Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: Fills my secret allies square for hc_bingo. No beta. Part of the Gold Medal Verse.
Warnings: For drug use.
Summary: Brody's determined to make things right at any cost -- and possibly every cost.
Mitch was one of those kind of people.
Rare and yet beloved, he was one of those people who could see the good in everything. But it wasn’t just a matter of perspective. No, not where Mitch Buchannon was concerned. For Mitch, this optimism had a practical side. He didn’t just see the good in things. He made the good in things.
Case in point: Brody had been contacted by his birth mother, hit up for money and abandoned again. When this news destroyed him, Brody got drunk and ended up arrested for public intoxication, which was probably a violation of his current plea deal.
To most people, this would seem pretty shitty.
Even to Brody, it had seemed really shitty.
Mitch, however, had utilized this opportunity to better understand Brody, and he had expertly cemented their relationship not merely as coworkers or friends, but as family. Mitch had turned that shit into gold.
Literally speaking, Mitch had ensured that Brody had a fresh shake with the DA. He’d made sure Brody felt loved and accepted. He’d even dropped several grand in furniture and accessories to make sure that Brody knew that Mitch was serious about this family thing.
It had been a busy morning, to say the least.
A good morning, too.
But for as much as Mitch could do, he could not change what was coming in the afternoon.
“What time is the meeting again?” Brody asked, poking anxiously at his lunch. Mitch had gone with the flow of generosity and stopped at one of Brody’s favorite restaurants for lunch. Since Brody never had any money, Mitch had figured out rather quickly that any restaurant where he wasn’t picking up the check was his favorite, but this one had an especially good steak burger. A meal that Brody had ordered with gusto and then proceeded not to touch as the afternoon’s events inched ever close. “With the DA, I mean?”
As if there was another meeting. Brody was trying to sound nonchalant.
He did not have Mitch’s natural positive effervescence.
And not even new furniture and a room of his own could stop Brody from worrying about what came next.
“1:30,” Mitch said, taking a hearty bite of his sandwich. He couldn’t blame Brody -- truthfully, Mitch was slightly nervous, too -- but his role in this was not to be realistic. He had to be the optimist. That was, after all, what Mitch was known for. “But you shouldn’t be so nervous.”
Brody looked at him. If he was trying not to look queasy and questioning, he failed at that too. It was clear that he wanted to believe Mitch, for his own sake as much as Mitch’s. But he was having trouble with it. “It’s kind of, um. A big deal. These meetings, I mean. With the DA.”
Mitch nodded, not disagreeing with that. “Sure, but I talked to Ellerbee. He told me that this is going to be fine.”
Brody blew out a breath. The adrenaline from their morning shopping trip had wound down by now. Those positive vibes were being overtaken second by second by Brody’s growing worry.
His growing fear.
Because, yes, Brody loved the idea of family.
But the thought of possibly going to jail instead of spending time with said family was probably a bit more than he was emotionally equipped to handle right now.
“I’ve done this before, remember?” he said, still barely touching his food. Since sitting down and ordering, their conversation had gone progressively downhill. It had started with a thrilling review of Brody’s choice of bed and dresser. And it had devolved into a repetitive concern about his scheduled meeting with the DA this afternoon to discuss his plea deal. “These things are never fine.”
“But you were alone before,” Mitch said.
“They gave me a lawyer,” Brody said, but his lack of conviction suggested just how useful that lawyer had been.
“But you’ve got people behind you who care this time,” Mitch stressed. “People who really give a shit.”
Brody stared forlornly at his food.
“People who will buy you a whole new bedroom set and clear out their spare room for you,” Mitch continued.
This, at least, elicited a smile. Brody looked up at him again, almost shy. “You really didn’t have to.”
“Sure I did,” Mitch said, resoundingly. “Just like I’m going with you to your meeting with the DA. That’s how this thing works.”
Brody looked heartened, but it only lasted a second. “Well,” he quipped. “If they do send me to prison, you can probably still cancel the furniture order.”
“They’re not sending you to prison,” Mitch insisted. “Come on, you’ve got to eat.”
“A last meal?” Brody asked.
Mitch glared at him. “Now you’re just being melodramatic.”
Brody sighed heartily. “The first deal was completely based on a PR stunt,” he said. He shook his head. “I didn’t, like, really understand all the legal shit, but I knew that as long as I looked good in the papers, I was cool, you know? And then I go and get arrested for public intoxication. I’m not some lawyer or anything, but that can make the whole deal mean nothing. And I know I made the deal so I wouldn’t go to prison.”
Mitch nodded patiently. “Ellerbee says they’re still looking to deal.”
“But why?” Brody said. “What other value could I possibly provide?”
Mitch put down his sandwich with that question. He’d worked hard all morning to get Brody to accept the notion of family. Apparently, they still had some work to do on the idea of personal self worth. “You have plenty of value. No one wants you to go to prison for a mistake.”
“Yeah, but I make a lot of mistakes, in case you’ve forgotten,” Brody pointed out.
It wasn’t like Mitch had forgotten. He hadn’t forgotten Brody’s attitude on the beach on his first day. He hadn’t forgotten humiliating Brody’s cocky ass on the training course. He hadn’t forgotten Brody’s pathetic performance as a look out, wherein he had gotten drunk, picked a fight with Mitch, squawked like a little girl and vomited in the pool.
