Tangible Schizophrenia


Sold Me

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: R
Pairing: Kaká/Maldini, Van Persie/Lehmann, Larsson/Ljungberg. Implied Maldini/Nesta, Deco/Giuly.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: This is absolutely fiction and not real and I don’t know these people at all. Any resemblance to any real-life record company is completely accidental.
Notes: Titled after the song by Seether.
Summary: The Italian storm continues to rage. However, it’s not a bad day to be Swedish.


Jens stared at the sushi tray on his desk. He knew he only had another five minutes to eat it and he knew the longer he let it sit there warming, the less appealing it was going to taste. “All right. It’s now ten after noon. So far, Nesta has shown up to terrorize Legal, Maldini’s admitted part of the problem might be they used to screw and the break-up was bad, Cristiano’s fucking around with MU again, Deco’s fucking Giuly, Giuly’s making war on half the criminal underworld, and The Chels are dropping their album in two weeks so we need to clear everything by then.”

Thierry hastily swallowed. “Jens, to be fair, you put Deco in Ludo’s lap, more or less. And you said fine to Ludo purging Keane’s and Moggi’s old guard.”

“Because I thought that, since Cristiano was finally acting intelligently, Ludo could take over as the time-eating terror in Deco’s life. And I am fine with somebody getting rid of those bomb-loving asses—I’m just not fine with it happening when Alessandro Nesta is in town.” It was all going well last week. Everything was nicely balanced and counterweighted and now it was going to hell. That was what really got to Jens. “Goddamn it, why now? Nesta waited eight years, so what’s another three weeks? For that matter, why couldn’t he have just shown up right after Moggi’s death?”

Being a smart, experienced man of the world, Thierry didn’t answer any of those. Instead he finished off his miso soup and checked his email.

Jens sat down and stabbed up a roll segment with his chopsticks. He chewed through it in about two seconds, but once it was down, its fellow segments looked even less appealing. “I hate this week alre—wait, did I miss anything? I have this feeling I did.”

“I don’t think so,” Thierry said.

“So sorry, boss,” David said, bursting in, “But Olli Kahn wants to know if you’re free for a meeting. I told him you’re terribly busy, but he’s sending Borowski over to ask in person.”

Right, not like something big could happen without Oliver finding some way to stick his nose into it. And Borowski was very good at camping out in the lobby and annoying the hell out of everyone within a fifty-foot radius till Jens had to see him simply for the sake of office morale. “Fine, schedule him in. But keep Borowski from actually getting here.”

Nodding furiously, David retreated. Thierry paused in the middle of gathering up his trash. Then his mouth grimaced and his eyes looked apologetically at Jens. “Oh…”

The likelihood of Jens developing an ulcer went up a few notches. “What else?”

“Maldini finished checking and officially, Nesta’s investigation is focused on Kahn’s links to Moggi,” Thierry said. He pressed his fingertips to his lips and looked at Jens over them. “I don’t think that’s a good thing. If he gets Kahn, then the board may start looking at our methods more closely.”

And Kahn might say stupid things, and that might lead to Jens. Or, and more likely, the whole thing was just a probe so Nesta could turn up enough to widen his scope: he’d been a very creative public defender in the past and in fact, right up till Maldini had admitted their affair, Jens had wondered a bit at how he’d managed to dodge Nesta’s grasp. He’d been good then, but…he was a lot better now, but Nesta hadn’t dumbed down. He was deliberately side-stepping Jens because he knew Jens wouldn’t be careless and he needed a fast justification to keep his cross-country investigation going. Till he could marshal the resources to get at Jens.

Which led to one conclusion, and there went the last of Jens’ appetite. “So we have to save Kahn’s ass. Again.”

Thierry looked about as ill as Jens felt. “I think so.”

After lunch Jens was supposed to do a final review of the promos for The Chels’ album in about forty-five minutes. He did some calculating, then got up. “Thierry, I’ll be back in time for the first afternoon meeting. Have the promos for The Chels on my desk; I’ll do those later tonight when I’m bitter about overtime and need to take it out on something.”

“All…right,” Thierry said, slow with confusion. He twisted around just as Jens reached the door, but not quickly enough to speak before Jens was through it.

* * *

When Thierry found him, Ballack was standing in front of the men’s toilet and appeared to be in deep discussion with Schweinsteiger. “…know if they even ate lunch? Lahmi was here all night and he needs to eat something.”

Bastian scratched at the back of his head and looked uncomfortable. “Well, I think I saw mayo in there somewhere. I mean, it might’ve been mayo.”

That apparently wasn’t as innocuous as it sounded, judging by the way Ballack grimaced. Then a flurry of bangs, with a loud moan woven through them, came from the toilet and Ballack just dropped his head into his hands.

“At least they’re—oh, Thierry. Uh, hi.” Now Bastian looked uncomfortable and somewhat guilty.

Thierry began to ask, then had a second thought and decided not to; if it was really bad, he’d rather find out tomorrow, when hopefully today’s problems were under control. Hopefully. “Hello, Bastian, Michael. Michael, can I have a word with you?”

“Ah…sure. Bastian, don’t let anybody in till Leo gets back. When he does, he’ll do that and you get them out of there, okay?” Ballack shook a finger at Bastian, who nodded in an uncanny imitation of it, before following Thierry around the corner. “I’m really sorry about that, the janitor should be along in a…oh, God, what else has happened?”

He’d seemed calm enough a moment ago, if annoyed…and Thierry didn’t think he’d been making a panic face, so it took him a second to respond. “Have you heard something?”

“No, I haven’t had time to, but…do I want to? Does it involve computers?” Ballack asked. He started pulling at his hair. “Can I just read about it in the papers?”

“If everything goes right, it won’t make the papers. Michael, calm down. Take a breath, like this.” To be honest, Thierry badly needed the moment as well. “I simply came by to ask how things were going on the tech side.”

Michael continued to scrub at his head. He blew out a breath and his eyebrows rapidly rose and fell. “Well…it’s been all right so far. Ah, Timo and Phil will be out of there shortly.”

“Wonderful.” Thierry smiled till he got a tentative one back, then casually put his hand on Michael’s shoulder. He used it to tilt the other man towards him under the pretense of giving a sympathetic squeeze. “So then, could you possibly say that things will remain calm? Because unfortunately I don’t think that I or any of the managerial staff will have much of a presence around here for…”

The considering look Michael shot Thierry just then did his intellect and his perceptiveness a good deal of credit. “Does that mean I won’t be busy with any, ah, overtime activities? Because then I might be able to say so without lying.”

“Of course. You have my word,” Thierry swore.

