Written for literal_sga and based on the book One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich.
My name is Rodney McKay, and I grew up in Little Canada. I know what you're thinking, you're thinking there's no such place. I promise you, it exists. I would not have made this place up. It's in Minnesota, just a little town by Minneapolis that you'd miss if you blinked.
The residents of Little Canada have so valiantly hung onto their heritage that they have become far more concerned with being Canadian than actual Canadians. The Canadian flag hung proudly at least at one house out of three, and little girls sold maple syrup on street corners instead of lemonade. The façade is all so complete that I had actually believed I was living in Canada until the age of six, when I learned that those crazy and mysterious Americans my father was always ranting about actually included myself.
The homes are well kempt and everyone always smiles and says thank you and offers to feed your cats when you're away. They love the idea of the nice guy Canadian stereotype, but the truth is they probably only want to feed your cats so they can go through your things when you're not around. They catch tourists off their guard, smiling bright and wide as they overcharge the unsuspecting morons under the guise of keeping their prices at the true Canada rate.
My sister, Jeanie, took to life in Little Canada quite well. She married some guy named Caleb and moved five minutes away, and now she's got two little rug rats of her very own. Personally, I managed to get almost fifteen whole minutes away, with a little apartment in downtown Minneapolis. Up until last week, I was what most people would have called moderately successful. I had a nice Honda Accord and I was a teacher at the University of Minnesota.
The problem was my students were idiots, and I had to keep failing them. The board of education has lower standards than I do, and I guess they kind of frown on giving more than half of every class an F. I didn't really think that was fair. I gave one girl on the softball team a D, because she was almost smart, but I wasn't going to pass a bunch of jocks just so they could stay on the team or a bunch of rich kids trying to skate by because their fathers bought an entire wing.
So after eight months of teaching I was very politely asked to resign, and two weeks later they came and repossessed the car, so I've since been downgraded to a fifty-year-old Volkswagen bug that had definitely seen better days. Someone had painted it neon green and super-glued huge plastic bug antennae to each side of the roof, giving it the appearance of a demented cricket. The bumper was being held together by duck tape.
I was overeducated and out of work, and I'm convinced I've been put on some kind of secret blacklist, because I couldn't find a school that would take me on.
Which has led me to my present circumstances.
"I don't know what you're so worried about," Radek told me. "Almost no one gets killed on the first day."
"I'm not worried," I said. "What makes you think I'm worried? I could do this in my sleep."
"You've got a staple gun in your holster," Radek said. "That's not a real gun. You do know that's not a real gun?"
"I know," I snapped defensively. I'd picked up the staple gun at the local Bowmen's. It was a lot cheaper than an actual gun and I figured the chances were better I wouldn't kill anyone this way. "This is better than a real gun. I'll just staple them to something and call for help."
"You are the help. People call for you now. Understand?" Radek asked. "Anyway, I don't think you're supposed to go around stapling people to things. I think there's a law."
"It's better than shooting them, isn't it?" I asked.
"You're actually allowed to shoot them," Radek said. "You are now officially a bounty hunter. Congratulations. Go away now."
Kavanaugh peeked out from his office. "You aren't actually doing this, are you?"
I rested my hand on the handle of my stable gun and tried to look cool. Kavanaugh let out a strange little whimper and disappeared back into his office.
According to Radek, no one had ever actually seen the inside of Kavanaugh's office. There were a lot of rumors about what went on in there, and no one wanted to know what was in there for sure. Kavanaugh was my second cousin twice removed, and my mother knew his mother, and so I was back to being employed, but I was a little disgusted that my life had come to this.
I didn't go to college for seven years to track down a bunch of idiots that hadn't even made it through the seventh grade. But I was at a crossroads, and while I'm the first to admit that bounty hunting isn't exactly my dream job, I was looking forward to the change.
I figured this job would give me a little more freedom. I could pick up drunk Old Everett in the morning and then work on some scientific research paper through the afternoon. Anyway, Radek says bounty hunters almost never die, and crime wasn't exactly high in Little Canada. Two years ago eleven-year-old Michael West stole a Twix bar from the corner market, and people were still talking about it like it was the scandal of the century.
On the other hand, this was also the downside, since it didn't give me very much faith in my job security. So far I hadn't been able to get Radek to give me a fugitive to hunt down. I tapped a finger absently against the staple gun and tried to stare him down. Unfortunately, Radek Zelenka wasn't very easily intimidated, at least not by me. He was formally a citizen of the Czech Republic, and he'd moved here years ago in search of a new life.
His Visa expired two years in and the government tried to deport him, so Radek fled to Little Canada to escape them. The most surprising thing about this was that it actually worked. Immigration hasn't bothered him since he got here.
"Aren't you going to give me a case?" I asked.