In this light, Brody’s drunken escapade last night actually seemed relatively minor to Mitch.
But probably not to the DA.
Mitch shook his head, dismissing that line of thought entirely. “Just trust me, okay?” he said. “Everything is going to be fine.”
Brody leaned forward, dropping his voice lower. “You don’t know that.”
Mitch leaned forward, dropping his voice as well. “And neither do you.”
Brody sat back with a groan. “Maybe I should just go to jail,” he said miserably.
Because Brody was one of those kinds of people. He was the kind of person who, deep down inside, always assumed the worst. He was deeply insecure and always terrified, so in need of love that he would almost rather reject all possible moments of validation for fear or being rejected instead.
Case in point: Brody had Mitch in his corner and he had the promise of another deal that could help him solve this latest mistake. He had a support structure, which promised him a brighter future than he’d had before the arrest for public intoxication.
In short, Brody was the kind of person who needed the kind of person like Mitch.
Especially on days like today.
“You shouldn’t,” Mitch reprimanded him lightly. “Instead, you should eat your food so we’re not late.”
Brody lifted his hands with some amount of drama, picking up the steakburger. “This is going to be so much worse than you know,” he muttered.
Mitch shoveled another bite into his mouth, swallowing it hastily. “Maybe,” he conceded. “But whatever happens, I’ve got your back.”
Brody doubted everything else, but as he took a bite of his sandwich, Mitch could tell that he at least believed that much.
It wasn’t much, maybe.
But as far as Mitch was concerned, it was a good enough place to start.
Mitch was, as Mitch always was, really sure that things were going to be fine.
And well, it was hard to blame him for that.
He was Mitch, after all.
The dude was, in his own words, oceanic. And it might be easy to call that a urchin-induced exaggeration, but Brody had been around him long enough to know that it meant that Mitch was basically a superhero.
All you had to do was look at him.
He looked like a superhero.
On top of that, he was good and smart and kind and shit.
If Brody was Mitch Buchannon, he’d believe that everything was going to be fine, too.
The problem was, he wasn’t Mitch Buchannon.
He was Matt Brody.
His name was synonymous with screw up.
Literally he was known as the Vomit Comet, but when you broke it down, Brody was pretty sure it had the same meaning.
And Brody had been here before, staring down at a stupid charge that was entirely his own fault. Mitch meant well, but Brody knew himself. Brody never went about things the easy way.
He tried to give Mitch the benefit of the doubt, barely stomaching his lunch and trying to make small talk on the way to the police station. He tried to smile when Mitch looked at him, attempting to look confident when they were led into one of those private offices that exist in all police stations. The ones where real criminals are interrogated.
The ones where piss poor imitations like him are offer plea deals or sent to prison.
He maintained this guise of optimism for as long as he could, even when someone pulled the blinds closed and offered him a bottle of water. He maintained it while Mitch rocked back in his chair and whistled. He maintained it when the door opened.
But the second he saw the DA.
The second he saw the expensive suit, the slicked back hair, the too-thin file folder in his hand, the smirk on his face.
This was going to be anything but fine.
As bad as that made him feel, he actually felt worse for Mitch. While Brody sat glued to his seat -- his legs wouldn’t move, at this point -- Mitch stood up, extending his hand to greet the man.
“Mitch Buchannon,” he said, not waiting for a greeting. “I’m Brody’s friend.”
“Oh, well, usually this room is full of lawyers,” the DA said. “I’m Doug Larsen. The District Attorney assigned to this case.”
Doug Larsen; even his name sounded dickish.
Then, Larsen smiles at Brody. He was going for cordial, probably, as he casually threw down his file folder on the table.
He looked like a shark. Circling the water.
And Brody should have just come covered in chum.
That was probably figurative.
What the hell did Brody know; he’d almost failed most of his English classes, along with every other class with the exception of gym.
“And you’re Matt Brody,” Larsen said, extended a hand to Brody.
With a limp hand, Brody returns the handshake and didn’t see the need to validate the obvious conclusion.
Larsen didn’t seem to care. Still on his feet, Mitch didn’t seem to notice either.
“I’d like to stay,” Mitch said. “If you don’t mind.”
“Well, it’s not exactly traditional,” Larsen said. “But if it’s okay with Mr. Brody, then I see no need to object.”
They both looked at him, like he was supposed to have an opinion.
Brody could not trust his opinions right now.
Apparently his silence was consent.
“And while we’re going for nontraditional,” Larsen said, gesturing to the door. “I’d like to bring in someone who’s familiar with this case. I believe you both know Officer Ellerbee.”
As if on cue, Ellerbee appeared. He, at least, seemed to appreciate how horribly awkward and not fine this situation was. He looked grimly at Brody, but tried to smile at Mitch.
Why the hell would they want a cop in here?
This was getting less and less fine by the second.
“Great,” Larsen said, rubbing his hands together. He sat himself down in a chair across from Brody, opening the file he’d thrown on the table when he walked in. He waited for Ellerbee to sit next to him, Mitch retaking his seat next to Brody. When they were settled, Larsen smiled. He was attempting something congenial but he looked like the cat that ate the damn canary.
