Alaidh and catherderPairing:
A very shippy look at Logan’s family. Takes place some 13 years after Freak Nation.Chapter 16: In the still of the night…
"I like your friend," Max commented, brushing her hair as she stood in front of the bathroom mirror.
Logan, lying in bed with a book propped up in front of him, replied, "Yeah, he's okay. He always hung around the fringes – trying to be popular – but never really succeeding. Too shy. His family owns the company, you know."
"Didn't figure he was broke."
"He hasn't followed in dad's footsteps though, was more into science than business."
"Don't know how he'll do delivering that paper at the conference, even if it is just a company conference," Logan mused. "But…with a subject he knows well…who can say?"
"So – you gonna take him up on his offer? Trip back to your old school…could be fun."
Max snorted. "Hmph. Logan, you're supposed to be a journalist. Don't you have any curiosity about the people you knew in school?" Max put the brush down on the vanity unit and stood in the doorway for a moment, before entering the bedroom.
"Sure – but I’m not sure I want to pursue it."
"High school reunion – that's supposed to be a big deal, isn't it. I mean – not that I'd really know…but…"
Logan looked at the expression on her face. She wasn't going to let this go. "I'll think about it, 'kay."
"Now, come to bed," he said. He shut his book and put it and his glasses on the bedside table, then turned out the light. "'Coz there is another kind of reunion I'd like to have, and it doesn't involve a lot of boring people I knew back when getting maudlin over a bowl of spiked punch."
Max, grinning broadly, was more than happy to oblige.
Max woke when she heard Eva's first whimper, surprised to find Logan's place beside her vacant. She pulled on a robe and efficiently changed the baby's diaper, before padding out to the living room. As she suspected, Logan was staring out the windows at a distant thunderstorm. Lightning ripped across the sky, and she could hear the faint rumblings of distant thunder.
He glanced at her briefly, then turned back to the window, his expression sad but thoughtful. "Couldn't sleep."
She turned the nearer of the two armchairs so it faced the window and dragged it closer to him, then settled herself and Eva comfortably. Max picked up Logan's hand from where it rested on the wheel of the chair, weaving her fingers between his, and squeezed gently. She let both of their hands settle on the arm of her chair. Logan gave a fleeting smile and sighed.
Logan looked at her again, questioningly this time.
"For giving me a normal life."
"Our life is normal?"
"Okay...so, there's this paraplegic guy, an anonymous cyber-journalist who broadcasts his message by hacking into the cable network, and his wife is an ex-Manticore X5, who escaped a facility in Gillette, Wyoming in '09, and who once swallowed a bottle of something labeled 'Tattoos from Within'...and this is normal? Normal compared to what?"
"No, what I mean is...home, family, friends – that kind of normal. I never had a stable base in my life until I met you...and even then it took a while."
"Oh, okay. No problem." Logan sat a bit straighter, rolling his shoulders slightly to ease the kinks.
"But you know something...we probably wouldn't be together at all if it weren't for that..." words failed her, "Bruno Anselmo."
"I don't know about that. I'm a persistent guy."
"Yeah, you're pesky like that," she teased. "What I'm trying to say, and not succeeding very well, is that it really...really doesn't matter to me – never did, never will...but..."
"Uh-oh, here it comes," Logan smiled.
"Logan, remember how you were? The arrogant rich kid – knew he could have any girl he wanted? Ring any bells?"
He blushed. "I remember."
"There is no way I would have had anything to do with that person."
"Because he was dangerous to both himself and others. He was too prepared to put the lives of others on the line and not think about the consequences for them. And, to be honest, I didn't...like him very much."
"Oh, okay, duly noted."
"That's not to say I wasn't attracted to him. I still am. Pheromones are a powerful thing," she grinned.
He responded with a crooked smile of his own.
"In a funny kinda way, I guess I need to thank Bruno. Without his actions, I probably wouldn't be here...in this room...right now."
"I won't ever forgive him. He got what he deserved." Logan clenched his jaw.
"Even if it meant that none of the last fifteen years ever happened?"
Logan continued to stare out the window. "I guess there're some aspects of the last fifteen years that...maybe...haven't been so bad, after all." He gave a quick, grim smile. "All the same, it's been a high price to pay."
She squeezed his hand reassuringly.
"I still have those dreams sometimes," Logan said quietly.
"Which dreams?" she asked.
"Where I'm walking...running...dancing on my own two feet. Doesn't happen very often...but when it does..."
She nodded her understanding. "Campbell brought it all crashing back."
"Logan, I wouldn't change my life for the world. I have everyone who really matters to me here, in this place – most of them in this apartment. And if Bruno hadn't been the nice guy he was, I would have kept moving, not stayed in Seattle."
"What about your brothers and sisters?"
