What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Chapter 3

It was going to be a longer job, which meant that there was more time for things to go wrong. On top of that, if something did go wrong, they'd be in deep enough that getting out would be monumentally more complicated. The first week was spent laying the groundwork, everybody falling into their practiced roles.

Parker rode along with Eliot as they procured two safe houses on the opposite sides of town, each having fast access to at least one highway. She programmed the GPS as he drove along their primary and secondary routes to the airport.

This was Eliot's favorite part of the job, it was the most essential part of his job, and the only one where he was really in control, where he wasn't reacting to outside threats, but planning for them.

Parker had started coming along a little over a year ago, mostly when Nate was looking to hand her off to someone else so he could focus on infiltrating the gaming commission. He'd been reluctant at first, but she'd quickly proven herself. She was useful, and it wasn't just because she was a second set of eyes, or could get them into any building they needed. While he looked for choke points and kill boxes, she was able to spot points of ingress that he never would've considered.

It was the only time they really worked well together, and he really shouldn't have been surprised that she was at her focused, then, her most sane. Her most quiet.

Most of the time, anyway.


"So what's going on with you and Hardison?"

They'd just come off the Maricopa Freeway, through a construction slowdown zone that meant they'd need to head up towards Del Rey to find another way around, and it took Eliot a moment to switch gears.

He'd been expecting it to come up since the plane touched down, waiting for Sophie or Nate to pick their moment and press the issue. He'd rehearsed it in his head in the hotel room every night. He knew that Nate's concern would be the team's capability to function, while Sophie's would be how they functioned. He was as prepared to go up against them as it was possible to get.

Hardison, he'd just planned on shouting back at him. Wasn't like that kid ever listened.

"Nothin', just…"

Parker wasn't supposed to give a damn, she wasn't supposed to noticebut then. She did have that thing going with Hardison, and Hardison wasn't the type to suffer quietly. Of course she knew something was up, if he hadn't spelled it out for her already.

"He still mad about the pool thing?"

"Yeah," Eliot said, because regardless of what Hardison had said in San Lorenzo, that was still part of it. He didn't know what to say next. If this was some kind of test Hardison had put her up to, she was probably looking for something specific.

Then again, maybe if Hardison heard it from her, first, it wouldn't go down so badly.

If there'd been the slightest hint of doubt in her expression right then, he would've told her everything. Probably. Maybe He still had no idea how those two worked together when they weren't working together, and honestly? He really didn't want to.

But Parker snorted, rolling her eyes like something was funny.

"I told him not to leave his lock picks back in the hotel room."

For two miles, Eliot waited for her to continue, but she said nothing more until they were approaching the knotted interchange onto Red Mountain. "You're going to want to be in the second lane from the right."


The only reason they were able to work the job at all was because they all lied for a living. Insisting that things were okay, when they really weren't great, was just part of the game.

But it wasn't one of Alec's strong suits. They'd been here for two days already, laying the groundwork, and outside of meals and supply runs, he stuck to his hotel room.

It was easier not to walk out if he never made it past the door.

But that nearly went out the window when Nate stopped by.

It was late enough that Alec wasn't surprised to smell the whiskey on him, even with the priest's collar hanging out of the pocket of his jacket, but it the first time they'd been in the same room together, alone, since Alec had told him that he knew that he'd been holding back on the warehouse. Since the morning he'd quit.

Alec had seen him lose his cool, but that morning hadn't been one of those times. Nate had listened, and then he'd nodded. "After this job. Just promise me we'll talk, okay?"

The job wasn't done yet, but Nate was here anyway.

"What do you want?" Alec crossed his arms. He hadn't expected to fight on this just yet, but he was feeling adaptable.

"Just, ah. Look. You'll let me know, right? If there's anything I can do."

"Anything you can do?"

"Yeah. Ah. You know. To make things better. Get you to change your mind."

"You can tell me exactly what went down in that warehouse."