They were in a cage, after all.
Shit, Brody felt like he had feathers all of a sudden.
“So,” Larsen continued, unprompted and unbidden. “I thought we’d start by first reviewing how we got here in the first place. I know it seems kind of laborious, but I do think it’s important to understand the context here.”
He opened the file folder, which Brody could clearly see held his record right on top.
He momentarily wondered why he’d let Mitch stay in here. Mitch had made a grand commitment to him this morning, bought him furniture and everything, and now Brody was allowing a lawyer to show quite dramatically why that had been a terrible, terrible investment of time, money, and affection.
It was too late to change it now.
Brody braced himself instead.
“You had several run ins with the law in your teen years, the juvenile record has been expunged, but your various arrests for underage drinking are still of public knowledge,” Larsen went on, as if he were reading the weather or the traffic report and not Brody’s shameful past. He shuffled a paper aside. “But you got into the most trouble when you flew back from Rio and landed in LAX with a rather large amount of heroin and cocaine, which, you confessed upon being taken into custody, you had agreed to sell to a local distributor for a rather substantial cut.”
Larsen had summed it up then, rather completely and rather neatly. He’d managed to take Brody’s most stupid, moronic mistake and make it sound both inane and despicable at the same time.
Brody’s cheeks were burning; he didn’t dare look at Mitch.
“Due to your clear willingness to assist us in this case, you were immediately offered a deal instead of a fast-track trial that would put you in prison for a minimum of five years,” Larsen continued, carefully laying out the pieces of Brody’s ruined life as if to remind him that he had no leverage here at all. “You rolled on the sellers and the buyers, which was of some use to us, and then you agreed to participate in extensive community service through a connection at Baywatch.”
That was where the letter had come from. Of course, the letter had made it sound like Brody was doing Baywatch a favor, and he’d rather preferred it that way.
Shit, he preferred it any way but this.
Larsen had to take a breath, as if the recitation of Brody’s idiocy was exhausting to him. “This community service was offered due to your viability as a public figure, and the need Baywatch presented for a positive boost for PR and funding purposes,” he explained. “It was made quite clear that the deal depended upon a positive public image for Mr. Brody, who would be a key representative of the Baywatch program. If he proved in any way to be a deficient representative, the deal could be reevaluated and revoked at any time. Is that correct, as far as you remember, Mr. Brody?”
Larsen looked up at him, and though he’d asked the question, it was clear that he only expected one answer.
Brody cleared his throat, forcing himself to swallow painfully. It was likely Mitch hadn’t known all of that. Or most of it. He probably hadn’t known how easy it would have been to fire Brody, and how quickly that would have ended Brody’s hopes for, well, everything. Mitch had to know by now that he had saved Brody’s life in every possible way.
Larsen was still waiting for an answer.
Meekly, Brody knew he had no choice but to oblige. “Yes,” he said.
“Yes?” Larsen asked. “Please clarify for the record.”
“Yes,” Brody said, louder but more defeated. “That is correct as far as I remember.”
Larsen looked far too pleased to elicit that confession. The bastard enjoyed shit like this, and why not? Why not take pleasure in inflicting humiliation on lowlives? His time on Baywatch had made Brody forget who he was and why he was there. It had made him forget what he actually deserved.
“Early reports regarding the arrangement were positive,” Larsen said. “In fact, your recent stint in the news three weeks ago seemed to validate the entire purpose of the deal.”
Brody didn’t dare feel pride about that.
Brody tried not to feel anything at all.
Larsen tried not to smile as he continued, but his eyes were dancing. “That brings us to last night,” he said with an air of pleased finality. “When you were arrested by Officer Ellerbee for public intoxication.”
Brody was hopeful, at the very least, that the charge alone would be enough to humiliate him.
Larsen, however, had other intentions. “This charge, if I may, seems generous,” he said. He looked at Brody quizzically, as if he were surprised by the extent of the notes in the file. “You were seen urinating in public multiple times, defacing private property, using excessive profanity and I think a charge for attempted assault would probably stick, if we wanted it to.”
Great, Brody thought, wishing there was a way for him to shrink into nothingness right there in his seat. Next to him, he couldn’t tell if Mitch flinched or if Brody was embarrassed enough by these charges for the both of them.
Getting drunk had seemed like the only solution at the time.
But Brody’s judgment was pretty much shit.
Larsen was looking at him, giving him a sad smile. The kind you gave to a dog when they had rabies and it wasn’t their fault but damn it, you still had to put them down. Honestly, Brody wasn’t sure that was a thing, but it seemed like a thing, and it felt like a thing, and if someone offered to put him down right about now, Brody might honestly take them up on it.
“It’s not good now, is it, Mr. Brody?” Larsen asked, voice dripping with falsity. Larsen was a lawyer; he wanted something and he knew how to get it. He had painted Brody into a corner in order to get Brody to say yes to whatever came next. And Brody had made it easy for him, given the full scope of his idiocy.
Brody hoped the question was rhetorical. At this point, he still didn’t trust himself to speak.
Larsen collected a breath, and let it out. His fake smile was probably intended to be reassuring. It just looked menacing. The bastard was enjoying this. “Fortunately, no one wants you in jail, Mr. Brody,” Larsen continued magnanimously.