"I care about them...but they don't need me the way my family or OC, or Joshua do. Now, don't get me wrong about all of this. I didn't stay because of pity or anything like that," she said, catching the look on his face. "It was more a case of getting my eyes off myself and seeing what was really happening around me, and that one person really could make a difference – even if it was just a small one. And, to be honest, I blamed myself for what happened to you. Now," she said, standing up, "let's go back to bed. It's been a long day, and a longer night."
Logan nodded, releasing his brakes. They were quiet for the time it took to travel to the bedroom, Max holding the sleeping baby across her body.
"You shouldn't blame yourself, you know," Logan said finally, preparing to transfer to the bed. "It was almost inevitable that something would happen to me sooner or later."
Max looked at him over her shoulder. She was in the corner settling Eva back to sleep.
"Max, truth be told, back when we first met…other than my 'mission', I didn't have a helluva lot to live for." Logan, sitting on the bed, grimaced slightly and rubbed the back of his neck. The tension of the day, including a drive through traffic halfway across Seattle, and the disturbing night were catching up with him.
"Well, I hope that's changed," she smiled.
Max knelt behind him on the bed, stripped Logan of his t-shirt, and started to massage, digging deep into the muscles of his shoulders and neck. He soon relaxed, leaning back into her.
"It has," he replied.
"Lie down," she ordered, scooting out of the way. Logan obliged, blinking up at her owlishly. She started working on him, beginning with the range of movement exercises originally done by Bling in another lifetime. Max had added to these some work on pressure points, and while Logan couldn't feel what she was doing, they did work on a psychological level – he found them extremely relaxing. Having worked through the stretches, she gestured for him to roll over. She straddled his body and started to work some more magic on his shoulders, neck, and back. Eventually, as his tension eased, his eyes started to droop and he fell asleep. Max, eyes gleaming, reached across to turn off the lamp, then sat cross-legged on the bed, watching him sleep.Chapter 17: Another Pleasant Seattle Sunday
By 9.00 am on Sunday morning, Logan had had the computers fired up for a couple of hours. Max left him to his own devices and dealt with the regular morning routine on her own, at one point wordlessly placing a cup of coffee and some toast on the desk. Logan nibbled the toast absent-mindedly as he scrolled through Informant Net updates, checking the status of current investigations and following up on e-mail traffic. The coffee cooled in the cup, and he was surprised when he took a sip to find it was almost stone cold. He looked at his watch, amazed at how quickly the time had passed. With a sigh, he shut down the system and rolled out to the dining room, where Max was folding laundry.
"Time to go," he said, shortly.
"Good morning to you, too, sunshine," responded Max, looking up from the T-shirt she was folding. "And go where?"
"Markets – food – X5 famine victims. Ring any bells?"
"Oh, that. Well, that's definitely an offer too good to refuse," she responded. "Give me a minute."
Logan automatically started folding laundry as well.
"I'm sure the clothes breed in the laundry basket," Max sighed, eyeing the neat piles on the table.
"One of the great mysteries of life," Logan replied, matching up the last pair of socks. "And isn't it funny how the smallest member of the family creates the most laundry."
"Yeah, but then nobody ever said babies were clean." She looked over toward the living room, where she could see the lower half of Ben, who was lying on the floor watching TV, his bare feet waving in the air. Eva was on the floor beside him. "Ben, get some shoes on if you're coming with us."
Ben pouted and stood up. As he walked past his parents, Max handed him a pile of laundry. "Put 'em away, please, mister. I don't want to walk in your room later and find 'em on the floor."
"Uh-uh, wrong answer, kiddo."
Logan grinned at the exchange. Thinking back, it was hard to believe the Max he first met could be so submersed in her role as a mother.
"If you're lucky, we might have time to drop by Sublime and see if Elfie's around, since we missed her yesterday."
Logan nodded his agreement. "Gotta job for Alec by the way."
"Um, Logan, it's Sunday. Alec probably won't be there." Max rolled her eyes and disappeared into the bedroom with a bundle of laundry. She came back out with the baby bag slung over her shoulder. "Ben, hurry up!" she called, scooping Eva up from the floor.
"I'm ready, Mom," Ben said, appearing behind her.
"Okay," Logan backed up to the side table, and grabbed his keys and phone. "Let's go."
Wandering among the market stalls was a pleasant diversion. They knew a number of the vendors well from repeat visits over many years, and exchanges of news and chit-chat occurred as a natural consequence as Max and Logan haggled over prices. The markets flourished in the recovering economy. Twenty-five years of depression had made its mark, but the stall-holders had survived and many made a reasonable living by selling good quality produce, most of which was better than anything found in the convenience stores and under-stocked supermarkets, at a reasonable price.