"No cases," Radek said. "Everyone show up to court early. All is well. Go home. Come again later."
I leaned over his desk. "That folder right there says FTA, in big red letters. Failure to Appear, right?"
"You know your bounty hunting acronyms," Radek said. "I give you gold star. But this one is not for you."
Radek, like Kavanaugh, was deathly afraid of my mother, and I suspected he'd made a vow to only give me the FTA's like Michael West. My mother still worried about me, actually probably more than ever, and it was a constant point of contention between us that I wasn't more like my sister. When my parents found out I was gay, I used this to my advantage, and pointed out that they had wanted me to be more like Jeanie.
My mother wasn't one to lose an argument, so she'd just snapped that she would have been perfectly happy if I had settled down with a nice man like Caleb, but that I had to go and be contrary and fall for an American. The American in question actually lived in Little Canada, which I supposed made him as Canadian as any of us, but you can't use logic on parents.
I reached over and grabbed the manila folder off Radek's desk before he could snap it back. I opened the folder and there was John Sheppard, staring grimly out at me from a four by five mug shot. I felt a little flutter in my heart that was not as manly as I would have liked, and pursed my lips to hide it from Radek.
John Sheppard was one-eighth French Canadian on his father's side, and he grew up two houses down. Sheppard thought the whole idea of Little Canada was hilarious and he just lived however he liked, completely unscathed by the madness around him. He used to go to school on his skateboard and sing the Pledge of Allegiance just to piss people off.
Actually, Sheppard did a lot of things just to piss people off, and a couple years ago seeing him looking back at me from a mug shot probably wouldn't have surprised me, but I had heard that Sheppard had changed.
Sheppard and I used to be friends. Okay, this isn't strictly true. I don't think we've ever entirely managed to be friends--we were friendly rivals if anything, but we did everything together as kids, and I mean everything. Sheppard gave me my first kiss when I was ten and he gave me a whole lot more when I was seventeen.
Sheppard made it all the way to Major in the Air Force before being kicked out. Him being kicked out of the Air Force hadn't surprised me, and the fact that he'd been kicked out for disobeying orders really hadn't surprised me.
Sheppard was supposed to have settled down since then. He recently inherited his Aunt Beth's house in Little Canada, and he'd become a cop on the Minneapolis police force.
And now this. Sheppard was nothing if not unpredictable.
"He's wanted for murder?" I demanded. "How have I not heard about this?"
Radek sighed. "Yes, yes, murder--his partner, Sumner was shot in the heart by Sheppard's gun. Sheppard did not report it, disappeared. They found him in an ally on Stark Street covered in blood and he would explain nothing, so they had no choice but to arrest him."
"Sheppard isn't a killer," I said. I was relatively certain of this. Sheppard was infuriating, and inspired homicidal tendencies in everyone he knew, but I didn't think he was homicidal himself.
"Not our job. Our job is to find him, take him in," Radek said. "But this is not a case for you."
"I can handle Sheppard," I said.
"That is not what I've heard," Radek said.
All of Little Canada knew about me and Sheppard. He was actually the American that my parents so disapproved of, because who had ever heard of a Little Canadian in the US Air Force? Sheppard was a rule breaker.
That said, while I would really like to blame the infamy of our relationship completely on John, I kind of tried to run him down with my old GTO the day before he left for the Air Force, and this is mostly what people remember.
It really hadn't been that big of a deal. He only bounced off the fender and broke his leg, and if he didn't want me to try to run him over then he should have told me he was leaving.
"I'll take it," I said. "How much is the bond?"
"100,000 dollars," Radek said.
"You get 10% of that and we get 5%," Radek said.
"10,000 dollars?" I asked. "Yeah. Okay. That sounds good. He has to be alive though, right? Or is this one of those, dead or alive things?"
"I think he'll survive your staple gun," Radek told me, and handed me a number. "Call this man. Ask him to explain how to bounty hunt and not be killed. He's the best we have, and you're going to need the help."
I took the number. It was a business card and had "RononMan Corp" printed in tiny black letters on it.
I'd pretty much expended all of my bounty hunter knowledge by deciphering 'FTA,' so I figured calling him wasn't a bad idea.
Ronon of RononMan agreed to meet with me. We decided to meet at the Maple Leaf, and he was sitting in the back of the diner when I came in. I knew it was him because the only other customers were an elderly couple at the bar and twelve year old drinking a milkshake at one of the booths--and also, he had dreadlocks and a lot of leather, which seemed like a bounty hunter kind of thing.
He was slouched with his head back against the wall, eyes on the door. He looked a lot like a RononMan.
"I'm guessing you're RononMan," I said.
"Most people just call me Ronon," he said. He had ordered without me. There were about four eggs and twenty sticks of bacon and he was going through them fast.