Despite the fact that it was technically good news, Brody braced himself for what came next.
“We still believe in you potential value to the community at large,” Larsen said. “And we can help you -- we would like very much to help you -- if you help us.”
That had been the crux of this thing from the start. The preamble had been designed to get Brody to say yes to whatever the deal was. That meant, as best Brody could guess, that this deal had be pretty hard to swallow.
Larsen had made a point to make Brody’s case seem completely hopeless.
Brody was worried what that might say about whatever hope Larsen was about to offer him.
“How?” Brody finally asked, managing to find his voice. It sounded vague and hollow, but he kept his intonation steady enough.
Larsen looked pleased that Brody asked. “Well, that’s why I’ve asked Officer Ellerbee to join us this afternoon,” he said, gesturing in a perfunctory manner to Ellerbee.
At his side, Ellerbee gave a weird, awkward wave. It was only then that Brody noticed that Ellerbee had a file of his own, and he was playing with it anxiously by the edges.
“Officer Ellerbee, if you would be so kind,” Larsen said, nodding to Ellerbee but his eyes were exclusively on the file in his hand, giving away his real priorities.
“Right,” Ellerbee said. He sat up and cleared his throat. He glanced at Brody, but he also couldn’t bring himself to look at Mitch. Clearly, Ellerbee didn’t like the deal that was about to be offered either.
Brody wondered if Mitch had figured out by now that this was a shit storm like he hadn’t predicted.
“Right,” Ellerbee said again, opening the file with a nervous flick of his hand. The first page wasn’t a case file like Brody expected. Instead, there was a glossy photo of a woman there. Ellerbee held it up for Brody and Mitch to see. “This is Emerald Bay’s newest business mogul.”
Brody sat forward to get a better look. The woman was Indian by the looks of it, young and pretty with a winning smile. She looked somewhat familiar, but Brody couldn’t place her. He shook his head. “I don’t know her.”
Next to him, Mitch had also sat forward to scrutinize the picture. “That sort of looks like…,” he started, but he let his voice trailed off. “It’s not…?”
Ellerbee, however, seemed to know what Mitch wasn’t saying even if Brody didn’t have a clue. Brody never had a clue. “It is,” Ellerbee said, pulling out another photo. This one featured the woman with another one that Brody remembered all too well. “This is Victoria Leeds’ younger sister.”
Brody wrinkled his nose, momentarily so shocked that he forgot to be abjectly terrified. “You’re shitting me, right?”
“I wish I was,” Ellerbee drawled. “Her name is Anikka Leeds, and she’s been in New York for the past five years now. While Victoria was building an empire here, Anikka was enjoying life as a party girl in Manhattan. It seems like she was entirely financed by her sister’s generosity. When Victoria died, however, all of her assets went to Anikka, and she made the move out to California.”
Brody took that in, trying to make sense of it. Victoria Leeds had been beautiful, smart and charming. She’d also tried to kill Brody.
At least twice.
His stomach felt like it was being constricted, and he felt a little lightheaded.
Ellerbee pulled out another photo, placing it on the table between them. “Anikka has retained ownership of the Huntley, and we think that she’s picked up all of her sister’s old business opportunities.”
Brody’s stomach didn’t just feel tight. He felt like it was being turned inside out and being run through a meat grinder.
“Shit,” he said again, for no particular effect.
“I know,” Ellerbee said anyway in commiseration. “The police have already started building a case against her, based on the real estate fraud and connections to drug smuggling.”
Brody was numb now, his world was narrowing down to a point as Larsen leaned forward again with a smirk. Brody didn’t know what he was going to say and yet he knew exactly what the asshole was going to say. Because there was only one thing for him to say.
One thing that Brody didn’t want to hear.
One thing that Brody was going to have to agree to no matter one.
“She’s your target,” Larsen said. “We can get this latest offense off your record. We can even get the drug charge off your record, and you’d be free and clear.”
That was the pitch, Brody knew. And he knew what was coming next, he knew it and he couldn’t bring himself to stop it, and he couldn’t bring himself to say yes or no or anything. He kind of wanted to cry right now, and he kind of wanted to laugh, but all he could do was sit there and let this happen because he was the idiot who got himself there. He was the idiot who had no choice but to stand there and take a desperate swing for the fences.
Then, Larsen brought it home. “And all you have to do is help us take her down.”
Brody was either going to hit a homerun this time.
Or he was going to strike out completely.
Mitch had not been lying when he told Brody that things were going to be fine. Sure, he knew it would be more complicated than that, but he’d still believed that ultimately it would be something they could deal with. Community service. Lots of it. More public rehab. An expressive apology, a stint in outpatient rehab, that sort of thing.
But the DA was sitting there with pictures of Leeds’ little sister?
The Leeds who tossed Brody in the ocean in a cage, shot Mitch and tried to take over the bay?
The Leeds who Mitch blew up?
This was not fine.
This was the furthest possible thing from fine.
And Brody was considering it.
Not just considering it. Pale, taut, quiet. Brody was going to say yes.
Mitch shook his head. He’d been respectful of the proceedings but he couldn’t let this happen. There was no way h was going to let this happen.
