Alaidh and catherderPairing:
A very shippy look at Logan’s family. Takes place some 13 years after Freak Nation.Chapter 21: It's Party Time
Once Max finally persuaded Logan to move, he entered the Eclipse and executed a quick ninety-degree turn inside the door to one of a pair of ramps that flanked the half-dozen steps straight ahead. Max walked straight down the stairs, scooped two glasses of bubbly from the tray of a passing waiter, and met him at the bottom of the ramp.
The chatter died slightly as they entered. Max felt the change and cringed inwardly, knowing that this was what Logan had been dreading – that he would become the center of attention for all the wrong reasons – an object of pity. He paused at the bottom of the ramp for a moment and waited for Max, his path blocked by a large group of people.
"Hey," she said to him, leaning over the railing to his right. "You gonna join me or just sit there?" Logan gave her a baleful look, then started to force his way through, the skin on the back of his neck prickling as he felt the stares. Max kept her expression neutral as she overheard a few comments."Who was that?"
"Poor guy, heard he got shot a while…"
"Such a waste...so handsome..."
"...always had the most beautiful girls chasing after him at school..."
If Logan heard what was being said, he gave no sign. Max followed his progress as he pushed his way through, then headed in the direction of a display of photographs decorated with the school colors near the back wall of the restaurant. When he stopped to examine the photographs, she handed him his glass and dropped a reassuring hand on his shoulder. She joined him in perusing the pictures, with interest: classes, groups, sporting teams, clubs were all represented.
Max was curious. She had seen many pictures of him as a young child, baby photos, stumbling toddler, first day of school – shots taken by his parents everywhere they went. However, from the time his mother had become ill, the stream of pictures had slowed to a trickle, and once his parents were gone, that trickle almost completely dried up, except for one exceptional photograph taken of him leaning over the railing of a wharf on a blustery, cold day.
Logan looked up at Max and smiled at the concentration on her face. Her eyes were narrowed and lips pursed as she scanned for her husband's familiar features in a sea of faces.
"Bingo," she said, her eyes falling on a photograph of a smiling sporting team. "2003 Junior Boys Basketball," she read out loud. The face was softer, younger, there was no four-day growth of beard, the glasses were different, but Logan was still unmistakable.
"Ah, I remember that," he commented, pointing at the same photograph.
He turned his head to see who had spoken to him, then pulled back on the wheel with his left hand to face the speaker. Max also looked to see who had spoken, and found herself facing a diminutive, Asian woman of indeterminate age.
"Mrs Lee, you haven't changed a bit!"
"Logan, it's so good to see you here. It's been such a long time, you naughty boy."
"It sure has, Mrs Lee." Logan looked over his shoulder. "Max, this is Mrs Lee. She was one of my teachers at school. Mrs Lee, my wife, Max."
Max held out her hand to the frail, elderly woman. "Pleased to meet you," she said, responding to the woman's warm smile.
"Logan, I see you're still bringing the most beautiful girl to the prom. Some things change, some stay the same."
"You know how it is," he shrugged. “Max, Mrs Lee was the one who encouraged me to go into the writing field."
"Oh!" Max's eyes grew huge. "Cool."
"Ah, well, he had a modicum of talent. Would have been a shame to waste it."
"What I say," Max replied warmly. "Use it or lose it."
"Logan, I was so pleased you agreed to come tonight and do a little piece for the school paper."
"Couldn't refuse. I helped start that rag. I'm glad to see it's still going strong."
"Oh, yes, definitely." Mrs Lee smiled. "Campbell made a great ambassador for us."
Logan and Max exchanged inquiring glances.
"He'd been out of the loop, like yourself, for so long that he seemed like a good choice."
"And as usual, you sent him in totally unprepared. Poor guy. No wonder he looked so stunned when he saw me. He really didn't know. I had kind of wondered…" Logan looked up at his old teacher fiercely, daring her to look away.
"I'll be retiring soon. I needed one final scoop. You gotta give an old woman one last chance at the prize." Mrs Lee smiled broadly, then turned to go.
Logan shook his head, amused at her ploy.
"And speak of the devil," said Max, spying the hapless Campbell Emerson coming toward them, partnered by a short, plain woman – obviously his wife, judging by the proprietary hold he had on her elbow.
"Hey, Campbell," said Max, holding out a hand in greeting.
"Logan, Max." He pumped each hand in turn. "This is my wife, Fee."
"Hey, Fee." Max smiled. "Campbell told us a heap about you the other night."
Fee blushed and looked shyly at her husband.
"Don't worry. It's all good."
"It's okay. Anyone would think I was the crown jewels from what Cam says. On the other hand, he sure didn't exaggerate about you."
Max shrugged. "Whatever."
"Logan has a reputation to maintain," interjected Campbell, with a wink. Logan looked up at his friend and grinned. "Logan always brought the most beautiful girl to the school dance."
Max grinned broadly at her husband's discomfort. "As long as it's me, I don't care." She winked back.
"As for me," responded Logan. "My days on the dance floor are definitely over."
"Aww, Logie, I don't know about that. You still do a mean hokey pokey."
"Max, I did that once…and it was after Alec had plied me with beer for half the afternoon."
Max laughed. He had been more than a little drunk that day. Wheeling under the influence...
"Alec?" asked Fee.
"He's sort of…" Max began.
"Max's brother," Logan ended the sentence, then exchanged looks and grinned.
Looking up again, Max noticed a photo she hadn't seen before. Logan and Campbell standing together. "Hey, would you look at that," she pointed, reading the caption underneath. "2006 Chess Team, Logan Cale and Campbell Emerson."
