The apartment building was nice. Not glamorous, not exciting, but...nice. Cash was pretty sure a guy like Toby could have done better. With that face, and that body, he could be living in the lap of luxury, some rich guy's pet. Or rich woman's, Cash supposed, but he didn't want to think about that. He'd rather think about Toby, manfully resisting the temptation of coasting by on his looks, insisting on being taken seriously as a...a whatever he was. Cash didn't have a lot of details, but his infatuation seemed capable of surviving quite well without them. Maybe it was better not to know. What if Toby was...what would a terrible profession be? What if Toby was a telemarketer?
Cash leaned against the brick wall, careful to keep his eyes on the doorway, and thought it over. He'd be okay if Toby was a telemarketer. Toby had a nice voice. Possibly not nice enough to make him a phone-sex operator, but...nice. Damn. There were a lot of nice things about this guy. It wasn't great, really, because Cash was pretty low on the nice scale, himself. It usually didn't bother him. He'd made his choices, and he'd stand by them. A nomadic guy with a dangerous, messy job and not much in the way of formal education--some guys liked that type. But it was a long way from nice. And nice wanted nice. Nice deserved nice.
What did Cash have to offer to someone like Toby? Not a lot, probably. Cash wasn't bad-looking, in a scruffy sort of way, but he was nowhere near Toby's league in the looks department. And sure, he was brave enough, but Toby had saved him, not the other way around. So Toby probably wasn't going to be real impressed with Cash's heroics. And what else did he have?
He snapped to attention as the apartment doorway opened and Toby came outside. He paused to look both ways then jogged across the street and started along the sidewalk. It was about six o'clock, the night of the dragon-slaying, and everyone must have been inside watching the news and eating their dinners, because the street was practically deserted. Just as Jack had planned it when he'd called Toby to set up the meeting. If Toby had alerted the cops and set up an ambush, it would be a lot easier to see it coming with the streets relatively empty.
"The albatross is flying," Cash said into his recently de-goo-ed headset. Technically, the team didn't have a code set up for doing surveillance, but that didn't mean Cash couldn't improvise. "Repeat, the albatross...is flying." He swung out onto the sidewalk and followed at a discreet distance.
"The brother is an idiot," said Kayla's voice. "Repeat, the brother...is an idiot."
"Those are hurtful words, Kayla. Just because I seem to ignore them, don't think that your cruelty doesn't hurt me. Deep inside, where it's hardest to see...but the most painful."
"Both of you--shut up." Jack didn't sound amused. Cash sometimes wondered whether his father used to have a sense of humor, but had lost it somewhere, or if he'd never, ever had one. Cash wasn't sure which would be sadder. "Cash, any sign of a tail?"
And damn it, Cash couldn't choose which way to go with that one. He could say something about Toby being tailed by a dashing and dangerous-looking young man who smelled only faintly of dragon-ooze, or he could say that he'd been keeping a pretty close eye on Toby's ass, and no extra appendages seemed to be sprouting. The indecision, and the sense of self-preservation that popped up at the most unexpected times, kept Cash from making either comment. "No," he said meekly.
"Okay. I'm moving in for the contact." Jack sounded smooth and practiced, but the truth was, none of them knew what they were doing with this espionage crap. They were fighters--they knew about battlefield tactics, but they didn't have a huge grasp of the larger strategy. There were long stretches of time when Cash doubted whether there actually was a larger strategy. Jack was the only one in contact with any of the other teams, or with headquarters, and if he knew what they were doing, he was keeping it to himself. And he was keeping the plan for their conversation with Toby to himself, as well. Although, again, Cash wasn't actually sure if there was a plan.
He saw his father fall into step beside Toby, saw Toby startle only a little, and then continue walking, his head turned toward Jack as if they were talking. But Cash wasn't getting anything through his earpiece.
"Testing," he said. "Kenny, can you hear me? Is Jack's mike working?"
