What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Chapter 4

The deputies had all disappeared around the side of the house, chasing after Eliot and the coast was a clear as it was likely to get. Alec ran across the yard, dodging behind the same creosote bush- or maybe it was mesquite, he couldn't remember which- where Eliot had been pinned. The angle was better here, affording him a view of the side of the house and a sliver of the front yard. There were lights on out front, either from headlights or the patio, but beyond the movement of shadows, he couldn't see anything.

"Hardison?" Wondering how close he could get if he stayed close to the house, and hoping he'd have a plan when he got there, he was dimly aware that Nate was repeating himself. "Talk to me, what the hell is going on."

"I can't-"

Eliot interrupted him. "Hardison, I'm surrounded. Get to the van."

If he chased after the deputies, maybe the distraction would be enough to give Eliot the advantage. He crept forward.

Or maybe they'd just get spooked and shoot Eliot.

"Do what he says, Hardison, or I swear to God…" Nate warned. "Eliot, don't resist. Let them take you in."

Right. Because they weren't just going to shoot him on the spot. Alec's heart was beating in his ears, now. "How do you know they're not just going to-"

"Hardison," Parker chimed in. "Come on."


Eliot was mumbling, still playing the lost drunk, but Alec didn't need visual to know that Eliot's teeth were clenched when he whispered, "Hardison, they're backtracking. Just go."

Alec ran, feeling like the biggest asshole in the world.


He could hear Alec's breathing speed up as he ran, but just to be sure all eyes were on him, Eliot began to mumble again, squinting around at the deputies and shaking his head.

"Wha's goin' on, here?"

Arlington was grinning like it was Christmas. "What's going on, is that you're under arrest for trespassing. And the murder of Deputy Springer."

Eliot reeled, feigning surprise. "I didn't kill nobody." Staggering forward a few steps, he noticed a few hands, here and there, twitch towards their holsters. "Just," he gestured vaguely to the south. "My car broke down out on the road, and-"

Arlington's gaze traveled over his deputies; what he said next was for their benefit as much as Eliot's. "You've got a hell of a lot of witnesses who'll say otherwise, I think you'll find. Diego, cuff him, get him out of here. I'll call the EMT's."

One of the deputies stepped forward, cuffs in hand as he grabbed Eliot's shoulder. It was hard not to fight it off, to keep up the bewildered expression that he needed to maintain as he felt the cuffs being fastened around his wrists. A second deputy shoved him against the cruiser, patting him down and going through his pockets.

"You have the right to remain-"

"Just do it in the car, Diego," Anderson said, "We've got a lot to do, here."

Eliot could feel the palm-warmed grip of a handgun- a Glock 17 nine mil, going by the texture and embossed logo on the grip, just above the magazine- being pressed into his hand. It was a stupid, dangerous move on their part- it would be so damned easy to take at least one of them down before they got a shot in- but it wouldn't do Eliot much good.

He wasn't surprised to feel a hand wrap tightly around his own, or the sharp pain as they gouged at his arm's pressure points. They were loosening his grip, and a moment later, he felt his finger being threaded in alongside the trigger. A moment later, Arlington- Eliot could see him in the car window's reflection, standing behind him- yanked Eliot's arm back sharply, and grasped Eliot's hand so tightly around the grip that the trigger began to move.

He hadn't braced for the sound, he'd been distracted trying to fight it off, but he was next aware of Hardison shouting and Nate's voice yelling back at him as the gun was torn from his hand. In a few seconds, he'd be in the back seat of the car, able to tell the others he was okay, that he hadn't been hit, but Nate must've been watching from somewhere on the road.

"It's okay, I see him, Eliot's not hit," Nate was saying, sounding relieved. "He's fine. And. Yeah. Eliot? Don't look at the car right now, we don't need them following your line of sight." Eliot dropped his gaze from the road, where he'd nearly made out the shape of a car about a half-mile down, just before the curve.

They were opening the back door of the squad car.

When his head was knocked sharply against the frame as they shoved him inside, he felt his earpiece coming loose, felt it falling against his neck, and then it was gone, and fuck, if they saw it-

But the door was slamming shut, and the deputies were already getting in the front. As they pulled away, winding past the other deputies' cars, Eliot forced himself not to look back, out across the ranch to the access road on the horizon.

There was a van there, somewhere, and inside, hopefully, Hardison and Parker were safe. Probably freaking out- fine, whatever- but safe.

He'd done his job. The next part was up to them.


The Maricopa County Jail, Tent City, to the locals, was dark when they pulled up. Eliot could just make out the shapes of the tents behind the razor wire, but doubted he'd be getting a much closer look. If they were serious about framing him for murder- and that didn't tend to be something anyone took lightly- they were going to throw him inside the jail itself. Maximum security, or as close as they got.

As they pulled up to the back of the jail, he regarded it calmly, counting windows, floors, the exits he could see on the ground building. They were too close, now, to see the roof, but on the whole, it was actually a calming sight.

He'd seen the insides of prisons much worse than this, and he wasn't going to be there for very long.

He'd be fine.