Logan gave a half smile and turned away from the display, his glass wedged between his legs, intending to move off into the room to circulate. His progress was almost immediately halted by a pair of solid legs standing in front of him. He looked up into a mean face with an untidy moustache and red-rimmed eyes. The guy was not drunk yet, but he was well on his way. Max, ever sensitive to Logan's moods, felt a change and tensed imperceptibly. Her hand moved from her hip to Logan's shoulder again, where she squeezed a gentle reminder that she was there.
"Cale," the man said, coldly, his dislike emanating from him in waves.
"Maclean," Logan replied mildly.
"Whose girlfriend did you steal this time?"
Campbell and Fee beside them were frozen, not moving.
"Maclean, I don't steal other people's girlfriends."
Maclean bristled, his face reddening.
"Was there something you wanted?" Logan asked, an edge creeping into his voice.
"Because if not," Max continued, "You can kindly go back to whatever rock you crawled out from." She smiled sweetly.
Maclean leered at her, exhaling alcohol fumes so strong that she wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Ooh, you got some spirit. Like a girl with spirit."
Max rolled her eyes.
"What the hell are you doing with this crippled geek?"
Max rolled her eyes again. "He's more of a man than you'll ever be. C'mon, Logan, let's go elsewhere. It stinks like a brewery here."
Max roughly pushed past the drunken Maclean, with Logan following behind, leaving the two Emersons behind. Once they were out of earshot, Max turned to face Logan. "What the hell was that all about?"
"You don't want to know."
Logan sighed. "This is all totally irrelevant after all this time."
"Logan," she warned.
"He broke up with some girl and a week later I ended up dancing with her at some party. Word got back. He's had it in for me ever since."
"She wasn't even my date for the party. Just someone who was there..."
"...and then there's your reputation as well, Casanova," she chuckled.
"It wasn't like that."
"Now where have I heard that before?" She raised an eyebrow at him, then spoiled the effect by laughing. "Come on, let's..."
"Logan! What the hell happened to you?"
The voice was female, pleasant to the ear, and turned out to belong to an attractive, freckle-faced, auburn-haired woman.
"Natalie – is that you?" Logan grinned in delight. "Never expected to see you here. Last I heard you were somewhere on the other side of the world."
"Yeah – we were for a long time. We've only been back for a few months. It's been a real culture shock after 20 years in foreign parts."
Max turned away for a moment, feeling eyes boring into her back. One way or another, she and Logan were attracting more than their fair share of attention.
"So where's Bob?" Logan asked.
"Couldn't make it. Some meeting or other in DC. Logan, what happened to you? I've been hearing lots of rumors, but every story is different."
"You...er...really have been out of the loop, haven't you?"
Max turned back to face Natalie. "Logan, aren't you going to introduce us?"
"Natalie, this is Max," he said simply.
"Hello, Max. And Logan, you haven't answered my question."
"I dropped out of sight."
"Logan, don't do that. That's not what she asked," Max admonished.
"Logan," Natalie said again. "What happened to you? I'd like to hear the truth."
Logan hesitated a moment. "I was shot – in the back – at close range in the middle of the street."
"Not some angry ex-boyfriend, I hope?"
Logan looked at her for a moment, and then realized it was a joke and smiled. "Just the boyfriend's mother," he responded in kind.
"I take it this was something to do with some damn fool journalistic crusade of yours? I knew your reputation at the Freep. That much filtered through."
"Something like that. Old news, anyway. And you, how have you been keeping..."
Max wandered off in search of another drink, leaving them to talk. When she returned a few minutes later, she found Logan surrounded by a group of his former classmates, listening closely to a story being told by a blowsy blonde, who was nearly bursting out of the front of a too-tight dress. Max leaned over Logan's shoulder and handed him his glass, and was rewarded with a warm smile.
A few minutes later, waiters started bringing out platters of food, which they arranged on long tables for people to help themselves. Logan was still deep in conversation with Natalie, who was obviously one of his old flames. Max had left them and was making a selection of the culinary delights on display when she felt a hand on her ass, and beery breath wafted past her nose. She rolled her eyes as the slurred words were spoken, "Sugar, what are you doing with that gimp loser Cale? Why don't you come have some fun with me?"
Max gently set down the plate and glass of wine she was holding. Deliberately and forcefully, she stepped back on Maclean's toe with a pointed heel, grabbed the thumb of the hand that was on her ass and, turning to face him, bent it back painfully. She said through clenched teeth, "Get lost, buster."
Logan, coming up to them, was just in time to have Maclean, who was stumbling away from Max in surprise, crash into the wheelchair, painfully cracking his knee on the leg guard. Maclean made a hasty departure, heading for the exit. Logan raised an eyebrow at Max. "Having fun?"
She grinned ironically. "Just engaging in a little pest control."
"Okay. Gotta zap those cockroaches."
Max resumed stacking her plate with food, then waited as Logan made his choices. They found space at a table on the side wall, where Max automatically pulled out one of the chairs and moved it to the end so that Logan could sit beside her. Logan no longer took offense at the thoughtful gesture, which was second nature to Max. They were soon joined by Campbell and Fee Emerson and a number of others – classmates, spouses and partners.
They ate amid companionable chatter with the others at the table. Max tapped her toe in time with the beat of some old music from the early days of the century – the kind of soft pop and rock that Logan and his contemporaries would have been listening to at school – the kind that he still played from time to time when he was allowed to play his own CDs at home – which wasn't often. Ben was at the point in his life where he was starting to monopolize the stereo system, and wails of protest went up whenever someone else wanted to play their music rather than his.
Halfway through dinner, Max excused herself and went off to the ladies' room to make use of the comparative quiet to call Original Cindy and check on things at home.