That taken care of, Thierry was headed back towards the agents’ side of the floor when he spotted Cristiano wandering around the studios, looking a bit sour and by himself. Which wouldn’t have been that worrying if he hadn’t just hired an ex-MU jawbreaker and there’d been any sign of where said jawbreaker might currently be. Thierry inwardly sighed and waved to get Cristiano’s attention.

The moment Cristiano saw him, his head came up and he walked purposefully towards Thierry. “Where is everybody? I thought this is where we make music. Well, I’m in the mood to work, but somehow nobody else is?”

The diplomatic thing would have been to tell him nicely that Lahm was currently occupied and couldn’t have known to expect him without prior notice, but Thierry’s temper just happened to fail him a bit right then. “Perhaps they’re worried for their personal safety?”

Cristiano blinked. Then he snorted, shaking his head, and shoved his hands in his stylish jeans as he leaned against the wall. “Gaby’s completely out of the building. First he’s going to my apartment to meet the painters, and then he’s going to pick up dinner for me.” He looked at Thierry with wide, serious eyes. “I’m not going to fire him.”

“No, we got your message. We’re just not entirely certain what the idea in your head might be. It’s been difficult enough keeping MU at bay,” Thierry said.

“And look at how that’s gone. My addiction, then Ruud’s problems, and then the bomb and the hitmen and all the gangsters…I was just thinking it might be easier if they thought they could play it easy for a while.” Cristiano shrugged, then shifted his weight to fall on one hip so he could fuss with his hair. “Gaby says he quit because they weren’t respecting what he’d given to them, they were saying he’s got to compete with some newbie for his job.”

Thierry shrugged back. “It matches up with what we’re hearing from MU.”

“You’ve been checking.” For some reason, this seemed to please Cristiano and he flashed a smug smile. “I like Gaby, I’m friends with him, but it’s weird for him to get worked up over something like that. He’s never been afraid of a challenge.”

“It’s nice that you know that. I’m not sure if you realize, however, what this might get you into. No one is bullet-proof,” Thierry slowly said. He tilted his head to the left. “And we can only do so much.”

“Especially when you’ve got to look after yourselves, yes?” Cristiano retorted archly. He grinned, and with humor, but not the friendly kind. “Look, you covered up more for me than MU did, so you have more dirt on me than them. I’m not about to fuck you over, and even if I were, you wouldn’t need to worry. But since you sent Ruud off, you’ve got a hole now. You might hate MU, but you need somebody who can call them without instantly getting stone-walled.”

That almost touched off Thierry’s temper again, but he managed to fight off the tension rise with a deep, long breath, and really think about what Cristiano was saying. And not saying.

“I’ll mention it to Jens,” he finally replied.

Cristiano spread his hands in mock-relief. “That’s all I—well, no, actually, where is Lahm? I did check and he’s supposed to be working right now.”

“There’s nothing that says he can’t take a coffee break. Did you call him to say you were coming in? Well, I just saw him and I’ll let him know; it’s on my way.” As he spoke, Thierry backed up a few paces and then turned around.

He didn’t hear any footsteps following him, so he assumed that Cristiano was satisfied with that. Good, because it was not his job to ensure Cristiano’s contentment and after that little conversation, Thierry was deeply grateful for that fact. It was bad enough that—oh, damn. He’d have to tell Freddie that Heinze wasn’t in the category of people Freddie could assault and be assured of FC’s protection. With a sigh, Thierry flipped out his phone.

* * *

Fuck.” Fredrik slumped in the car-seat and stared out the window. The curiosity emanating from Henrik, who was driving, was like a great big boombox turned all the way up, but Fredrik didn’t even look at him as he put the phone back up to his ear. “Seriously? And—yes, but—but—damn it. Damn it. Yeah, I’ll see you later, Thierry.”

Numb shock kept him holding the phone up till the dial tone came on, and only then did he thumb it off and shove the cell back into his pocket. Then he scooted down another few centimeters till he could dig his toes into the front of the leg-space beneath the dash.

“It’s around this corner,” Henrik finally said. “Do you want to wait in the car?”

No teasing Heinze about the way he wore his waist-band so high up anymore. And Ferdinand still hadn’t come back from his so-called “vacation,” and in fact, word on the street was that he’d had a minor break-down and Ferguson had had to send somebody after him. It was like the world didn’t want Fredrik to have any fun anymore—well, he could take care of himself. “And miss a chance to see what an assassin’s place looks like? Of course not.”

Like usual when Fredrik didn’t use PC terminology, Henrik gave off the impression of twitching without actually twitching. After they turned the corner, he drove them into the carport of a nice, nondescript building. College professor, unambitious middle management, around that range.

“Doesn’t quite match your suits,” Fredrik observed as he got out.

Henrik’s voice was a bit muffled since he’d paused to pull the trunk lever. “I usually wear an overcoat when I’m leaving.”

“So where’s it now?” Fredrik walked around to the popped trunk and pushed its top all the way up, but all he saw were a few innocuous boxes from IKEA. He picked one up and it was heavy, but about right for the picture of the end-table on the front of it.

“I stained it last night and haven’t had time to buy a new one. It’s not a big deal—this is working hours for everyone who lives here, and the cleaning staff comes in at night. Here, I’ll get those.” Henrik took the box Fredrik was holding and then stacked the two others on top of them. He elbowed the trunk-top down before turning to lead the way to the elevator. “I just found this place. They don’t come furnished.”

The boxes were even taped up and stickered as if they’d been shipped through the mail, Fredrik noted with grudging admiration. “Ah. Living out of hotels would take care of that, and be a lot more convenient.”

“Like I’ve said, only a small part of what I do involves that kind of thing. Anyway, hotels also mean credit card trails, and you’d be surprised at how small the pool is that hotel staff get hired from. They start to talk to each other,” Henrik said in a mild tone. His place was on a mid-level floor, and not one with a view. “This city’s offered up a steady enough stream of commissions that I thought it’d be a nice base for a while.”

That raised warning flags in Fredrik’s head. “Really.”

Those boxes were fairly hefty, but when Henrik briefly shifted them to one arm so he could get out his keys, he acted as if they were light as feathers. No sweat broke out on his forehead, he didn’t grunt or breathe harder, and he probably could’ve spun on a dime to floor somebody if he’d been attacked right then. “Not in the music industry. I’m staying away from there till I get everything and everyone straight. Well, your boss’ request excepted.”

“I’m so relieved.” Fredrik wasn’t that surprised to find the apartment a bit of a blank as well. It was obviously lived in, but very neat and spare and if a police profiler had walked through, their verdict probably would’ve been ‘the epitome of mediocre.’ “Where were you before?”