It wasn't the answer Nate had been hoping for, that much was obvious by the way he deflated. "I'm not sure that's for me to tell. And for that, I'm really sorry. But I'll get back to you. How's that?" Nate tried a smile that he clearly wasn't feeling, trying to cover for the fact that they both knew that this was Nate Ford, begging.

Alec didn't want to give in. This wasn't the solution, wasn't even the negotiation. It was just the penciling in of dates.

It didn't cost him nothing to agree, to see the relief so plainly in Nate's face as he nodded, then left.

In a few days, the job would kick into gear, and Nate would need him to be on the ball. They still had a job to do, and until it was done, Alec still had four people who needed his backup.

Regardless of anything else, Parker and Sophie didn't deserve to get left hanging.


In the corner of his screen, a message popped up announcing that a remote uplink was being established made from Parker's phone. He granted access and watched as the GPS data sets were uploaded into his map storage. They looked good. He'd need to run the usual tweaks to get them to operate on the phones, but that wouldn't take very long.

As expected, while he was reviewing their routes, the phone rang. Usually, Eliot was the one making this call, but Alec wasn't surprised to see Parker's name on the caller ID.

"Hey, girl. You guys done?"

"Yes," she said, sounding slightly harassed, and Alec winced, wondering how cranky Eliot had needed to get to convince her to make the call. "There's a switchback that needs to be purged from the second route because there was a clearer shot coming out the back, but other than that-" she broke off, and Alec could almost hear Eliot's muttered prompt. "But you can go ahead and lock them in."

"Alright, good. I'll upload them back onto your phones when I'm done, probably ten minutes."


Alec thought she was hanging up on him, heard a scuffling noise, and then an irritated snort.

"Uh. Hey."


"Yeah, I don't know. Parker, she just."

"She's actually holding the phone to your ear, ain't she?"


"He's driving," Parker called out, and Alec tried not to laugh. "This is the part where you two make wisecracks at each other until we pull in to the hotel parking lot."

Alec could see the scowl that had to be digging itself into Eliot's face. He really was going to lose it, here, if he wasn't careful.

"Well. This is awkward," he said. "But not foolproof, so. I'm. Just gonna hang up, now. Cool?"

For a moment there was no response, but then there was a sigh that didn't sound as beleaguered as Alec had been expecting.



Sophie was in play, and though they were all on comms, only Hardison and Nate were talking, feeding her the information she needed to pull it off.

Between the fact that Father Blaylock had been planning on his trip to Cameroon for months, and a mix-up in the paperwork, it had taken less than an hour for Nate to take over the parish. In contrast, it took three days for Sophie to get her first face-to-face with Arlington.

Sophie had not been amused, but you wouldn't know it to listen to her now, as she spoke.

"What we hope to achieve, with this program, is to ease the transition between inmate and citizen," she recited. "We have three homes now, and hope to open a fourth, for women, next month."

"Yeah, see," Hardison was cutting in. "I still don't see what the point of this is. It's not like you need his blessing-"

"So why bring this to me?"

"Because at the moment, the apartment building the church has acquired has been held up in re-permitting for over seventeen months, now, pending signatures of county officials who have been ducking my calls."

"I'm sorry, Ms. Trewlaney, but that's not my department."

"Oh, but you see, it is. The signatures are pending because the requests for inspection to ensure the building meets immediate post-release and probationary release restrictions have so far gone unanswered."

"Yeah, because the real Missus Trewlaney's foundation doesn't have the funds to bribe her way up the chain," Hardison muttered, earning a warning from Nate.

"I don't know if you are aware, but our foundation has recently undergone a restructuring, and during the course of this upheaval, it's been discovered that my predecessor may not have been as clear on the requirements of her position as had been previously assumed. Since I have taken over, I've petitioned the advisory committee to make use of the more discretionary portions of the project's budget in order to offset any expense in expediting our requests."

Bait's on the hook. Eliot listened carefully. All Sophie needed to do was get Arlington to bite.