"Hey, whatchu doing calling me instead of having a good time, boo?" Cindy had immediately asked. "Ain't no problems here. If there were, I'd be callin' you."
"OC! I was just…"
"You were worried 'bout your babies. Ain't no need to worry. I'm the best babysitter in Seattle. Had years of practice." Max pictured the grin on Cindy's face as she made the boast. It was even true. She'd been Elfie's babysitter, and Ben's and Jonas's on occasions. Years of experience was right.
"I know, Original Cindy. Just that I haven't left Eva with anyone for this long before – not even with Logan, and he's her daddy."
"This long? You only been gone for a coupla hours, boo. Now, stop frettin' and get back to your man."
"Yes, Momma." Max grinned.
"How's it goin' anyway."
"It's…all good." Max hesitated. Most of the people, with the one exception, had been pleasant and surprisingly welcoming for a group of WASPs. Although Max didn't feel she really belonged, she wasn't feeling as completely out of place as she had been at Bennett's wedding or other formal occasions at the Cale mansion in previous years. With Margo now living in comparative retirement, those formal occasions had ceased. Bennett was less prim and proper than either of his stuffy parents. He had taken over the family home – his brothers were both long settled in their residences and hadn't wanted to move back, and as Bennett had succeeded his father at the head of Cale Industries, it had been decided between them that the house should be his, at least for the present.
"Well, I'm glad we didn't waste all of Logan's scrilla on that dress for you not to enjoy it."
"Oh, no, that definitely was not wasted." Max smiled. She wasn't thinking of the reunion, though, more of Logan's reaction.
Natalie walked in, mid-conversation, surprised to see Max leaning up against the basin and talking on the phone. She listened to the conversation with half an ear, quickly realizing that Max had to be talking to a babysitter. She cast an envious look over Max's slim figure. She'd lost her waistline years ago to children and passing years, and although she was far from being overweight, she certainly didn't have Max's svelte lines.
"Gotta bounce. Call me if you have any problems."
"Max, ain't gonna be no problems. But I promise to call, 'kay? And relax. I got everything under control here."
Max winced, hearing a loud crash in the background through the phone. Yeah, under control, right, she thought. "Late."
"Babysitter?" Natalie asked, curiously.
"Yeah." Max gave a rueful smile.
"I find it hard to picture Logan as a father."
Max smiled. "Sometimes I find it hard to believe myself." She snapped the phone shut and put it in her small handbag, extracting her lip-gloss in its place. She leaned forward over the basin, applying a fresh coat of gloss.
"In fact, it's hard to picture Logan as anything but…"
"A playa?" Max asked.
"Logan was always…different. He never really fit into any one niche."
"Ever the loner," Max replied thoughtfully. "Not a nerd, but not one of the guys either."
"Yes. He was very much his own individual. Refused to fit the mold. It sometimes made him unpopular – an outsider. He was good at everything…sports, chess, and the academic bits as well. Girls used to follow him around, too."
"Nothing's changed then. And being different didn't stop the girls liking him, did it?" Max grinned.
"No, he never had any problem finding girlfriends." Natalie's blue eyes glistened as she gave Max a broad, knowing smile. "He knew how to treat a lady."
"All those ‘olde worlde’ manners – soft lights, music. They're such a…"
"Come on?" Max asked innocently.
Natalie looked at her in surprise.
"I don't think he ever had any shortage of female company in his bed," Max continued. "Guess it upset some folks, though."
"Yes. It was unintentional, but it happened."
Max nodded, understanding. "He has this…"
"Hell, I'm allowed to say it…charisma, sex appeal…Loganness…whatever"
Natalie nodded. "You two been together long?"
Max nodded, studying her reflection in the mirror. "I've known him for a long time now. Not as long as you, but long enough."
"Then you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I do."
"How many kids you got?" Natalie asked, holding the door open for Max to pass through ahead of her.
"Three – all grown up now. My baby is," Natalie paused, "nearly 20."
"How old are yours?"
"Ben is eleven and our baby is about five months, now."
"Ah, you have a little 'un." Natalie looked at Max, thoughtfully. "No wonder you had to make that phone call. I was the same."
"Really? I'm glad it's not just me being silly. I've never left her with anyone for this long before – not even Logan."
"It's not silly. Now, let's join the fray before they send out a search party for us."
Returning to the table was harder than it looked. Logan was surrounded by what looked like a group of giants – tall, loud men. They were apparently late arrivals. Max would have remembered this group for sure. One of them had a sadly deflated basketball, which appeared to be covered in signatures, tucked under his arm. For mature men, there was more than a fair share of pushing and shoving going on among them. Logan's face, as he looked at them across the expanse of the table, wore an expression of sheer delight.
Max and Natalie waited a moment before Max put on her school-marm voice. "'Scuse us, boys. Comin' through."
Without missing a beat, two of the giants moved aside to allow Max and Natalie a passage through.
"…still play a bit of ball down at the community center," Logan was saying.
Max suddenly tweaked as to the identity of the tall men and nodded to herself.
"Still? Wow, I'm impressed." This came from the tallest of the group, a solidly built guy with curly, dark hair, just starting to recede at the temples. "Had to quit years ago – my knees gave out." Well,
Max thought, at least Logan can't complain about that.
Natalie, now deep in conversation with the Emersons, heard the comment as well and looked curiously at Logan to ascertain his reaction. For his part, Logan didn't even react. Max claimed his hand, mid-gesture. "Hey, aren't you gonna introduce me to this group of studs?" she enquired.
"Sorry, Max. Guys, this is Max, my wife. Max, this is Carl, Aaron, Kyle, Matthew and Henry."