“Sweden. Helsingborg. But I’ve been working farther and farther from there, so it’s gotten inconvenient.” After setting the boxes on the floor, Henrik briefly went back to close the door. Then he returned and after taking a pair of scissors from a kitchen drawer, crouched down to slit the tape on the boxes.

He didn’t start with the end-table one, which was the biggest. In a couple seconds Fredrik’s curiosity was too much—his patience was pretty limited now anyway—and he bent down by that box. After getting out his keys, he opened up one end and then casually peered in. He blinked, then lowered the box and stared at Henrik, who had stopped with what he’d been doing, but who otherwise hadn’t made a move. “This is an end-table.”

“I did say I needed furniture,” Henrik said, smiling slightly. Then he dug into his box and pulled out a couple CDs, boxes of ammunition, and little cases with clear plastic lids that held the kind of tiny mysterious gadgets Fredrik had seen around Robin. Or pulled out of his cell-phone, after he and Robin had gotten into a spat. “It’ll take me about fifteen minutes to set things up. Then I can call some friends in Italy and see what Nesta’s like.”

“I told you what’s going on,” Fredrik protested. “What, you don’t trust me?”

Henrik paused, his smile dropping right off his face. He stared into the box for a long moment, meditating on something. Then he shrugged and looked up again, and maybe his expression was bland enough, but the intensity of his eyes made Fredrik shift uneasily. “I did just tell you where I used to live.” Blink, and the nice neighbor was back. “I know the person you want me to look at, but not who he is. I know you have resources devoted to that sort of thing, but I like doing my own research.”

Fredrik wasn’t quite sure what Larsson had meant by that bit about his old residence and had a feeling he didn’t really want to ask. In the meantime—Robin was a snotty asshole, but Fredrik wasn’t about to pretend Henrik was so privileged as to get to speak that casually about him. “Well, Nesta was before I got here, so it’d be pointless to ask me anyway.”

“Want to find out?” Henrik immediately asked.

“…I’m here to know what you know, so that’d be included, wouldn’t it?” Fredrik replied. He honestly thought that he’d played it cool enough, but something about Henrik’s smile then said otherwise. God, it was going to be a long night.

* * *

“I think Deco had a yelling fit for the first five minutes, but since then he’s been very…Zen. He’s just been going around taking care of business like he does the rest of the time. ‘course, he’s never seen what Heinze can do with a broken chair.” To be honest, neither had Cesc, but he had been around to see the line of patients to Raúl’s examination room, and it hadn’t been pretty. And just the idea that Cristiano was starting this, and with how bad it’d been the last time…oh, Cesc’s head hurt already.

He started to put it down, but then remembered that Thierry was in the room and hastily straightened up. Thierry, however, just grinned and patted Cesc on the back, so…apparently it was okay. Cesc put his head down on the desk and it was nice and cool and wow, he really wished he could go home and cuddle up to somebody.

“Has he talked to Giuly at all?” Thierry asked.

But that wasn’t going to happen for another two and a half hours, and—even then, nope. Iker was at some film festival and wouldn’t be back till tomorrow, and Raúl had been alerted so he’d probably nap through dinner and then eat at eleven just in case he ended up with patients in the early hours. “I don’t know. If he did, he did it early—he’s been in meetings all day. But I haven’t really been able to check on him because I’ve got to prep the paperwork for getting Heinze hired. Oh, God.”

“The good thing about that is that Heinze can’t physically attack any of us or else his cover is blown. Anyway, I understand you’re quite good with a barstool yourself,” Thierry said kindly. He gave Cesc another pat on the back before going back to sipping his coffee and answering his email.

He was really a nice guy, and utterly devoted to FC, and anyway Cesc had the feeling that even if he wasn’t, Thierry would at least be more…more…elegant about his plotting. He just had that look about him. “Thanks. I’m really sorry I can’t be more helpful today…um, can I ask about Nesta?”

Thierry stiffened slightly, then turned back to Cesc. But when he asked the obvious question, he still was very polite about it and didn’t give off any accusing vibes at all. “Would you mind telling me how you know about that?”

“Ricky and I ran into him this morning. And um, Paolo mentioned him once when talking to me about the last time Giuly was in town.” Cesc paused, then pushed himself off Thierry’s desk and shrugged. “And Legal’s really freaking over him.”

“Oh, I know,” Thierry said, glancing off to the side. His tone briefly darkened, but then he shook himself and returned his gaze to Cesc via a quick heavenwards look. “He’s investigating Luciano Moggi’s murder and making all sorts of vague statements about Jens and Kahn. It’s been difficult to handle because nobody’s quite sure what his real target is yet.”

Which reminded Cesc that he needed to check on Ricky tomorrow. Nesta had really unnerved him, and that was without knowing all this. “Well, I know we’ve only known about him for about half a day, but we don’t have anything? He’s definitely talking to a lot of people. And…”

“I can’t ask Ballack for anything—he’s busy making sure everybody who’s not an agent stays calm and learns as little as possible about this,” Thierry sighed. For the first time since he’d asked Cesc in for a little talk, he looked stressed. “Jens has been out of touch since lunch, and so I can’t ask him how he gets in touch with Robin when the usual channels aren’t working.”

Cesc raised his eyebrows at that. Then he started to reach for his cell, but halfway there he had the thought that Robin talked about Thierry’s cooking, so they seemed pretty close, and so if Thierry couldn’t get him, then Cesc’s ways probably wouldn’t work either. “Is he supposed to be…y’know…out?”

“I don’t—” Thierry frowned as somebody knocked at his door. Then he started to get up, but had barely put his hands on the chair-arms when the door opened and Robin hurriedly slipped in. Which promptly put Thierry back in his chair, wide-eyed with surprised. “Robin!”

“Yeah, I know, not supposed to come to the office. But this seemed like an emergency,” Robin said, walking over to the sofa. He got behind it and then pushed it along the wall a couple meters so it was right beside Thierry’s desk…and that totally didn’t hide the way he kept hitching up whenever he took a step. His shirt was collarless too, so the mouth-sized bruises on his throat were really obvious. “Stop staring at my neck, Cesc. Yours are peeking out, too.”

Cesc blinked, then swore and grabbed at his own neck. He hurriedly adjusted his collar and tie while glaring at Robin. “What seemed like an emergency?”

“Jens came home in the middle of the day, fucked me senseless over the kitchen counter, and then turned right around and left.” Robin also had a bulging satchel with him, which he set down on Thierry’s sofa with only a little less care than he took in lowering his ass onto the cushions. “Not that I’m objecting, but usually that means the world’s about to implode. So who’s the crazy apocalypse-starter this time?”