Max barrelled through the growing crowds using the stroller like a snowplow to clear a path. Logan and Ben followed in her wake as best they could. Speed in all things, thought Logan, arms and shoulders pumping. Eventually, Ben exchanged looks with his father and they both gave up. Max would come looking for them when she was ready. Having made most of his purchases, Logan headed for a juice stand, where he and Ben occupied one of the small folding tables and sipped on fruit juice, while they waited for Max.
Logan dumped the two sacks of groceries he had been carrying in his lap on the spare chair beside him and leaned back comfortably. Ben immediately started a conversation about baseball. Ben was a enthusiastic player and Logan had been roped into coaching Ben's fledgling team some two years before. Logan had always been, and still was, a keen sportsman. He still played wheelchair basketball for the team he had joined at Bling's insistence many years before. Coaching baseball was an extension of this love of sport.
It took Max a little while to realize that she and Eva were on their own. She eventually slowed and started backtracking. When she found them at the juice stand, she dumped the two sacks on the ground and sat in the chair.
“What happened to you two?”
“I left the…jet thrusters at home today. Besides, some guy threatened to put the smack-down on my ass if I ran over his toes again.” Logan winked at Ben.
Max looked pointedly at Ben, who immediately assumed an air of injured innocence.
“I can see we’re gonna have to keep you away from Auntie OC. You’re starting to sound just like her,” she laughed.
“No, not me,” replied Ben. “Aiight?”
Max grinned and adjusted Ben’s baseball cap over his eyes. “Whatever…”
Logan parked Bessietoo half a block from the entrance to Sublime PI & Laundromat. The doors were open and a couple of customers could be seen, some moving about within, some seated on plastic chairs reading ancient magazines while they waited for the cycle to finish. Gem had one of the clothes dryers pulled out from the wall with its back removed. She sat cross-legged on the floor, a screwdriver clenched in her teeth and a dirt spot on her nose, tinkering with the inner workings.
“Hey, whassup, boo?” Max asked, crouching beside her, Eva balanced on her knee.
“Oh, hey, Max. Damn belt keeps coming off. Trying to adjust it. Mechanical repairs of this sort are definitely not in my skill-set, and Alec is worse than useless…”
Max looked up, seeing Logan coming in. She had come ahead with the children while Logan parked the car. “Logan, girl needs a fix-it man here.”
“Do I look like a dryer repairman?” he asked.
“No, but you’re the next best…” Max grinned.
Logan sighed, eyeing the laundromat customers. He watched curiously as Ben immediately gravitated to the table in the far corner of the place, where Elfie sat chewing a pen as she concentrated on a page of word puzzles. He really didn't feel like crawling around on the floor in front of a bunch of strangers. “Can you get that thing up on the table for me?”
"Logan, this is an industrial dryer – it weighs a ton!" Gem protested, unwilling to reveal her and Max's enhanced strength to a roomful of witnesses.
Logan set his jaw stubbornly, ready to argue, but, in the end, realizing that no one except Max and Gem was watching and that neither of them would budge, he conceded defeat. He locked his brakes and proceeded to transfer to the floor. Max, trying not to laugh at his grumpy expression, wordlessly handed him his seat cushion. Gem handed him the screwdriver, then she and Max beat a hasty retreat to the office, all the while trying not to laugh. Logan glared angrily into the workings of the dryer for a moment, before starting to tinker with the mechanism.
Gem immediately went into the washroom to wash her hands then started the coffee maker. She held her hands out to take Eva then sat behind the desk and made a fuss over the baby for a moment. Max seated herself in the better of the two visitors' chairs.
"So, did you have a nice vacation?"
"Yeah, it was good to get away." Max smiled. A few days in the sun had her skin glowing with health, and contrasted sharply with the fair-skinned Gem. "Got much on the books right now? You know I'm always available to help."
Gem looked at her curiously. "Getting itchy feet?"
"No, not really…just…you know."
"Actually, no, I don't. You got a good man, nice home, family. Be a shame to waste it." The coffee machine gurgled, and she stood, handing Eva back to Max over the desktop.
Max grinned at her, then looked at Eva who was grunting and straining. "Uh-oh. Better hold your nose."
Gem grinned back. "Now that is something I don't miss."
"Yeah," replied Max, pulling a face. She carefully lay Eva on the desktop and held her with one hand while she groped in the bag for a diaper. Gem busied herself with pouring coffee for them both. "Is Alec likely to come in today?" Max asked.
Gem muffled a laugh. "Hardly. Haven't laid eyes on him since Friday morning. Why?"
"Logan has a job for him."
"Ah…I'll let him know. Anything I could help with?"
Max shrugged. "No idea. Let Logan deal."
"Deal with what?" Logan asked, rolling through the door.
He nodded, then looked at his hands, covered in grime from the back of the dryer. He sized up the washroom doorway, but quickly realized he'd never squeeze through. Instead, he reached for the container of baby-wipes. "Dryer's fixed for now. Needs a new belt. The old one is done for."
"I know, but they're hard to get – too old."