"Lemme guess." Max gave them a measured look. "The basketball team?"
"You got it," replied the tall, curly-haired Carl, holding out his hand. "Pleased to meet you. Must say, Logan's taste in women hasn't changed."
"That's for sure," added Kyle, a skinny blond with large-lensed glasses.
"Well, it hasn't in the last few anyway," responded Max in kind.
"Logan, I can't believe you still play basketball. That's amazing, man. Look at the rest of us crocks...How come you've lasted so long?" Matthew, the man with the deflated ball under his arm said, then in a quick maneuver, flicked the sad excuse for a ball at Logan. Logan automatically reached up above his head to catch it, tipping back in the process, and was just lucky that Max stuck out a hand to save him or he'd have landed on his back on the floor.
"Hey, what's with the wheelchair?" Matthew suddenly realized what he'd seen when Logan tipped back.
"I said I still played basketball – didn't say what sort," Logan responded. He glanced at Max for a moment.
"So how come none of us knew about this?" asked the tall Eurasian, Henry.
They had stopped jostling now, and were all deadly serious.
"I tried very hard to disappear."
"Gee, I'm sorry man."
Logan shrugged and pinged the ball straight at Henry, who had spoken last. "Hey, I'm the one who still plays."
"Well, it can't all be bad, then." Carl smiled. "Maybe a wheelchair is the way to go." Logan threw him a dirty look, then smiled, realizing there was no malice in Carl's comment.
"Maybe it is," he admitted. "My knees don't give me any trouble."
Aaron had turned away and snared the photographer who was roaming the floor. "Come on, let's get a photo, guys. Logan…come around. You're in front."
Logan raised his eyebrows and gave Max an inscrutable look, then went around to join them. There was more than a little good-natured push and shove as they arranged themselves in a loose group.
"Hey, what's with the ball, guys?" Max asked, suddenly curious about the under-inflated object which had ended up on Logan's lap. Logan quickly tossed it to her, while they were still moving about trying to get into position. She read the words written on the ball, Interscholastic Boys Basketball Championship, 2006,
and a pile of signatures, including two labeled 'coach'. Max smiled, then threw it back. "Aiight."
Logan, his tie undone and the collar of his shirt unbuttoned, stared out the window as he waited for Max to return from the bedroom, where she'd immediately gone to check on Eva. He had enjoyed the evening more than he had ever thought possible. The apartment was quiet. Both children and Original Cindy had slept through their arrival. Max walked quietly back through the apartment, barefoot, her feet quietly slapping the floor. She stood next to the window, taking in the view. Logan drew near and pulled her into his lap. "Hey, you," he whispered softly into her ear, then turned her face toward his and kissed her deeply. She responded in kind, melting into his arms and returning the gesture.
“Glad you went?” she asked backing off a little.
“Mm-hmmm.” Logan looked into her eyes, dreamily, and smiled. She appeared as a shadow, haloed by the light from the window. “You?”
“Yes,” she said, wearing a little smile of satisfaction. “It was nice.”
“Not the word I would have used.” He tensed as Max snorted a short laugh into his ear, sending a thrill through him. “How does it feel to have been the most beautiful woman in the room?”
“How does it feel to have been the most beautiful man?” Max looked amused, seeing his face darken, and realizing he'd blushed.
“It feels just fine,” he eventually replied.
“Me too.” Logan caught the flash of teeth as Max gave a wide smile. She settled herself more comfortably and reached up, starting to pull the hairpins from her hair. Logan ran his hands up her arms, tickling her as he went, and started to help her, loving the feel of her hair as it started to tumble free in soft waves over her neck and shoulders. She happily hummed a few bars of one of the songs she'd heard through the course of the evening – something from the early days of the century, an oldie, but timeless in its appeal. Romantic. Sexy. She had eventually managed to coax Logan onto the dance floor, where she sat on his lap as he swayed, one hand holding the dress out of the way so it didn't tangle in the wheels, the other wrapped around his neck. He was slightly intoxicated, but whether from the wine they'd drunk or from her presence, or a combination of both, was immaterial.
"…with one look in your eyes, baby…I never knew I could feel so loved…hmmm hmmm hmmm one precious moment changed my life…" Max sang quietly to herself. Logan listened, curious, not minding the odd dud note – she was no singer, and so rarely sang at all. The song was old. He remembered it vaguely from his early days in high school.
Logan studied Max, his long-lashed eyes soft and dark in the moonlight, the invitation unmistakable. Max leaned in and trailed gentle kisses down his face – a series of soft pecks ending at his lips and there she stayed until the sudden noise of a door sliding open disturbed both of them and they looked around guiltily, separating with a soft giggle as Original Cindy, hand held up to pretend to shield her eyes, made a beeline for the bathroom.
"Oops, don't mind me, folks. Just passin' through."
Cindy was back in a few minutes, again pretending to shield her eyes.
"OC, it's safe now, you can look," said Max, trying not to laugh.
"Phew. That was more than these ol' lesbian eyes ever wanted to see, peeps," she grinned.
Max leaned comfortably into Logan's shoulder and relaxed. "So…"
"So…how was your partay, my brother, my sistah?"
"The partay was just fine," replied Logan, mimicking her vocal style.
"And so was the partay in this trick-ass apartment," she responded in kind. "No need to fret with Aunty OC to babysit, aiight?"
"Now, Aunty OC's feelin' kinda punk. All this chasin' 'round after the little 'uns has her all worn out, so she's gonna hit the hay again."
"Good night, Max."
"Good night, Original Cindy."
Max and Logan looked at each other and smiled as they heard the door slide shut again.
"Now, where were we?" Logan asked.