“No,” he said flatly. He shook his head. “Absolutely not.”
He looked at each person on the room. Ellerbee looked constipated, he hated this deal too. Brody had fixed his eyes on the picture, frozen in place. He would not look at Mitch. Across the table, however, Larsen had no hesitations. He gave Mitch a wide, condescending smile. “If Mr. Brody doesn’t like the terms of this deal, he is more than welcome to pass. Of course, the original drug conviction would stand, and it would be paired with public intoxication, assault and indecent exposure for, I don’t know, seven to ten years.”
Mitch saw Brody stiffen, his gaze dropping further.
Mitch refuse to let it cow him, however. “That’s blackmail,” he said, surprised at the audacity of it. Larsen was utterly nonplussed. “And you know it.”
“That is the essence of a plea deal, especially one at this level,” Larsen said, clearly not ready to be cowed either. “The charges he’s facing are not false or trumped up. Mr. Brody earned each and every one of those charges. Frankly, he’s lucky because most people with those charges don’t get deals. They get a fast ticket to the state penitentiary. I am actually the good guy here. Your boy is the repeat criminal.”
Larsen was good, Mitch would give him that. But he wasn’t a good guy. He was a good asshole, who undoubtedly got the results he wanted for the state of California.
And Mitch knew Brody had to be accountable. He wanted that for him, to help him learn and grow. But Brody had gotten drunk last night. He’d been stupid but it wasn’t enough to warrant prison. Anyone who took the time to know Brody, and not just his case file, would be able to see that.
Larsen wasn’t on Brody’s side. Given Brody’s dejected posture, he wasn’t about to fight for himself either.
That meant it was up to Mitch. “The only charge from last night is public intoxication. It’s minor and unrelated to the drug charges,” he said. “You are trumping this up, you’re milking it because you see a shot at Leeds and you want it so bad that you’ll throw Brody under the bus to get it.”
Larsen was still smiling, as if he found Mitch’s argument cute. “Maybe so,” he said. “But I’m also the only guy in the state of California who can give Mr. Brody s get out of jail free card. I’m offering a clean record. Should I go over how he confessed to federal drug trafficking charges?”
Mitch shook his head, even more defiant now. “You’re playing that up because you know the public intoxication isn’t enough,” he said. “You’re talking big becaus you know, if we go to court, there’s a good chance Brody will win.”
Larsen shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. “Or you end up with ten years,”
Ellerbee leaned forward again. Stopping Mitch before he could continue. “Look, I know it’s not your typical deal, okay,” he said with a diplomatic spread of his hands. “It’s asking a lot, I know. But that’s why it’s offering a lot. Brody, my man, this could clear your record. Completely. You’d have no priors. Nothing lurking in your closet. That’s unheard of, man. Unheard of.”
Mitch glanced to Brody, who was now studying his hands. His expression was sry, locked and stony. He didn’t look up, not even when Ellerbee talked to him directly.
Brody wasn’t going to defend himself at all.
Mitch had made a promised. A promised that entailed more than bedroom furniture.
“He’s not a cop, though,” Mitch said, imploring Ellerbee now. “You kept telling us that on the last case with Leeds. And now you want him, what? Undercover? He’s got no training. He’s not equipped.”
Ellerbee seemed to jump on that. “That’s the thing, though, he is equipped,” he said, sitting forward with a bit more energy now. “I know I gave you guys shit about the last case with Leeds, but you two were right on. You made that case happen, you two assholes, all by yourselves.”
Mitch crossed his arms over his chest, sitting back in his chair. “And it nearly got both of us killed.”
“But that’s why you’d have the backup this time,” Ellerbee promised. “I swear to you, I ain’t leaving you two out to dry. And Brody--” Ellerbee pointed to Brody with an air of being impressed. “He’s got the credentials to be interesting to Leeds Jr. here. His reputation alone would attract her.”
“And given his recent fall from grace, he’d look like an easy mark to turn,” Larsen added in, managing to look snide without being overt.
Mitch drew a breath, and he looked at Brody. The younger man had been withdrawn throughout the conversation, but now he looked like he was actually trying to disappear.
Letting out the breath, Mitch shook his head. “But why? Why would she give a shit about anyone on Baywatch?”
Ellerbee sat back, exchanging a glance with Larsen. Larsen made a vague gesture, giving some implicit consent.
Biting his lip, Ellerbee turned to the next page in the file. “We think that Anikka Leeds is picking up right where her sister left off, the drugs, the real estate -- all of it,” he said. “Only she’s learned from her sister’s mistake. She ain’t going for blackmail this time. Instead, we think she’s targeting the one thing that is keeping a public bay propped: Baywatch.”
Mitch wrinkled his nose. “You think she’s targeting lifeguards?”
“Hear me out, heart me out,” Ellerbee said. “She knows that Baywatch is a huge asset in keeping the bay public. She knows that you enjoy massive popular appeal, which is how you’ve managed to maintain your funding despite programs for public lifeguards being cut up and down the coast. You go anywhere else in Southern California, lifeguard programs are cut to the bone, man. But not here. You and your team are so popular that it’s almost impossible to privatize the bay with you around. Plus, it ain’t like it’s a secret that you blew up Leeds with a roman candle. All accounts say this chick is even more petty than her big sister.”
