What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Chapter 7

Around seven in the morning, Eliot could hear Hardison waking up, and talking to someone, apparently still too tired to realize that his comms were still on. As the conversation went on, though, he must have remembered.

"So let me get this straight. Paperwork's going through for my release, but I'm not getting out of here until I get medical clearance. For my thumb." His tone hadn't shifted much, but it was obvious he was making a point of passing the information along to the team. "And the doctor's not due in until after lunch. So what do I do?" There was a pause while someone answered, faint in the background. "Yes sir. I report to meals as scheduled, and listen for the page between three and five. Yeah, okay. Thank you, sir."

"I'll be there with a car," Nate said, and Eliot hadn't shouldn't have been surprised to find that he wasn't the only one on the line, even as early as it was. Though, right, Boston was a few hours earlier.

There was a pause before Hardison spoke; he was probably waiting for the guard to step away. "You're already back in town? How'd it go?"

It had been too easy to forget, in here, that Donovan wasn't the only problem they were facing, and Eliot listened carefully as Nate began to explain.

"Yeah, ah… On that. We got to Boston and set up in the back room of McRory's, and made the first two of them within two hours, when they changed shifts. I kept an eye on the one who'd just arrived while Parker followed the one who'd taken off to an old air-conditioning repair storefront on Dorchester."

"How'd they not see you?"

"I stayed in McRory's back room until they were gone, and Parker's a redhead now."

"Damn, that's gotta be hot." Eliot could practically see Hardison's grin from here, and contemplated punching the wall.

"No, but it burns," Parker complained, irritably. "Did you know you could be allergic to hair dye?"

"Yeah, ah. It'll wash out, right? You didn't get the permanent stuff"

"Anyway," Nate said. "We figured that once the bar closed, there was no way for them to have line of sight from the street without looking suspicious, so I tipped off Bonanno about an arson crew that was back in town on another insurance scam, and went out to meet Parker, who, ah… chased them out of the building."

Sophie cut in with a sigh. "She set it on fire."

Parker snorted. "You suggested implicating them in the warehouse case."


"And? I was making it look good. Arsonists don't just come out of nowhere. They tend to set a lot of fires."

"Seriously?" Eliot caught himself speaking and froze, remembering that Donovan was lying, probably awake, in the bunk below. "Too fucking early," he muttered, as if bitching to himself about the time.

"Yeah, well. They're out of play for at least forty-eight hours, whoever they are. Hardison, once you're out, I'm going to need you popping through Boston PD's back door, checking these guys out."

"My pleasure."

Eliot smirked, knowing that he was the only one who knew the reason for the misgiving in Hardison's tone. The bolts on the doors all down the block were popping open, and the announcement was coming through that it was time for breakfast.


It was an unspoken agreement that everyone would leave their comm units in for the duration, and though it was stressful, listening to the non-incarcerated members of his team talk about him like he wasn't even there, the chatter was doing more to keep Eliot awake than the weak coffee they served in the mess.

Hardison had filled the team in on everything he knew last night, but it was Sophie who'd apparently given it the most thought.

"Donovan, or whoever this bugger is, made one mistake when choosing his persona," she explained as Eliot broke off the rotten part of his apple before taking a bite. "He chose to present himself as a coward. Use that. Unless he wants to give himself away, he's going to have to stay in character. Eliot, here's what I want you to do…"

"So me and my dad," Donovan was saying. "We were down at the cabin when the storm hit. The roads out of the canyon were pretty much washed out by morning. We wound up stuck there for the better part of a week, missed my sister's wedding and everything."

"When was this?"

Donovan seemed surprised by his sudden interest. "September, 2004."

"Huh. I wasn't going anywhere myself, back then."

"What do you mean?"

"Second, no. Third stint in jail. They said I'd strangled a guard with dental floss."

"Oh." Donovan swallowed. "Did you?"

"Someone did," Eliot smiled darkly. "They weren't ever able to make a case. Don't know if they really tried- the guy had it coming. Real piece of work, him."

"What were you in for at the time?"

"Suspicion of murder. Only the witness disappeared, you know how it goes. There wasn't anything the prosecutor could pin on me."

Donovan's face hadn't gone pale, but he'd taken control of all the tells he could easily manage. He'd gone still, his jaw clenched tight and his eyes widening. His voice, when he answered, was devoid of tone. "Lucky thing."

Eliot let his grin widen, curling his lip just enough to show teeth. "Luck didn't have anything to do with it, man." He shook his head, relaxing into a grin, changing the subject on the off chance Donovan was too distracted to have his guard up. "So how's your case going?"


Between the shave he so plainly needed and the shadows under his eyes, Alec doubted Eliot had gotten any sleep at all. And if he was tired, he might miss something.