"Here," replied Max huskily, "And here…and here." She again trailed kisses down his face.
"And here." Logan gently held her head with both hands and claimed her lips for his own. They held that position, for a few minutes, enjoying the sensation. Logan dropped one of his hands to Max's bare thigh, smoothing the warm flesh with his hand, creeping higher and higher until he flicked the elastic of her panties.
"Let's go to bed."
"I thought you'd never ask."Chapter 22: B & E For Breakfast
The apartment was quiet when Logan eventually crawled out of bed, groaning at the pounding head caused by too much wine and too little sleep. He was thankful that when Max had left to take Original Cindy home, she had taken the children with her. He transferred carefully into the wheelchair, wincing as it creaked, pulled on some clothes and put on his glasses. After a stop in the bathroom, he carefully made his way to the kitchen. Max had left a bottle of aspirin on one of the kitchen counters, weighting down a note, that read, Thought you may need this. Back in a few hours. Max.
Logan gratefully swallowed a couple of tablets with water and just sat there for about ten minutes, waiting for it to take effect. Max had also made coffee, but he resisted the temptation to pour himself a cup yet. He was eventually startled from his reverie by the phone, which started his head pounding again.
"Morning, sunshine," came Max's voice breezily down the line. "How's the head?"
"Could be better," was the cautious response.
"Figured we better give you some space to recover from last night."
"Thanks, Max." Logan's tone was neutral. He was not sure whether to be grateful or insulted.
"No need to sound so excited about it," Max chuckled. "We'll be back sometime this afternoon. Enjoy the quiet while it lasts. Late..."
Logan looked at the oven clock briefly, and headed for the shower.
Max and Original Cindy, with both children firmly in tow, wandered South Market Street, browsing the stalls for bargains. Cindy idly examined some slightly suspect electronic equipment advertised as being "consignment" items by the stallholder.
"And he gets his consignments where?" she asked Max, examining a compact DVD player, sitting on top of a box.
Max looked at her friend and grinned. "Same place I used to. It's a free market economy." She shrugged. "Just don't expect the warranty to hold."
Cindy carefully replaced the remote back on top of the DVD unit with distaste. "No offense, but..."
"Yeah, I know. You're a straight-up girl, yadda yadda." She shifted Eva from one hip to the other, the stroller having been pressed into service as a shopping cart.
"Something like that, boo."
Logan emerged from the bathroom feeling a bit more human. He poured himself some coffee – now slightly stewed after being in the machine for several hours, and headed into the computer room, intending to check his e-mail.
The informant net seemed to be on vacation. Nothing much was happening, even with on-going investigations. Alec still hadn't managed to turn up anything about the disappearing medical supplies, according to the message he had left on the answering machine the previous day. Logan tried to hack into various hospital records to see if he could establish just how much in the way of medical supplies was missing, but without much success. The Internet was a bit "touchy" – the line dropping out several times - and his concentration wasn't really there.
He started work on a short piece on the reunion to appear in the school paper. It was a pleasure to exercise his journalistic writing skills for a change – most of his work these days was devoted to hacking rather than writing. He relaxed into writing the article and had a first draft churned out in a very short time.
After working on the article for an hour or so, Logan took a break to eat something, feeling better now that the aspirin and coffee had kicked in.
Alec wandered in a few minutes later, entering the penthouse without knocking.
"Don't you ever knock?" Logan asked, annoyance in his voice.
"Not if I can help it," Alec replied cheerfully, helping himself to some toast from the pile Logan had made.
"Help yourself to some toast," Logan said sarcastically.
Alec raised an eyebrow. "Don't mind if I do."
They ate in silence for a few minutes.
"Okay, so what brings you here at this hour on a Sunday?"
"Gotta lead on those missing medical supplies and thought you might want to tag along while I do some B & E."
"Uh huh." Logan looked at Alec consideringly. "What sort of lead?"
"You don't really want to know, but suffice to say, I was told about something going down..."
Logan paused for a moment, thinking. "Max has the car, and I can't exactly ride on the back of your motorcycle."
"Not a problem. I brought wheels."
“Alec, it’s broad daylight.”
“No problem. I got it covered.”
"Okayyyyyyyyy." Logan replied doubtfully, and gestured for Alec to lead the way, stopping to shut down the computer in his office, and to grab his laptop and phone on the way out the door.
Once they were at street level, Alec led the way to a wreck of an SUV, an ugly, charcoal-colored monstrosity, with chipped paint and a bent metal coat-hanger for an aerial.
Logan stifled a laugh. "What the hell is this?"
"What?" Alec asked, puzzled.
"I haven't seen one of these in years. A Honda Element? This is yours?"
"Alec, it's one of the ugliest cars ever made." Logan shook his head, amused at the handsome X5's choice of transportation.
"An Aztek wins prizes for beauty?"
Logan gave Alec a dirty look. “At least I have a reasonable excuse.”
"The engine runs. That's all that matters." Alec was getting prickly at the criticism.
"I guess. Just never expected to see you in one."
"Logan?" Alec glared at him.
"Shut up and get in. It goes, and it’ll get us there."
Logan shrugged and transferred into the vehicle without further comment.
Alec drove downtown, crossing into the northern part of what had once been Sector 5, and into the oldest part of Seattle, near Pioneer Square. Near the old Smith Building, Seattle’s first skyscraper, Alec pulled the car into a seedy alleyway filled with smelly, beat-up dumpsters and trash. The alley was quiet – too quiet. Logan booted up the laptop and scanner, attempting to find out if anyone was around. The buildings backing onto the alley mostly had old, rusty metal doors, which defeated the scanner. He watched as Alec picked the locks on a security gate and opened the solid metal door behind it. Alec flicked his flashlight on, gave a quick, ironic salute, and turned down the stairs behind the door.
