It’s only a short walk to the Lower Crust, maybe half a mile, but with the sun starting to set and the aftermath of the adrenaline crash, the cold hits me pretty hard. Regina and I are both shivering by the time we get there, and we slip gratefully into the warmth of the restaurant.
I pull my phone out and pass it to Regina. “Hey, would you mind asking the guy at the front if he can plug this in?”
Regina looks up from the menu. “Why don’t you ask?”
“I’m more female, you mean. You could just ask the guy and see if he’ll do you a favor like a normal human being.”
“Yes, and maybe he would, but we both know he’s a lot more likely to do you a favor than me. Can we discuss the unfair social expectations of our society at some point after my phone is functioning again?”
Regina rolls her eyes but takes the phone from me, and when the waiter comes by to ask for drinks, she says, “Oh, is there any chance you have a charger? My phone’s completely dead.”
“I — yeah, we should! I can go plug that in for you.”
He heads off after Regina hands him the phone, and she looks at me. “Not that hard, Dan.”
“Not that hard for you, yeah.”
“You could have at least tried!” she insists.
“Sure, but if I’d tried and he’d said no, it would have looked pretty suspicious if it turned out that your phone was also dead. Plus he probably couldn’t justify plugging yours in and not mine.”
“Are we splitting a pizza or what?”
Lower Crust’s pizza turns out to be excellent, and I make a note to come back here on a less eventful day so that I can enjoy it more. As it is, I’m basically just shoveling in the slices like I haven’t seen food in a week, and Regina’s not far behind me. Getting rammed by a car and shot at by a lunatic will really work up an appetite, it seems.
Partway through demolishing the pizza, I say to Regina, “So, we can’t go back to the house.”
“What? Why?” she asks indistinctly, her mouth full.
“I’m on Tanger’s payroll; he signs my checks. I don’t know exactly what records they have, but I know I put my address down on the application, so it can’t be but so hard for him to look it up. And since he’s clearly willing to send crazies after me –”
“They’re not crazy!” protests Regina, but I wave my hand and continue.
“– people who can be compelled to attack, call them what you want. The point is that I don’t want to sleep in the place that they expect me to be. And I don’t think you should, either, on account of how the totally-sane-yet-acting-in-a-crazy-manner people might think that you could lead them to me.”
“Okay, so where to?”
“Well, do you think Peterson has a safe house?”
“Do I think Peterson has a safe house,” she repeats, shaking her head at me. “No, I don’t think a low-level police officer has a safe house.”
“Not him personally, but access to the department’s safe house, or whatever. I don’t know how this works!”
“You watch too much TV, Dan. How about we call Brian and see if we can crash at his place?”
“Oh. Yeah, that’d work.”
Regina shakes her head again as she pulls out her phone to text Brian. She holds it up to show to me.
Got room in your bed for 2 more tonight?
Dan’s in trouble again
The response rolls in as I’m looking at her texts:
Dan steals the covers
“Great, you two are hilarious,” I tell her.
Regina’s texting a reply as she says, “Brian’s on shift until late tonight, but I figure we can Uber over to the hospital, pick up his key and hang out at his place before he gets there.”
“We’re not in a rush, right? Let’s just take the bus.”
“Dan, it’s cold outside! I don’t want to wait for a bus.”
“Well, I don’t want to pay for an Uber for no reason!”
“Geez, didn’t know you’d gotten the power to be super-stingy,” she says.
“Hey, I’m picking up your dinner!”
“Great, now get me a cab, too. Please?” Regina flutters her eyelashes mockingly.
“Is it time to have the conversation about unfair social expectations yet?” I mutter.
“Yes, once we’re at Brian’s you can complain about the patriarchy,” Regina says soothingly. I snort.
We pick up Brian’s key from the hospital front desk and soon find ourselves at his apartment. I’ve never been over here before, but if you’d asked me to guess what it was going to be like, I would have said “sparse.” He’s never struck me as the sort of guy who spends a lot of time at home or cares about things, so I figured it would be a bare walls kind of place.