“So that’s where he…” Thierry frowned at himself, then sat up straight in his seat. “Alessandro Nesta. Do you…you do recognize the name.”

The satchel held computer equipment, which in between various unintentionally funny disgusted looks, Robin was rapidly assembling. “Yeah. Isn’t he supposed to be in Italy?”

“He’s a special prosecutor for the national government now and he’s looking at the Moggi case,” Thierry said.

Robin stared at the alligator clips in his hands. Then he put those down and looked incredulously up at them. “Moggi? Somebody actually cares about that shithole?”

Thierry shrugged. “Probably not, but he makes a good excuse. So far we don’t know what Nesta’s real target is.”

“So where’s he staying? You got a cell number or an email address?” Robin asked, back to connecting wires.

He got up to plug in the power cord and stick a cable into Thierry’s modem, and Cesc got up because it was time to go see Deco out of the office. “He was poking around Maldini’s office earlier, so—”

“No, don’t pry into Maldini’s phonelines,” Thierry said. Rather hastily, though when Cesc looked, the other man hadn’t jumped up from his chair or anything like that. “But Cesc, I’d appreciate it if you could go get Nesta’s contact info from David. If you’ve got the time?”

“Oh, yeah, no prob. Deco’s about to go home, and then I’m supposed to be here for another hour at least, but I don’t really have anything to do. I’ll be back in five,” Cesc replied. Then he remembered he’d meant to go see Ricky too, but—well, he had time to make a quick call. Besides, from the looks Robin and Thierry were giving each other, they’d probably kick him out if he didn’t go. Like that was going to keep him from finding out what was up.

* * *

Cristiano mercifully had found Lahm by the time Deco checked in on them and was closeted with him in a studio. Lahm looked a bit torn about how to take Cristiano’s statement that they were probably going to be working all night, but Deco had no reservations about his joy upon hearing that.

He still had to deal with Heinze and made himself stop at Cristiano’s apartment with the employment forms, but surprisingly enough, Heinze was very quiet and cooperative about all of that. He didn’t make any trouble, didn’t ask stupid questions, and had all the necessary information memorized. And he was very good at terrifying the painters into doing a good job and thoroughly cleaning up after themselves.

“He does have a record, doesn’t he?” Deco asked, picking at his plate. He’d been hungry when he’d left the FC building, but now that he’d finally made it to Ludo’s restaurant, his stomach seemed determined to give him the aggravation Heinze hadn’t. “He’s too good.”

“No, actually he’s been a bit sloppy lately. His left uppercut’s lost something and I understand he’s been seen in goth bars instead of a proper drinking hole.” Ludo managed to hold the primly aghast expression for exactly five seconds before he nearly laughed himself into his coq au vin. “Of course Gaby does. He’s a very…well, a one-liner wouldn’t do him justice, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. Don’t worry, I swear I’ll be back for the dessert course.”

Then Ludovic got up and was disappearing into the hallway, where Lilian was waiting with a folded newspaper tucked beneath his arm, and Deco sighed and slouched in his chair. All day he’d been hanging on to the thought of getting his brains fucked out by a man who made Lehmann look like a dictatorial bus driver, but no, apparently everything today was going to get fucked over. And it had to be serious: Ludo hadn’t gone beyond a very French kiss for a greeting, no pretty young men had shown up after they’d been served, and…

…and never mind, Shevchenko was here. Deco grabbed a baguette slice and his water-glass and then trailed the other man as he crossed the room to the wine-rack in one corner. Presumably that was decorative, but the vodka bottle Shevchenko pulled out from behind it wasn’t. Or the shot-glass, which he produced from his sleeve and then nearly filled before he noticed Deco. He blinked as he tipped the glass back into his mouth. “Good…evening,” he said.

His French wasn’t exactly coming along in pronunciation, Deco noted. “Your collar has blood on it,” he replied in stilted Italian. Learning enough to understand the spoken language wasn’t hard with tapes, but getting the time to practice speaking it back was harder.

Shevchenko stared at him for a moment. Then the other man fingered along his collar till he found the spot. “Oh, damn. I do. I think I’ve fucked up more shirts this week than all of last year. Hey, so you speak some Italian? If I’d known that, I would’ve just spoken that to begin with and wouldn’t have bothered you with my shitty English.”

“It’s not like anybody told you. Have there been many patients?” Deco began to nibble on his bread, only to notice he was getting crumbs on the floor. He looked around a bit, found an ash-tray, and moved to stand over it. “Wait, does that mean you…you…operate them here?”

“Operate on,” Shevchenko absently corrected, pouring himself more vodka. He set the bottle down on the bar, which was to his left, before shooting Deco a knowing look. His mouth quirked. “I operate where I’m paid to. Honestly, a restaurant’s not the worst place if it’s like this one, where they’re used to good sanitation. Everything’s clean, it doesn’t get in the food, and the smell of cooking covers up the smell of whatever I’m giving to the patient.”

Which was probably true, but nevertheless Deco felt even less desire to finish his dinner than before. He even had to stop eating the bread before he remembered that Ludovic had that shipped in already baked. “And the alcohol on your breath, I guess.”

Shevchenko raised his eyebrows, but didn’t seem to take serious offense. “Hmm? Oh, don’t worry. I know we met when I was trashed, but I don’t get trashed often enough to qualify as a binger, and I only have a shot or two once my night off’s started.” He was just sipping this one. “Besides, I’m pretty sure the boss would put me in a dumpster if I ended up a drunk, yes? In Russia it’d be through the meat-grinder, but Ludo cares about his sausage too much.”

Deco covered up his sudden urge to chuckle with a gulp of water. “What do you know about sausage?”

“Whatever I’m supposed to know and not know,” Shevchenko said earnestly. For some reason, he’d gotten a bit nervy. “Believe me, I know much better than to go poking around. I just do whatever the boss tells me, and when the boss isn’t talking to me, he doesn’t exist. I don’t think of him at all. I have no idea who he’s with and why and I don’t want to know.”

Oh, he was…well, he knew Deco and Ludo were fucking, and he also seemed to have an impression that this gave Deco some kind of influence with Ludo. It’d be interesting to see if Shevchenko thought so with all the others Ludo fucked, but that’d have to wait; right now the man was getting too worked up. “I’m not suggesting that you do.”

“Thank you.” Shevchenko calmed down and regained that almost idiotic air of cluelessness he usually had—though now it was obvious that was a studied pose. “I don’t get involved with higher-ups anymore. I just work.”