Logan felt vulnerable and exposed sitting in the car. He hunkered down to wait, pondering on what he knew of the history of this area. He wondered if the cellar Alec had just entered formed part of the old Seattle underground, or whether it was blocked off from the subterranean pathways, that linked some 30 blocks. He had been on the underground tour with his dad when he was a child – had screamed at the sight of a huge rat running along the overhead pipes – the rat monorail, as the tour guide had called it.
Logan got some amusement at the thought of Alec being down with the rats, forgetting the sewers of Terminal City where they had established their supply run back in the day. He was watchful. The alley was too quiet, and quiet just wasn’t safe – as any spy manual would say. There was a certain amount of truth to the maxim that there’s safety in numbers.
Logan tapped away at the computer, but the metal doors and subterranean chamber continued to defeat the scanner technology. He was going to have to rely on Alec keeping himself out of trouble. He shut down the computer and contented himself with visual surveillance.
Logan almost jumped out of his skin when the cellphone in his pocket started to ring. He flicked it open, and, seeing the number displayed, answered with a smile on his face. “Hey, you.”
“Hey, yourself,” responded Max. “Where are you?”
“Some alleyway down near Yesler and 1st.”
“What on earth are you doing there?”
“Believe me, you don’t wanna know.”
“Lemme guess. Alec?”
Logan bared his teeth in the faintest of grins. “Yup.”
“Call me if you wanna be rescued.”
“I will.” He flipped the phone shut and was promptly startled by a tap on the passenger side window, looking out to see a uniformed police officer waving a nightstick.
“Would you mind stepping out of the car?”
“I said, get out of the car. I’m not sure what you’re up to, but I’ve been watching you for some time. Get out of the car before I force you out.”
“Officer, would you mind looking behind the seat?”
Logan surreptitiously re-opened his phone and pressed Alec’s speed dial – holding the phone so it wasn’t visible, and hopefully wouldn’t be heard.
“That’s my wheelchair. If you want me to get out, you’ll have to hand me the pieces, because I am not sitting on the ground in this nasty alley.”
The policeman looked through the window of the car at Logan’s legs and made his decision, visibly relaxing.
“I’m just waiting for my friend to come back and we’ll be on our way.”
The cop backed off, still slightly suspicious, just as Alec sauntered around the corner, whistling.
“Hey, pal, sorry to keep you waiting. Took longer than I thought.” He had his hands deep in his pockets and a faint dirt smudge on his face. Alec flung the door open and got into the driver’s seat.
“Alec,” Logan said, warningly.
“Oh, sorry officer, didn’t see you there. What’s the problem?”
“No problem. Just might be better if you parked on the main street in the future. I thought your friend here was up to something.”
Alec started the engine. “Sorry officer. Just got delayed. We weren’t illegally parked or anything?”
“In that case…” Alec put the car in gear and slowly drove off.Chapter 23: Frogs and Snails
Alec drove in silence, having pointed the car roughly in the direction of Fogle Towers, a smug expression on his face. He flicked a glance at Logan every now and then, waiting expectantly. Logan was watching him intently, waiting, drumming his fingers on his knee.
"So are you gonna tell me what happened?" Logan finally asked.
"Alec, you're covered in dust and dirt. Is that normal for you on a B & E? And why did I have to come? You obviously didn't need me here."
Alec gave a quirky grin. "Guess not. Just wanted to remind you of the things I have to do in the name of Eyes Only."
"Alec!" Logan's tone was angry and a little sad.
"Sorry, just feeling pissy. I was hoping your spy-eye would be able to see past those metal doors. Guess it was a forlorn hope at best.
"So how did you end up looking like you've been dragged through a dirt-pile?"
"Kind of went sideways. Someone came down the tunnel and I had to find somewhere to hide...fast."
"Let me guess. Overhead pipes."
Alec looked at Logan in surprise. "How did you know?"
"Was the building blocked off, or did it seem to go back farther than it should?"
"Went back for ages. The tunnel was full of old junk with, like, brick arches and metal supports."
"You were in the Seattle underground. Your hiding place used to be known as the rat monorail
for obvious reasons."
"Not the sewers?"
"Okay. I've heard of that. Thought it was just an urban legend. Now the sewers...them I know."
Logan laughed, then his phone rang and he answered automatically.
“Logan, where are you?” Max's voice came through loud and clear.
“On the way back. Why?”
“Can you pick up Jonas from Marianne’s office? It’s sort of on the way.”
“I guess…” He looked at Alec, who nodded, having heard the request.
“Yup, we can.”
“Thanks, Logan. See ya soon.”
Alec glanced at Logan. “Where to, boss?”
Logan rattled off the address quickly, adding, “and I’m not your boss.”
“Whatever.” Alec turned the car across the traffic to a barrage of horns, heading across town toward Marianne’s office.
A few minutes later, they pulled into the street of small businesses where she had her shopfront office, and managed to find a parking space almost right in front. When a couple of beeps on the horn didn’t bring Jonas running out, Logan started to reach behind his seat for the pieces of the wheelchair, intending to go in and get him. Alec put out a restraining hand. “I’ll go.” Sensing Logan starting to protest, he added, “I’ll be faster. Don’t you wanna see what I got here?” He patted his bulging back pocket as he stood by the car.
“Sure.” Logan’s grumpy expression relaxed again. “Bip bip bip,” he grinned.
Alec emerged a few minutes later with his arm draped over Jonas’s shoulders, deep in conversation with the eleven-year-old. Jonas smiled a greeting at his father’s cousin, seated in the unfamiliar vehicle. “Hey, Uncle Logan. Sorry, didn’t recognize you without Bessietoo.”
