how they got—"
Jane's words suddenly rippled through her mind, complete with an image of his most devilish smile:
You should always check your pockets after a handsome stranger brushes past you…
Lisbon recalled his unexpected hug – a perfect opportunity to slip something in her pocket. Grinning, she glanced down the street at the spot where she'd last seen him, but he'd already rounded the corner, out of sight.
No matter. She would thank him the next time she saw him. Lisbon knew where to find him, now, and he knew where to find her.
Until we meet again.
And, in the meantime…
She turned back to her brothers, still smiling brightly. "Come on. Let's go home."