Alec unobtrusively took a seat at the table behind Donovan, where he could keep an eye on Eliot and the rest of the room, and set about trying to eat his breakfast- cold eggs, toast that had probably been hard before going through the toaster, though the heat had been lost ages ago, and an apple with more soft spots than he wanted to contemplate.

He listened to Eliot applying Sophie's suggestions. He wasn't warning Donovan off, so much as he was scaring him off. That was good. But Sophie was better.

"Now you don't want to scare him off completely, you just need to buy some time, get some space. You want him wary, but not on guard. Lighten up, now, make it clear that you don't consider him an enemy, but instead are trusting him by telling him all this."

Alec scraped some of the eggs onto the toast. With all the other noise, it was easier to hear to Eliot over the comms than it was in person.

"So how's your case going?" Eliot finally asked, and Alec stopped chewing, straining to listen to Donovan's response.

"I've got a meeting with my lawyer this morning, hopefully he'll have something."

"That's good," Eliot nodded.

"Guys," Alec whispered, repeating it for the team. "Donovan's meeting with someone this morning."

"That'll probably be his handler," Nate said. "Okay, ah… Parker? I want you in the parking lot, getting license plates and photos. Look especially for rentals, but don't ignore local vehicles."

"I'm on it," she replied, with a slight jostling on the line. "Heading out now."

Afterwards, the conversation at Eliot's table petered out, and Hardison decided that whoever was picking him up was going to be making a stop at the first drive-through they came across on their way back to the hotel. He took his time finishing the juice, though. It was weirdly comforting. Weak, watered down, like Nana's had sometimes gotten towards the end of the month when the budget was tight.

At the other table, though Eliot's plastic cup sat nearly untouched. It wasn't as if he was likely to share the same associations that Alec had. All the same, Alec decided that he'd go off comms before mentioning the drive-through. There was no reason to rub it in.


As expected, Donovan made himself scarce after breakfast, heading back to his cell while everyone else hung around in the corridor, or in the open commons on the end of the block.

Under the guise of checking out the options- a bunch of bad novels, a few board games that were all probably short a few pieces, and too many social services brochures to count- Hardison caught up with him by the book cart.

"Hey, man," he said, pointing at a board. "You play chess?"

"Badly," Eliot lied, grabbing the set, and followed Hardison to an open table at the back of the room that had a view that went all the way down the block. "Names Cody Gremminger," he introduced himself, extending his hand.

"Aaron Washington. Nice to meet you, man."

"You new? Don't know if I've seen you 'round."

"Just transferred in from Tent City on account of this," Alec said, raising up his braced hand. "Not going to be here long. Getting out today."

"Really? Congratulations, man."

McTeague wandered by as they were setting up the board, but once he was gone, Eliot shook his head. From up close, Hardison's injuries were even harder to ignore, and even knowing it was fake didn't make the taped-up hearing aid look at all encouraging.

"Seriously, man," Eliot intoned, not really sure where he was going with it, whether he wanted to thank him or throttle him or what. "Coming in here?"

"I know. Idiotic. Possibly not needed. Kind of like how running out into Arlington's back yard might have been unnecessary. But I'm gone this afternoon, so lets just worry about your stupid ass." Hardison grinned, holding out two fists for Eliot to choose, and spoke into his comms.

"You're going first," Eliot said, turning the board around and setting the black pawn down where it belonged. "And I'm reserving the right to tear you a new one- loudly and violently, the second I get out of here."

"Looking forward to it."

Hardison opened with a Sicilian Defense, which moderately surprised Eliot until a few moves later, when it all fell apart. Hardison recovered, though, putting a fair amount of pressure on Eliot's queen that forced him to change his focus to the edge of the board, abandoning his previous setup.

If it weren't for Sophie breaking Hardison's concentration, Eliot might have lost.

"Tara's just checked in. She's stopping by for an earpiece in a little while."

"That reminds me," Hardison replied, glancing up from the board. "Go into my stuff and grab the phone with the post- it on it. Tell Tara to stash it in the ladies room out by reception. It doesn't get searched often since the inmates don't have access, but it's got to be hidden I'll switch the comm feed tonight, but we'll need to do it again fairly soon."

"Not a problem," Nate said. "Sophie will be there Saturday, and both of us on Sunday."

"Right," Eliot cut in, grinning as he took Hardison's knight. "So we've got a lot of back and forth planned. But how long am I going to have to stay in here?"

"Depends on what we manage to pull with the evidence. Parker's going out tonight to see what she can find at the ranch and will switch it in at the evidence lockup Sunday night, before Tara's consultant comes in Monday morning."

"So I just sit tight until then," Eliot grumbled.

"No." Sophie sighed. "You stay alert and watch your ass until then."

"Ah, Nate?" Hardison was looking at Eliot now, clearly concerned by whatever he was seeing on his face. "He's going to have to sleep at some point, man."