“Hey, Jonas. No problem. Sent the slave in,” he winked. Logan noted Jonas’s backpack, loosely slung over one shoulder. “Staying the night?”
“Yeah – too boring at home.”
Logan laughed. “Nothing’s changed since I was a kid, then.”
Alec opened the reverse-opening back door so that Jonas could climb into the back seat. “Let’s get this show on the road,” he said, restarting the engine. “Hey, Jonas, you sure you wanna hang with this boring old stick-in-the-mud?” he winked at Logan.
Jonas grinned at the byplay between Alec and Logan. Jonas was well enough acquainted with Alec to know that he sometimes rubbed Logan the wrong way. They also engaged in some witty repartee from time to time, teasing each other mercilessly. Alec’s lack of maturity often annoyed Logan, and Alec became easily frustrated with Logan’s lack of appreciation for loud bars and louder music. He had also never really forgotten that long ago pool game, even though it had since proven not to be a fluke. Being beaten by an ordinary rankled the X5, but being beaten by an ordinary in a wheelchair on several occasions since that fateful day was just plain humiliating. Pool was as close to a level playing field between them as anything could be. It was Alec’s frequent lament to himself that he should have known something was up when Logan had, seemingly innocently, asked if he could break, and Max had nudged Sketchy out of the way in order to get a better view of the table.
“Uncle Logan’s not so bad,” Jonas eventually responded. “Anyway, Ben and me’re gonna go shoot some hoops.”
“Okay. Just let me know if ya want some real fun.”
Logan shot Alec a warning look.
“Nothing, Alec. Just drive.”
As soon as they walked into the apartment, Jonas disappeared into Ben’s room and Logan pointed Alec in the direction of the bathroom to clean up.
Max, holding Eva on her hip, watched Alec go with some amusement. "What's he been up to?"
"Hiding out on the rat monorail."
“Rat monorail?” She raised an enquiring eyebrow at Logan.
“Overhead pipes in the underground.” Logan responded. He turned and faced her with a wry grin. “It’s well-named.”
“Apt name. I once saw a rat as big as a Rottweiler down there.”
“I’ve seen a few myself. Man-eating rat kills son of Seattle socialite. I can see the headline now,” she grinned, following Logan as he spun the chair and headed for the computer room. “We’re going to the park so you serious men can have some downtime.”
“Always…” Max trailed a wave behind her as she left him at the door of the computer room. Logan heard her calling Ben and Jonas, then the front door slammed as they left.
It struck Logan with a pang how lucky he was to have found this wonderful woman who was his wife. It was the second time in one day she'd cleared the decks so that he could have some quiet time. She may have been made in a lab from parts of many different people and animals, but deep in her heart, she showed more kindness and humanity than most people. She had proven time and time again how deeply she cared for those closest to her, and this was one more example.
Logan smiled and touched the framed photo taken by Ben on a short trip to Canada the previous year. The photo had pride of place beside the computer monitor. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, was his final thought as he booted up the computer.
"Alec, you're dripping on me." Logan, concentrating on the computer screen in front of him, had suddenly become aware that he wasn't alone and that there was water trickling down the back of his neck.
"Sorry." Alec gave his face a wipe with the towel he'd carried from the bathroom. He draped the towel over one shoulder and leaned forward again to get a better view of the screen. "So..."
"Get what you wanted?"
"This is good data. It helps a lot."
"Well, I heard they were moving the stuff in there today, so I figured they'd be a bit disorganized and I might be able to...you know."
Logan was pleased with what Alec had given him, but he wasn't going to admit that. Alec had managed to obtain exactly the right information in his brief, underground foray. The two disks he had given Logan were going to lead him right to the heart of the smuggling ring.
"Ummm...Logan, if it's not too much trouble, I'd – er – like to get going. Gotta return the car and all..."
"Oh, ah, sure." Logan reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulled out a couple of bills, handing them back over his shoulder to Alec. Alec had finally come through and deserved his payment. He was, after all, running a business, not a charity. He and Gem barely scraped through on their PI earnings. The laundromat was what really brought in the dollars. "Where did you get that car from anyway?"
"I, sort of, borrowed it from a friend."
Logan raised his eyebrows and turned to look at Alec over his shoulder, dragging his gaze away from the screen.
"And, well, she doesn't know I borrowed it, and..."
Logan was trying hard not to laugh at Alec's discomfort at being caught.
"She did say I could borrow it any time..."
"Get outta here before Asha has your hide." Judging by Alec’s reaction, Logan had guessed correctly at the ownership of the car.
"Sure...thanks for the, er..."
"Go. Take the car back. Give my regards to Asha."
Alec had an on-again, off-again relationship with the former revolutionary, Asha, who now worked as a teacher in a local school. Logan didn't envy Alec if he was caught. Asha had a way of cutting him right down to size.
The door slammed shut as Alec left the apartment, and Logan went back to work on the files. He had enough here for his next Eyes Only broadcast, which he intended to put together that night.
It was after three the next time he looked up. His stomach was growling with hunger. Max and the children were not back from the park, and Logan figured that lunch and a break were in order, or Max was likely to smack him upside the head for spending all of Sunday working. After a quick peanut butter sandwich, he rolled out the door.
The park was about a block away, toward the waterfront, the basketball court being on the nearer side. He had a pretty good idea of where he'd find Max.
"Hey, stranger," the voice sounded in his left ear as he watched some kids playing soccer on the grass just inside the park entrance. "Didn't expect to see you here."
"Didn't want a smack upside the head for working all day."
