Gary stopped in mid-stride. He'd know that hoarse singsong anywhere. The bullpen was unusually quiet for a Saturday night--perhaps it was just going through a lull between surges, or perhaps the heavy rain had kept the usual suspects at home--and it took him only a moment to locate Chuck's light windbreaker and drying hair under the baseball cap. His friend had stood up at sight of him coming out of Crumb's office, but by the time Gary reached him he'd settled back into the chair next to the desk of the black plainclothesman who was apparently processing him in--probably someone who was on temporary desk duty while he recovered from a medical leave or had a recent shooting investigated by IA. It occurred to Gary that in the year since he'd begun to get the Paper, he'd picked up more information about the workings of the Chicago PD than he had in thirty years before that.
"Got 'ny cash on you?" Chuck asked hopefully, looking up at him under the rain-darkened bill of his cap, and lifted his hands from his lap, trying to draw them apart; the chain of the handcuffs he wore chinked at the motion. Gary stared at the bracelets in disbelief.
"What have you done now?" he demanded.
"Me? I didn't do anything," Chuck protested. "I was just exercising my Constitutional right to assemble peaceably in a public place."
"You can't assemble unless there are two or more of you," Gary pointed out. He looked at the nameplate on the desk, then past it at the plainclothesman. "Detective, uh, Ashworth, what's the problem here?"
"You know this guy?" Ashworth responded.
"Of course I know him, we've been best friends since we were six," said Gary. "His name's Chuck Fishman. He's a stockbroker at Strauss & Associates. Is he under arrest?"
"Loitering, disorderly conduct, and vagrancy," said Ashworth. "You say he's a stockbroker? Then what's he doing with just two dollars small change on him?"
Well, I guess that explains the request for cash, Gary told himself. "I told you, Detective," Chuck insisted wearily, "I had fifty, but I paid it to a cabbie this afternoon."
"Sure," said Ashworth. "It doesn't cost that much even from O'Hare."
"I was holding the cab till this woman came out of the building--"
"Chuck, will you be quiet?" Gary interrupted. "You're just making things worse. Did he have ID on him, Detective?"
"Oh, sure, but that doesn't mean anything," Ashworth replied. "And neither do fifteen credit cards and an ATM. Credit cards can be maxed out, and just because you have an ATM card it doesn't mean there's any money in the account."
"I resent that!" Chuck burst out. Gary slapped a hand down on his shoulder--hard--and squeezed; Chuck hissed softly in pain and subsided with a faint grumble.
"If you keep puttin' your foot in your mouth," Gary told him, "they'll add resisting arrest or something to the charges."
"Oh, we could anyway, the way the arresting officers tell it," said Ashworth. "Your pal's got quite a tongue on him."
Gary closed his eyes a moment, reaching for patience. I really don't need this right now... Time was wasting and he needed Chuck's help--which meant he had to get his friend out of the police station. "Look," he began in the calmest voice he could muster, "you haven't booked him yet, have you? And it's all misdemeanors anyway, and he hasn't got a record. I've already vouched for him, and I'll even pay his fine. Can't we work something out here?"
Ashworth slouched back in his chair, eyeing him measuringly. It occurred to Gary that by now most of the cops in this station probably knew him at sight and shared Crumb's skepticism about any assertion he might happen to make, even if it didn't involve "knowing" something he shouldn't have. "What's so vital about getting him turned loose?" the detective asked.
"I just, I, there's somebody I need to find, only I don’t know where she is exactly, and it'd go a lot faster if there were two of us," Gary offered. "Look, Detective Crumb knows about it, you saw me come out of his office, why don't you ask him?"
"Why don't he ask Detective Crumb what?" demanded the veteran's heavy Chicago accent just behind Gary's shoulder. "What are you doin' hangin' around here, Hobson, I thought you were in such a-- oh, hell. Fishman too? We got both the Hardy Boys, now where's Nancy Drew?"
Ashworth looked slightly bewildered at this reference. "Marissa's back at my apartment staying dry, like I wish we could," Gary retorted, "only since you won't help we can't. Look, Crumb, I know you don't have much reason to think well of me, but Chuck's just an innocent bystander. He was doing what he was doing because I asked him to, so if anybody's to blame it's me." He didn't even notice that his rate of speech had speeded up and his nervous stammer had completely disappeared.