Alec didn't turn on the headlights until they'd caught up with Nate's car, and as they crept too slowly from Arlington's ranch, he alternated between gritting his teeth and growling over the comms. "Would someone please tell me where the sense in letting Eliot get framed for murder is hiding out? 'Cause I just ain't seeing it."

There was a pause on the line. Presumably, Alec wasn't the only one expecting to hear Eliot's voice bitching back at him, but they'd all heard his earbud fall, the sharp cracking noise it made when the tires crushed it into the ground.

"It's one hell of a delay tactic," Parker shrugged unconcernedly and nodded up the road ahead to where they could see Nate's rented sedan turning towards the on-ramp. "When are we going in to get him?"

"Ah, not just yet," Nate said as the sedan headed for the freeway. "They're going to be processing him now. The case won't be entered right away, not until they're certain they've got their story straight. Please tell me we were recording the feed from the bugs."

"Ah, yeah Nate." Same as every damned job we've ever done. What do you take me for?"

"Not now, Hardison, okay?" Nate replied, irritably. "We can do this, but. Just wait until we're back at the hotel."


Sophie broke the ensuing silence, her voice tight and small. "So what are we going to do?"

"Tonight? There's really not anything we can do, not before we see what he's up against."

Parker leaned forward, as if she weren't talking on comms but leaning across the table for emphasis. "But wouldn't it be easier to get him out of there before the charges stick?"

"Not unless we want the entire county looking for their escaped convict. Never mind the reinforcements they'd be calling in."

"So we're just going to leave him there?"

"We're going to get him out. But we're gonna have to be smart about it, and that means not going in half-cocked. Are we clear on this?"

Nobody responded, but Hardison eased up on the pedal a bit. He'd been following Nate way too closely, especially with the roads being so empty at this time of night.

"Okay, good," Nate said, sensing their agreement. "We get back to the hotel. We have a drink at the bar and we figure this out. Deal?"

"Yeah." Parker said. "Fine."


Sophie was glowering when Alec and Parker caught up with them, and she didn't say anything, not even after the waitress had come back with their drinks. Parker and Nate had taken up an intermittent, well rehearsed and reused conversation about something called the Kramer account and Susie, over in project management, until they were certain nobody was listening to them.

It was there, though, the conversation fell apart, and Alec was trying to think of something to say when Sophie sighed sharply and leaned over the table, fixing Nate with a glare that she'd evidently been saving up for the occasion.

"Do you mind telling us, Nate, how you knew so positively that they were not going to merely shoot Eliot on sight?"

Nate blinked, as if surprised by the question. "Really?" Raising an apologetic hand to forestall disagreement, he explained. "Look. They were having enough time trying to figure out what to do with the first body. Two would be even harder to explain, especially when the second could serve more easily as a scapegoat for the first one."

"You just knew that." Parker was nodding to herself as if she'd had some suspicion confirmed.

"I knew that they'd been looking for a way to explain the dead deputy when a drunk trespasser stumbled in. Must've felt a lot like Christmas."

Parker frowned in something akin to sympathy. "And I thought my Christmases were messed up."


"We're going to need to flip one of the deputies," Sophie said, her anger mellowed somewhat over the course of two glasses of wine. "Get him to testify to what really happened."

"We could try that, but it would put him- or her- in a hell of a lot of danger. Everyone else on the force would be gunning for them." Sophie opened her mouth to argue, but Nate continued. "Look. We already have the surveillance. If it comes down to proving it, we'll be able to take it to the police."

"Nate, man. There's not a court in the world where that recording would be admissible in court. Even if Arlington didn't already have powerful allies in the police department."

"Wait," Parker smiled for the first time in an hour and leaned forward in her chair. "We're going to steal ourselves a police department?"

"Let's keep that as a plan B," Nate said, frowning. He was starting to look exhausted, worried, and Alec definitely didn't like seeing it.

But he didn't have any other ideas, either.


It was beyond late by the time Eliot had made it through intake. They'd scanned his prints and swiped gunshot residue off his right hand before they stripped him and shoved him into his cell.

He was pleasantly surprised to find that he was bunking alone, but Arlington's order that he be kept separate from the other inmates for a while got him wondering. It wasn't as if the jail wasn't massively overpopulated- hell, they'd set up tents in the yard- so there had to be a reason for it.

The first was the most obvious. For all they knew, the isolation might freak him out, might get him ready to talk. The second, though, was that if he was alone, he'd have no one to talk to. The deputies were still getting their story straight, probably hadn't gotten the charging paperwork put together yet. They didn't need Eliot bouncing ideas off anyone or spreading any rumors before they had a chance to come at him.

Still, though. They did put him across the corridor from one mean looking son of a bitch three times Eliot's size. Not the kind of guy anyone would want to talk to, and exactly the kind of guy who'd make a sane person seriously reconsider stepping out of line.

It wasn't really working, but it wouldn't do to go picking a fight just yet. The second he did anything to piss the guards off, he'd most likely wind up in solitary confinement, most likely in the basement somewhere. With Parker on the team, and Nate being just insane to sometimes give in to her, the fewer walls between him and them, the better.