"Now," Sophie continued. "While it would be cheaper for us to wait for our number to be called, it would suit the foundation better not to have to announce a delay in what has been our largest capital project this year. And I'm sure that bringing inspectors off of other ongoing projects would cost the county quite a bit. Therefore, we are prepared to hand you two hundred thousand to defray your expense."

"That's quite a lot."

"I must admit, there is some debate at the foundation regarding the amount, as some- a minority, I should point out, believe that it more than covers the amount required for such a limited engagement. However, we are united in the belief that it is less costly to us than appearing empty handed next month. It's already been listed as a milestone to several of our largest supporters."

"And you need to save face," Arlington said.

"Essentially, yes," Sophie confirmed, sounding appropriately chastised for a short moment. "However, because of the nature of this project, and to repay you for your help, we would like to invite you join the project as an official sponsor, and to speak at the opening, which promises to be quite a high profile event. And if you would permit me to be so bold, it would be quite a public relations coup for the Sheriff's Office, to show how committed you are to the rehabilitation of inmates. It's never too soon to start thinking about the next election."

"You've got one hell of a pitch, Ms. Trewlaney. But it's a good cause, and I respect what you're trying to do. Sign me up."

Arlington's hooked.

"That's wonderful," Sophie cooed. "And here I am in a sticky situation, and forgive my crassness. I am prepared to write you a check to cover the entire amount, but as my other duty for the day is to deposit the proceeds from last night's fundraiser, I could provide you the first twenty thousand in cash, if that makes it easier for you to get started?"

Arlington took the cash. Nobody was surprised.


"All right, all right," Nate said, flagging down the waitress as Eliot sat down. "So Arlington's in play, and already, he's running with it. I've got a meeting set up with him on Monday to go over the philosophy of our halfway house, and he's accepted our invitation for the church fundraiser next Wednesday. Where are we on the inspectors?"

"They're already in town," Hardison confirmed. Joint team of FBI and DOJ. From the looks of it, one of them is already on the take, and one of the remaining two look amenable to it, if his credit card statements are anything to go by."

Parker raised her hand. "I thought we were the building inspectors."

"He means the ones flying in to investigate Arlington," Eliot muttered. "So. We run the fundraiser, wait for the bribes to come out. Then what? Tip the press?"

"No. What we need to do is make them all implode. Arlington, the inspectors, everyone who's on Arlington's side."

"So I see we're back to killing you," Sophie smirked.

"Well, yeah," Nate said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "High profile event like this, all those people, all those potential witnesses. Murder, possible arrest, inspectors suddenly needing to cover their own asses with all the attention, they're going to have to crack down on Arlington's network-"

"-who will already be tearing at each other's throats before anyone even gets them on the phone," Sophie finished."

"All right," Hardison said. "I've got the accounts set up for the fundraiser. Who's playing waitstaff this time around? You going to need me in there this time?"

"Sorry, Hardison. You're in the van, we're going to need eyes everywhere for this one, but you come into play as an EMT, we're going to need to, you know, fake my death for real. Eliot? Parker? You're inside, dishcloth detail. Parker, you'll dose Arlington plant his stolen sidearm, Eliot, you're crowd control, long as it's needed, then you head to the ME's office to back up Hardison, soon as you can. Sophie and I will handle the rest. We good?"

"Yeah," Eliot said, picking up his menu. "We gonna eat or what?"


Sophie, as was becoming usual, was the one to keep the conversation flowing until the food arrived, telling the story of an art dealer she'd worked for six months in order to get the Maurien Stradivarius, and the collector she'd sold it to in New Delhi.

Parker dropped her fork and scowled, suddenly furious. "April, 2002."


"You were there on April ninth."

"Yes, I was," Sophie said, suddenly uneasy. "You were going to make a run on it?"

"Yeah. It was the weekend, and I was in town. But there were cops all over the place by the time I got there."

"I'm sorry."

"Is the dealer still in New Delhi?"


"No reason," Parker said, just as Hardison reached into the pocket for his phone.

