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Автор Кузнецки Крис

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... time at the moment. It’s been a tough week.”

“In what way?”

Cobb pondered the question as he sipped his beer. “During the past few days, I’ve felt like I had the plague. Everywhere I went, people slammed doors on me. Literally slammed doors in my face. Some of my oldest contacts even shut me out. I’m not sure what I expected when I flew down here, but I sure as shit didn’t expect this.”

“Come on, Jack. We both know it’s for show.”

“What is?”

“Their reaction! Do you really think your friends are going to bail on you over some trumped up charges that no one is allowed to read? Not a chance in Hell!” Payne glanced through the window at the scorching terrain. “Actually, given our current location, I didn’t need to say Hell. That’s already implied.”

“Hold on. I’m confused.”

“Really? I thought it was obvious. It’s really hot down here, so—”

“Not about that! I’m confused about the first part. The reaction part.”

“Come on, Jack. You’re a smart guy. A heck of a lot smarter than I am. You had to know what was going to happen when you went to MacDill. Did you really think they were going to let you on the base?”

“I had my doubts, but—”

“Then why’d you go?”

“I had to know for sure.”

“And now you know. The military is done with you. It’s no longer an option. The sooner you wrap your head around that, the better.”

Cobb nodded but said nothing.

“That said, your friends aren’t done with you. Even the ones who slammed a door in your face are still in your corner.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Jack, trust me, they have your back. So much so, I’m kind of jealous.”

Cobb stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Do you know how many calls I received from MacDill over the past few days? Forty-eight! Forty-eight calls about your sorry ass.” Payne changed his voice to a sarcastic tone. “Oh my God, we’re soooo worried about Jack…. Our hands are tied, but we want to help Jack…. Help me, Jonathon. You’re my only hope.

“No, they didn’t.”

“Yes, they did,” Payne assured him. “Well, maybe not that last one. I think I got that from Star Wars. But all the other ones are accurate. And if you don’t believe me, call my secretary. She’s the one who took all the calls.”

Cobb breathed deeply, relieved to hear the news.

Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed.

Payne grinned as he sipped his beer. “Truth be told, she’s the only reason I’m down here. She was so sick of hearing your name, she forced me get on a plane to stop their whining. As you know, I don’t give a damn about you or our friendship.”

“Obviously.”

“I’m merely here to keep her happy. She’s been with Payne Industries for more than fifty years and runs a tight ship. Without her, the company would fold overnight.”

“In that case,” Cobb said as he raised his mug, “here’s to your secretary. It’s good to have someone you can count on in your time of need.”

Payne lifted his mug. “Don’t I know it.”

“Seriously,” Cobb said as he lowered his mug. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but your visit means the world to me. Thanks for taking the time to fly down here. It means more than you can possibly imagine.”

“No worries, man. You’d do the same for me.”

Cobb shrugged. “Actually, I’m not sure I would. I mean, I don’t have a secretary to guilt me into it, or pack for me, or make my flight arrangements. Honestly, I’d probably just send you a text with a sad emoji and that’s about it.”

Payne grinned. “Now who’s being a dick?”

“Sorry,” Cobb said with a laugh. “Things were getting a little too serious. I wanted to cool things off before you went in for the kiss.”

“Don’t worry, Jack. You aren’t my type.”

“Speaking of your type, where’s DJ?”

Payne glanced at his phone. “That’s a very good question.”

Chapter 4

David Jones was easily distracted, particularly on a tropical beach with dozens of sunbathing beauties in bikinis. As much as he loved the city of Pittsburgh, he would be the first to admit it lacked the scenery of Florida.

The sand and water were great to look at, too.

“Sweet gelato,” Jones said to himself as he stared at the parade of ladies that overwhelmed the stretch of beach near the Palm Pavilion. It was as if all the modeling agencies in Tampa Bay had arranged a field trip to Clearwater to guarantee every model in the area had the same amount of tan lines.

Whatever the reason for their presence, Jones viewed it as a gift from a loving, benevolent god, who was obviously a horny man or lesbian. Not wanting to insult this free-spirited deity, Jones decided to investigate the women sprawled before him.

This, of course, made perfect sense considering his line of work.

