In this week's installment Carl berates Maggie and Elise for getting shot at and they talk about what will happen next with the case. But when Elise leaves it's time for the old friends to discuss their real problems. And it's time for Carl to discover what his breaking point is.*
*This chapter contains strong language, ladies flirting, no blood and the most awkward** fight scene I've ever written.
**For the right level of awkwardness imagine manatees on pogo sticks trying to hit each other with throwing stars.
21. Trouble In Paradise
I ignored Maggie's dark look and lit another cigarette, taking a deep drag and leaning my head back to exhale. I was glad it had gotten warm enough to sit out with the porch heaters on. "You're lucky all you broke was your arm." And the camera.
Elise sank lower in her chair, her ears red. "Could we not do this again?" I don't need to see my life flash in front of my eyes right now.
"Leave her alone, Carl. It was my idea." Maggie winced as she shifted in her seat. I only dislocated it.
I shrugged and gestured toward Elise. "I'm giving her a taste of what the old man has in store when he gets back." I bet you 50 bucks that he uses this to try and get me in the field again.
I wouldn't put it past him, Elise agreed with a tense frown.
Maggie glanced at her and then back at me. "You could admit that I was right about Andrew and push Gates into pulling in another agent." That would be the helpful thing to do, you smug bastard.
I blew smoke toward her and she made a show of waving her hand even though it dissipated before it got anywhere near her. "You're sure that camera is toast? I could have someone look at it." I turned back to Elise who had stopped blushing and was watching us. So how did you put up with her on the plane ride home? She's such a baby about pain.
Jerk. Maggie frowned at me and pulled her coat around her injured shoulder.
I ignored her and looked expectantly at Elise.
She cocked her head to the side. "I took it to my brother. He works with the computer crimes unit. He passed it around to a few techs and it's completely shot. The memory chip was melted." They gave her Demerol, all she did on the flight home was sleep. And snore.
"I did not. I don't snore." Maggie eyed me like I was going to contradict her. Mention the cabin in Aspen and I'll kill you.
I tried to look innocent. "She doesn't snore. Must have been a chainsaw sitting next to you." I took one more drag before stubbing the cigarette out in the flower pot I'd put next to the table. Tell me again what he said to Smith before he started shooting.
Maggie took a sip of her tea and looked away from both of us, through the French doors into the living room. In her mind there was the sound of bullets ricocheting off the truck. "I told you already. He was reckless, abrasive, maybe in some kind of shock from Park Slope." Why don't you tell me what you're really after?
I rubbed my hands together and blew against my cold fingertips. "He threatened to shoot the guy? He meant it?" I stood up and waved them toward the door. I think you might be right about them sending him out too soon, but did you stop and think why? Most agencies have psych evaluations after something like what he went through at The Slope. I moved to help Maggie up but Elise was on her good side and let Maggie hold her arm as she levered herself out of the chair. Elise followed close behind, carrying their mugs.
Cute. I held the door for them and Maggie shot me a dirty look.
I shut the door behind us and followed them into the living room. "If they're sending him out as often as we think after a screw up like Park Slope I don't think he's going to be around long." I took seat on the sofa and let Elise lower Maggie onto the recliner. You need anything? Ice pack? More tea?
"So you think they're going to do something to him?" Elise asked as she took the other end of the sofa. He must be a valuable agent to them.
I held up a hand. "They're setting up something. If he looks like enough of a liability they'll find an op for him that he's not coming back from." Either that or they're going to pull him from the field once they have a replacement.
Maggie played with the strap on her sling and frowned. "You think his boss, Craig, knows he's unstable and is still sending him out? What if he gets nailed again? Aren't they afraid that he'll break?" Or are they hoping he'll get killed first? Solid government tactics?
I sighed, tired of her needling. "I'm telling you what it looks like. I don't think Steadman's going to be out in the field much longer, maybe two months tops." If we don't convince Gates soon we're going to lose the only lead we've got.
"In two months it'll be worthless anyway. We need time to get pictures of Steadman to the right people before the old man can make use of them. I can't see him blowing this off now that we've been right twice." He's not stupid, he'll get someone even if it's just enough to cover a few days, Elise told us, defensive and hopeful all at once.
"I'm sure he will," Maggie said and touched the arm of the sofa near Elise with her fingers, just brushing her hand. "He'll have plenty of money to do it after he fires all of us," she added with an attempt at a lighter tone. He has everything he needs from our notes.