It was one hell of a story.
It was, however, just a story.
Mitch didn’t budge. “That sounds like a lot of speculation.”
Ellerbee, to Mitch’s surprise, laughed out loud.
When Mitch didn’t laugh, Ellerbee sobered quickly. “Oh, you’re serious,” he said, and he hemmed himself in. He flipped the next paper over, conveniently ignoring Mitch’s glare. Next to him, Brody had actually closed his eyes in his bid to stop existing in this conversation. Ellerbee pushed a paper in front of them, drawing all their attention back to the table and the task at hand. “What I’m showing you now is confidential. This ain’t shit we’ve released, and it ain’t shit we’re going to release until we’ve got Leeds Jr. behind bars. So I trust you two to keep your lips locked.”
Mitch sat forward again, uncrossing his arms as he looked at the sheet. Next to him, Brody sat forward too, even if only slightly. Ellerbee had their attention, to say the last.
“Leeds had a lot of associates, some more trustworthy than others,” Ellerbee explained. “When she died, everyone who knew anything disappeared. Everyone except this guy.”
He tapped his finger on the photo. Mitch recognized him immediately. Next to him, he could tell that Brody did as well.
“We dragged him out of the bay that night with his partner, who had a pair of bullets in him,” Ellerbee said. “As one of Leeds’ most trusted bodyguards, we knew he’d have the shit we needed on Leeds. He was reluctant to talk at first; loyalty was a thing, obviously.”
“Leeds killed his partner,” Brody interjected softly. Mitch hadn’t seen that part; no doubt, Brody had. It reminded Mitch that there were still things he took for granted about Brody, too. “She wasn’t going to take them with her.”
Ellerbee grinned, just a little. “See, you’ve got good investigative instincts, my man,” he said, pointing a finger in consolidation at Brody. “We managed to use those facts to turn the bodyguard, and we offered him a deal of his own.”
“He’s getting out?” Mitch asked, feeling his hackles start to rise.
“No,” Larsen said. “Not soon, anyway. But his deal involves far more comfortable accommodations and a few other perks that we all sincerely hope that Mr. Brody does not have to learn to appreciate someday.”
It was a small jab, but it hit its mark. Brody shrank back once again.
It just made Mitch sit forward, all the more vigilant. “So what did he tell you?”
“He confirmed a lot of what we’d suspected, but Leeds was smart enough to keep her operation mobile and disjointed,” Ellerbee said. “We were able to make appropriations for her blackmail victims, and we could nail her on the murder charges, but the drugs were a lot harder to make stick. That was when the bodyguard gave us a few passwords from Leeds’ old accounts.”
Mitch’s concern was still Brody -- that was why he was here, it was -- but the thought of news on Leeds’ old network, after all the time he’d taken to get rid of her -- after all he’d risked. Well, Ellerbee had sufficiently piqued his interest now.
Ellerbee knew it too, and he settled into his recitation of the case with some gusto now. “Now, most of the passwords, they didn’t pan out. Leeds had changed them or the accounts had been shut down during the financial and legal fallout. But a few of them were still valid, and one of them--” He grinned, holding up a finger to emphasize his point. “One of them was still active.”
Mitch sat forward now and waited expectantly for Ellerbee to continue.
“That’s when we found this,” he said, pushing over a sheet of paper. There were transcripts from several emails, which Mitch began to scan. “We already knew that Anikka had taken over what was left of Leeds’ network, but we had no way of knowing what was still active and if she was above board or not. These emails told us that she was like her sister in a lot of ways.”
Mitch read, eyes running quickly over the text. Next to him, Brody had sat forward, just enough to read anxiously over Mitch’s shoulder. This hadn’t just been Mitch’s case; this had been theirs.
“She’s been in contact with several of the local council members, as you can see,” Ellerbee said. “Now, she’s using a guise, talking about zoning issues that she may or may not actually be aware of. But look toward the end of the exchange, when she’s asking about funding.”
Mitch’s eyes skipped to the bottom. Anikka, from the style of her email, was marginally less polished than her sister, but clearly just as ambitious. He frowned. “She was asking about Baywatch’s funding?”
“Keep going,” Ellerbee said, and he knew he had Mitch hooked now. “She’s implicitly making a case that Baywatch is a bloated public program that operates without impunity.”
Mitch snorted, finishing his quick read. “She really thinks she can turn the council against us?”
He handed the paper off to Brody, who seemed reluctant to take it. He complied, however, reading it over again for himself.
“She talks the numbers and facts, which are going to appeal to some people,” Ellerbee said. “Baywatch is the most expensive lifeguard program in the country, outpacing expenditures on popular Florida beaches.”
“The cost of living isn’t comparable,” Mitch said, shaking his head. “And the services we provide--”
“Can be weighed against the cost you create,” Ellerbee said.
Mitch glared at him.
Ellerbee held up his hands. “I’m just saying when you twist the number, manipulate the facts, it can make Baywatch look like something it ain’t. I mean, the whole thing with Leeds? Cost the bay a fortune.”
“Because of Leeds,” Mitch objected. “Not Baywatch.”
“She’s running the court of public opinion,” Larsen said with a cool shake of his head. “Most people discover that a jury of their peers is not the kindest thing.”