I sat down. "Well," I said. "I'm the newbie bounty hunter. Anything I should know?"
"Yeah," Ronon said. "Don't be a bounty hunter. You look like an accountant and you're carrying a staple gun."
"I don't look like an accountant," I snapped. "I'm an astrophysicist."
"Whatever," Ronon said. "You're not a bounty hunter. You just admitted it."
I frowned at him. "I am right now," I said. "I'm going after John Sheppard, and I called you here for advice, not mockery."
"You want advice?" Ronon asked. "Don't go after Sheppard. Sheppard's bad news."
"You think he's guilty?" I asked.
"I know he's not," Ronon said. "That's why he's so dangerous."
"That doesn't make any sense," I snapped.
"He's smart," Ronon said. "If he got mixed up in this and couldn't get out clean, then it's big, and it's trouble. I turned the Sheppard bond down for a reason, and no offense, but if I don't even want to take him on he's hardly a good first for you."
"Sheppard and I have history, he's been a lot of my firsts," I said. "Anyway, I want $10,000 dollars."
"Bounty hunting is about the art," Ronon said. "It's not about the bounty."
"I've never heard anything more ludicrous in my life," I told him. "Seriously, what do I need to know?"
"Okay. Lesson one," Ronon said, stuffing two pieces of bacon into his mouth. "Lose the staple gun. It makes you look like an idiot. Lesson two, get a new assignment."
"Sheppard is the only big game in town," I said.
"Lesson three, don't say things like 'big game,'" Ronon said. "Leave Sheppard alone. He's a good guy, but like I said, he's dangerous. There's not enough money in the world that would have gotten me after him."
"You're supposed to be the best, and you're afraid of him?" I asked. "What kind of bounty hunter are you?"
"I'm not afraid of him, I respect him," Ronon said. "A confrontation wouldn't end well for either of us, and like I said, he's a good guy. I'd rather not get involved."
"He killed someone," I said, and I hoped that Ronon didn't notice the slight catch in my voice as I did.
Ronon glanced at me with a raised eyebrow, so I was thinking he did. "I'm sure he had a good reason."
"He's a cop, if he had a good reason, he would have said, hey, he's a bad guy, I shot him, and they would have promoted him," I said. "There's something more going on here."
"I'm sure there is," Ronon said. "Which is why you and your staple gun should stay out of it."
"Okay, forget about the staple gun," I said. "I'm getting rid of the staple gun. I'm going to get a Tazer."
"Tazers are a lot of fun," Ronon said, with an approving nod. "I'd recommend a Tazer."
Ronon finished devouring his food and then we parted ways with some kind of complicated handshake that I'd never be able to do twice. For the most part the meeting was spectacularly unhelpful, but Ronon had said to call him if I needed backup, so I was holding onto the card.
I folded myself into my Bug and tried to start the engine. It sputtered a little and then valiantly sprung to life. Little Canada was a small place, and I knew that chances were I was the only one who didn't know where to find John. I decided the best place to start was his house.
Aunt Beth's house was easy to find. Sheppard and I used to go there for cookies on Sundays. Aunt Beth had been a nice woman, and Sheppard hadn't changed a thing on the outside of the house. It looked exactly the same, and I was struck a little by the memories--John with that grin of his, at the top of the stairs with his skateboard, about to come flying down.
There was still the Canadian flag in the front yard, proudly swinging, and the mailbox said The Sheppards in red glittery paint. The house was white with blue trim, and looked a little like the house that fell on the yellow brick road.
I had a lot of trouble imagining Sheppard living here.
I climbed out of the Bug, and was surprised to see Sheppard's black Toyota truck sitting smack dab in the middle of the driveway. I'd planned to borrow a key from Betsey Mills next door and snoop around a little, but I hadn't actually prepared myself to catch Sheppard yet.
I thought about calling Ronon for help, but Ronon had made it clear that he didn't want to go head to head with Sheppard. I was kind of afraid to come face to face with him myself, but for entirely different reasons.
I'd had a lot of relationships since John, but none of them had come close to making me lose myself the way Sheppard could. He had some kind of power over me that I had never been able to break. There are some people who enter a guy's life and screw it up forever. John Sheppard did this to me--not forever, but periodically.
I came to a stop at the front door. I leaned over to try and look through the window, but I couldn't see anything through the thick paisley curtains. I took a deep breath, pulled out my staple gun, and then knocked on the door.
The door opened with a rush of air and Sheppard leaned out, one hand on the doorway and one on the door. His hair was sticking out in all directions and his eyes were black rimmed with shadows almost dark enough to look bruised. I hated that he looked gorgeous anyway.
"Rodney?" he said, incredulously. I felt my heart drop. I haven't been this close to him for almost a year, and if seeing that picture had brought back memories, it was nothing next to this. This brought back everything, and not all of it bad.