"I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks, Logan." Gem smiled, dimpling prettily.
"What – you have a contact in dryer repairs?" Max asked cheekily.
"No, but I do have one in home hardware," he replied, looking at his watch. "Max, we should be going. I have work to do."
"But we only just got here!" she protested.
"You go. We can walk home."
Logan sighed heavily and thought for a minute. "All right. Call me when you're ready and I'll come get you."
"Deal," she smiled.
"Later, Max, Gem." Logan turned and left them, saying a quick goodbye to Ben and Elfie on his way out the door.Chapter 18: No place to go...
Logan's first job when he returned home was to put away the shopping. He then checked the answering machine for messages and went into the computer room. He picked up where he had left off that morning with the Informant Net. It had been an amazingly hectic few days since he had last checked his mailbox, and there was a lot of reading to do on the current major investigation It involved the regular disappearance of important medical supplies – a recurrent theme in a depressed, although recovering, economy.
Late in the afternoon, on a whim, he switched over to a new line of research. First, he entered the name Campbell Emerson and came up with a detailed personal record - schooling, qualifications, family, some published papers. Next, he did some general research on Emerson Biotech, Inc. The company had started up in the late eighties and had several research facilities pursuing different lines. These were spread over different, quite widespread, states, which was one reason the company hadn't gone under following the Pulse. Something to be said for decentralizing operations after all, he thought.
Logan's final move was to hack into the records of the research section of Emerson Biotech, where Campbell Emerson was head of the department.
Max spent a pleasant few hours with Gem, before deciding to walk with the two children from Sublime, which was near 4th Street, to her old crib on Waverly. Eva had the best of the trip, held firmly on her mother's hip. When they arrived at the apartment block, as was more often the case than not, the elevator was out, so they hiked up to the seventh floor. Original Cindy greeted them at the door with a broad smile.
The apartment was much improved from the old days. While the electricity, still hijacked from the power grid, was intermittent, there was now a fully functional stove to supplement the gas hotplates. The walls were properly plastered and painted in colourful murals by Joshua as a gift to his friend, Original Cindy. There was even a life-sized Xena, copied from the poster she had once hung in her bedroom, taking pride of place on the living room wall. Joshua had plastered the walls to her bedroom and she had installed two antique doors on the bedrooms, rescued by her and a friend from a garbage dumpster, and carted home for them by Logan, who had driven past them on the street and taken pity on the two heavily laden women.
Ben, after giving Cindy a hug, immediately flopped on the floor in front of the television and started scanning channels, while Max and her friend sat on the sofa behind him.
"Where's Hotboy?" Original Cindy asked, rummaging in her make-up bag.
Max rolled her eyes, "Working, where else. Probably just as well – the elevator is out."
"Give the man his due," Cindy responded. "He ain't no slacker, and he did just give you a nice vacation."
"Hey, have I complained?"
"No, but you were going to," she replied with a knowing look. "Gimme your paw." Original Cindy grabbed Max's free hand. "Do I have to say it again, girl? Whatchu been doing with these? Chopping trees? How many times I gotta tell you? Men notice."
"Now lemme think," Max said, in mock-seriousness. "There's scaling cliffs, fixing boats, painting said boats...did I mention scaling cliffs?"
"Business as usual," OC grinned. "Now hold still or I'll have to put the smack-down on you," she said severely, starting to work on Max's nails.
Logan persevered with his hack into Emerson Biotech for a couple of hours, until he tracked down Campbell's research. He discovered that Campbell's implant technology was a further development on an old theme – a continuation of some British research from the late twentieth century, which had been given up as a dead end. Emerson was working on miniaturizing the original implant device and coupling it with cell regeneration techniques, using this method to helping to stimulate the cells into regrowth. There had been extensive studies done with rats. Logan shuddered at the thought, and wondered what the animal rights activists of the past would have thought of scientists deliberately severing the spinal cords of rats in order to do experimental research.
There had been encouraging results, with varying degrees of returned function to the rats' lower limbs. All the same...Logan paused in his reading, and ran his hands along his thighs, feeling the fabric of his jeans run under his fingers and palms, the warmth of the limbs. Even after fifteen years, he still hoped for a miracle, still worried that Max would tire of him and go looking for more – an able-bodied lover, someone who could keep up when she raced through the markets like a whirlwind, someone with functioning legs, who could dance the night away, then make love til dawn. Well, he thought, grinning to himself, Maybe not the 'make love til dawn' bit.
Logan shook himself mentally and started reading again. Campbell had been right about one thing. The sooner this treatment started, the better the outcome. The longer the rats were left untreated, the less function returned. It was an interesting, but pointless, line of investigation for him – it was fifteen years too late.