"Guys. Hey. Guys. Might have something, here. Looks like Arlington's got a party going on of his own. Tonight. At his ranch down in Florence." Reading on, he shook his head. "Yeah, I've got an RSVP from the inspectors, they're going to be there."

"What time?"

"Starts in a little less than an hour."

"That's not good," Nate said.

"Why not?"

"We can't afford to let him get his hooks into the inspectors just yet," Sophie explained, picking up her purse. "Otherwise they'll be a unified front come Wednesday, it'll be harder to get them to turn on each other."

"Wait," Nate said. "Sophie, you can't go, he knows your face." He gazed around the table for a moment, grimaced, and even as he suggested it, it was clear that he didn't want to. "Parker, you need to get in there, we need to hear what's going on. Hardison?"

"Setting up comm relays, right."

"Yeah, and Eliot?"

"Backup and exfil. Got it."

"Okay, go," he said, waving them off as he turned wide eyes towards Sophie. "We're going to need a distraction."


It was a long ride out to the ranch. Eliot let Parker dial through the radio stations every five seconds because the alternative was silence. Hardison was in the back, messing with his computers, setting up comms and checking out maps.

"All right, it looks like there's good cover if we circle 'round to the east side, should get us within a mile of the house, but we'll have to hike in from there," he said.

"It'll be good for you," Eliot muttered, covering his surprise. He'd thought Hardison would stay with the van.

But it was kind of obvious. Parker was going in. And where Parker went, so too did Alec Hardison.


On the plus side, it was dark by the time they arrived, and there were enough rocks, here, to cover their tracks. That, combined with the fact that Arlington's ranch house wasn't exactly a bunker. There were no guards, though there were an alarming number of squad cars pulling up the front.

"They're having a goddamned poker night," Hardison grumbled, slinging his bag over his shoulder. "The sheriff, his deputies, some shady inspectors, and a few local community bigwigs."

At least they're not having a barbeque. As long as their attention was held inside, the approach wouldn't be too hard.

Eliot had gone ahead with Parker, waiting next to the back window and boosting her up onto the roof, but when she gave the okay, he hurried back to where Alec was crouching.

Coming to a full stop far too close for Alec's liking, he removed his earpiece and fixed Alec with a serious stare. "Look, man," he started, after a few awkward moments. Fixing Alec with a wary gaze, he cleared his throat.

"Nate told me you're thinking about leaving. And he told me why."

Alec followed suit. "Seriously? Right now is when you want to talk about this?"

"I don't wanna talk about this, but that don't change the fact that it needs to happen, so here we are."

"You first."

"Like I said. Nate said you're leaving, and it's because of me. And that's bullshit."

"Oh it is, huh?"

"Yeah. You shouldn't be the one leaving. I should go."


He didn't have a chance to say more, though, because Parker had just made it inside. "I'm in. I'll have the bugs set up in a minute."

"Look," Hardison crouched behind the rocks as Eliot peered around the side. "After the job, all right?"



Parker was still inside, having run the bugs and the transmitter down through the wiring channels from the attic crawlspace. While Eliot stalked between the house and Alec's hiding spot behind an outcropping at the southwestern edge of the yard, Alec cleaned up the audio, finally clearing it enough to patch it in to comms.

Alec couldn't make out all the voices yet, didn't know which one was Arlington's, but he was willing to bet he was one of the guys shouting.

"What's going on in there?" Nate's voice said. "We're on our way, playing car trouble. We're ten minutes out. Parker? That's when you're going to want to get out of there."

"But I like it here."


"I know"

"There's an argument going on inside," Eliot clarified, and Alec could just make him out against the dark side of the house. "Looks like Arlington's pretty pissed about something. Also a bit drunk." There was a pause as Arlington let loose another stream of invective. "Make that very-"


"Shit." came the reply. "Guys? He's wavin' a gun around."

"All right, Eliot? I want you to pull back. Parker, Hardison? Hang tight. We'll be there soon as we can.

"Step on it," Hardison said. "Looks like all of highway patrol's already camping here for the night."


