Now that he didn't have to worry about Karen needing to share office space, he could turn the third bedroom into a gym. Leave a desk on the far wall, toss in some weight equipment, a punching bag, a decent mat…
Jim offered to help him set up. Carry shit around. Hang out, watch a game, have a beer. Chill.
"Sorry to hear 'bout the thing with you and Karen. I thought you two were gonna last forever." Jim concluded his incredibly long telephone message that ate up answering machine space with all the greed of an SUV near gasoline.
He called Jim back, declined.
He didn't mention that he and Karen had basically been over ever since he met Jim. There was no point to that.
They had been, basically, hetero lifemates. Or something. Some shit like that. Hell, he didn't know.
"Well, you need a hand moving things—"
"Well, if you do—"
"And I won't—"
"—Christ, Kennedy. If God strikes you down and you need help moving shit, just give me a call. Okay?"
As soon as his thumb hit the Off button, it pressed the Talk button again. His fingers dialled Claire's number almost automatically. She wasn't on his speed dial for security reasons. Her email address wasn't in any of his address books, virtual or real, for the same reasons. But he knew her home phone and her cell phone and her email by heart. He could enter them into anything with his eyes closed.
Claire picked up the phone on the first ring. "Leon! Is this business, or is this pleasure?"
"Neither. I need to move heavy shit around in my apartment. I don't want to get all hot and sweaty alone."
"What, the secret agent man can't handle it?"
"Nope. I was only ever working out for Karen, y'know. Breaking up with her has made my arms are all pruny and my legs weak."
She laughed. "Why don't you ask Chris?"
He paused, blinking. Why didn't he want Jim's help? Why didn't he want Chris to help him? Why did the thought of another man in his apartment for any reason at all make his skin crawl? Was it the whole debacle with Karen and Cory and his goddamn bed, or was he just getting weird and paranoid?
"Because you have more back strength," he lied. "And you look better sweaty."
"That's the only way you like me."
"Not the only way," she teased, but then paused. "Fine. Give me about two hours for traffic, and I'll be there."
Click. Click. Beep.
"Beep beep yeah," he murmured, staring at the entirely too large box that was currently sitting in the living room floor.
Claire arrived sooner than Leon had expected. It had only taken an hour.
"Your living room!"
"A parting shot," he said. "You knew Care was—"
"—an interior decorator. Yeah."
"She hated the blue. She repainted before she left. It's why it all took so long."
"Leon, the whole goddamn universe hated the blue. I really liked the burgundy, though. Whatever happened to that quilt?"
"It's Karen's. She's hanging it up in her place."
"Oh, damn. I was going to ask if I could have it." She snapped her fingers, but there was a glimmer in her eye he had long learned to recognize. She was joking around with him. "Anyway, what are you doing to your place?"
"Setting up a home gym. I sick of all the stupid punks at the nearest one."
Claire slapped her forehead. "Leon. I'm strong, but I'm not that strong."
"You can handle it. It's all in separate pieces."
Two hours later
Claire looked amazing sweaty. Her hair, even pulled back, framed her face in ways that had him reminding himself that this was Claire. The fine sheen of sweat along those strong shoulders and arms had his mouth alternately watering and going dry. He had forgotten the way those lips curved, the way her cheekbones had once made him ache. How he forgot things like that, he didn't know, but today had been a refresher.
"What happened to your air conditioning? Money your job pays you, you should have a decent A/C."
"Kids in the apartment upstairs found a way to hijack about four different air conditioners. And then they overloaded 'em."
"You're kidding." Claire blinked, voice flat. Her gaze went to the room's air vent.
"I wish. The supe still hasn't gotten it sorted out yet."
The kids upstairs were criminal masterminds. And if they weren't yet, they would be.
"Was it that bad?" Claire did a quick stretch, crossing her arms behind her back and thrusting out her chest.
Leon's gaze moved immediately to the suddenly-showcased breasts. He looked away quickly. Was she doing that on purpose, or did she just not realize?
"I wouldn't call it bad. It is spring, you know. Not like I need it yet.
"Good point. Do you have any idea why they did it?"
"Claire. It's two eleven year old boys whose dads work in the same mechanic shop. They did it because they could."