Crumb, however, did notice it, and what was more his years of service gave him some insight into the reason behind it. "Gimme the arrest report, Ashworth," he ordered, holding out a meaty hand. The detective passed it across to him and Crumb scanned it quickly. Chuck shifted, sitting forward to peer around Gary and watch, like a child peeping out from behind its mother's skirts.
"I see it ain't signed yet," said Crumb after a moment.
"No, sir," Ashworth agreed. "I'm just trying to get him processed so he can go down to night court, but he's not being exactly helpful."
Crumb snorted. "I'm not surprised. His buddy here must be contagious." He turned his penetrating eyes on Chuck's shackled wrists. "Look, Ashworth, do you really gotta keep the guy chained up like he was Machine Gun McGurk or somebody? Get the cuffs off him at least."
Ashworth looked dubious but apparently figured that Crumb was his superior and would take the blame if anything went wrong. He produced a key and fitted it into the lock of the cuffs as Chuck eagerly thrust his hands forward.
"Loitering," Crumb said. "Fishman, do you know what the legal definition of loitering is?"
Chuck was massaging the shallow reddish grooves the shackles had cut into his wrists, trying to restore the sensation and smoothness to his skin. "No, sir," he said humbly, looking up at Crumb with guileless blue eyes.
The detective returned his attention to Gary. "You said you were the one that asked him to do what he was doin'. This have something to do with what we were talkin' about before?"
"Yeah," said Gary. "Crumb, look, we don't have a lot of time--"
"Gar!" Chuck hissed desperately, seeing the possibility of liberty beginning to evaporate.
Crumb didn't seem to have heard. "You know, Ashworth, I know this guy, and if there's one thing he's not, it's a vagrant. You know how when you get a warrant it's gotta have everything exactly right, the address and the suspect's name and all? Like if you arrest somebody on a warrant that names John P. Doe, and it turns out his name's John S. Doe, he can get released on a technicality?"
"Sure, Lieutenant, I know that," said Ashworth.
"Well, like I just told you, Fishman ain't a vagrant. He's a gainfully employed professional with a Lexus and a condo and a stock portfolio. So that means this arrest report is technically inaccurate, and his lawyer would get the DC and loitering charges thrown out so fast on that alone, your head would spin." He addressed Gary. "Get him out of here, Hobson. Get the both of youse out of here and go find this friend you're so worried about."
Gary's mouth dropped open. Chuck leaped into the breach, and out of the chair, with a speed that would have turned Michael Jordan green with envy. "Lieutenant Crumb, you are a true gentleman," he declared. "Come on, Gar, let's leave these nice people free to take care of the real criminals."
Unused to this kind of cooperation from the CPD, Gary hesitated, torn between relief, disbelief, the urgency of Sam's situation, and the instinct to express his thanks. "Hey, Crumb, I--"
Crumb held up his hand. "I don't wanna hear it. G'wan, get out of here before I change my mind."
Gary took a breath, and Chuck tugged sharply at his arm. "Come on , Gar, need I remind you we are on a schedule here..."
"Oh. Yeah. Right. Okay. 'Night, Crumb--and thanks."
"Go!" snapped Crumb, and the two younger men fled toward the swing-gate that closed off the bullpen from the public reception area.
Ashworth watched as they vanished through the corridor door, then looked up at Crumb. "Lieutenant? Is there, ah, something I should know about going on?"
Crumb shook his head. "I don't think either one of us wants to know what exactly goes on with those two," he said. "You got something to do, Ashworth?"
"Uh--yessir." The plainclothesman turned back to his desk, not even bothering to ask for the incomplete arrest report. Crumb glanced at it, then turned back to his office. He'd run it through the shredder just to make sure it didn't come back to haunt the little guy somewhere down the road. He wasn't sure why Fishman stuck with Hobson, but he'd been around long enough to know a partnership when he saw it, and Hobson had been right, sort of--if the CPD couldn't help him, the least it could do was make sure he had the services of one of the two people who apparently knew what the story was with him and were willing to give him a hand when he needed it.
"Hey, buddy, thanks for standing up for me," said Chuck as the two of them hurried down the long corridor.
"That's what friends do, Chuck. They bail each other out. Come on, we have to get a cab and get back to the church. We might still have time to catch Samantha before she leaves Jordan on the steps."
"Friends?" Chuck's voice echoed weirdly in the stairwell as they started down. "Uh, Gar, I hate to break this to you, but it was really Crumb who got me out of there...does that make him our friend too?"
Gary paused an instant, his foot in mid-air. "I don't know," he admitted quietly. "But you know what, Chuck? I don't think he's our enemy."
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