"Shit," Eliot said, ducking suddenly below the back window, and they all heard why a moment later.


"Eliot, they shooting at you?"

"No," Alec could see him rising carefully from his crouch. "Shit. They shot one of the deputies."

Alec was just thinking of a joke when he realized that now wasn't the time.

"Guys? Clear out of there," Nate ordered. "We're there in five."

"No, drive on past," Eliot growled. "There's a house full of armed, drunk, stressed out deputies. It's not safe. We're pulling back."


"What?" Parker said, from just behind Alec, and he very nearly screamed. It was a close thing.

"Thought you were still inside."

"I was. Now I'm not. Eliot?"

"Fucking hell. I'm coming. Get to the van."

Parker was already gone, as Alec scrambled for his gear.

"Now, Hardison!"

A moment later, Alec could see why, and he froze. The back door of Arlington's house was opening, shedding light onto the back yard.



Eliot had made it to cover behind a gnarled mess of creosote on the north side of the yard, and he'd know by now if he'd been made.

It was a straight, relatively safe shot back to the rocks from here, he'd have enough cover to make it back to the van undetected.

Hardison was on the south side, though, and the rocks were smaller along the back of the yard. They'd make him if he even twitched.

"Hardison, stay the fuck down."

"Copy the hell out of that," Alec said, quietly, and then went silent.

Arlington and three men were streaming out into the yard, arguing and drawing alarmingly close to where Alec was hiding.

It might just be safer to wait it out. These guys, they weren't paying attention to anything out here, they'd come out here because it had been safer to talk than inside.

But it had been a stupid move on Arlington's part. Eliot could hear it on the comms, the cursing, the hushed conversations.

He'd been there, knew the frayed nerves, the paranoia. The first few jobs with Moreau, back when he'd been partnered with Chapman but before he knew how bad things could get. Tensions were mounting inside, and right now, there was no-one running damage control.

On the plus side, their job might have just taken care of itself.

On the minus side, Hardison was still trapped behind his rocks.

"Okay," Eliot said. "Here's what I'm gonna do. I'll break cover, get them to chase after around to the front of the house. As soon as it's clear, you go."

"What? No. That's a terrible plan! You're gonna get us both killed. Think of a better one!"

"Look, I know you're freaked, and you don't trust me, or whatever, but I'm doing my job. Like I always do. Right now my job is to get your ass out of here without getting you killed. And this is how I'm gonna have to do it, all right?"

There was silence on the line as Hardison considered. Over the earpiece, he heard Hardison take a deep breath. He was either about to agree to it, or about to go off on a suicidal tirade.

"Okay. Fine. Be fucking careful, man."

As if he needed the warning.


Eliot really didn't want to do this. It was hard to actually force himself into action, standing here, superficially safe behind the bushes. So far, Arlington and his guys were too busy arguing about what they were going to do, how they were going to explain it, what the story was going to be, where they should dump the body- to even look up.

But at some point, they'd come to a decision, and Eliot could hazard a guess. There were miles and miles of foothills behind the house, probably hundreds of places to hide a body.

And they'd have to cut through the back yard to do it.

Eliot took a breath, and stood up, coughing, stumbling and squinting in confusion.

"The hell's goinonhere?" He slurred, rubbing his eyes as if waking up from a week-long bender, and pretended to be surprised.

It worked. They were as confused as he was, and all of their attention was directly on him.

He staggered back, two steps as he turned his body, and then he ran, back behind the creosote and around, up along the side of the house. He could hear them shouting and running behind him, it was working.

But in a few steps, he'd have a problem. If this was going to work, he had to make sure they all were in front of the house, so Hardison could make it up to where the cover was better. And Eliot was fast approaching a blind corner- he should've taken a wider swath, but there hadn't been time, and behind him, the shouting was growing louder.

He rounded the corner, and stopped short in the driveway, just a few feet from the first of the parked cars.

There were already half a dozen deputies standing there, guns drawn.

And they were all aimed at him.




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