Again, Logan gave himself a mental shake and closed the file, preparing to shut down the system. It was getting close to the time he expected Max to call, and a growling stomach reminded him that he should be starting on dinner. He was reversing out of the computer room when the doorbell rang, startling him. Shutting the door firmly on the computers, he went to answer the door. The building supervisor, Manuel Sanchez, stood there, holding an envelope.
"This was left for you downstairs. Thought I'd save you some trouble and bring it up," he said, handing Logan the envelope, then standing in the doorway, wiping his hands on dirty overalls.
Logan looked at him, startled, unused to such service from the shiftless, lazy man. "Thanks, Manuel."
Manuel waited a moment, before turning to go. Logan started to close the door, wondering if Manuel had expected a tip. He wouldn't get one. The man already extorted enough out of the building occupants for the odd jobs he did for them. Logan looked curiously at the envelope, then seeing the return address embossed in the corner, gave a quick chuckle. It wasn't often that mail came hand-delivered from the most exclusive school in Seattle. Obviously Manuel had been impressed.
Logan slid a finger under the flap and opened the envelope, which contained an invitation to the annual reunion, due to take place the following weekend. Campbell hadn't wasted any time. The venue made him whistle through his teeth, and he wondered who had made the booking. Logan left the envelope on the dinner table before starting his preparations for dinner.
Max admired her completed fingernails, blowing on the polish to try to hurry up the drying process. "You sure guys notice this stuff?"
"Yeah, boo, I know they do. Else why would these high society types come back week after week?" Cindy hugged Eva close, rubbing her cheek on the baby's soft fair hair.
"Just that Logan never says anything."
"He wouldn't, boo. Not the type. But believe me, he notices and cares." Cindy smiled. "You two got fifteen years behind you now...and I ain't never seen a guy so in love after all that time."
Max smiled shyly. "Ya think so?"
"I know, sugah," Cindy responded, grinning mischievously. "He ain't never looked at no other woman since you came along. Remember that first time at Crash…him swaggering in all male and arrogant?"
Ben turned his head slightly, listening in with half an ear.
"Yeah, I remember."
"Damn if he saw anyone else in the room."
"Well, he had reasons."
"Yeah, right. Saw what he wanted and went right for it, ya ask me."
Logan, waiting for Max to call, transferred up onto one of the high kitchen chairs to prepare a casserole for dinner. He reflected idly that maybe it was about time he got one of the counters lowered to his level. Max had vetoed the suggestion every time he'd made it, but then she wasn't the one picking carrot peelings off her pants when she couldn't be bothered using one of the chairs. He suspected Max's reasons were purely from her desire to watch him in transfer, and he hadn't resisted. He was still living in hope for a miracle. That aside, though, it was only a kitchen counter and could always be raised again if that miracle ever happened.
The phone started ringing as he chopped the vegetables. He reached for it automatically with his right hand, preoccupied with his thoughts. "Hello."
"Oh, hey, Max," he said, his features softening into a smile.
"Can you come and get us? We're at Original Cindy's."
"Oh, okay. About fifteen minutes?"
"Sure…and Logan…the elevator isn't working here."
"I'll call you from downstairs."
Logan quickly finished what he was doing and tossed all the ingredients into the dish, wiped his hands on a dishtowel and transferred to the wheelchair. He placed the food in the oven on low heat, grabbed his phone, and rolled out the door, locking it behind him. When the elevator arrived, he entered and pressed the button for the garage. It slowly started to descend. There was a fizzling noise, and the elevator jerked slightly, the lights flickered, went out, then a single, dim bulb came on. Logan tried the button for the parking lot again, but the elevator remained stationery.
"Damn!" He slid down the panel for the emergency phone, only to find that, not only was it broken, the whole thing had been ripped out. The phone was completely missing. "Damn!" he said again and tried the button for the penthouse level, with the same result - nothing. He waited a few minutes, all the while scanning the elevator's ID plate for emergency phone numbers, but not even finding a maker's name, hoping that it would be a brief power outage, before giving up and pulling out his cell phone to call Max.
"Hey," he said, when she answered.
"Hey, what's up? You outside already?"
"Hardly. I'm stuck in the elevator at home. Power just went out here."
"Really? It's fine here. What about the auxiliary motor?"
"I got lights and nothing else. I'm stuck, Max."
"Have you tried to go up again?"
"What about that idiot, Manuel?"
"Don't have his number – do you?"
"Well, no." She considered briefly. "Hold on, we'll be there soon."
"You sure? You could stay there. I can wait."
"Logan, you want to be stuck there all night?"
"No, not really."
"Well shut up. I'm on my way."
"You're welcome, sir."
Max looked at Cindy, who had been listening in on the conversation, called Ben and headed out the door, Eva, once again, firmly held on her hip. “Seems like one way or ‘nother we’re getting plenty of exercise today,” was her parting shot to Cindy.Chapter 19: Darkness
Max kept up a steady pace across town, with Ben easily keeping up. On arrival at Fogle Towers, Max found that Manuel’s cubicle in the garage was vacant and locked – she peered through the dirty glass, seeing a shambles of old soda and beer bottles and greasy lunch wrappers, mixed in with tools and paperwork. Really!
she thought. The man is a total slob.