Anyone could find him with the lists we put together. They could track the credit cards. You could keep that out of your official recommendation, Elise. "I could stand to keep the extra paycheck," I said and hoped I wasn't going to have to watch them flirt for much longer.
Elise smiled and I noticed she had a dimple on one side. I also noticed that the smile wasn't directed at me. She was handing Maggie her mug after she'd made an abortive reach for it. "I'll be sure to tell him what he needs to know. That he needs both of you to get Breaker." All three of us. I could stand to keep my paycheck too.
"When are you meeting him?" I asked. My sharp tone got Elise's attention.
Maggie's attention too. What is your problem today? Did Lynn make you sleep on that lumpy couch again?
"Tomorrow morning. I have a few reports to get in before dinner tonight. This is everything you have from the financial records so far?" Elise gestured toward the folders on the table. Are you sure you're ok? You seem tired.
"Yeah, I'm sure." I told her. My problem is I don't need to see the two of you all over each other, ok? I added, careful not to project.
Maggie choked on her tea, coughing hard. Damn… Carl, you jackass, she managed between the choking and jarring her arm.
Elise was half out of her seat. Are you ok?
Even I winced with a phantom twinge in my shoulder and got up to help.
She waved us both back. "I'm fine." Soon the coughing urge was down to a tickle in the back of her throat and she wiped her watering eyes with the edge of her sleeve. "Ok, what were we talking about?"
"You sure you're alright?" Elise asked, poised on the edge of her seat. Did you forget how to drink?
"I'm fine, Carl thought something that wasn't very funny," Maggie told her, eyeing me. I'm going to get you for this.
I cleared my throat. "That's all I have so far on tracing the money. I put in a few additional recommendations for the next surveillance op." I don't see what you're problem is, it's not like I projected it, I told Maggie.
Elise put all of the folders into a pile. "I'd better hit the road if I'm going to get through all of this. You emailed it too?" she asked me and transferred the papers to her briefcase. Are you sure you want me to leave you with this guy?
That got a smile out of Maggie. "He's harmless." It's a damn good thing you didn't project it. Don't take your temper out on me Childers.
"I emailed. Everything you've got there," I said and got up to get the door. I promise she'll leave in one piece.
"I'll see you later," Elise said to Maggie and touched her good shoulder on her way to the door. I'll send you both the official report when I finish it.
I raised my eyebrows at Maggie as I followed Elise to the door. "I'm sure Gates will come around," I said, turning the bolts and releasing the chain. You two had me worried. I'm still having trouble believing that you authorized the whole thing.
"Look, it was a bad idea. I get it. She gets it. Drop it, all right?" Trust me, getting shot at was enough to put me off any future field work, Elise added with a hint of a smile.
I nodded and opened the door. I stepped aside to let her pass. "Good. Here's hoping it did it for her too." I'm glad you're both mostly ok.
She shook her head with an amused look. I think she's right about you. You can't leave anything alone. "I'll call later and tell you how many pieces Gates is going to chop us into." She waved and went down the path to her car, one shoulder dropped low under the weight of her briefcase.
I closed the door and turned the locks.
Maggie had her chin propped up in one hand and was looking at her mug. …maybe not. If I have anymore tea I'm going to have to head to the bathroom again.
"Does seem to be an occupational hazard of drinking things," I said. I can get you another cup.
She shook her head. "Wait until you have to undo your fly with one hand, then we'll see how much you want to go," she said and shifted against the chair. So are you going to tell me what's wrong or do I have to guess?
"Maybe I'm worried about you because you convinced Elise to go with you on this half-assed op and you got shot at," I suggested and sank back onto the sofa. I am tired.
I could tell. You were being a jerk, she informed me, and then her tone softened. "If that was it you wouldn't have said maybe. What's going on?"
I sighed and looked up at the ceiling. "You can't stop being a shrink for ten minutes can you?" I'm allowed to be cranky after sleeping on the damn sofa. I covered my face with my hand, I hadn't meant to tell her that.
"Christ Carl, I don't bite. You don't have to tell me what you were fighting about." You could tell me why you're so uptight about Elise and I flirting. You've been trying to throw me at any woman who sends a stray thought my way since that bank robbery.
So you admit you were? I looked at her, feeling I was on safer ground.
She rolled her eyes. "Of course I was. What did you expect me to say? You were right there. I have to put a leash on it tonight." When is Lynn supposed to be back anyway? I don't want to be in the way when she gets home.
"You mean you don't want to be here? Don't worry about it. Mrs. Beast is going to call before they head back from the doctor's." So what's going on tonight? I'm pretty sure Elise doesn't want you to put a leash on anything.
