“Can I come out?” he asked, his voice carrying across the clearing.
“Oh, c’mon, don’t you wanna talk about old times?”
“What do you want, Baxter?”
He laughed, a jarring audio non sequiter.
“Wow, you know how fuckin’ long it’s been since someone called me by my real name?”
“C’mon, how long’s it been since someone--”
“Don’t even think about it!”
“--called you Lindsay?”
“Look, Baxter, how about I just shoot you and we get this over with.”
“It’s a password, Barnes,” he said, then he threw out her first call sign, just to rub in how well he knew her, “Can I call you Rabbit instead?”
“No you damn well cannot!” And then she realized that he’d done it again. Just a few sentences and he was so far under her skin he was dancing in her veins.
“You’re no fun.”
“I never was!” she yelled, taking deep breaths to undo the damage. Stop being annoyed, she told herself. Let it go. You know what’s coming.
“Oh you were once in a while. So listen, I was gonna have something to eat. You hungry? Bet you haven’t stopped to eat since you’ve been chasing me.”
“Oh, I had a nice snack while waiting for the roadblock to clear.”
“That was pretty vintage, Baxter, huh?”
“It was a nice big note for you to go out on, yes.”
“Why you want me dead so bad.”
“Well, right now I want you dead because you’re between me and a good breakfast and a bath and a nap. Smith wants you dead for other reasons.”
“But c’mon, you know I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“The way I understand it you stole five million dollars.”
“Stole is a really strong word. Listen, just come up to the house, shoot the breeze with me for a minute, we’ll be really civilized while we point guns at each other instead of shouting.”
She thought about it for a moment and although she really didn’t want to, he’d evoked the word. It was like a promise of safe passage, somehow, even now, even though she really didn’t want to.
She stood, slung the rifle over her shoulder, and walked up to the house. She slid the rifle carefully back off her shoulder and rested it against the porch. Her Sig was casually in her left hand. He held his Glock loosely in his right hand.
“That’s not your usual custom. Is it an ambidextrous grip?”
She knew better than to look at the gun in her hand. “Best they could do on short notice. If you got the wee Glock I guess you’re living out of a bag.”
“Wonder whose fault that is. I wasn’t kidding, by the way, I can totally heat you up some noodles or something.”
“No. Just say your piece.”
“God, at least come inside. I meant the civilized thing. I really have no interest in killing you.” He saw her face and added, “Or being killed. This was all I could think of, I’m sure you’re much better than my fat ass now.”
He entered the house ahead of her, not holding the door, and both of them new it wasn’t him being impolite, it was the impasse of him holding the door for her and creating a bottleneck with both of them and their guns in the doorway at once.
He flopped down in a big chair and made a show of putting his gun on the coffee table.
“Seriously, I...I was going to call you by your name, but I did that to annoy you and I don’t want to annoy you right now. My gun is down. I don’t know why they want me dead, but it’s not as simple as money. They wrote the money off with me, and more than ten years later? Who gives a shit about some slush fund change. It’s not that much money, not to those people.”
“I don’t need to hear this, Baxter. I don’t care what you thought, what you did, how you did it, who you did it to. I have a job. You remember what that was like, don’t you? Before you got lazy and complacent.”
“You’re pissed I’m alive, aren’t you. That I never got in touch.”
“Of course not, it might have been the one smart thing that you did.”
“Thanks. It was surprisingly easy to start pretending to be dead.”
“I can’t let you live.”
“Sure you can. Fake it, make a false report. Burn the house down and say I was in it, I’ll just vanish again.”
“How will you vanish again. You had five million dollars the last time. How much do you have now. And before you open your mouth, know that as soon as you escaped dying, we had your accounts frozen.”
His mouth had already opened, but he closed it, his face falling. “Shit.”
“How much you have to live off?”
“Not enough. I could get a real job, I guess, be a real person.”
“Really?” she demanded.
“Oh, Christ no,” he said, not looking at her. She could see he was thinking. Her thumb moved a millimeter on the grip of her pistol. “Don’t,” he said tersely, and she saw that he was definitely looking at her now. “Your hand getting tired?”
“Then put it down.”
He gave her that smile then, the one that praised her without words and she knew, goddamn him, that she wasn’t going to win this argument.
“So that’s your big plan, fake your own death again, go on the lam?”
“Well it was before you told me I was broke.”
“Bet you’re sorry you torched your boat now,” she said.
His face fell again. “Aw, man. My boat.”
“Well, it worked,” she said, “Or at least, it got you a good headstart.”
He snorted. “When did they get the homeless guy?”
A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Police boat patrol picked him up
roaring down the Willamette bout half an hour south of the city.”
roaring down the Willamette bout half an hour south of the city.”
A smile cracked Baxter’s face, and then he laughed, and then she was laughing, and then she put the gun down on the table.
“My ops guy said that the arresting officer said he was having the time of his life!” That started another wave of laughter and then she stopped.
“What?” he asked, his voice tense.
“I have to tell my Ops I got you, they were sending in a Blackhawk.”
“They what? How the hell can you think this is just about the money?”
“We don’t have time. I’ll tell them I got you, we’ll go from there. I gotta get my phone.”
She picked up her gun, put it in her shoulder rig, and was heading for the door when he called out. Her nerves were so strung out that she jumped at the sound.
“Hey! Oh, geez,” he said, when she turned and her frustration was apparently. Just another layer of frustration. “I apologize,” he said, and even that was too familiar, too much something of another era, something that hurt as much as she liked it. “I was gonna say, I don’t know what to call you that doesn’t annoy you, I guess we’ll figure it out. But I wanted to say, it’s good to see you. Having you here, I feel like I haven’t talked to another real human being in forever.”
“We’re the weird ones. They’re the real human beings.” She turned again.
“I guess,” he sighed and she turned around again. As the words came to his mouth, he didn’t know where they came from, but they were definitely not old Baxter words. But they weren’t the kind of words that Baxter 2.0 would ever say either. “I guess,” he said again, “I wanted you to know that I’m grateful you didn’t shoot me, but more than that, seeing you here, giving you shit, laughing I...I missed you.”
She stood, not knowing how to react. She swallowed. “I, uh, I gotta get my phone,” she said, and turned and walked out the door.