“With spurting blood?” Deco asked.

Shrug from the other man. “Knife wounds do that a lot. Bulletholes, a lot of the time they—” something about burning that Deco didn’t quite…oh, cauterization, probably “—not what I expected. I thought it was mostly brawling here. Knifing is more like an Italian thing.”

It was mostly brawling. At least, when it was MU versus FC, and so Giuly wasn’t actually concentrating on MU like he’d been implying. “Like fighting with them, you mean?”

“No…some of them are in the back, which isn’t a fight,” Shevchenko said, frowning thoughtfully. He stared into his vodka as if it might have little particles at the bottom acting like tea leaves. “Plus there’s sometimes a pattern to the cuts.”

Counter-intimidation by somebody, Deco read. Possibly Giuly might be in trouble…so it’d probably be good to strengthen ties with FC on the off-chance Ludo got really bogged down. “Sounds messy.”

“It’s not too bad. It’s a lot easier to deal with real injuries,” was how Shevchenko replied to that. A very peculiar comment, even considering his old post as sports physio to Abramovich’s football club.

Deco was still considering how to answer that when he heard voices approaching. He acted like he was curious about them and casually wandered off so when Ludo walked back in, he and Shevchenko were separated by a decent amount of space.

“Sorry that took so long. Now, about…” Ludo glanced over at the table, then turned disturbing puppy-eyes onto Deco. They were too convincing for somebody who would stop with his cock half-out of Deco to make a call on how the dentistry of an ‘interview’ was going. “Don’t you like the chicken?”

“Cristiano insisting on Heinze made things stressful and I can’t relax enough to eat,” Deco replied. He finished off the bread slice with a couple blatant sucks at his fingertips to get the crumbs. “I think it made me snippy this morning, too.”

Ludo shrugged and slung his arm around Deco’s waist, turning them around. “Oh, it’s all right. I like you snippy. Otherwise the first time you mouthed off I would’ve kicked out your teeth instead of jerking you off. Now let’s do something about the stress, and once we’re both relaxed, Gaël can tell you all about what Gaby Heinze’s gotten up to for big bad MU.”

* * *

The university registration shouldn’t have taken that long, but the last class needed a professor’s signature and somehow Ricardo’s five-minute visit to get that turned into an hour-long conversation. Not that it wasn’t an absorbing and illuminating discussion, because it was, but he’d wanted to be home before early evening.

Ricardo left right after that, but then the drive back was lengthened by a bad accident shutting down a long stretch of road, and on top of that the traffic in the city seemed unusually bad. There wasn’t any reason for it that Ricardo could think of: no major concerts or conventions, no other major accidents, no bad weather. There just was jam after jam, and while he’d started out sitting up straight so he could see the road, by the time he got onto the last block, he was tiredly resting his chin on the top of the steering wheel despite that being bad driving practice. His head hurt and so did his jaw around the molars, oddly enough.

He began to pull into the parking garage, but somebody coming in the other direction suddenly turned in front of him without signaling. Ricardo braked in plenty of time, but he—he stared irritably at the car as it disappeared up the ramp, biting back more than a few sacrilegious words. And then instead of turning, his hands held the wheel straight and his foot hit the accelerator.

A few minutes later, Ricardo was parking in the carport for Paolo’s building and his anger had dissolved into nervousness. He’d told the other man that he’d come over the next day and he still thought that that was the best idea. He was exhausted and short-tempered like he hadn’t been in years and he needed to just go to bed. Instead he was shifting from foot to foot waiting for the elevator, wondering why it was taking so long, as Cesc might’ve put it.

That made Ricardo remember the funny voicemail the other man had left and he smiled at his ripply reflection in the elevator doors. But the feeling of good humor didn’t last, and the elevator didn’t show up either. Ricardo finally just took the stairs after letting the lobby desk know; Paolo lived on a very high floor, but Ricardo figured he could use the exercise to clear his head.

It took twenty minutes but he made it up to the right floor, so he took that to mean he really meant to go through with this. Which was nice to know, but now he did wish he’d spent all that time thinking about what he was going to say to Paolo, how he was going to explain this in a way that didn’t sound utterly ridiculous before Paolo’s sense of humor got to it…he didn’t know where he was.

Ricardo stopped in the hall about two meters away from the staircase entrance and looked about, trying to map this view onto the one he was used to getting. And as he did, he realized he wasn’t the only one in the hallway, though Paolo and whoever else was there weren’t in his line of sight and, to judge from the volume, weren’t anywhere near him.

“…don’t do that anymore. Truthfully,” Paolo was saying.

“Apparently.” That was Nesta’s sardonic drawl, low but the kind of voice and tone that carried very well. “You were very convincing in the office, but we both know how well that corresponds to how you are outside of it. I figured I’d see for myself.”

Whatever Paolo said next wasn’t loud enough for Ricardo to hear, even though Ricardo was now slowly edging towards them. It obviously was a private conversation and Ricardo should’ve just—he kept flashing back to Nesta leaning so close that he was nearly kissing Paolo, and Paolo looking at the other man, and realizing how Paolo was looking at him. There were downsides to not being in the dark about certain subjects any more.

“That’s a very egotistical thing to say. I’m so relieved—I was actually beginning to believe you,” Nesta said. Longish pause. Then, more irritated: “Goddamn it, Paolo. I could come up with an excuse to haul you back as a witness.”

“Because I’m also still an Italian citizen?” Paolo was exasperated, and Ricardo was more relieved than he’d expected to be to hear it. “Mother of God, Sandro, I was joking about needing more to get my attention now. I don’t fuck the opposition anymore—is that direct enough?”

Nesta laughed. “You might be civil now, but your record speaks for itself. And I include the last six months in that statement.”

“As well as the double meaning,” Paolo dryly responded. “Sandro…Sandro, what are you doing here? It’s been so many years—you look like you’ve done much better for yourself. I can’t believe that my eyes are lying to me.”

“Charming…you’re right, though.” The sarcasm abruptly switched to flat bitterness. “I have a nice life in Rome and a great job and respect from my colleagues, and yet I end up back here. When I do everything I can to get away but still get sent back, I have to start wondering. Oh, don’t look like that. Of course the probe isn’t just me trying to spur you into shoving me against a wall again. I was forced into this job and I intend to wrap it up and get back to Italy as soon as possible.”

Paolo coughed. “Then why, exactly, are you chasing me after work hours?”

The bitterness abruptly turned venomous. “Because that’s what I do when I’m here.”