She shook her head, crossing from the room. He followed, grabbing a couple of beers when he saw her plop down on the couch.
The television clicked on and then back off.
"Music is probably better," Claire murmured. finding a way to pop the bottlecap using his coffee table.
He turned the CD player on. The opening riffs of Cold Hard Bitch began to play.
"Anything new?" She asked. The way she inflected 'new' told him that she wanted to know about the Umbrella war.
"Aside from Ada being alive and working for Wesker, who wants to rebuild Umbrella, which we already knew?"
"But what about Sera? Did you find anything on him?"
"Not a damn thing. He was lying about something."
She turned the music up.
Intense blues music thudded into the room. The piano's sounds made his head throb. The sensation shouldn't have been as unpleasant as it was, but he actually found himself wincing.
"Is it possible somebody removed the files?"
Leon shrugged. It didn't seem likely. He was no hacker, but he knew just about everything went somewhere. Unfortunately, it would have taken a grave digger program to find that "deleted" data. So there was no way of knowing for sure— it was certainly possible, but it still didn't seem likely.
He eyed the CD player, trying to place which band was playing now. He looked back to Claire, making a tight, subdued gesture with one hand. It was their signal to make sure nobody could eavesdrop. The music was a help in protecting against unfriendly ears, but it wasn't perfect.
Claire nodded. She removed the battery of her cell phone. After that, she stood, heading to the windows to make sure they were completely closed. Not even open a crack.
Leon himself locked down his laptop. Moving around the house, he unplugged the telephone with a quick jerk, then closed and locked every door. Front door, bedroom, office, kitchen. Everything.
Security assured, Leon returned to the living room. He turned the music up, took a seat next to Claire. "It doesn't make sense. The T-virus is like— Murphy's Law— right there. You know?"
"Like Murphy's Law with a body. Group of single cells. Whatever. Yeah, I know." Claire briefly turned to face him, but then turned back to look at the beer sitting on the coffee table. She hunkered over it, trying not to look at him.
He wasn't sure why, but it was always easier to talk to her if she wasn't facing him directly.
"If it was there, it would have gotten out," he said, taking a long sip of beer.
"Maybe it wasn't the airborne agent."
"Maybe." He shook his head. "Anyway, if somebody removed those records, who?"
"Anybody. Maybe Umbrella. Maybe whoever is working against Umbrella."
"I don't know. If Sera was doing work for Umbrella… Maybe. But Wesker was working against Sadler." Untrue. Wesker didn't want to stop Saddler, he'd wanted to take what Saddler had and use it in his own labs. "Well, competing against Saddler. Whatever."
"But it's not like Wesker would anybody outing this little war. That hurts him just as much as anybody. Besides, Saddler could have taken them." Claire took a sip of her own beer.
He shook his head. "Remember the Razotr. The more complicated the explanation…"
She groaned, but joined him in finishing it anyway. "...The less likely it's correct. I know." Another long sip. "But don't you think that the fact that we're dealing with a conspiracy—"
"—No. We're in Crazytown, have been for six years. We want things to get sane again. Not crazier."
She stared at the flat-screen T. V. that didn't receive cable. "Hard to do, when the mayor has about 70 percent of what's in the DSM-IV, and the city government has the rest."
"Try harder," he grunted. "People don't naturally come up with elaborate conspiracies. Simple goals, simple plans. It's only when things fuck up that they start adding things on."
"I'd call six years ago a huge fuck-up. And now he's got competition."
Her arguing was putting him on edge. He gritted his teeth, locking his jaw for a moment. An old habit, one he'd gotten rid of in the police academy— at the time, he'd had to quit because it was a too-tough-expression-for-that-baby-face kind of thing— but it was apparently coming back to him.
Teeth clenched, he took in a deep breath and turned his gaze upwards without moving his head. Breathe out, close eyes and relax. That was better.
"Am I actually pissing you off?" Claire sounded somewhere between concerned and disbelieving.
He was usually easier-going than this, wasn't he? But for some reason, he just didn't have any patience at all.
He put his head in his hands. "Yes. No. Maybe. I don't know. Go grab a mystic 8-ball or whatever."
"Funny man," she replied.