Next to him, Brody had finished reading. Wordlessly, he put the paper down for Ellerbee to collect again.
Mitch shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest again. “This is insane,” he said. “This whole thing is insane.” He jabbed his finger toward the email again. “Even the councilwoman tells her so.”
“This isn’t the only email we got,” Ellerbee said. “We found a dozen more emails, talking to other local business owners and land holders. She’s been in contact with community organizers, nonprofit groups -- anyone who has any connection to the bay. And she’s looking for any opportunity to sow the seeds of doubt that Baywatch is too expensive, too dangerous and completely unchecked.”
“She’s holding a grudge.”
The words were quiet, and Mitch had half forgotten for a moment that Brody was there at all. In fact, he’d gotten so tied up in defending Baywatch that he’d neglected to remember that he was here to defend Brody first and foremost.
He flushed, a little guilty as he sat back, willing himself to include Brody in this conversation again. Brody wasn’t looking at him, though. He was staring at the table, tension in his shoulders and locked in his jaw.
Mitch eased closer to him, wishing he could do something to make this easier. He looked back to Ellerbee, nodding. “So you have evidence,” he said. “Use it. Bring her in.”
To this, Ellerbee looked apologetic. He sat back, somewhat subdued again. “That’s the problem, though,” he said. “We’ve got emails where she’s making insinuations, maybe talking a little smack, but none of this is illegal. The evidence we’ve collected show no positive indication of wrongdoing. We have no cause here.”
“But you know what she’s trying to do,” Mitch said. “You have to be able to do something.”
Ellerbee shook his head. “It’s probable cause all over again,” he said. “But we can’t fault her for being ambitious. Even if we have enough to prove that she’s gunning for Baywatch, that’s nothing to take her down with.”
“And to be frank, we don’t care about your little lifeguard club,” Larsen said. “It’s nice and good and yay, but if this was just about saving people in swimsuit, then there wouldn’t be any deal on this table whatsoever.”
Mitch felt his defenses flair, but he reminded himself that pissing off the DA while lobbying for a better deal for Brody was probably counterproductive. “So what’s the play?”
Ellerbee looked relieved to hear the question. “Anikka has taken over for her sister in terms of real estate. She’s got the Huntley fully operational, more popular than when Leeds herself took over,” he said. “Just like Leeds, she’s keeping that above board.”
“But Leeds was into drugs, too,” Mitch said. “That was how she financed everything.”
Ellerbee lifted his finger. “Exactly,” he said. “And the drugs were the only part of her operation we couldn’t fully dismantle after her death. We think it was compartmentalized to the point where it could be reshuffled. We’ve starting seeing another uptick in drug arrests all up and down the bay.”
This made a shiver run up and down Mitch’s back. He knew shit like this happened, but he didn’t want it happening on his bay. Not while he was on watch.
And, for the record, Mitch was always on watch. “You want to nail her on the drugs,” he said. That made sense, just fine. Except -- he looked at Brody, who was still staring at some fixed point on the table -- he shook his head. “Why Brody? Why not do this with a cop, one of your own? Two months ago, you would have insisted we stay away from this case, and now you’re practically forcing us onto it? Why?”
To his surprise, it was Brody who answered. “Because she wants Baywatch,” he said, sounding tired. He sighed. “She’s looking to destroy Baywatch, which means it’s her weak spot. She’ll spot a plant from any other location, but if we give her one at the source? If we give her an inside man?”
Brody looked up, his blue eyes unexpectedly dim as he met Ellerbee’s gaze.
“I’m the only bait she’ll take,” Brody concluded for all of them.
He sounded so sure, so plaintive. The certainty made Mitch unexpectedly uncomfortable. He scoffed. “She’s stupid to think that anyone at Baywatch would flip for her,” he said. “No one at Baywatch would tell her shit.” He stared at Brody, hard enough for him to feel it and glance back. “No one.”
Brody diverted his eyes quickly again, and Ellerbee quickly intervened. “We know that, but she doesn’t,” he said. “She’s young enough, rich enough, powerful enough -- she’s not going to be used to people telling her now. That’s why I think I plant from inside Baywatch will work.”
Larsen was rocking back and forth now, clearly enjoying himself quite thoroughly by this point. “And there really is only one possible candidate on the whole Baywatch crew,” he said. “Only one who joined under forced circumstances. Only one who has been publicly shown as an outsider. And just one who has humiliated himself with arrest that clearly puts him at odds with the steadfastness and integrity of the rest of the team.”
Mitch felt his own face go red, his fingers curling reflexively into fists. Brody, too, was red, but he remained totally impassive, eyes fixedly downcast.
Larsen smirked, and it was a good thing that Ellerbee continued. Or Mitch might have been facing assault charges himself.
“Look, it’s all a matter of framing,” he said. “Brody’s arrest last night is public record. Given his history, it makes him look like an easy target.”
“He was supposed to be Baywatch’s golden boy,” Larsen said. “But if he’s the black sheep, then of course he’s going to be looking for a quick way out.”
“Plus,” Ellerbee said, and he was hedging now. He winced, almost as if in apology, before he spoke. “Brody’s previous drug conviction is actually an asset to us now.”