Well I don't think Lynn wants to come home to me sitting in her living room. She cleared her throat and shifted on the couch. "Her mother thinks I saved her life so I have to go to the big family dinner tonight." She seemed resigned.
"Well you probably did. You pulled her out of the way when-"
"Lee did. Or at least he knew when Andrew had spotted us," she explained, rubbing her temple with her fingers. I'm sure her mom will love that.
I blinked and then shrugged. Who knew the bastard could be that useful? "Well the mother wants you over. It can't be that bad."
She frowned hard, eyes narrowed. "You think I told Elise that Lee had anything to do with it?" I'm not stupid, Carl.
I shrugged, unfazed. "It's not like she doesn't know he's in there. Isn't her brother completely obsessed with the case?" Can't be much of a problem if she's all over you.
"She isn't all over me. We haven't even talked about that. Anyway, she has an abstract view of Lee. She doesn't even know when I'm having," she paused and shrugged, "a moment. She thinks it's a headache or something." She blew her hair away from her eyes, her expression wistful. He never even enters her mind when she looks at me.
That wasn't what I'd expected to hear. Elise was so detail oriented it didn't seem right that she didn't know Maggie's case file backwards and forwards. "What're you going to do?" Well I have a pretty good idea of what you're going to do after you 'talk' about it, but what're you going to tell her?
She shook her head. "Let me get through dinner with the family first. I'm going to be spending the whole night with my fingers crossed he doesn't show." That's about the fifth time you've done that now. What the hell is bugging you so much about us?
I did my best to keep the topic on them. "You're an 'us'? I thought you were worried about getting through dinner." I need some coffee, are you sure you don't want more tea?
Her eyebrows lifted. "Water, thanks." She handed me her mug and let me escape into the kitchen.
In the kitchen I looked at the coffee in the pot and shook my head. That's going to taste like crap if you heat it up. I poured it down the drain and filled the pot with water. I poured it into the coffee maker and went to the fridge for more grounds. What are you going to tell Maggie? That you were about to divorce Lynn before you found out she was pregnant? I asked myself, half hoping Maggie would hear me. I put a new filter in and dumped three tablespoons of coffee into it. Your nice sensitive guy reputation would be right out the window, no matter how bad she knows Lynn can be. I turned on the coffee maker and poured two glasses of water.
In the living room Maggie had her head back against the chair and her eyes closed. I set the glass next to her and sat on the sofa.
I'm not asleep. She opened her eyes. "That takes Zanex and a glass of merlot."
"Lynn can't have sex while she's on bed rest," I blurted out, my glass of water held tight in both hands.
Maggie's eyes opened wide. "Right, no pressure on the cervix," she agreed in a careful, neutral tone. Did you not know?
I took a deep breath. I'd started it; I was going to have to explain. "Any kind, Maggie. She can't do anything because it makes the muscles contract."
"She wants to?" she asked. She tried to feel for what I was getting at and hit my block. That has to be frustrating for her. She stopped trying to dig once she met resistance.
I laughed and had the briefest urge to grab Maggie's hand and tell her everything. Instead I took a deep breath and opened up a little. "Of course it is. And you know how Lynn deals with frustration." I don't even have to think about sex for her to fly off the handle. She kicked me out of bed last night because I thought some actress on TV was good looking.
Maggie's breath came out in a huff, her expression between surprise and sympathy. Damn. "I imagine it isn't a lot of help to tell you that it's the hormones."
"Fuck hormones, I'm a grown man and I can't even masturbate because she knows afterwards. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?" I demanded, not bothering to mask my frustration.
Well I'll never accuse you of not being able to share again. Maggie drummed her fingers against the arm of the chair. "It's not fair to you," she began and I knew from her tone that this was her professional opinion. "The healthiest thing to do would be to tell Lynn that. Still, I know how she can be." She sighed and took a sip of water. I think you're going to have to decide if it's worth bringing up. It's only going to be for another six weeks, but I can't tell you it will to get any better before that.
I took a deep breath, looking down at my glass. "So I turn my brain off until then?" I waved off the question. Don't answer that. I shouldn't have brought this up.
"I think I brought it up when I asked. At least now I know why you're such a cranky bastard today." I'll tone it down with Elise next time we all meet.
I shook my head. "You weren't that bad. I was annoyed because I knew it would be on the banned list of things to mention when Lynn got home." It's been hard.
I noticed. "If you need to-"
My phone rang the opening chords of Godzilla and Maggie laughed behind her hand while I answered it. "Hello?" I said in a bright tone, as though I didn't know my mother-in-law was on the other end.