A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Jones had served as Payne’s second in command in the MANIACs before leaving the military to set up a private investigations firm in Pittsburgh. It had been a lifelong dream to become a detective, and Payne had helped Jones achieve it by arranging the necessary financing and giving him an entire floor of prime real estate in the Payne Industries complex atop Mount Washington.

To Payne’s financial advisors, the transaction had seemed far too generous, but what the pencil pushers had failed to realize was the fraternal bond the men had forged while fighting side by side behind enemy lines.

Payne and Jones were more than friends.

They were brothers.

After losing the only legal relative in his life — his grandfather — Payne had realized the best way to keep his sanity while transitioning into the real world was to keep Jones nearby. And Jones had been more than happy to oblige. Although Payne was white and Jones was black, the two of them were like twins. The duo had a connection that few people in the world would ever get to experience, and though neither of them would admit it, they realized they’d be foolish to take their friendship for granted.

That said, their friendship was far from perfect.

The two of them constantly got on each other’s nerves.

And this was one of those times.

* * *

Payne growled when he glanced at his phone.

No messages, no missed calls, no updates of any kind.

His best friend was M.I.A.

“Now who’s growling?” Cobb teased.

Payne laughed. “Sorry about that. Sometimes DJ pisses me off. We fly all the way down here to see you, and somehow he gets lost in the parking lot. He probably saw a balloon or something shiny. I swear, he has the attention span of a toddler.”

“No worries,” Cobb assured him. “I prefer this for the time being. It gives us a chance to speak in private. As I mentioned, I planned to give you a call this week.”

“About?”

“As much as it pains me to admit it, I need a favor.”

Payne grinned. “No problem, man. Whatever you need. As a former Naval officer, I’m used to bailing out Army personnel on a regular basis.”

Cobb rolled his eyes. “Go on. Get it out of your system.”

“But it’s true. If you’d like, I’d be more than happy to rattle off a list of a hundred missions where I swooped in and saved the lives of Army grunts.”

“No thanks. I’m good.”

“You sure?”

“Positive!”

“You know what else I’m used to?”

“Sex with DJ?” Cobb joked.

“Beating West Point in football. Seriously, man, when was the last time the Cadets beat Navy? I think Roosevelt was president.”

“Ouch. That hurts.”

Teddy,” Payne stressed, “not FDR. I’m talking about Teddy.”

Cobb tried not to laugh. “Are you done?”

“For now. But I reserve the right to tease you again later.”

“Screw you. Permission denied.”

“Really? Not even—”

“No,” Cobb said as he grabbed the pitcher, “not if you want to keep drinking for free. My beer, my rules. Got it?”

“Fine. I’ll play nice. But only ’cause I’m thirsty.”

Cobb nodded and pushed the pitcher toward Payne, who quickly refilled his mug. Payne didn’t imbibe often, but when he did, he could drink almost anyone under the table thanks to his size and remarkable metabolism. If he didn’t consume eight thousand calories a day, he would lose weight.

“So,” Payne said, “what kind of favor?”

“I need a job.”

“Done! You’re hired.”

Cobb shook his head. “No, that’s not what I meant.”

Payne stared at him. “Do you have a job?”

“No.”

“Do you need a job?”

“Yes.”

“Well, now you have one. Welcome to Payne Industries.”

“Jon, I’m flattered, but—”

“Can you type? How are your filing skills?”

“Jon—”

“Oops! I forgot. You went to West Point. You probably don’t even know how to read. Not to worry. We’ll find something you can actually do. How are you at mowing?”

“Jon!” Cobb blurted with a smile. “I’m flattered! I’m truly flattered by your faith in me. I can’t stress that enough. But I wasn’t asking for a job.”

“You weren’t? Because it sure sounded like it when you said, ‘I need a job’.”

“Well, I do need a job, but I wasn’t asking you to give me one.”

“Then what were you asking for?”

“A letter of recommendation.”

“That’s it? That’s all you want? A letter of recommendation?”

Cobb nodded. “Considering my situation, I think a letter would open a lot of doors. As much as it pains me to admit this, your name carries a lot of weight in our industry.”

“What indus