Brody closed his eyes again, sighing. “She contacts me to help her get dirt on Baywatch,” he said, opening his eyes again. Somehow, they looked even duller than before. “And I ask her for an alternative career path instead.”
“The drugs will be the logical conclusion,” Larsen said. “Anyone who looks at your story will assume the same.”
Uncomfortable with the insinuation, Ellerbee shifted in his seat. “The main thing is that if she lets Brody in on the drug operation, we’ve got her,” he said. “We can take her off the beach, and we can eliminate the threat to the bay and to Baywatch.”
“But you’re asking Brody to play a traitor,” Mitch argued. He looked at Brody, feeling somewhat flabbergasted at the notion. “For him to pull this off, he’d actually have to make the rest of the team think he’s against them.”
“It’s short-term,” Ellerbee promised. He gave a sideways glance to Larsen. “We agreed that we’d put a cap on this. Brody gives us two weeks, his best effort. After that, we’re even.”
Mitch narrowed his eyes, suspicious. “And if we don’t get her in two weeks, you’ll still leave the deal?”
“Well,” Larsen said. “We’ll let the old deal stand at any rate. The record isn’t expunged unless we get a formal charge against Anikka Leeds.”
“But either way, no prison time,” Ellerbee said, almost vowing now. “Two weeks, and the public intox charge is gone. Get us a conviction, and you’re free and clear.”
It was a compelling argument. And the way Ellerbee framed it, it did sound like a good deal. And, while Mitch didn’t trust Larsen, he did trust Ellerbee. He knew that he was sincere about this.
However, Mitch looked at Brody. He looked diminutive sitting there, like something had been stripped from him. Something had, no doubt. Something like his pride and self worth. Mitch had promised him that this would be fine.
Nothing about this was fine.
Now, Mitch wasn’t so naive to think that he could change that easily.
But he’d also promised Brody that he’d have his back, no matter what.
So that meant he had to try.
“The outcome is great, sure,” Mitch said. “I mean, you talk about a clean record and it sounds amazing. But that’s only because you know you have to sweeten the deal. You know it’s not a fair trade. Public intoxication is a nothing charge. Anyone else? They pay a damn fine, assuming it even sticks. You have to offer all this because what you’re asking him to do is risk his life. The deal’s not fair.”
Ellerbee, at least, looked abashed.
Larsen, however, didn’t even look bothered. “The deal is more than fair, considering that this is second deal,” he said. “Most people don’t get a second deal when they throw their first one away with such public tenacity. He’s lucky we even bothered to give a damn, because I would much rather let his stupid ass rot in prison than trust him with this case.”
Mitch had been going for calm.
He’d been trying to make a good impression.
You could even say that he wanted to be a good example of self control and restraint.
But he didn’t want any of those things as much as he wanted to bash Larsen’s skull in.
Marshaling the last of his restraint, Mitch turned his now murderous gaze on Ellerbee. “You told me this was no big deal.”
Ellerbee flinched, just slightly. “I told you there would be a deal on the table,” he said. He motioned to the files. “This...has come up on us kind of quickly. I didn’t know exactly how far they were going to take this.”
“This? This is ridiculous,” Mitch said, voice starting to rise ominously now. “I’m not even sure it’s legal, and I suspect you both know it.”
“You’re lifeguard, and you have no legal standing in this room whatsoever,” Larsen told him, completely unmoved by Mitch’s anger. “But your friend Ellerbee here is right. This case is evolving rapidly. Almost as fast as Brody has used up his chances after his embarrassing performance at the Olympics last year.”
This time, Mitch saw Brody flinch. Badly.
His own cheeks flushed with growing rage. “This is bullshit.”
Larsen shrugged, closing the file. “Then we don’t have to do it,” he said. “Ellerbee can take Mr. Brody back into custody--”
“Over my dead body!” Mitch was yelling now. “I think maybe we’ll call that lawyer now--”
“Be my guest,” Larsen said. “If he pleads guilty, maybe they’ll get him a facility with a pool. Just so he can swim laps. But I imagine he won’t be able to qualify for the Olympics in the next five to ten years.”
Mitch was ready to get out of his seat and he was ready to fight, damn it.
Ellerbee looked terrified at the prospect, readying himself to intervene.
Larsen just continue to smirk.
And it was Brody who stopped him.
It could only be Brody.
Mitch wasn’t sure he’d have stopped for anyone else. “I’ll do it.”
The words were quiet. They were calm.
They were, somehow, completely certain.
And then Mitch realized what he’d said.
Numb, he sat back, staring at Brody in shock.
Brody wasn’t look at him, though.
He was looking straight at Larsen. “Give me the papers,” he said. “I’ll sign them. Right here. Right now. I’ll take the deal.”
And before Mitch could stop, before Ellerbee could ask if he was sure, before Larsen could come up with some kind of demeaning quip, Brody stood up, taking the papers from across the table and the pen that went with them. He scanned them, looking only for the highlighted section before scribbling his name across the bottom.
He pushed them back to Larsen. “There,” he said, and he spoke with a force Mitch hadn’t expected, a coldness he didn’t know what to do with. For the first time since the meeting had started, his head was up, his eyes were clear, and he was not looking away. “Now tell me exactly what I have to do.”