But this wasn't the time to give into emotion, so I took a deep breath and sprung into action. I grabbed the edge of his t-shirt, pressed it against the doorjamb, and stapled it there.
John stood there, stapled to the wall, staring down at his shirt bemusedly. He looked up. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm a bounty hunter now," I told him. "I'm taking you in."
"Were you planning to take the house with me?" he asked.
"I really haven't thought it through that far," I told him.
John grabbed his shirt and pulled, the material caught and tore, and then he just stood there staring at me in his shredded shirt, looking a little like the Hulk after a tantrum.
"I'm thinking of trading it in for a Tazer," I told him.
"Probably a good idea," he said. And then he slammed the door in my face.
That really hadn't gone as well as I'd hoped, but at least I knew where he was, and the truck was still in the driveway. Not bad for a first day. I smirked as I turned to stare at the truck, and then I walked over and stapled all the tires.
It didn't actually work, but I thought it was still a nice dramatic gesture. I took out my pocketknife and slashed the tires to help them along. The air came out with a pathetic little hiss and the truck creaked and then settled with the rims almost on the cement.
"Huh," I said. I'd never actually been in a position that required slashing tires before (and to be honest, I wasn't entirely convinced my current situation required it), but it was actually kind of fun. It felt good. Cathartic.
The door swung open again and John stepped out, taking the porch steps three at a time. He'd replaced his torn shirt with an identical new one, and he came to an abrupt stop when he saw his car.
He blinked at it. "Tell me you didn't just staple my tires."
"I did," I said. "But nothing really happened, so then I had to stab them with my pocketknife."
John narrowed his eyes and marched over to me, and I stumbled back and crashed into the door of his truck. I watched him with one eye closed, and the staple gun held out. "Come any closer and I'll shoot," I warned.
John just snorted and neatly took the staple gun from my hands, dropped it on the cement and crushed it with his boot. "You're a menace," he said. "And you're lucky I like you so much."
"You just crushed my staple gun! I hope you know you're going to pay for that."
"Mere, you would have killed one of us with that thing."
I bristled at the dreaded nickname. "Call me Mere again, and there'll be no 'would have,'" I snapped.
I probably forgot to mention that my name is actually Meredith Rodney McKay. No, I'm not a girl, my parents are just sadists. I usually try and ignore this little insignificant piece of information, or else I tend to drift off on a tangent entitled 'List of reasons why my parents hate me,' and I wanted to spare you that.
Anyway, I was more concerned about John at the moment than my parents. He had pushed his way into my personal space, less than an inch away, giving me this lop-sided little grin that I didn't trust at all.
Then his hand was in my pants pocket and I was trying not to moan. It wasn't easy. I remembered well what his hands could do.
"I'm just going to borrow your car," he said, in a seductive little whisper that almost kept the content of his words from registering. He was already on the sidewalk by the time I realized he'd just stolen my keys.
"Hey!" I shouted. "You can't take my car!"
John was standing by the Bug, tentatively touching the tip of an antenna with a finger. "What is this supposed to be?" he asked, leaning into the open window. "Is this a frog? My reputation will be ruined if I'm seen in this thing."
"Your reputation as a hardened criminal?" I asked snidely.
"My reputation as a full grown adult," he said. "You're going to owe me big after this. And I want those tires replaced."
"Bounty hunters aren't responsible for property damage," I said. I wasn't entirely sure of this, but it sounded reasonable to me.
"I think you'd better reread your bounty hunter handbook, Mere," John said.
"I didn't get a handbook," I said.
John climbed into the car with a look of distaste. I reached for the passenger door and he leaned over and locked it with a grin. "Maybe you should invest in one," he said. "They explain in chapter one how to not let FTAs take your car keys."
He started the ignition, and I waited for the car to sputter and choke the way it always did. It didn't. It started up with a purr that was almost obscene and then went flying down the road. I stepped off the sidewalk to watch in disbelief as the green streak that was my car disappeared around the corner.
"What the hell?" I shouted.
John had always had a way with cars, planes, and . . . well, you can guess the third thing he had a way with.
Personally I was kind of cursed (no, not with the third thing, with the first thing). I was good with technology, computers, etc. Messy mechanical stuff that had gears and oil and spark plugs? Not really my thing.
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Carson Beckett. Carson had been my best friend since third grade, though no one, myself included, was quite sure why he put up with me. Carson had married his high school sweetheart right out of medical school. We didn't see each other as much anymore, because frankly, I was terrified of his wife.
Her name was Laura Cadman and she was an extremely attractive woman that a lot of people mistakenly believed to be 'sweet,' but she used to take my lunch money at school and toss me in the girl's bathroom, and I may not be quite over that yet.
