Eliot had already warned them to be on the lookout for Quinn. “He swears it’s a social call.”
Alerting each other about a certain class of visitors had been one of the first rules the three of them had instituted after Nate and Sophie had left the business (and by extension the brew pub) in their hands. “It’s not that I have a problem with us giving people sanctuary when they need it,” Eliot had explained, “but if they’re going to be followed by trouble, I want us to at least have a head start on preparing for it.”
“I don’t see what Mr. GQ’s going to bring to our door that’ll beat what’s going on in that kitchen,” Hardison said, coming in through the door to the pub. “I might need your help.”
As if to punctuate his comment, a crash was heard from the restaurant. Pushing up on her knees, Parker set aside the comic book she’d been reading and tried to look past Hardison. “Are they throwing things at each other?”
The hacker shrugged. “I’m not going in there without serious back-up.” He made a show of checking his watch. “Right around the time Quinn shows up, I figure.”
“Don’t we need to worry about the lunch rush, or something?” Parker had never really paid that much attention to the restaurant side of their lives, but she knew that things were usually really crowded during lunch and dinner hours. If they weren’t busy doing anything else, Hardison would help behind the bar, and Eliot would be working in the kitchen.
“I’m thinking flash bomb,” Hardison said, heading for his computers. As he settled down to work he asked, “You been trying to get Peggy to toughen up or something?”
Parker’s first real friend had recently relocated to the Portland area, and the two of them had reconnected. Peggy had brought her catering business with her, and before checking with Eliot and Hardison, Parker had offered her use of the brew pub’s kitchen when she needed extra space for testing recipes or producing more complicated dishes than her home kitchen could handle.
Eliot had bristled immediately at the perceived intrusion. When Hardison had pushed him on Parker’s behalf, they quickly realized that while he said he liked Peggy well enough, he saw the kitchen as his unique domain – and Peggy was a definite outsider. “You haven’t ever watched Peggy in a kitchen, have you?” Parker asked, wincing as the sound of glass shattering reached her ears.
Hardison snorted softly. “No, but I’m getting the idea.”
Parker sensed Quinn coming in the back door just as Hardison’s expression brightened. “Hey – saved by the bad ass! How’s it going, Quinn?”
Parker spun on her chair, perching on the arm to more comfortably face the newcomer. “We have a problem,” she told him matter of factly. “Do you think you can separate Eliot and Peggy before the lunch rush starts?”
Jonah Quinn, a friend and sometime colleague of Eliot’s, raised his hands in a definite gesture of surrender. “Can we dial it back to ‘hey Quinn – how’s it going?”
I should have freaking known better. A simple text, responded to with what he had thought was enthusiasm from Eliot, had diverted him to the Bridgeport Brew Pub after finishing his latest contract. A couple of days relaxation, enjoying Eliot’s cooking and the general mayhem that seemed to follow the Leverage Team wherever they went.
Instead he was being urged towards the door to the pub’s kitchen by Parker, watched by Hardison and what he suspected was Bridgeport’s entire midday staff. On the other side of the gently waving door he heard a woman’s voice say sharply, “You leave that honey alone for another two minutes, or I swear..!”
“All it needs is a little more whisking and it will be fine!” Quinn recognized Eliot’s voice as he put a hand on the door. “It’s not my fault your tiny little arms…”
“Health Inspector!” Quinn announced, pushing open the door and forcing himself to stride confidently into the space. He spotted Eliot first – his fellow hitter had a bowl in one hand, and a whisk raised threateningly in the other. Quinn’s entrance had definitely thrown him off his stride.
“Quinn, what the hell?”
Glancing quickly at the kitchen’s other occupant, Quinn nodded a greeting. Looking back at Eliot he said, “Parker wants me to tell you that you’re scaring the staff, and Hardison wants you to know that the lunch rush is getting ready to start.” Emboldened by the fact that both Eliot and his opponent had gone – at least temporarily – quiet, Quinn moved further into the space, letting the kitchen door swing fully closed. “Can we call a truce?”
He got his first real look at the dark-haired woman Parker had told him was named ‘Peggy’ as she lowered a butcher knife that looked almost too big for her to control. “How ‘bout it, ma’am?”
Normally when she was challenged in her space, Peggy gave no quarter. People – men in particular – had tried to talk her down using the same tone of voice and ‘aw shucks’ grin this newcomer was giving her, and it always wound her up even further…
…until now. Gray eyes met hers, and she saw an entirely unexpected sincerity in their depths. “I didn’t realize it had gotten so late,” she said, swallowing hard against a mouth gone completely dry in just a few short moments. “Of course, I don’t want to get in the way of the lunch rush.” Belatedly she realized she was still holding the butcher knife – the one she only barely remembered picking up. “Eliot, I’m sorry I lost my temper. Do what you think you can with the recipe.”
Parker and Hardison’s partner seemed to have lost a lot of his anger as well. “At least we both agree the honey’s ready to blend,” Eliot offered. As olive branches went, it wasn’t the best Peggy had ever been given, but it certainly wasn’t the worst either. Nodding a quick acknowledgement at him, Peggy grabbed a nearby dish towel and backed out of the kitchen, wiping her hands as she went.
Parker was at her side almost immediately. “He didn’t hurt you, did he? Quinn was just supposed to make you guys stop fighting so they could get the lunch rush going.” Around them things were gradually returning to normal as wait staff and kitchen staff filtered into their designated positions.