And then—and then there was some kind of scuffle, and one or both of them swore violently, but too low for Ricardo figure out what was said or who said it. He’d jerked up on his toes and started to lunge forward the moment he heard the shoving start, but he hadn’t really been paying attention to where he was in relation to the wall, and so he nearly banged his shoulder on that. Ricardo grabbed a doorknob and steadied himself, and by the time he’d done that, a door had slammed. He cocked his head and listened as hard as he could, but didn’t hear anything. No Paolo and no Nesta, and maybe they’d both gone inside. Ricardo bit his lip, then shook his head; he should’ve still heard muffled voices in that case. So…maybe Paolo had gone in by himself? But then was Nesta still standing in the hall? After the day he’d had, Ricardo didn’t really want to go around the corner and see, so…he had a brilliant idea and flipped out his phone to text Paolo. If Paolo had gone—

“I suppose you thought I was suspicious this morning and followed to protect the honor of Paolo’s apartment door as well?” Nesta said blandly. He was standing barely a meter away and just watched expressionlessly as Ricardo almost backed into the wall in surprise. “Ah, you do understand Italian. I was wondering.”

“Really?” was all Ricardo could manage to say. In Italian. Which he didn’t comment on since it was obvious.

Nesta was still staring and not doing anything—his eyes suddenly flicked to the phone in Ricardo’s hand. Then he raised his gaze when that made Ricardo start. “It’s chiming.”

“What? Oh.” Ricardo was so thrown he nearly apologized as well, but just managed to clamp his mouth shut. He closed his phone as well and stuffed it back into his pocket. He’d completely forgotten it did that when it turned on.

When he looked up this time, Nesta was almost right on top of him. He inhaled sharply and this time he did back into the wall. And Nesta came forward so he had to stay there, not even able to get his heels off the wall.

“Kaká,” Nesta said, slow and careful, testing the word. He made an overly thoughtful face as he flipped up his coat and slipped his hands into his pockets. “That other one called you Ricky, but everyone else seems to prefer Kaká. That can’t be your real name.”

“It’s short for Ricardo.” Most people still needed more explanation than that, and from the look on his face, Nesta was no exception, but Ricardo didn’t much feel like giving it to him.

He bounced once on his right foot, then just gave up on waiting and tried to push past the other man. Ricardo didn’t want to get trapped—well, more trapped—between Nesta and the wall, so he went left, but Nesta side-stepped and then his hand went towards Ricardo’s shoulder. Of course Ricardo dodged, but that meant going right and Nesta abruptly stepped in and grabbed a handful of Ricardo’s coat. “Which one does he use?”

“What?” Ricardo pushed at Nesta’s wrist, then closed his fingers around it and yanked, but Nesta just swung him back into the wall, smooth and effortless. It didn’t hurt him, but it didn’t do much for his composure either. “Let go of me!”

Nesta snorted, then smiled with his mouth closed. Though when he spoke, a sliver of white lurked behind his lips. “How old are you?”

“I don’t see how that’s your business,” Ricardo snapped. He finally ripped off Nesta’s hand and immediately dropped it. “If you don’t move I’ll—”

“—scream?” Nesta asked, looking as if it was the most amusing thing ever. “Oh, my God. You really are too perfect. How long can you keep this up?—no, actually, how long does he like you to keep it up?”

Ricardo stared at him. Then he shook his head and put his hand to Nesta’s right shoulder, meaning to shove him out of the way. “I have no idea what you’re—”

In one quick motion, Nesta seized that hand and yanked it out so Ricardo stumbled forward while the other man slid in behind him. And suddenly Ricardo was flat up against Nesta, his other arm caught across his belly as Nesta pulled them together. Hot breath burned his ear. Hard knees jammed into the backs of his own, nearly buckling them. And Nesta wasn’t drawling or hissing any more, but was whispering soft and sweet against Ricardo’s neck, and it wasn’t right and Ricardo wanted to throw himself across the hall, wanted to get out but it was—it was—

“—just like this, doesn’t he? He likes it that way, he likes to surprise you and doesn’t like it for you to see his face. Am I right?” Nesta purred. Something grazed in a curving line over Ricardo’s throat and he started, and for that Nesta jerked him back so hard the back of his head cracked into Nesta’s chin. “I thought so.”

“Stop it,” Ricardo finally managed to squeeze out. His voice was so breathy and low he could barely hear it, and—a wave of disgust suddenly rose and he let it slam out his words. “Get off of me. Stop it, don’t—get off!”

He made the last word loud enough for an echo to come back to them. At the same time he flung his weight forward: it was a desperate move and he wasn’t really expecting anything, but Nesta suddenly gave way and Ricardo went stumbling down the hall. He threw out his hand and touched the wall, then turned that way to use it to regain his balance. Then he remembered Nest and spun around, expecting the worst. His pulse boomed in his head and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath no matter how he panted.

Instead Nesta actually hadn’t moved, except to put his hands back in his pockets. He was staring at Ricardo again, looking like…like he didn’t really know either. And very gradually like that angered him, for some reason. “On the other hand, you might be the real thing. Good God, don’t tell me Paolo’s fulfilling the cliché about forty-year-olds and innocence.”

“Paolo’s not forty yet,” Ricardo blurted. He hitched himself up the wall, wrapping one arm around himself. His lungs were burning and for a moment he thought he was holding them together with that arm.

Nesta blinked, hard. Then he jerked his head down and brought up a hand—it was moving like he meant to hit himself, but at the last moment he just pulled at his hair. “Shit. Shit.” He glanced up at Ricardo, then started when there was a noise around the corner. Then he gave himself a hard shake and swiftly went up to Ricardo again. “Wait—I’m not going to hurt you.”

“You were a moment ago.” Ricardo jerked himself back another step.

“Yes, well—that wasn’t all me, that was Paolo too. I saw that in your face, even if you’re still able to run from it,” Nesta muttered. He cocked his head, then suddenly lunged and got Ricardo by the arm; Ricardo pushed up a hand between them and Nesta grabbed that as well, but his palm—he shoved a stiff piece of paper into Ricardo’s hand. “And you know it, too. You know what he’s doing, and I know how it ends.”

“Stop talking about him,” Ricardo snapped. “You don’t know—”

But he was talking to Nesta’s back, and then not talking because he’d fallen awkwardly from Nesta’s hands against the wall and needed to catch himself before he hit the floor as well. “But I do, Kaká. You want to hear about it—you have enough pride left to save yourself, you give me a ring,” Nesta called back.

Ricardo started to reply, only to jump at some noise at the other end of the hall, behind him. He turned that way, turned back—Nesta was gone—and finally just looked at his hand.

“Kaká?” Footsteps.