Carson showed up in his station wagon five minutes later. He grinned as I climbed into the passenger seat. "He stole your car?" he asked gleefully.
"You know what he's like," I said.
"I know what you're like around him," Carson said. "He makes you stupid. You have no idea how much that amuses me." Carson just laughed as I glared at him. "Where to?" he asked. "Am I driving you home?"
"Police station," I said.
"Are you going to report your car stolen by the man you're supposed to be bringing in?" Carson asked.
"Just drive, will you?" I snapped. "I've got questions. I'm going to see Daniel."
"That's risky," Carson said. "He's likely to tell you more than you want to know."
Carson dropped me off and I headed into the police station. Carson was probably right about Daniel. I'd known Daniel from grammar school too. You might be noticing a pattern. We only have one school here in Little Canada.
Daniel had been in the same advanced classes as me and Carson, but Daniel had no interest in what the teachers wanted him to learn. One year, he turned in a five-page research paper (single space) on the etymology of math terms instead of actually answering any of the math problems, and the teacher failed him. Daniel attributed this entirely, and to be fair not without reason, to the fact that it had gone completely over the teacher's head.
For some inexplicable reason, Daniel had decided to become a cop, a fact largely lamented by his parents as the fault of Jack O'Neill. Daniel had idolized Jack O'Neill since grade four when he had rescued him from a cave-in. Surprisingly, this wasn't the last time, either. Daniel managed to get lost in a lot of caves, which as a town we often thought quite a singular talent, considering we only had two of them.
I never admitted it to anyone, but I actually liked Daniel. I didn't like many people, but Daniel was a genuinely nice guy, and it was really easy to get him to talk, just so long as you caught him when O'Neill wasn't around.
I found him at his desk alone and said, "So, how about this Sheppard thing?" and he was off and running.
"Can you believe it?" he asked. "I don't believe it. I don't. He didn't do it. Sure, he and Sumner didn't get along, and he hated having him as a partner, and he's got a bit of a temper, and they had a huge fight that same morning and Sheppard said he'd like to shoot him, and it was his gun that killed him, but I don't believe it. Not a word of it."
I nodded. "I can see why you wouldn't," I said.
Daniel nodded. "Between you and me, I think it was drug dealers."
"We don't have any drug dealers," I said. "We have soccer moms pushing Ritalin."
Daniel nodded again, as if this exactly proved his point. "Anyway, it's not my case. I'm writing a dissertation on the possibly post-processual views of Nabonidus of Babylon. I thought it would be fun to get another PhD. You never can have too many, as my grandma always says."
"You do actually work here, right?" I asked.
"Of course I do," Daniel said. "Why do you ask?"
"Just checking," I said.
"Did you need help with something?" Daniel asked.
"Nope," I said. "Just came to say hi."
"The hell you did," Jack said, dropping into his desk, which was pushed up against Daniel's. "You came to get information out of Daniel. I'm guessing you were successful. No one's failed yet."
"What are you talking about?" Daniel asked. "I didn't say anything. I'm like the Sphinx."
Jack rolled his eyes and turned to me. Jack didn't particularly like me, which was okay, because I didn't particularly like him either. He was a little too much like John, only Jack's laid back charm was kind of world weary and obviously a mask. I was beginning to believe John really was completely impervious to everything . . . but then, maybe he was just better at hiding it.
"I heard you went bounty hunter. Where's the leather and your stun gun?" He snapped his fingers. "I bet you're going to grow a mullet."
Jack glanced at Daniel and waited for the laugh that we both knew wasn't going to come. He was scribbling something down in the margins of his notebook in what looked a lot like Latin.
"Oh, I get it," I said. "Like the people on TV. You slay me with your wit."
"I do try," Jack said. "Well? What do you want?"
"Nothing," I said. "Just trying to track down Sheppard."
"You know you're not supposed to be within 50 feet of him, right?" Jack asked.
I glared at him. "John revoked that restraining order, and you know that."
Jack grinned. "Yeah, but it still tickles the hell out of me to bring it up."
"You've been extremely helpful," I snapped.
Jack continued to grin. "Seriously, how do you think you're going to be a bounty hunter?"
"I'm good at everything," I snapped.
As you may have noticed, I snap a lot. This is not my fault. I'm convinced that I'm a charming good-natured man at heart, but the fact that the rest of the world is composed of idiots brings out the worst in me.
"John's a good cop," Jack said. "You won't find him."
"I found him," I said.
"Where is he, then?" Jack asked.
"Apparently he had a previous engagement," I said. "We're going to meet up again later."
"Take some advice, McKay," Jack said. "Just leave this alone. John'll come in when he's ready, and probably with the real murderer in cuffs."
I thought there was a good chance this was true, and it was actually really good advice considering the source, but I wasn't going to get $10,000 dollars if everything worked itself out. Also, I should probably get some handcuffs.