Quinn. Eliot had called him Quinn too; no indication whether it was a first or last name. Peggy filed the information away to ponder later. “No – he was fine,” she managed to say, in order to keep Parker from charging into the kitchen on her behalf and winding things up again. “I can’t believe I let things go so far – why didn’t you or Hardison come in and talk some sense into us?”
Quinn chose that particular moment to finally come out of the kitchen, but Peggy was already feeling a fresh rush of self-consciousness just from the look on Parker’s face. “Oh God,” she moaned, burying her face in her hands. “Why do I get like this?”
“I don’t know,” she heard Quinn say, “I think anyone who can face down Eliot Spencer on his home turf is pretty bad ass.”
Peggy suspected she would have been inspired to lower her hands anyway, but the unexpected compliment, delivered in such a pleasant tone of voice, was like a magnet, all on its own. “Hi,” he said, as their eyes met. “I’m Quinn.” He stuck out his hand, which at least absolved Peggy of the responsibility for figuring out which direction to take the encounter.
“Peggy,” she countered, taking his hand and shaking it. “I’m a friend of Parker’s.”
She was cute, in a very real and grounded way that Quinn wasn’t used to seeing in people who were ostensibly civilian. She was actually embarrassed at having been caught out arguing with Eliot.
She’s friends with Parker though – how normal can she actually be? Her handshake was nicely firm too – not the limp wristed, off-handed way too many of the women he met had. “I was surprised to see you holding a knife that big,” was the first reasonably coherent thought that made it out of his head. “Even more surprised to see you brandishing it at Eliot.”
Peggy actually bristled at that – Quinn was reminded of an internet meme he’d seen of a tiny little bird with it’s puffed out feathers and the caption, “I will fuck you up.” “I was not brandishing it! I will have you know that my safety rating has always been tops for any kitchen I’ve ever worked in!”
“Quinn didn’t mean it as a bad thing,” Parker interjected. “Especially if Eliot was being a jerk.” The thief paused, looking from Quinn, to Peggy, then back again. “He was being a jerk, wasn’t he?”
Quinn automatically raised his hands again. Not touching that one. He strongly suspected there had been “jerk” behavior on both sides of the line – his two second assessment of Peggy was a woman used to giving as good as she got – but he had only come in on the tail end of the fight.
Besides, he thought, never deliberately piss off a cute girl who knows her way around sharp objects.
Hardison chose that moment to glare at the three of them in a way Quinn took to mean that they needed to take whatever conversation they were having and get the hell out of his dining room. Parker seemed to have come to the same conclusion, because she said, “Come on – customers get nervous when we talk about weapons or explosives where they can hear.”
“So,” Quinn said, moving closer to Peggy as they followed Parker back to the offices, “do you have your own restaurant?”
He couldn’t be sure in the uncertain light of the corridor, but he thought she had actually blushed. “Someday,” she admitted. “I’ve been working as a caterer for several years now – I recently relocated from the Boston area.”
Quinn glanced at Parker’s retreating back. “How do you know Parker and Hardison?” he asked, more curious than ever how someone like Peggy had landed in the middle of this merry bunch of whack jobs.
Parker shot him a quick, angry glare over her shoulder, but otherwise she didn’t attempt to stop Peggy who immediately began relating how she had first known Parker as “Alice White”, a bookkeeper serving on the same jury she’d been placed on. “She was just so nice and so concerned about doing the right thing, that when the trial was over I called and invited her out for coffee. We’ve been friends ever since.”
“When did you find out she wasn’t a bookkeeper?”
“All right,” Parker announced, spinning to face them as they reached the safety of Leverage International’s offices again, “this is sounding suspiciously like ‘getting to know you’ conversation. I’m not sure ‘getting to know you’ conversation is a good thing right now.” She narrowed her eyes at Quinn, and he drew back reflexively. “Especially where you’re involved.”
She needed help. This was all starting to sound very personal between Quinn and Peggy, and even though her instincts were pushing her to protect her friend from All Things Quinn, Peggy seemed to be enjoying the attention and in that moment Parker just really wanted a second opinion on what to do. Sophie would have been ideal, but since that was impossible, she decided she would take Eliot or Hardison in a pinch.
And now he’s laughing at me. Wonderful. It wasn’t in a mean way – Quinn wasn’t exactly a good person, but he wasn’t cruel. His expression did tell Parker that he had seen the same things she had; Peggy was enjoying the attention he was giving her, and depending on his motive he was probably going to keep giving her that ‘getting to know you’ kind of attention.
Predictably, Peggy was two steps behind them. Sophie had told Parker early on that Peggy wasn’t the sort of person who could easily follow the way the thief’s brain worked, ”but if you’re patient and explain things to her, she’ll learn quickly.’ “Parker, what’s wrong?” she asked. “We were just making conversation.”
Frustrated now, Parker waved her hands dismissively. “You were not! You were making ‘getting to know you’ conversation, and I’m not sure that’s a good kind of conversation for you to be making!”
Peggy laughed uncomfortably. “Why on earth not? There’s not anything wrong with Quinn, is there?” She glanced at the hitter. “You’re not some kind of serial killer, are you?”
Quinn was as unruffled as Parker had ever seen him – his expression open and innocent as he said, “Well, now, I guess that would depend on your definition of serial killer.”