This time, Ricardo didn’t clear the wall and hit it with his elbow, right on the spot that momentarily made his whole forearm go numb. Then the feeling came back as agonizing pain; he hissed through clenched teeth and sank back against the wall, only to look up when the footsteps got very near him.

Paolo had been getting ready to shower: he was down to his shirt and trousers, no socks, and the shirt was untucked and half-buttoned. Normally the irregular triangle of bared skin stretching down from his throat would’ve frozen Ricardo in place, but he was so shaken that he just reached out. Of course Paolo instantly pulled him up off the wall and wrapped him into an embrace, but Ricardo thought he caught a strange look from the other man first.

“What happened? I thought my mind was trying to make me feel better with a daydream…you’re supposed to be home and getting a full night’s sleep for once, aren’t you?” Paolo asked. At first his hand cradled the back of Ricardo’s head, but it gradually drooped till it was sliding down Ricardo’s back. “Did I hear somebody else out here? Did you just get here?”

Ricardo opened his mouth to answer…and closed it, thinking he’d heard an odd carefulness in Paolo’s voice. He knew about Nesta, so why Paolo couldn’t just ask if they’d run into each other was confusing. “I…I’m sorry. I just…I’m not interrupting, am I?”

“No.” Paolo turned his head and kissed the back of Ricardo’s neck. “So far it’s been a boring night, thankfully.”

That…couldn’t be true. Not with—Ricardo pressed his face into Paolo’s shoulder, glad the other man couldn’t see him right now—Nesta had said—Paolo grunted and Ricardo hastily loosened his grip. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do—I just got back really late, and I was too tired to drive home. You were closer.”

Paolo’s hand slid back up to Ricardo’s neck, and then the other man backed off so he could look Ricardo in the eye, cupping Ricardo’s face. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“I just want to lie down,” Ricardo said, staring straight at him. And that was the utter truth.

For a moment, Paolo looked him over, sober-eyed and pensive. And he probably saw something—he had to have seen something, because Ricardo was still trembling a little and could barely think, but in the end he didn’t say anything. He just pulled Ricardo back, gave him a quick hard hug, and then twisted so he still had one arm around Ricardo’s waist as he started walking them back to his apartment. Ricardo leaned into him, hungry for the warmth, and slipped Nesta’s card into his pocket with numb fingers.

* * *

Henrik shrugged without missing a beat as he tied his shoelaces. “Well, those are the choices. It takes time to get information. I won’t hear back till morning at earliest, and in the meantime, I have work to do. So either you wait here the entire time or you just come back for breakfast.”

In other words, Fredrik had just tied up his entire afternoon and a good bit of the evening doing nothing but watching Henrik put computers together. He hadn’t even seen how Henrik contacted whoever did his hackwork for him; Henrik had been testing the Internet connection when the coffee machine in the kitchen had suddenly started beeping loudly and Fredrik had naturally gone out to investigate. He’d been gone all of five minutes, but by the time he came back Henrik had already sent his messages. And, looking at Henrik’s bland, not-smug face, Fredrik had been torn between starting a fist-fight right there and excusing himself to go smack his head into a wall for falling for such a simple trick.

“Work that’s completely unrelated to what you’re doing for us?” Fredrik asked.

“Completely. So there’s no reason for you to come with me to it.” The shoelaces were tied, but Henrik stayed crouched down and fiddled with something under his trouser-cuff. “I’ll call you and won’t look at the information till you’re here.”

Fredrik believed him. Which actually wasn’t the problem. “Why are you assuming I’m going to leave?”

That got Henrik to look up, face mildly quizzical. “You’d want to wait around here?”

“Maybe I might find it interesting to see what kind of place a ‘consultant for streaming administration’ has,” Fredrik said, just a little arch. He leaned his hip against the wall and slotted his hands into his pockets.

“Not much,” Henrik wryly replied, looking around. Then he shrugged again and put his hands on his thighs to get ready to stand up. “Well, if you want to, you can. I just think you’ll be bored. And I was under the impression you did a lot of your work at night, so I thought you’d want the chance to catch up on that.”

He was right. There actually was a lot Fredrik needed to get around to, and especially because Thierry and Jens were so busy with damage-control…but he wasn’t about to let Larsson think he’d figured out everything. “I’ll get to it. Don’t worry about my work.”

“All right.” Henrik grabbed a briefcase and a duffel bag—like everything else, they were unremarkable—and turned towards the door.

He was halfway through it before Fredrik managed to shake off his shock. “Wait! What—you’re actually going to let me stay? What the hell are you thinking? I thought you said you were good!”

After a moment, Henrik came back inside and shut the door. Then he leaned against it, elbowing the duffel aside so it wouldn’t dig into his back. He looked at Fredrik with a very level, calm expression. “I am. I’m only five years away from forty in a field where the average life-span ends about the same time most people would say adulthood begins, and that’s because I know the difference between what I can manage and what I can’t. I can’t manage to get through my whole life without developing attractions to other people—I can, however, acknowledge that and not have to deal with the way denial skews your psychology.”

“So you’re letting me stay because you want to fuck me,” Fredrik said.

Henrik didn’t bat an eye at the bluntness, but just continued to look thoughtful and composed. “No, I’m letting you stay because you don’t trust me and giving you the chance to get a hold over me seems to be the only way to convince you to change your mind. I’m not naïve or suicidal; I know this is a risk. But if it doesn’t work, then at least I have the peace of mind of knowing there’s no hope with you.”

Fredrik stared at him. “Are you serious?”

“You’re so contradictory about that that it’s annoying,” Henrik said, finally sounding human. A trace of exasperation flitted through his eyes. “If you’re just fucking with me, then I can always move on. If not, then that’ll be interesting. But either way it’s distracting and if I don’t get it settled, it’s about as likely to get me killed as anything you take back to your boss. Who’s a businessman and who I believe wouldn’t just screw me over out of the blue, so actually I’m a lot safer if it turns out that way.”

“You are serious. You’ve actually sat down and thought about it.” Well, shit, was Fredrik’s first thought. And a pretty valid one, since this meant he’d have to change his approach to Larsson just as he’d been starting to get comfortable with it.

Henrik’s brow wrinkled. “Well, I could get killed. I’m not sure why I wouldn’t be serious about it.”

The second thought Fredrik had didn’t make a lot of sense at first, because Henrik was a very…unique personality, and why this all would sound familiar seemed inexplicable. But then Fredrik tracked down the thought to the source and…and shit, he needed to talk to Thierry. “Huh. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that actually does make sense.”