I waited until O'Neill got called away again and went back to Daniel.
"So how about that case Sumner and Sheppard were working on?" I asked.
Daniel glanced up, and was off and running again. "The Kolya thing, you mean?" he asked. "That's done with, the case was closed. No one's been able to catch him. He's crafty, you know. They say he's a real Canadian. I heard he lived in Nova Scotia until he was thirty."
Real Canadians were greatly admired in Little Canada, and were considered something like celebrities.
Everyone knew Acastus Kolya. He ran a gym on the outskirts of Little Canada and was apparently representative of the Canadian mob (actually, he pretty much represented the entirety of the Canadian mob).
From all accounts, he was smuggling drugs in from Canada and selling them on the black market, using his gym as a front.
It was also pretty general knowledge that Kolya killed people the way most people swatted at flies. Everyone knew. No one could prove it. That's why he was the Canadian mob.
If Sumner and John had been stupid enough to go after him, that would explain a lot. The scary thing about it was that Daniel was right, it probably was drug dealers. He did that kind of thing a lot, which we all figured was why he hadn't been fired yet.
Genii Gym was on Stark Street. Sumner was killed on Stark Street. I figured this was as good a place as any to go next. I called a Taxi to drive me there, and had him drop me off three blocks away from the gym when I saw my Bug parked on the sidewalk.
I glanced inside it. It was locked up tight. The car behind it was missing its doors and tires. The car in front of it had been spray-painted neon pink.
No one had touched the Bug.
I headed off towards the gym. Stark Street is not the safest place to be, but it was still daylight, so I wasn't worrying yet. I was a bit worried about getting a ride home, since Taxis refused to come to Stark Street after 6:00 PM. However, I had a plan. Find Sheppard, get my car keys back, and nab him.
I didn't have any specifics in this plan, like that troublesome 'how' stuff, and I was without so much as a staple gun for defense, but I was resourceful. I could do it. No problem.
Genii Gym was a worn down place. The sign was fading and it looked like people were using the front door as a urinal. I never really got the 'gym' thing, but at least those trendy little places they have on every street corner these days aren't more of a health hazard than they are a help.
I opened up the door, and all movement inside the gym stopped as everyone turned to look at me.
My eyes were immediately drawn to the back of the room, where Kolya had John pinned to the wall by a hand around his throat. Kolya turned and glared at me with huge crazy eyes, and John used his distraction to break free, by twisting to the side and knocking Kolya away with an elbow to his nose. John spun around again and then knocked Kolya into the wall headfirst.
Kolya grabbed at his face with a roar and John darted towards me, neatly avoiding the thugs leaping to grab him. He didn't slow as he came closer, and I watched his progress wide-eyed, kind of stuck in place.
He grabbed my hand when he reached me and jerked me after him, nearly dislocating my shoulder.
"Running would be good," John said.
I started after him, mostly because I didn't have a choice if I wanted to keep my arm attached. I did my best to keep up, but John had been on the track team in high school and I'd been in the chess club. I was panting by the time we reached the Bug. It still hadn't been vandalized by anyone. It even had both antennae.
John was already in the driver's seat, so I jumped in the passenger side. "What the hell?" I shouted.
John had already spun us around and we were zooming down the street like my car was possessed. It occurred to me that this was almost my plan exactly, except that John was driving and didn't look to be in the mood to turn himself in.
"What were you doing there?" John demanded. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
"Am I?" I asked. "If I hadn't walked in just then, you'd be sleeping with the fishes!"
"Sleeping with . . . sleeping with the fishes?" John echoed.
"I'm trying to get into the lingo. Kolya's Canadian mob, you know," I explained.
"There's no such thing," John said. "And no one ever actually says that. Anyway, Kolya isn't even from Canada. He moved here from New York like twenty years ago."
"He's not from Nova Scotia?" I asked.
John shook his head. "He just tells that to people to build up his reputation as a tough guy."
"I can't believe he's not even Canadian," I said. "I feel so cheated."
"You need to stay away from him," John warned. "It doesn't matter if he's from New York, Canada, or Timbuktu, he's a bad guy and now he knows who you are. So lay low. He doesn't like loose ends."
"You're actually worried about me," I said.
"You're in my way," John corrected. "I need you to stay out of it."
"Okay, I'm going to level with you. I'm pretty sure that you didn't kill anyone," I said. "At least, not Sumner, though I wouldn't take Daniel on as your defense lawyer."
"But you're going to get yourself killed," I continued. "Kolya is nuts. I saw it in his eyes. He's going to kill you."
"He's not trying to kill me," John said. There was something strange in his voice, but he was biting his lip now, which he always did when he decided he wasn't going to say another word on a subject.