"We're stopping at the store to get Lynn's prescriptions. Is there anything you don't have at the house?" she said in that accusatory voice that implied that I didn't know how to take care of my wife.
Bitch. Maggie winked at me.
Don't make me laugh. I took a deep breath and plastered on my best smile. "We're covered here. How did her appointment go?" I wanted to ask Lynn but I knew the old bat would never hand over the phone.
"Everything is fine. We should be back in half an hour," she warned like I was doing something dirty or illegal and should hide the evidence before she got back.
"I'll be here." I hope to god she has to go to work after she drops Lynn off.
Maggie nodded in agreement. Fingers crossed.
Mrs. Beast hung up without her usual parting insult and I put the phone back in my pocket.
"I think this is my cue to leave," Maggie said and rocked forward to stand up. I'm not in any shape to experience your mother-in-law again.
I moved to help her and she waved me off.
"I can do it, it just takes a minute." Would you mind putting those files in my bag? she asked, grimacing as she made it to her feet.
No problem. I put the folders in the front pocket and held the bag out to her. "You know, if you need me to drive you home-"
She took the bag. "And let you get out of an important social interaction? How will you keep your edge for interrogating confrontational suspects?" Where did I leave my coat?
I looked around the room and saw it over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. "I think I have enough edge for another twenty years. I've seen her ten times in the last two weeks." I got the coat and helped her drape it over her shoulders. You're going to be freezing.
"Good thing the car has heat." Walk me out?
I took the bag back from her and opened the front door. "I want to hear about this dinner later." You think Elise will have any luck with Gates?
Maggie used her remote to unlock the car and opened the driver's side door. Put it on the passenger seat. She moved to the side so I could toss the bag in. "She's pretty charming. I think she'll convince him to think about it," she admitted and leaned against the side of the car.
You'll have to tell me more about charming later, I teased and tugged her coat collar closer to her neck.
She gave me an awkward hug with one arm. "If you need to talk later… well you might be saving me from something if you call tonight." It can't be that bad, right?
I nodded. "In-laws are never that bad," I agreed, not bothering to dodge when she slapped my arm. You'll be fine. You call me if anything really funny happens.
She shook her head and lowered herself into the car. "Right, because you need more embarrassing stories about me." The door? she asked, not wanting to reach across her bad side to pull it closed.
I shut it for her and tapped the glass. Have fun.
She rolled her eyes and smirked. You too.
I flipped her off and stood back as she reversed out of the driveway.
I only had fifteen minutes to clear the papers in the living room and wash all of the mugs and glasses before the doorbell rang. I fought back the almost instant anger at Mrs. Beast's insistence on ringing the bell when she had a key. Miserable bitch, I let myself think before I forced myself to smile and go to the door.
"Ladies." I opened it and moved to the side so Mrs. Beast could lead Lynn in. How did everything go?
"Everything is fine. I told you on the phone." I'll put Lynn to bed, you try to air the smoke out of your clothes, she told me without looking at me, steering her daughter down the hall.
Everything's fine, handsome. Just give me a minute with Mom. Lynn gave me a smile over her shoulder.
I smiled back, closed the door and headed into the kitchen to see if the coffee was ready. Looks like Lynn has had her fill of her mom. I wonder if she showed her knitting patterns while they were in the waiting room, I thought to myself.
I was stirring too much sugar into my coffee when I heard the solid click of heels down the hall. The damn woman couldn't walk on the runner if her life depended on it. "Can I get you a cup of coffee?" I asked.
She frowned at me and clutched her purse to her side like I'd said something offensive. "You're upsetting her. She's not supposed to be upset, she's supposed to be resting." And you're smoking again? You're going to give Lynn and the baby second hand smoke!
"No coffee then."I knew better than to try and defend myself. Not that sarcastic pleasantry helped anything. I'll see you in a few days, I added and followed her to the door.
She undid the locks herself. "She's not even born yet and you're laughing about your responsibility." Lynn should have come home with us.
"You drive safe now." I shut the door behind her and locked every lock. I hope your tiny Honda gets sideswiped by a suburban and you roll into a ditch.
I took my mug and a glass of orange grapefruit juice with a straw in it down the hall with me.
Hey handsome. Lynn was on her left side so she could see the door from the bed. "That wasn't so bad. Mom was in rare form though."
I set her glass down, put my mug down next to it and sat on the edge of the bed. "I did pick up on that. She usually takes a few minutes to work up to what a horrible father I'll be." What did the doctor say?
