Rule of Two - Friday Midnight - Smitty's Cabin
Several hours after dinner, Max sat in the comfy chair while Jack and Pip talked on the couch. The dishes sat in the drying rack and the dish towels hung over the open cabinet doors.
Pip, with tears in her eyes and a grin from ear to ear came to the end of her story. Jack matched her grin, waiting with baited breath "… and the sergeant holds this two foot turd in a bag in front of the company, demanding —"
"WHO SHAT THE BAT?!" they shouted in unison, in what Max assumed was an impression of the sergeant. The moral of the story seemed to be the the MREs available in the desert tended to gum up the works, so to speak. Max tried to smile along with the energy of her companions.
Jack and Pip lost themselves in laughter. Pip was the first to recover enough for conversation. She turned toward Max, wiping a tear from her eye. "I'm sorry, this must be terribly boring for you, without all the context." Pip took several deep breaths.
"It's alright," Max said, stifling a yawn.
"Oh man." Jack rubbed his face. "I'd almost forgotten about that." He looked around, then checked his watch. "What time is it? Almost midnight?"
Pip said "I know, right? It's been fun catching up, but at what point do we decide Smitty's not coming and we turn in for the night?"
"Pretty soon, I think. What do you say, Max?"
"Huh?" Max woke up from micro-sleep and mentally played back the conversation she'd heard but not paid attention to. "Oh, uh … soon, I think? Did his letter say he'd be here?"
"You know, now that you mention it." Jack removed his letter from his jacket pocket and scanned it again. "It doesn't actually say he'll be here." Jack lay his letter on the table.
Pip scanned her letter as well. "Yeah. I hadn't noticed that. It sort of implies he'll be here, but doesn't really say it."
"Doesn't that seem a little weird?" The hint of a mystery perked Max up. "If he just wanted you two to catch up, he could have just said that in the letters, right?" Pip lay her letter on the table next to Jack's.
"And if he was in trouble he could have called, emailed, something. He obviously knew I was at Marten & Nix, at least."
"Yeah. I'd been crashing at a Mission on 56th for a few days, but hadn't told anyone yet, and this courier comes up to me with a letter."
"Weird. So Smitty clearly knew where you two were. But instead had you come here individually."
"You still got your key?" Jack asked, looking into Pip's eyes.
"Of course." She hooked a finger under her collar and showed the chain around her neck. "You don't think …"
"But then why isn't he here? Why get the two of us together instead of just one of us? It only takes two of the three of us to open it."
Max's eyes flicked from one to the other, following the conversation like a tennis match.
"Only one reason. He can't. We have to assume the worst."
"About Smitty?! No way. I refuse."
Max finally broke in. "What's going on? What can the two of you open? Why can't you believe the worst about Smitty?"
"It's … a long, story, Max." Jack focused on a point just above Max's eyes, organizing his thoughts.
"We have time, apparently."
"Look, Max, it's … complicated." Jack sighed, letting his hands fall, palm up, to his knees.
"Bullshit! I've seen you distill your complex theories and byzantine chains of logic and proof to something the average juror could understand. Tell me!" Max leaned forward, gripping the arms of her chair.
"It's not complex. But it's … complicated. Let me talk it over with Pip for a minute, okay?" Jack stood and motioned toward the kitchen, glancing at Pip.
"Fine. I'll just wait here …" Max slumped back in her chair as Pip rose and followed Jack to the kitchen area. They spoke in hushed tones. Max looked around for something to distract herself, and saw the letters on the table. She picked them up.
"How long have you known her?" Pip started.
"I trust her, okay? But it's not just my secret here."
"I know. But answer the question." Pip insisted.
"Four years. We were working the same case from different angles and decided to combine our efforts, take the double payday and go into business together." Jack ran his hand through his hair.
"And how's that working out for you?"
"It's … good." Jack considered his words.
"Because it hasn't been a hundred percent good all the time. Yes, she drives me up the wall sometimes. And we don't get paid as much or as frequently as if I'd taken that CIA gig, or even the job at Braithwaite's. But she's never screwed me on a deal, and never skunked a job."
Pip listened with one ear and watched Max with a sidelong glance. "We'll see. I'll stick around for a while, sort out whatever Smitty's got going on. And if it's finally happened, I'll consider."
"You got someone else in mind?"
"Not at the moment. No."
"We'll have to tell her something for now. Just follow my lead." Jack started back toward the couch.
"Max, I —"
"Did you know Smitty's in New Jersey?" Max interrupted.
"What?" Jack paused mid-stride, his thought processes completely derailed.
"I mean, it's not really obvious unless you've got both letters. But here in Jack's there's mention of a warehouse on 83rd. And in Pip's he talks a bit about some street kids who live on Seneca that he's been helping. You know what's at the corner of 83rd and Seneca in New Jersey?" Max turned her phone around so Jack and Pip could see the map on the screen. "An abandoned warehouse."
"Huh… I guess that's our next stop." Jack looked closer at the phone Max held out to them.
"Now? Or in the morning?" Pip asked, standing next to Jack.
It was Jack's turn to yawn as he tried to answer. "Mowrnang" He snapped his jaw shut. "Excuse me. I'm sorry. I meant to say the morning. I'm beat." The women nodded agreement, then looked around the one room cabin.
"So … " Max began.
"Dibs on the couch!" Pip shouted, and flopped down with a grin.
Jack sighed. "I'll go see if I can find some air mattresses or something. Max dug in her bag and pulled out her toothbrush and toothpaste, then shuffled toward the bathroom. "All I can find is this king size mattress…" Jack held a medium sized duffel bag.
"You can have the couch, then, and us girls can share that one? That okay with you, Max?" Pip called through the open door to the bathroom from the couch as Jack unpacked the air mattress. "You can be the big spoon if you want!"
Max turned on her heels and saw the playful grin on Pip's face. With her mouth full of foam, Max just shrugged and nodded, trying to smile.
"Great!" Pip jumped up and offered to help Jack, but the setup was simple. Attach fan motor, plug in, wait. Pip moved the table against the wall and within a moment the air bed filled the empty floor space.
Max rinsed her mouth and toothbrush, then put her things back in her bag and found linens in the closet outside the bathroom. She and Jack made the bed while Pip brushed her teeth.
Jack brushed his while the women settled in. He checked the locks on the door and windows, then turned out the light and shuffled to the couch. "Goodnight, girls."
"Good night, Jack." They said, each lying near the edge of the mattress, leaving a foot between them. Soon all three were asleep.