Max laughed. "The boys are playing ball. You wanna show them how it's done? You got moves, ya know."
"Think I'll give it a miss."
She walked beside him, pushing Eva in the stroller, retrieved from the car on her way out earlier. Eva was asleep, which meant she'd probably be up half the night. Her cheeks were rosy in the sunlight and she looked peaceful and serene, her tiny hands bunched into fists. They made their way toward the basketball court. Max had been pushing Eva around in the stroller because the baby had been restless, fretful, and whiney while her mother sat and watched the boys. Max could have gone back home – Jonas and Ben were quite capable of looking after themselves – but it was a nice day, and the park was a hive of activity as the people of uptown Seattle took advantage of the sunshine.
Max found a nice shady place under a tree, locked the brakes on the stroller, and sat on the grass in order to watch the boys, who were playing with some other boys from the neighborhood, rushing around with glowing faces on the blacktop court. Logan pulled up next to her, then reconsidered. He slid to the ground and scooted around and back so that he could lean against the tree, dragging the seat cushion with him for padding. Max promptly drew closer and leaned into his chest, sitting sideways so that her legs crossed over his. She turned the stroller slightly with her hand to angle across so she could see inside just by turning her head, and rested back comfortably in Logan's embrace, while he traced slow circles with a long forefinger on the tempting bit of smooth, exposed flesh between the top of her jeans and the bottom of her t-shirt.
They sat quietly for a few minutes watching the boys shoot hoops and run up and down.
"Feel like showing 'em how it's done?" Max asked quietly.
"Nope." Logan was mildly drowsy, feeling relaxed and happy. "Just feel like..."
"Yeah..." she sighed happily. "This is good."
The atmosphere of the park was peaceful, even allowing for the fact that it was full of people enjoying the fine weather. Max and Logan sat quietly in the shade, enjoying the afternoon. Several minutes later, Eva woke with a squawk, and Max leaned across to release the seatbelt and lift her out, then settled back against Logan, moving her feet so that her legs were more oblique than straight over Logan's, and bent, so that her knees formed a high barrier. Logan smoothed his daughter's hair, which was damp with perspiration where she'd been leaning against the stroller at the back. She seemed warmer than usual to his touch, even allowing for her ancestry. Both she and Ben had a slightly elevated normal body temperature, which was somewhere in between those of their parents – a common result with mixed X5-ordinary offspring which had become apparent early in the integration of the transgenics into Seattle society. Even allowing for that, though, Eva felt warmer than normal. Logan frowned, but then put it down to the warm, sunny day. Eva nuzzled her mother, searching. With a sigh, Max discreetly started to feed the baby, for once wishing that baby formula was a more reliable commodity. Exposing herself in public was not one of her favorite things to do. Normally, she enjoyed the closeness this entailed, but when it came to doing it in a public place, then that was an entirely different story. She wasn’t afraid to use her sexuality, but some things just weren’t for show.
Logan rested one hand on her bent knees, forming a further barrier, and held her with the other. Max smiled to herself, feeling loved and safe. Logan’s strong chest made a comfortable cushion for her back, much more comfortable than the rough bark of the tree. It didn’t matter that she was the physically stronger of the two of them; he always made her feel secure and wanted, somehow. Logan lightly stroked her arm, tickling her pleasantly.
“Hey, that tickles,” she said, wriggling.
“Really? It was meant to.”
“Oh, you,” she dug her elbow back into him, but then realized it was too low down and he wouldn’t feel it anyway.
“Ouch,” he joked, seeing the movement out of the corner of his eye.
“So…Alec get what you wanted?”
“Yes, but I’m not telling him that.”
She gave a short laugh. “Meanie.” She reconsidered momentarily. “But that’s cool. Just what I’d do.”
They watched the game in front of them for a few minutes. Max sat Eva up on her lap and proceeded to burp her, intending to swap her over. Logan looked down at his daughter, who still looked flushed, even in the cool shade of the tree. “Max, is she okay?” He looked at his daughter’s fever-bright eyes, looking around her and then lighting on her dad’s face, producing a broad smile.
“I think so. She feels a little warm, but…no, I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Okay, all the same, I think we should go soon.”
Max sighed. “I guess so.”
Max relaxed again, swapping sides with the baby, and again watching the two boys. This time, Eva broke off contact with an enormous sneeze, scaring herself into a loud cry. Max looked at her in consternation, then gave a comforting hug. “It’s okay, baby. It was just a sneeze.” She rocked Eva gently, holding her close, while Logan looked on in concern. “Logan, I think you may be right,” Max said thoughtfully. “She does feel a little warm. Maybe we should go home now.” She swung her legs around off Logan’s and elegantly rose to her feet. When she was upright, she dusted herself off with one hand.
“Probably a good idea.” Logan agreed, scooting around to climb back into the wheelchair.
A wave from Max got Ben’s attention, and she pointed toward the gate to indicate that they were leaving. Ben held up a couple of fingers to indicate they’d be ready to go in a few minutes. They met the boys on the way out, Max gave Ben the stroller to push as she still carried Eva, who had started to squall when her mother attempted to put her down. Max had picked her up again with a shrug and pushed the stroller one-handed until Ben and Jonas arrived. Ben took the stroller unwillingly at first, then he and Jonas started racing it up the sidewalk at breakneck speed – still burning off excess energy even after several hours in the sun. Jonas was certainly proving that he had recovered from the sprained ankle suffered during their stay at the cabin.
After watching them race up the street, Max and Logan looked at each other and smiled.
“Were you ever like that?” Max enquired.
“Yup,” came the response.
She shook her head resignedly. “Boys!”
They let them run, content to take their time.