Max handed Eva to Ben and pulled out her phone. “Logan, we’re downstairs.”
“You made good time,” he responded.
“How far up are you?”
“Not sure, the buttons aren’t lit.”
Max zoomed in on the elevator indicator board at the rear of the garage. “The indicator board isn’t working here, either. Nothing showing.”
“Hmm…well…if it helps…I’d say maybe around 23 or 24?”
“Hmmm,” she replied, looking thoughtfully at the beautifully manicured nails of her right hand. “Hang on.” She handed the phone to Ben, eyed the height of Manuel’s cubicle with her eyes, took a quick glance around to see that no one was watching, and lightly vaulted over the top, landing with a thud on the desk.
Logan, hearing the noise, said, “Max, what are you doing?”
Ben replied, “It’s okay, Dad. She’s just borrowing some stuff from Manuel’s office.”
Max opened the door from the inside and came out carrying a small crowbar. She took the phone from Ben. “On our way up,” she said, and snapped the phone shut.
Max opened the locked door on the fire stairs with a credit card and started up. When she thought they were getting close to where Logan thought he might be, she ducked out of the stairs on every level and clanged the elevator door with the crowbar, hoping for a response. At level 23, Logan heard the noise from below and called out, “Next one up, I think!” She tapped twice in acknowledgment. The next thing Logan knew, the doors slowly slid open and he was looking at a pair of shoes and some brown ankles, slightly above head level. He looked up at her and smiled as she leaned against the doorframe, folded her arms and said cheekily, “What the hell are you doing down there?”
Logan laughed. “Not a whole lot.”
Bracing herself against the doorframe, she reached down with her hand. Logan grabbed hold with both of his and she easily pulled him up. He sat on the edge, legs dangling, while she jumped into the elevator car and lifted out the wheelchair.
“Thanks,” he said, reaching into the back pocket of the chair for a pair of bike gloves, thinking that if he was going to have to crawl up the fire stairs to get back to the penthouse, he need not inflict more damage on himself than was absolutely necessary.
Max pushed the chair out of the way and lifted herself back out of the elevator. “I’ll take this,” she said, glancing down at the chair, “and see you upstairs.”
Max knew Logan would neither want her help to get up the stairs nor would he want her to watch him crawl his way up on his hands and butt. She turned Ben, who was holding Eva, around with a firm hand on the shoulder and pushed him in the direction of the stairs. Then she picked up Manuel’s crowbar and shoved it into the wheelchair pocket before pushing the chair in the direction of the stairs and disappearing from sight, leaving Logan to follow at his own speed.
Max was sitting on the dinner table, looking at the invitation to the reunion when Logan eventually rolled into the apartment. She looked at him pointedly. "You are going, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I guess so, but only if you go too," he smiled. "It says 'and partner'..."
"Hey, this is the opportunity of a lifetime," she quipped. "Of course I'll come. Ain't no other way I'll get a meal at the Eclipse."
"What, Chez Cale not good enough for you any more?"
"Nope. I'm moving up-market. Chez Guevara good enough for you?"
Logan jokingly pulled a face. "I guess."
"'Cause it looks like that's what you'll be getting tonight. Power's still out."
"Damn...and I had something in the oven too," he deadpanned. "By the way, thanks for coming to the rescue."
"No problem." Max slid off the table. "Didn't think you'd really fancy spending a night in the elevator, not considering the alternative." She grinned wickedly, dropping the invitation into his lap.
"Remember Bennett's wedding?" he asked.
"How could I forget," she replied, her mind immediately returning to the night – Normal held captive by the art thief, Duvalier, and his henchmen; Logan messing up the speech; Original Cindy and his ex-girlfriend, Daphne – the whole fiasco.
"Need I say it again?"
"Not my peeps? This is news? And this matters how? I am going, Logan, not for them, but for you and me. If these peeps are anything like your family...well...Jonas and Margo, really...they'll think you the class failure. I know you aren't."
"Hell, they'll know that when I roll in the door."
Max raised a curious eyebrow at him.
"Paraplegic guy with the most beautiful girl in the room. Must be doing something right, right?"
She flicked him a saucy grin. "It's also pure selfishness on my part. Want to see you in a tux again." She winked, walking off toward the kitchen. "And by the way," she paused and half-turned, hand on her hip. "Didn't you always have the most beautiful girl in the room?"
"I've got the most beautiful girl in the world, now," he said quietly.
She frowned slightly. "That was sappy, but I kinda like it."