Eliot shook his head. I got this. "Been thinking about it. Donovan can't wait for too much longer. Game he's playing usually takes longer to set up, but since we're locked up, he's got a lot more access to me than he normally would. If I were doing this, I'd have my handler pass me something during the meeting, or maybe through one of the guards. Whatever it is, he can't have that sitting around too long before it gets found. He's going to have to make a play tonight."

"Oh." Hardison said, looking at the board. It was hard to tell if it was Eliot's theory or the fact he'd just been put in check that had him so worried.


Only a few hours left.

Just to be on the safe side, Alec had gone back to his cell after losing the game, and had been icing his hand and trying to thumb through a dog-eared Tom Clancy novel for nearly an hour when he got wind that Donovan had come back from his meeting.

It was impossible to concentrate on the book when he knew that, just down the hall, Eliot, Donovan, and a weapon were in the same cell. He listened carefully, but there wasn't much to hear.

When the announcement came, calling the block down to the mess for lunch, he went in, got through the line, and sat down at the table Eliot and Donovan had used at breakfast, wondering if it was too bold a play. It didn't matter, in the end. Eliot was following Donovan- who'd apparently come to terms with what he'd heard this morning- and they sat down across the room, past too many people to watch.

Lunch was too tiring to be worth the trouble, as Alec listened to Parker reporting in on the cars she saw leaving the parking lot as Nate narrowed down the list of possibilities. Beyond one question, asking Donovan how the meeting with his lawyer had gone, Eliot said nothing that Alec read as important.

It was driving Alec a bit insane, and it was a great relief when the public address system came on again, calling Cody Gremminger to visitation.

Alec watched Eliot go, finally relaxing, feeling like they'd just dodged a bullet.


"You look like hell." Tara was already waiting at the table, grinning as the guards brought Eliot in. "But I'm glad to see you're still breathing."

"Far as day spas go, I've got some complaints for management," Eliot muttered, sitting down and shaking the hair out of his eyes. His second wind had worn off an hour ago. "You have any news for me?"

"Yes. The trial has been set for May 16th."

"That's a month and a half."

"And it's a good thing, too. We're going to need a lot of prep time on this, Mr. Gremminger."

"Looks like you've been doing a lot already," Eliot nodded down on the stack of paper piled on the table in front of her. It had been a little disheartening when he'd realized that they were all legal documents and scrawled notes, instead of blueprints and rotation schedules, but he knew that Tara wasn't stupid enough to be that bold.

"I have, but it's slow going. The witnesses have all agreed on their version of the story. I am, however bringing in a forensic specialist from a different county so there's no issue of bias or conflict of interest, I think that's going to be the best bet." Her lips curled into a near smirk, aware that Eliot already knew all this. "Once all the evidence is laid out for all to see, it should shed enough distrust on the stories of the witnesses. It's unlikely that their united front is going to stand under that weight."

"You're casting a pretty wide net, there." Eliot had counted well over a dozen deputies, back at the ranch, and as far as he knew, there was no way of knowing which ones to best lean on.

"We've got some of the best consultants in the business at our disposal, Mr. Gremminger. "They're very smart. I'm confident that they will find something to turn this around."

On the line, Nate sounded cocky. "Thanks."

Tara rolled her eyes and spoke quietly into her comm unit, her voice teasing. "How do you know I wasn't talking about Hardison?"

"Ah. If you say so."

"Hey, man, What do you mean, if she says so? Of course she was talking about me."

"Right, because getting thrown in jail and beat up in the middle of a job is the mark of true genius."

Eliot smirked, but Tara's next words wiped it off his face.

"Okay. Now. I'd like to begin your trial preparation. It's important not to let any accidental slips in demeanor stand between you and the jury. A glare at the wrong time, a frown, even shaking your head in disbelief can be misread as an admission of guilt." She sat up, picking up her notepad. "I've drawn up a list of questions that the prosecution is most likely to use, and we're going to go over them until I'm confident that you can answer them sufficiently and succinctly."

Ignoring Eliot's frown, Tara glanced down at her watch and shook her head. "This may take a long time, I'm going to request to extend our visit. I presume you have nothing more pressing going on this afternoon?"

Eliot groaned. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate what she was doing, keeping him in here, but really? He'd rather take his chances back on the block.


It was hot, stepping out into the yard, and there was almost no wind to speak of. No shade at all.

Eliot wasn't back, yet, though Alec could hear him and Tara, finally winding things up, and any minute, now, he'd be out here, too.

In a few hours, Alec would be too far away to be of any real help, but in the meantime, he could keep his eyes on Donovan. He sat himself down on one of the benches at the back corner of the yard, where he could see everything that was going on. It was impossible to tell if Donovan was waiting, pacing slowly around the perimeter, or just bored. The only time he broke his pattern was when he sidestepped to avoid the two inmates who were lazily kicking a ball back and forth.