"Let me take you in," I said. "I'll get $10,000 dollars, you'll get cleared, you know you will, and you'll be safe."
John laughed, and pulled to a stop. I realized belatedly that we were right in front of the Bonds office. John leaned across me with a sly grin, and then opened my door. "Get out," he said.
I was actually speechless for a moment. "Get out? Get out? This is my car!"
"We can do this dignified way, or I can drag your ass into the street," John said. "But I've got places to be, and I can't deal with you now."
I glared at him and climbed out of the car, slamming the door. He sped off, and I watched as my traitorous car disappeared again. I trudged into the bonds office. Radek was still at his desk, furiously typing something.
"Did you have a nice day?" he asked, without looking up.
"John stole my car again," I told him.
"That's nice," Radek said. "You have to go home now. We're closed."
I turned around and walked back outside. I wondered if Carson was still up.
Carson picked me up and dropped me off at my apartment, but warned me that Laura was not pleased and that I should probably avoid her for awhile. I thought that was okay, because I pretty much avoided her all the time anyway.
I unlocked the door to my apartment and then leaned back against it once I was inside. It was mostly just books and a couch and a bed, but that was really all I needed. I also had a cat named Rex. Rex was pretty much my favorite person. Most of the time, all it took to keep him happy was a can of food and a water bowl, but we've been having some issues since we got cable. He watches Animal Planet all day now and he barely notices when I get home.
I glanced at him. He was sitting in the middle of the couch, ears perked up, eyes like saucers, watching Animals Most Funny Moments.
"I'm home Rex," I said.
Rex continued to stare at the TV.
"I think I'm going to need to stage an intervention. I hear Frisky next door has gone two whole years without television."
Rex was unimpressed, and I knew better than to try and turn off the TV in the middle of a show. I dragged myself into my bedroom and then collapsed.
When I woke up the next day, my Bug was in the driveway. A white sheet of paper had been taped to the front windshield that said "Thanks" with a bright cheery smiley face below it, and then "P.S. No, seriously, you owe me for the tires."
I got into my car with a sigh. He'd hid the keys on top of the visor. I grabbed them and jammed them into the ignition, and the car sputtered and died. "Disloyal bastard," I told it. I turned the key again and it reluctantly started up.
I wasn't really sure where to start today, but I figured my best bet was to head back to Aunt Beth's house. I was interrupted in my snooping for clues yesterday by John. The street was quiet when I got there, and John's truck was gone. I figured he must have had a friend come take care of it. John had lots of interesting friends.
I went next door and knocked. Betsey Mills had been watching me through the part in her curtains since the Bug came chugging down the street, so it was only a moment before she opened the door.
"Yes, dear?" she said.
"Hello, Mrs. Mills. Do you have a spare key for John's house? I'm supposed to water his plants while he's on the run from the police, but I lost my key."
Betsey nodded. "Come in, Ronald," she said.
"It's Rodney," I told her.
"Yes, I know, dear," she said. "I thought you and sweet little Jonathan weren't friendly anymore."
"Oh, we're back together," I told her.
Betsey looked suspicious. "I've never seen you here except the other day, when you lent Jonathan your car."
"Well, there you go," I said. "I wouldn't lend that car to just anyone."
Betsey seemed to consider this, and then she pulled out a massive key ring, with about two hundred house keys. If she ever wanted to start a career in cat burglary, she'd have a hell of a head start.
She pulled one off and handed it to me. "I do hope this business with Jonathan is taken care of," she said. "It's been such a Godsend, having him next door. I don't know what I'd do without him."
I frowned. "Really?"
"He cleaned out my gutters just last Saturday," she said. "And he always helps me when my appliances go on the fritz. It's been so hard without Leroy, you know."
Leroy and Betsey had been known for their shouting matches. In their glory days people say Betsey pushed Leroy out a second story window, and his clothes after him. This is what I've never understood about love--she'd always been trying to get rid of him, and now she couldn't stand it that he was gone for good.
I turned down the offer of milk and cookies and went next door to let myself in. John had thrown a Green Bay Packers blanket over the floral couch in the living room and put a massive entertainment center across from it. The cabinets with all of Beth's collectibles and glassware were gone, and I figured John had given them to his cousins.
There really wasn't much lying around in the way of clues. I wandered over to the mantle to look at the photographs. He'd left the large portrait of Beth that had been hanging there above the fireplace as long as I could remember, but the rest of the framed pictures all looked new. There were pictures of John with Jack and Daniel, John and his father and brother, John and--
I stopped short and picked up the last picture on the mantle. John was smiling widely in the photo, one arm around one of the prettiest women I'd ever seen. She was smiling slightly, like some kind of Mona Lisa, with her head on John's shoulder. There were a lot of rumors that John had been with as many women as men, but I'd never actually heard of him having an actual relationship with a woman.