Max moved around the apartment lighting candles as Logan set the table for a jointly prepared salad dinner. The power was still out – the casserole waited in the fridge for the return of electricity to Sector 9. Looking out, all the adjoining apartment blocks were in darkness as well, only lit by the occasional pinpoint of light from a candle, hurricane lamp, or gas lantern. Farther away, lights shone in the distance, but nothing nearby.
"Nothing like a candlelit supper for four, is there?"
Logan looked up at her. "I thought we were past all this. Guess I was wrong."
She shrugged and went to pick up Eva from the living room floor. Ben had earlier asked for batteries for his Gameboy, but he'd been out of luck. When he started to complain, Logan had pointed at the bookcase, so that's what he was doing – lying on the sofa, reading a book by the light tall candle.
After dinner, at Max's suggestion, Logan dug out a "primitive board game". He possessed an old, but complete, Monopoly set that had originally belonged to his parents or grandparents – he wasn't sure which. The fake money, board, and various cards were now yellowed with age and slightly fragile, but still usable.
With the power still out, in some ways it was like being at the cabin still – no TV, no distracting noise other than what they made themselves.
Ben managed to surprise both his parents in the game of Monopoly, which he had never played before. Although, Max thought, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised – in between his share of my screwy genetics and the time he spends with Bennett and Marianne, maybe a little bit of that Cale Commercial Killer Instinct has rubbed off.
Ben gleefully bankrupted both his parents, and ended up being sent to bed glowing with happiness at his victory.
After she'd tucked Ben into bed, Max wandered around the apartment, with Eva on her hip, snuffing out most of the candles while Logan packed up the game. She left just a solitary candle burning on the coffee table.
"Long time since we had a blackout," Max commented, gesturing for Logan to transfer to the sofa.
"Yeah, been awhile."
Max smiled to herself, watching him move, the tight-fitting T-shirt he wore emphasizingthe ripple of muscles. Having a cat's eyesight could be a real blessing in a blackout. Logan looked up at her curiously, sensing a change in mood, and caught a glimpse of the upturned corners of her mouth. "What?"
"Nothing." Max delicately sat next to him and curled up, leaning into him comfortably. She held the baby close with one hand. Logan wrapped his arm around her and took one of Eva's tiny hands in his. With his other hand, he held Max's free hand, gently rubbing the smooth nail polish on her thumb with his finger. Max's eyes flickered wide open for a second, and she looked round at him, then snuggled closer, thinking, Original Cindy was right. He really does notice.Chapter 20: Dressed to Kill
Alec showed up the following morning, full of attitude. He walked into the penthouse without knocking and seated himself on one of the kitchen counters, near where Logan was pouring coffee. Logan was thankful for the fact that the power had come on during the night, although both he and Max had been woken when the bedroom light came on without warning. He looked forward to his morning caffeine fix. He could cope with instant coffee, but no power, meant no kettle.
Logan, accustomed to Alec’s peripatetic comings and goings, ignored the rudeness of the unannounced visit and, without a word, poured an extra cup of coffee.
"Hey, Logan. You know the elevator's out?"
"This is news?"
Alec raised an eyebrow at him.
"Never mind." Even after the power had come back, the elevator stubbornly refused to budge. Logan had put it down to a mechanical failure caused by, or coinciding with, the blackout.
Alec shrugged. "No need to get pissy. It's not my fault."
"What'd you wanna see me about?"
"Gotta job for you."
"Who do I have to kill?"
Logan looked at Alec blankly.
"That was a joke."
"I know. The answer is no one – at least, not just yet.” Logan gave a wry grin. “Just need you to do some recon and maybe a bit of tailing. Need you to track the path of some medical supplies."
"See what happens, who comes, who goes, where the supplies go. That kinda thing."
"No sweat. When and where?"
Logan handed Alec both cups of coffee, abruptly turned and wheeled through the apartment in the direction of the computer room. Alec shrugged and followed. The apartment was deserted except for the two men. Max and the two children had gone out earlier, leaving the stranded Logan to his own devices. He brought the file up on the computer and gave Alec a guided tour of what he was expecting to happen. Alec took note of the finer details and promised to get back to Logan ASAP.
By Wednesday, with the elevator still not working, Logan was becoming restless. He loved the penthouse, which had been his home for nearly twenty years, but when he literally couldn't leave the building, it became a prison. Max came and went as she pleased, performing various errands sometimes with and sometimes without children, sometimes on foot, sometimes taking the car. It was all one to her.
Alec followed up on the task Logan had set him to, fruitlessly following several truckloads of supplies to their ultimate destination. He also performed some B&E on the warehouse where the goods were stored, to no avail.
All in all, it was a totally frustrating week.
Early Wednesday afternoon, Max went out on her own to meet up with Original Cindy for a short shopping expedition uptown. She’d already been out once that day to drop Ben at Bennett and Marianne’s for the day.