“So…” Henrik said after a moment. He didn’t look at his watch, but he did pull up his sleeve so Fredrik’s eyes were drawn to it.

“I’m—” Fredrik pushed off the wall and past Henrik into the hall “—I’m usually up at seven. Give me a call any time after that.”

He didn’t look back to see how Henrik took that, but instead concentrated on putting as much space in between them as possible. And once he was outside, he pulled out his phone.

*Freddie? How’s it going? Are you still with—*

“No, but I’m glad you brought him up,” Fredrik said. He heard Thierry inhale sharply and winced. “Nothing’s really happened yet. Except he offered to let me stay in his place overnight as some…trust thing, and—Thierry, he’s good-looking but he annoys me too much. Well, till a moment ago where he reminded me of Jens and now I really want to fuck him.”

* * *

Thierry sat and stared vaguely in the direction of Robin, who by now was thoroughly ensconced on his office couch amid a snarl of cables, little metal boxes and one laptop. “Freddie,” he finally said, “Go home and get some sleep. Then think about it again in the morning, all right?”

Freddie said okay, sounding very relieved, and hopefully that just meant he’d momentarily succumbed to exhaustion or nerves or something of that sort. Hopefully.

“What was that about?” Robin asked, mumbling around the screwdriver handle in his mouth. He tapped at the keyboard, frowned, and then ducked down to mess about with the cables while the laptop balanced precariously on the couch arm.

Thierry was thinking about reaching out to steady it when the door suddenly banged open and thought turned into action. He grabbed it, then turned to see Jens storm in followed by a yawning Cesc.

“Kahn’s actually had papers served and he just let me know. He’s being interviewed the day after tomorrow, and when I pointed out that doesn’t provide for much prep time, he said he wanted to get this out of the way as soon as possible so as to reduce the disruptive effect on FC,” Jens snarled. He stomped around Thierry’s desk and came up to Thierry and Robin that way. “That ass. As if I don’t care how this is screwing with the label.”

“Um, sir,” Cesc said. He took up a perch on Thierry’s desk so Jens was on Thierry’s other side. “Deco called and wanted to know if you could do lunch or dinner tomorrow at Monaco. I know it’s last-minute, but he says that it’s a very crucial risk-management discussion.”

Jens briefly gave off the impression that he was inflating and about to explode. Then he just sighed and sat down on the couch-arm, taking the laptop from Thierry and holding it on his knee. “Wonderful.”

Robin hauled himself back onto the couch, looking up at Jens with a peculiar mix of concern and…and familiarity? He’d moved forward and leaned his head against Jens’ thigh before Thierry could further analyze his expression, and anyway Thierry was too surprised that Jens was allowing it. In fact, Jens was even curling his hand around the back of Robin’s neck, making little movements like his thumb, which Thierry couldn’t see, was rubbing around. “Hey, I haven’t gotten through all of Nesta’s shit yet, but I dug up an email where he’s asking if somebody else can take on the case instead of him. And a couple memos from his department that are interesting. Look.”

He flapped at the laptop and Jens glanced down at it. Then he frowned and leaned forward a little, eyes tracking back and forth as he silently read. It was a little unnerving after his explosive entrance and when Cesc started to fidget, heels hitting Thierry’s desk, he sympathized. Though he still twisted around to shake his head; Cesc blinked, then ducked his head and mouthed an apology.

Jens finally looked up, eyebrows creeping towards his hairline. “If I’m reading these right, Nesta got the Moggi case as punishment for nailing a prominent politician for conspiracy and murder.”

“So…perhaps we’re just dealing with his bad mood?” Thierry suggested. He paused as he noticed an odd low rumble, but then decided he could have a word with Cesc on the nervous habits later. “He’s unhappy so he’s striking out at everybody he can?”

“Which doesn’t make things better, does it? Frankly, I don’t think unhappy Nesta and determined Nesta are all that different, and that gives him another motivation for making sure somebody here gets nailed. He can’t go back till he does,” Jens muttered. He slumped back against the wall, staring at the laptop. Then his brows drew down and he chewed on his lip, clearly doing some calculation. “Do we have any idea who’s his primary target right now? Robin, I sent you where he’s staying, so did—Robin?”

Robin…had gone boneless on the couch, eyes nearly closed and eyelashes fluttering as he blissfully stretched out his neck beneath Jens’ hand. And it was a good thing that Thierry hadn’t scolded Cesc, because that noise was actually coming from Robin.

Thierry bit his lip and really shouldn’t have risked the look up at Jens, but he just had to. And he found the other man looking rather chagrined at what he’d done. Then Jens noticed Thierry looking and went to annoyed. He thwapped Robin on the back of the head. “Robin. Nesta. Personal case notes.”

“Ow! Working on it, all right?” Robin said, glowering up at Jens. He rubbed at the back of his head, but didn’t take his chin off Jens’ leg. “He hasn’t connected his computer to the Internet yet, so I can’t check it. Are you sure he—”

“Check that first and then get back to me.” Jens handed the laptop to him, then got off the couch. “Heinze?”

Robin rolled onto his back, then scooted himself up into a sitting position. “I’m crunching his phone logs. It’ll be done tomorrow afternoon. Where are you going?”

“To get my coat and briefcase, and then I’ll be back,” Jens said. He favored Robin with a look that obviously meant something, but the meaning wasn’t understandable to Thierry.

Given the way Robin grinned and stretched, that probably was for the best. Robin settled back as Jens left, propping the laptop against his knees. “Hey, Cesc, I forgot to mention this before but next time you see Heinze, ask how his shoulder is for me…Cesc? What?”

Cesc stared hard at Robin as if trying to solve some great mystery of the universe. He slowly extended his arm, and then a pointing finger. “You were purring.”

Possibly he had, because a distinct redness bloomed in Robin’s cheeks. He shot Cesc an irate look before jerking himself back and pretending to be interested in the laptop. “Shut up.”

“You were,” Cesc said. Now he was beginning to sound gleeful.

“Cesc, you can tell Deco that Jens can meet with him. I’ll let you know the time as soon as I find out,” Thierry hastily interrupted. “Is there anything else? You can just let me know and then go home—you’ve had a long day.”

After a bit of procrastinating, Cesc finally admitted that that was it and left. Thierry started to relax, but then Jens walked in the door and he sat up again.

“No, we’re done for today. After Robin gets his mess cleaned up,” Jens said, tipping a glare in Robin’s direction. “For a day or so, actually. Tomorrow should be regular business, aside from Giuly’s damn sit-down at Monaco and beating something about how to do a police interview into Olli’s head. We’ll let everything that got started run and see what turns up.”


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