Dean Blaine’s front door slammed shut as Sean Pendleton traipsed through it, making a beeline for the dean’s fridge and pulling out a cold beer. He downed it in one practiced chugging motion then pulled out two more before allowing the fridge to close.
“Four hours!” Sean said loudly, a phrase he’d repeated many times in the drive back from the mall. Blaine grabbed one of the beers from Sean’s hands before it disappeared down his throat. He might need a bit of a buzz to deal with his old friend. “Four fucking hours I had to sit in that shitty little office while they went over footage from every damn angle.”
“It would have been faster if we hadn’t had to try and explain all your outfit changes,” Blaine pointed out.
“Four hours! All because of one stupid lie that should have sorted itself as soon as they realized that I didn’t even have a damned phone on me!”
“That worked against us, actually. They kept thinking you’d ditched the evidence somewhere.”
Sean fell into a chair and greedily gulped half of his beer. Blaine had been called in as soon as the arrest occurred, functioning as a cross between a lawyer and a guardian as the police combed through the footage for any evidence of Sean’s supposed crimes. They’d found none, of course, but somehow it had still taken several hours (four, in case that wasn’t clear yet) before they were comfortable letting him go. His usual carefree disposition had melted away under the intense scrutiny and sense of time being wasted.
“And the worst part of it is that now I have to pass her.”
“That’s the worst part? You’re a prisoner on a work detail who got hauled in for a serious crime, one he didn’t actually commit, and that’s the worst part?” Blaine didn’t even try to keep the incredulous tone from his voice.
“Yes, it is. I just got manhandled for four hours and I don’t even get to fail the girl who did it to me out of spite, because damn it if her methods didn’t produce results.”
“You know, the other majors have these things called ‘ethics’ that can be applied to the methods one uses to achieve results. I’ve heard legend they exist in regular academia.”
“Which is where they belong. Subtlety is the grey area of our work, you know that as well as I do. So long as they aren’t using torture or murder or ruining lives I can’t very well fault one of my students for finding a novel way to succeed within the parameters I provide them.” Sean readjusted on the sofa and took another, smaller, drink from his beer. “Even if it would give a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction to do just that, it would set a bad precedent, and my inconvenient evening doesn’t rank higher than teaching my students properly. Will hacked the security system using the technological aspect, Alice hacked it using the human aspect. Deception is right there in the curriculum.”
“For a man forced into this role, you certainly have taken well to it,” Blaine pointed out.
Sean gave him a shrug. “What my people do is dangerous. I’ve got enough on my conscience without worrying if I under-trained some kid and sent them off to their death.”
“Speaking of things on your mind,” Blaine said, setting his beer on the table. “I notice you haven’t asked me anything about what we discussed in your cell on the day I offered you the job.”
“Did you have some new development to tell me about?”
“Me neither. I sort of figured you would have mentioned if you did, so there wasn’t much point in pestering you about it.” Sean finished his second beer and set the empty bottle on Blaine’s coffee table.
“I know, I just... I suppose I thought you’d be more impatient.”
“Blaine, this has been my life for almost two decades. Patience wasn’t my strongpoint when I was younger, but I assure you I have grown much more familiar with the concept over my time waiting impotently in prison. I know Shelby is out there, somewhere. Unfortunately, what little trail there might have been was destroyed while I rotted in the slammer. If I go grasping about blindly, all I’m going to do is tip off the wrong people that I’m still looking. Sooner or later, something will pop up. Some clue, some piece of the puzzle we haven’t seen yet. When it does, I’ll be ready.”
“If it does, I’ll help you as much as I can,” Blaine replied.
“You got me out of my cell. I’d say that alone was more than I had any right to ask from you. Thank you, by the way. I know I was a prick when you came to make me the offer. I’m glad you didn’t let my jaded anger make me miss out on such an amazing opportunity.”
Blaine waved him off. “Cut that crap out. Once you’ve saved each other’s lives a few times, the smaller favors stop being much of a big deal. Besides, I always felt bad about having to be the one who brought you down in the first place.”
“It wasn’t your fault. I knew the risks I was taking when I made my choice. You did what we all promised to do: you stopped a criminal that regular people couldn’t.”
Silence stretched between the old friends after that, broken by a brief trip to the refrigerator for more beers. Eventually the television was turned on, and though it was stared at, it would be inaccurate to say it was watched.
“What were you trying to steal?” Blaine asked as the program flickered away to a commercial break.
“Huh?” Sean’s vocal chords leapt out ahead of his brain, registering the sounds from Blaine’s mouth but unable to piece together their meaning.
“The night I caught you. Most of what you took before was art, or mercenary theft work for money. I don’t know what you were spending it on, even if I do know the general point you were working toward. That night was different. A genetics lab didn’t really fit your target profile.”
Sean stalled, fidgeting with his beer and pretending to pay attention to the man hawking insurance on the screen. “I trust you, Blaine. I do. But this is something I don’t think you want to know. So, if you insist, I’ll tell you. But understand me first: I haven’t kept this secret for so long because it made me feel special. Sometimes knowing a single fact can change everything, and rarely for the better. So if you ask me again, be damned certain you’re ready for everything that comes with it.”
Blaine nodded his understanding and turned back to the television. Sean wouldn’t say that sort of thing without good reason, and Blaine had too much on his plate as it was. He would ask again, of that there was no doubt in his mind.
It would just have to wait for a bit longer.