"Going to beat up on your credit card," she said, smilingly, when Logan asked where she was going. He had phoned through his acceptance to the reunion on Monday, but was now beginning to wonder if the elevator would be repaired in time for him to go. He also needed to get his pants let down, because, as Max had rightly pointed out, in a seated position they were way too short.
Logan had also called Campbell to let him know he would be there. He still wavered in his decision from one moment to the next. One part of him wanted to be there, to cover the event, to write a short piece for the school paper; the other part wanted to run and hide from the roomful of Uncle Jonases he was anticipating seeing. He had little in common with most of those people, other than money.
It was a great to hear the familiar ping of the elevator doors opening when Max returned. She came in bouncing with good cheer and announced, "The elevator's working, woo hoo!"
"About time!" Logan called back.
"I assume you're going to take advantage?" she asked, following the sound of his voice to the living room, where he was lying on the rug with Eva, playing peek-a-boo.
"Sounds like a plan to me. So tell me about what you bought," he prompted, pushing up into a sitting position, then realized that she wasn't carrying any packages.
"Uh-uh. Not telling."
"It's a secret?"
"Yup. Big secret. Top secret, Eyes Only rating," she smiled.
"Okay…well…that being the case, I won't ask any further questions."
She smiled in response. “Now, I think you should get off the floor and go get those pants fixed while the elevator is functioning.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
It was a relief to climb into the car and drive out to the street. He had gotten a lot of work done during his enforced stay at home, but the walls had steadily closed in. He visited the tailor and arranged to have the pants altered and to be collected the next day, collected the dryer belts he had managed to order for Gem from his hardware contact, and stopped in at Sublime to drop them off and to see if Alec had anything to report. After that, he turned the car for home.
On the night of the reunion, Max primped in front of the mirror one last time, Original Cindy examining her critically, makeup bag in her hand.
She walked out to Logan, who was impatiently waiting for her. Logancouldn't help but smile in appreciation as she came into view. The top secret, Eyes Only-rated dress had stayed that way from Wednesday. Original Cindy hadn't revealed anything either, when she had called earlier in the day and Logan had answered. He had pumped her for information, but she had refused to say a word.
Max stopped and twirled for him, a vision in jade green, revealing a large expanse of café-au-lait-colored skin on her back, and one shapely leg, where the side of the dress was split almost to her left hip. The dress was startling in its simplicity: a sheer satin sheath with shoestring straps and a plunging neckline. It looked like it had been made for her. Her only adornments consisted of the locket that had belonged to Logan's mother, a pair of simple gold stud earrings, and a simple diamond solitaire engagement ring paired with her wedding ring. Original Cindy had done her hair in a loose tangle on top of her head, with lots of wisps hanging down, and the makeup gave a soft look to her eyes.
"That all you can say?"
"Do I need to say more?" Logan asked innocently.
Max smiled broadly. "You look nice, too." Logan’s shirtfront shone dazzling white, in sharp contrast to the black jacket and bow tie. She quickly glanced at his feet, trying to make sure he wasn't wearing gym socks.
"Run along, children," chided Cindy, grinning at Logan's reaction. "Go play." She turned away to put the makeup bag back with her other gear in what would eventually be Eva's room. Max stifled another smile as she heard her friend muttering under her breath something about "men and dogs".
The heels of Max's sandals clicked on the wooden floor as she turned and gave Original Cindy a big wink before heading for the door.
Logan pulled the Aztek smoothly up to the entrance of the Eclipse and put it into park. While Max got out and walked around to the other side, he assembled the wheelchair. She watched him transfer, then handed him his jacket, which he hadn't worn in the car. He was straightening out his jacket when the valet approached to take the battered SUV for parking, where it would surely be the thorn among the roses.
Max looked at the valet sharply. "You know what you're doing there?"
"I can drive anything," he said, snootily and climbed into the driver's seat – and just sat there, confused at the set-up. He looked at the hand controls, a stunned expression on his face, mouth gaping. He poked the hand lever once, distastefully, like it was a dead body. Then he sat there, hands hovering, unsure what to do.
Logan smothered a smile, seeing him try the disabled foot pedals once. Finally, Max put the poor fellow out of his misery by reaching past Logan and flicking the switch to empower the pedals. As the embarrassed valet drove off with the car, Max lightly clouted Logan in the back of the head. "Naughty boy." Max was quite capable of driving the car either way, but she was fully aware of how strange the hand controls had been at first.
"Sorry, Mom," he grinned at her.
"Come on, let's get this bitch over with."
They entered the building side-by-side and paused at the entrance to the restaurant. Logan pondered momentarily, The worst part of attending a large function is always entering a crowded room – I always feel like every eye is on me.
They could hear the murmur of voices and distant music. Logan stayed still for so long that eventually Max prodded him between the shoulder blades to encourage him to move forward through the doorway and into the room.