"He probably stashed the weapon in his room," Parker answered, after he'd asked her what he should be looking for.

"Can't get in there without a guard looking over my shoulder," he replied, taking his eyes off Donovan as he began to circuit again towards him. "What about tells, should he have any?"

"Watch his hands, if they're going to his pocket, or he's scratching at his ankle. Could be something in there that's making itself known to him.

Donovan didn't do either of these things, though, and as he walked past, Alec realized that the material of the uniforms- though dizzying in black and white- was actually fairly flimsy, the fabric too thin to hide a pocket's contents with any real certainty.

"I'm not sure, but I think he's clean."

"Okay. Eliot," Nate said. "Tell the guard you want to stop back at your cell to grab a book or something."

Eliot coughed, twice, and a moment later, Alec could see why.

"Too late," Alec muttered, watching him step out through the opening door, blinking against the sunlight, just as Donovan was again coming up to the building. "Hey El. Donovan at eleven o'clock."

"Hey, how's it going?" Eliot said, but it was impossible to catch Donovan's side of the conversation. Alec really should've gone with the ambient outer microphones instead of the bone-conduction ones for this setup.

"Yeah, my lawyer wanted us to start prepping for the trial… A month and a half from now, yeah… Sure, what the hell…"

Alec was so busy trying to fill in the gaps that that he didn't notice the half-deflated soccer ball coming at him until it was almost too late.

"Sorry," one of the guys from before, running up to chase after it, and it took Alec a moment to remember that the hearing aid was the cause of his shouting. "Thought you were watching."

"Nah, man. Just thinking."

"We're setting up some kickball back here, still looking for players." His eyes were still focused curiously on the hearing aid, but he shrugged. "You want in?"

Alec shook his head and stood up, holding up his hand. "Probably not a great idea, but thanks." He strode off, slowly, towards the building, where he was least likely to be hit by a stray ball, and leaned against the cement blocks.

Fifty feet to Alec's right, the guards were talking to each other from opposite sides of the fence, complaining lazily about the heat. Eliot and Donovan were halfway through another circuit, just passing the side of the yard where teams were being selected for the game.

He would've said that the air had gone still, if it hadn't been that way when Alec had got there, but that was beside the point. Right now, he was the only one who had eyes on Eliot or Donovan, and right now, despite everything he'd rationalized, he knew.

It was about to go down.


Eliot was ready for it when Donovan finally made his move.

They were out in the yard, pacing the perimeter, and had just turned to walk along the far edge of the fence. Hardison had moved back towards the western side of the building, keeping clear of the pickup game to the south and the guards gathered at the eastern corner.

"Eliot," Hardison's voice cut sharply in his ear, but the warning came too late.

Donovan struck exactly when Eliot would have, lunging at him with a right hook that glanced off Eliot's turning shoulder. He back-stepped before coming back at him, but Eliot was already shifting, getting low, using Donovan's momentum against him, grabbing at his hips and throwing him off balance.

Eliot stepped close, crowding him, trying for the hundredth time today to assess Donovan's capabilities. This was where he should've drawn out a weapon, should've been brandishing it, trying to shake Eliot's nerves at the moment his defenses were down as he stood.

Eliot could feel the crowd gathering, coming in close. He didn't look, but guessed that the guards were already on their way, but he couldn't worry about them right now. Donovan was already on his feet, shifting his weight, calm and measured and smiling again, as if relieved to be finally showing his hand.

"Back off," came a shout from somewhere behind the crowd- the guards- and any second now, they'd be breaking it up. Both of them would be thrown in isolation, but that would only be a temporary solution. This, here, was Eliot's best chance to deal with it, before Donovan had a chance to get his hands on something more useful than his own fists.

Lunging forward, he struck with his left, coming up on Donovan's unprotected right but not connecting as sharply as he'd wanted. Continuing the motion, though, he stepped past so he was behind Donovan, already spinning and kicking out the back of his knee.

The crowd was too fucking close- Eliot had to sidestep at the last moment to avoid plowing into Trent- but as he spun back, he saw that Hardison had fought his way to the front, clearly torn between jumping in and focusing on an exit strategy.

Eliot growled in irritation an he dropped down on top of Donovan, pressing his forearm against his throat as he got three solid punches in, taking a jarring blow to the jaw in the process.

And out of the corner of his eye, he saw the shiv. Jagged metal glinting dully through the rust, clenched in a moving fist, and it was too late to stop it, there was no way to-

Eliot threw himself off, back and away, already moving, but the crowd had broken into chaos, scattering as the guards finally broke through.

It was too late, though. Hardison was already falling to his knees, his arm clenched over the bloody stain that was beginning to spread.




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