And for all Eliot knew, big, ugly and staring was in there on trumped up charges too. He might even make an ally, if it came down to it, but Eliot wasn't going to let on either way just yet. It was late and he was tired, so he lay down on the hard, antiseptically clean bunk.

In the morning, they'd have his charges drawn up all nice and official, and he had no intention of opening his mouth until he got his phone call. He'd be assigned some dirty attorney, most likely on the take, and they'd run with it.

He stared at the ceiling, torn between the need for sleep and the need to assess just how bad this was going to get.

More than once, he found himself touching his ear, running his fingers through his hair in hopes that he'd been wrong- that his earpiece hadn't fallen to the ground, but gotten tangled and caught. That he still had an open line of communication.

They'd searched him thoroughly, though- hell, during booking they'd fucking strip-searched him- and they'd probably gone through the back of the cruiser as well to make sure he hadn't ditched anything under the seats. As far as he knew, they'd come up with nothing but a few twenties and change, but it was a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, he'd had nothing on him that could tie the rest of the team to the case. On the other hand, it meant that the earbud was lying on the ground, right in front of a dozen crooked deputies. All would take was for one observant deputy to look down at the right patch of driveway, and Eliot hadn't survived as long as he had by trusting in luck.

Worst case scenario, they'd found it and gotten suspicious, enough to know that someone else was in the area and fanning out to search the grounds ten seconds after Eliot had been taken away.

Or hell, maybe they'd just figure that he'd had to have come from somewhere. They'd find the van's tracks on the access road, they'd match it to some database and find that it had been rented from the airport about a week ago, and that the same credit card had been used at a hotel in Phoenix.

It was nearly dawn, now, so when they kicked down the first of the two doors, they'd find Nate and Sophie asleep. Hardison and Parker would be rapidly pulling on clothes, still half-dressed and flustered, when the deputies targeted their room.

But maybe that wasn't the worst of the situation. If they all wound up in jail, at least it would be easier to communicate.

As soon as the morning came, he'd get up, start learning the lay of the land. Ask some questions. Ingratiate himself. Figure out which guards took bribes, what the going rates were, and which of the guys on laundry detail were down to pass notes along.

And if they were all coming in here, he'd need to find out which of the guys they needed to avoid.

The prospect of his first day in prison shouldn't have been calming- there were a lot of chances for things to get bloody and out of control, and he knew it- but the fact that he was finally hitting on something that was beginning to resemble a plan was enough that by sunrise, he felt himself drifting off into a fitful sleep.


It took a few minutes, the next morning, for Alec to wake up enough to realize how shitty the day was going to be.

He grabbed his laptop and pulled up the roster from the jail's website. And there it was.

4:58 AM. Cody Gremminger was booked on probable cause charges of murder and criminal trespass. Unsurprisingly, he was being held without bail, but Alec sighed in something akin to relief.

If Gremminger was the name they'd found, it was because Eliot hadn't had any identification on him and they'd needed to run his prints, finding the faked record Alec had entered into AFIS, complete with a misdemeanor drunk and disorderly ticket that he'd invented to justify the record's existence in the system.

There was a knock on the door, and he'd been expecting Nate, but not all three of them this early in the morning. Surprisingly, Sophie looked the least awake. All three were armed with paper cups of coffee, and Parker handed him a large one.

"Just got back from planting a stolen car in a ditch along the south side of Arlington's property. Should keep them from expanding any search when they start to wonder where the hell he came from." Nate said once they were all inside, and yeah, now that he looked at them, Parker and Nate did appear to have been awake for a few hours already. "How bad is it?"

"Does what it says on the box," he said, sliding the laptop to the center of the table so they could all see. "Eliot didn't talk. They had to run his prints to identify him, and they found the Gremminger alias I made for him. I'm going to need some time to make sure that's as far as they're digging."

"What about the incident report?"

"It hasn't been submitted yet," Hardison switched over to the county records mirror he'd set up. "But it's not even the end of the shift yet, they're still working on it."

"Probably still getting their stories straight, yeah," Nate nodded, raising his brow as Hardison brought up the booking screen and clicked on the picture. Between the image and the description, it was clear that he hadn't been injured too seriously, though he was likely, given the bruising, that the report would reflect that he'd resisted arrest.

Hell, if Alec didn't know better, going by the photo alone, Eliot was exactly what you'd expect the man who murdered a deputy to look like.

"Yeah, this is going to be bad," Nate said, reading his mind as he flung the newspaper down onto the table. That same picture was spread above the fold, larger than the article underneath.

"Full details to follow pending notification of the victim's family," Sophie read aloud. "But already, the Sheriff's Office is planning on prosecuting to the full extent of the law." Her eyes kept moving across the page, her expression growing horrified. Alec craned his neck to read over her shoulder, but all he could see was the Arizona Republic's masthead.

Oh, fuck.

Alec took a deep breath before looking back up at Nate, seeing the same realization dawning there, but someone had to say it out loud, it might as well be him.

"Arizona has the death penalty, don't it?"


Chapter 3 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Leverage ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 5



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