Instead, it’s surprisingly well-decorated and warm. It’s not a big apartment, but the furniture is quality and well-maintained, the art on the walls is interesting and the floors all have rugs that match the rooms in style and color. He’s put thought and care into this place, and it makes me wonder why we hang out at my house instead of here. My place is larger, but much blander. The only thing I’ve hung on the walls was more drywall to replace the stuff that Vince damaged. And a TV, I suppose. That’s sort of like art.
Regina flops down on the sofa, sighing contentedly. “It feels so good just to lie down. Need me to make space?”
“Yeah, in a minute,” I say. “Lemme stir up some trouble first.”
I page back through my call log until I find Tanger’s office number, and call it again. After a few rings, it’s picked up.
“Answering service for Mr. Tanger, would you like to go to voicemail or have him paged?”
“Page, please. This is the doctor, and it’s about Dan Everton.”
“Yes, sir. Anything else?”
“Please let him know it’s urgent.” I give her my number, though I assume it’s already on her caller ID, then hang up.
Regina’s looking at me expectantly. “I’m poking at Tanger,” I say. “We’ll see how he responds.”
Less than five minutes later, my phone rings with a number I don’t recognize. I put it on speaker. “Hello?”
“Amici. What do you have?”
I briefly consider continuing my bluff, but since I have no idea what this mystery doctor sounds like, I ditch that idea immediately. “Surprise, Evan! It’s me.”
His voice goes instantly flat. “Dan.”
“You missed me today, Evan. I’m bringing the fight to you now. You’d better pull out all the stops, because I’m about to screw your life up.”
“You think you can touch me? I’ve ruined better men that you on a whim. I can buy and sell you, Dan. You’re nothing. You’re worthless. People like you don’t matter. You’re just a bug underfoot. I won’t even notice when I step on you.”
“Ooh, that’s gonna sound real good as your campaign slogan, Evs. Did I mention that I’ve been recording this call?”
There’s a snarl and the line goes dead. Regina asks, “Did you record that?”
“No; I wish I’d thought to. That could’ve been a really handy line to have on tape. Show people who’s really the bad guy.”
I start to put my phone away, then realize I have a couple more calls to make. The first one goes to voicemail, as I expected, and I leave a message. “Mr. Steele? This is Dan. I’m not going to be able to make it into work tomorrow. Or for the next couple of days, probably. I have to sort out some things, some personal business, and I don’t know how long it’ll take. I’ll let you know as soon as I can.”
“How do you think he’ll take that?” Regina asks as I hang up.
I shrug. “I hope he takes it well, but frankly, I’m getting pretty good at getting fired over this stuff. I can take it in stride these days.”
I dial one more number, and a brusque voice answers. “Sam Peterson.”
“Officer Peterson! Hi. Dan here.”
“Um, you said to keep you in the loop. And nothing’s happened yet, but I expect it to tomorrow. I think Tanger’s going to come after me, using proxies.”
“Why do you expect this to happen tomorrow, Mr. Everton?”
“I’m a…good guesser?”
He sighs. “I sincerely wish you would seek my assistance in a more direct manner on these things, instead of as an accessory after the fact.”
“I promise you, I’m taking the direct approach. As much as I can. You saw today, there’s no way I can let you guys handle this. Tanger’s too poisonous. He’ll turn people. I have to do this myself, and I have to do it before he ruins too many other people’s lives. He’s turning people into living missiles.”
“I hope your direct approach involves less property damage this time.”
“Absolutely. No structures are at risk from me. And the faster I get this done, the less damage Tanger can do, too.”
He sighs again. “Thank you for the warning. I’ll keep an eye on the department.”
We hang up, and I shrug at my phone. “Honestly, that went better than expected.”
“So what’s next on the agenda?” Regina asks.
“Movies?” I say. “I’ve got to get a good night’s sleep, but it’s early yet. And I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow, at least.”
“I know I said this earlier, but you’re really good at the silver lining, Dan.”
“Yeah, I get a surprising amount of practice.”