"You're loud and clear, Cash. But I'm not getting anything from Jack. I think he's got the mike turned off." Kenny didn't sound surprised, for some reason.
"What? Why? Is his earpiece still on? Jack! Dad--you're not broadcasting." Cash was getting a bad feeling about this.
"It's one switch," Kenny said. "If the mike's off, the earpiece is off too."
Cash should have known that. Cash did know that, but it just didn't make sense. Jack was all about team communication--why would he turn his mike off now? "Kay, they're coming up to your position. Can you step in, let Jack know about the mike?"
"Oh, Cash." His sister's voice was almost sad. "He knows."
"What the fuck is going on?" Cash didn't expect an answer. His siblings were much too respectful of Jack's code of silence. Cash thought about running up and insisting on being part of the conversation, but he knew his father too well. If Jack wanted privacy, Jack would get privacy.
Still, surely Jack wouldn't notice if Cash moved up just a little. He'd been told to stay half a block behind, but that was an approximate measurement--there was some flexibility there. He lengthened his stride, easing his way closer, but jarred to a halt when Toby and Jack stopped walking and turned to face each other. It looked like they were arguing, maybe, but their voices were still quiet, too quiet for Cash to hear anything useful. They were close enough for Cash to get a pretty good look at Toby's face, though. Illuminated by a streetlight, the angular bones cast beautiful shadows, but Cash still didn't like what he was seeing. Toby looked afraid--stubborn, and working hard to control his fear, but under it all...he looked afraid. What the hell was going on, and what was Jack saying that would cause such a reaction in the man who had saved Cash's life only hours before?
Toby stepped backward abruptly, not breaking eye contact as he moved farther away, like a man easing back from a dangerous animal. When he finally turned and headed off, walking so fast he was almost running, Jack made no move to follow, but Cash took a few steps before he caught himself. He had no idea what was going on. He couldn't charge into whatever this was just because he had a crush on some beautiful guy, not even if that guy had saved his life.
"Cash, Kayla--to my location," Jack's voice said over the earpiece. "Transport, come get us. We're done for the night." He sounded tired and maybe a little angry.
But Cash couldn't help himself. "Done what?" he asked. He walked closer to his father. "What was that? Why'd you turn your mike off?"
"Radio silence until extraction," Jack said curtly.
But Cash was close enough now that he didn't care about the damn radios. He ripped his headset off and dangled it from the fingers of one hand as he took the last few steps that brought him directly in front of Jack. "Fine, no radio. But what was that? Were you...were you threatening him?" It didn't make any kind of sense, but Cash knew what he'd seen.
"It's classified, Cash. If you need to know something, I'll tell you." There was a dangerous edge to Jack's voice, and Cash knew he should respect it. But he also knew he was tired of this crap.
"Bullshit! We don't work for the fucking government, Jack. How is a conversation that you just had one minute ago 'classified'? That just means you don't want to tell me about it. Why?"
"You are too old for this teenage-rebellion crap, Cash."
The van pulled up, with Kayla already in the back, and she slid the door open with a pleading look toward Cash. Drop it he could almost hear her say.
"Get in the van, Cash." There was no hint of compromise or apology in his father's voice, no promise of an eventual explanation. It was just a cold, hard order.
"It's not..." Cash tried to marshal his thoughts. "It's not teenage rebellion. I'm not--I don't want to rebel. I just want to know what's going on! I don't understand why this is a secret."
"You don't understand a lot of things, Cash. Now get in the goddamn van."
"No." Cash knew this was stupid. It wasn't like they were even arguing over the damn van ride. He should get in and take the opportunity to demand more answers. It was just that he knew how that conversation would go, if he could even call it a conversation when it consisted entirely of one person asking questions until the other person snapped and started issuing arbitrary orders. He was tired of the pattern, and he wanted to break it, and apparently he'd decided that he would start his changes by not riding in a team vehicle. A bit strange, but he was going with it. "I want answers."