Actually, I'd never heard of him having an actual relationship with anyone but me. I carefully pulled the photo out of the frame. The date was written on the back in a curving feminine hand, right below the inscription, "with love, Teyla." It was taken a couple of weeks ago.
What kind of name was Teyla, anyway? I put the photo back on the mantle and went into the kitchen. John's answering machine was sitting on the white tile counter, with a '3' blinking red on the surface. I was a little embarrassed that I hadn't gone for the answering machine first.
I had about a half second of hesitation while I considered John's right to privacy, before hitting the button to play them.
"John . . . I don't know if you'll get this, but I . . . I need your help. I'm at the corner of Stark and Nelson. Please come."
The voice was soft and lilting, slightly accented. I was guessing it was Teyla.
"John, don't show up for your arraignment. Word's going around that Weir wants to make an example of you. If you're still planning to keep quiet about this, then I suggest you stay out of the way until you get it fixed."
"Jack! Move over! And John, be careful! Drug dealers are crafty."
And that was Jack and Daniel. I considered using this for blackmail, but Jack was risking his job for John, and I respected that. The last message was dated yesterday and it was fairly to the point.
"You've got one more day."
I recognized Kolya's voice, just from the few times he'd been ahead of me at the supermarket, or from one of his broadcasted trials.
I locked John's house up behind me, and kept the key. I decided to go back to the police station, to visit the Sphinx. Daniel was reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead when I got there, and he didn't seem to notice my arrival. I dropped down into Jack's empty chair. "Daniel," I said.
He glanced up at me. "Oh, hi," he said. "I wouldn't let Jack see you sitting there."
I leaned forward. "Do you know a Teyla?" I asked.
Daniel nodded. "Yeah. She's friends with John. I've only met her once or twice. Very reserved. Seems nice."
"I think she may have killed Sumner," I told him.
"I very much doubt that," he said. "She didn't strike me as the drug dealing type."
"Well, she was there," I said. "She left John a message to meet her on Stark Street the night Sumner was killed."
Daniel glanced up. "That's interesting."
"Right," I said. "So . . . don't you have to do something about it? Tell someone? Try and find her?"
Daniel sighed, and closed his book. "Rodney," he said. "It's not my case."
"Well, whose case is it?" I demanded.
Daniel met my eyes. "No one's, at the moment. Sumner was a good guy, and we all want his murderer, but right now the bureaucrats only want John's head on a platter--"
"So we're all a little too busy for this case," Jack said, appearing behind me. "Officially."
I looked up at him. "I'm just trying to help him," I said.
"Maybe," Jack said, grabbing my arm and pulling me out of his chair. "But there's nothing you can do. I thought I told you to leave it alone?"
"You want me to just leave it alone? He's going to be killed doing this all on his own," I snapped, and I was surprised to realize that at some point I had stopped caring at all about the $10,000. I cared about John.
I know I put him down a lot for his bad boy tendencies, but the truth was that John has always looked out for people. He used to protect me from Laura Cadman in school and I wasn't the only one he'd helped. He'd never been a bully to anyone except bullies. This was why I wasn't as surprised as I should have been to learn that he'd become a cop in the first place.
Jack softened a little. "Sheppard can take care of himself," he said. "You very obviously can't."
I bit back a retort as Jack walked away. I'd come here to talk to Daniel, and if I said what I wanted to, I was pretty sure Jack would throw me out. Daniel watched me with sympathy.
"We can't help him, only make things worse, so we're not doing anything," Daniel explained. "If John calls we'll help him. Until then--"
I nodded. It was possible they were right, but I'd never been good at waiting around. "Do you have any spare handcuffs?" I asked.
Daniel nodded, and stood. "There's a pair in the lost and found," he said. "No one's claimed them. They're yours if you want them."
Daniel went around the reception desk and slammed a beat up cardboard box on the counter. Someone had written "Lost but Found" in huge lop-sided black letters. I was thinking it was Jack's work. Daniel reached in and pulled out a slim set of silver handcuff keys, and a pair of furry pink lined handcuffs.
"You've got to be kidding," I said.
Daniel frowned at them. "I'm sorry," he said. "I forgot that they were covered with glitter, but this is the best I can do on short notice."
Sure enough, glitter was flying down from them like pixie dust. "Can I just borrow yours?" I asked.
"I might need mine," Daniel said. Daniel had been working here almost ten years, and from all accounts hasn't needed them yet.
Still, I suppose these were better than nothing.
"I'll take them," I said.
I left the police station with no new information and a pair of kinky handcuffs. I still didn't know who Teyla was or what she had to do with any of this, and I was exhausted.
I decided to just go home for a few hours, and watch Animal Planet with Rex.
onto part two