Lynn patted the bed behind her. "She said that I was doing fine. Resting like I was supposed to." She pulled my arm around her after I'd arranged myself behind her on the bed. I know you're already a great dad.
"Even if I smell like smoke?" I teased. Did she make you look at knitting patterns in the waiting room?
"In the exam room while we were waiting." Tell me about your meeting with Maggie. Did she really dislocate her shoulder?
"Oh yeah, she has it in a sling and everything." Elise's family is making her come over for dinner because Maggie saved her life, I told her with a grin.
Maggie's got to be jumping out of her skin. Aren't they all paths? "I can't even imagine that, a nice family dinner with Lee."
Oh, I think she and Lee would head anywhere Elise asked them to. "She's worried they're all going to flip out if they find out it was Lee's reflexes that saved them. At least that's what she said. I think she's more afraid he'll show up during cake and pie," I said to deflect the focus from Maggie and Elise together.
It didn't work. "I'm sure they'll just be glad Elise is ok. Anyway, I imagine Elise told her mom about Lee before they agreed to have her over. That's something you don't keep to yourself." What's this about Elise and Maggie?
I tried to hedge. "I told you before, I thought there was something going on there." I'm waiting to see what Gates has to say about what happened. I have a feeling it's going to end up on my lap because I said no to him. I cut myself off because fieldwork wasn't a much better topic to get started on.
"I thought Maggie didn't date fives." Robin said she wasn't seeing anyone, and they talk every month or so. Lynn had my hand between both of hers, warming her cold palms against it.
I cleared my throat, if she was going to push, I'd tell her. "Well, nothing's happened yet, but from the way they were flirting today I don't think it's far off." I'm not sure Elise knows, but I know Maggie, she doesn't touch people like that, I told her and pictured Maggie brushing Elise's hand while we were talking.
Lynn stiffened and dropped my hand. "I don't need the details." Why do you do that?
I rolled over onto my back and sighed. "You asked." I knew I shouldn't have mentioned it.
You could've answered me and been considerate. It's like you don't even think about how hard this is for me. "I barely have any contact besides you and mom and now you're both going to pick at me?" she said in the special wounded voice that was a warning.
I clenched my teeth together. Because it's only hard on you, Lynn? Is that it? I'm having a great time here? "What do you want from me?"
"I want you to be more considerate because believe it or not Carl, this is worse for me. I'm the one who can't get out of bed. I'm the one with the cramps and the restrictions." You've got to work from the laptop in the living room and putter around the house all day. Real trial.
I pushed myself up so I was sitting on the side of the bed. Maggie was right, you aren't being fair to me-
"Maggie? You told Maggie about-" She dug into my conversation with Maggie before I could block and stopped mid-sentence. Our sex life is no one's business but ours. What the hell is wrong with you?
I couldn't quite believe I'd slipped and I was mad. I stood up and walked around the bed so she could see me. "She's a shrink. Did you think she wasn't going to figure out something was bothering me? What do you think she's going to do anyway, tell everyone we know? Rent a billboard?" I didn't mean to tell her-
Lynn's face was red and her eyes bulged just like the vein down the center of her forehead. "But you did, you told her about evil Lynn and how she give you a hard time because you can't fucking control yourself, right? I bet you told her all about that. Maggie's a shrink? Maggie's a shrink! I guess that means she doesn't care when your mind is spilling sewage while you're talking." Is that why you had them over, so you could tell her all about it, or was it to watch them flirt?
I could feel my face going red. I was so angry my hands shook and I balled them into tight fists. "I told them to stop doing it. You think I want to see that? You think I haven't been trying?" I'm doing everything I can. You're not listening.
Bullshit. I'm here, I feel you. I know you're not trying. "I'm supposed to go along. It's ok if Lynn gets upset as long as Carl can take care of himself.”
My heart was beating hard and it felt like my chest was shaking too. I stood up straighter, looming over her side of the bed. "You know what? That's it. I'm tired of watching every thought I have so you don't start yelling. I could think about jello all day and you'd flip out." If you don't think I've been trying you haven't been paying attention.
Hot angry tears streamed down her face. "Trying? That's what you call it? You're thinking about leaving and I'm the one who's not trying?" Now you're picking fights to leave. She had reached the conclusion she reached during every argument.
My face stretched into a tight smile. "I'm not leaving. You know what I'm going to do? Right now? I'm going to go into the attic and find my porn tapes. Do you know what I'm going to do then? I'm going to go down to the basement and jack off." You can call your mom if you need a refill on your juice.