"Is there any word on when he's getting back?" asked Hope. He shook his head.
"I've not heard a thing. He might have been in touch with Eliana, I suppose, but she never speaks to me. I think it's against her religion."
"And we haven't seen Rolf since he got back a couple of days after we did," added Anna. "We think he's camping out in his laboratory. The moment he came in through the front door, Tony gave him an almighty glare, and he fled. I'd almost feel sorry for him, but... well. He's Rolf."
"Eloquently put." Caroline set down the coffee jug on the bar, then returned to stand behind Bo. "Trust Stefano to have a creepy, mad scientist on staff. So it's all fun and games over there now?"
"For the time being, anyway." Tony took a sip of his coffee, and smiled appreciatively. "This is wonderful. Thank you."
"Best take it steady. It's strong stuff." Caroline disappeared briefly to see to a customer at the bar, and Tony stared down into his mug.
"The stronger the better. I have yet another board meeting this afternoon. I need all of the caffeine that I can get."
"And I'm due in court." Bo glanced at his watch without enthusiasm. "I'd suggest a swap, but I'm sitting next to the commissioner, and she'd glare at me."
"She's glaring anyway," said Hope, and he smiled.
"All right, all right. I'm going. See you this evening, Fancy Face." He stood up, and leaned down to kiss her farewell. "Tony. Anna."
"See you around, Bo." Tony raised his coffee mug in brief salute, and Anna offered a little wave. He headed for the door, still looking less than enthusiastic, and Caroline came over to watch him go.
"What is it today?" she asked. Hope made a face that suggested at a lack of enthusiasm in keeping with her husband's.
"He's giving evidence on an old case that's up for appeal. It's all strictly routine, and very boring. I don't envy him in the slightest."
"Well surely it's nothing he did that's given the grounds for appeal?" asked Caroline. Hope shook her head, and gestured to the empty seat as invitation that her mother-in-law should join them.
"No, there are no grounds that I can see. It's not going to lead anywhere. That's part of what makes it all so boring. Nobody really minds if it means letting an innocent person out of jail, but when it's just some crooked businessman trying to play the system it often feels like a waste of time." She smiled, her eyes bright. "Rather Bo than me."
"The glories of promotion," said Tony, and she laughed.
"Oh, if it had been my case originally, I'd still have had to go. I admit that it's nice having to do less of that sort of thing now, though. Although I am sympathetic. Obviously."
"Oh, obviously." They shared a grin, just as, behind Tony and Anna, the door of the pub swung open. Caroline, who had that moment sat down, bounced immediately back to her feet again.
"John! Marlena! It's good to see you."
"We were only in here yesterday evening." John gave her a hug in greeting anyway, as she ushered the pair of them over to join the others.
"I don't care if I only saw you five minutes ago," she told him, fetching the coffee jug again. "You're always welcome. And besides, I hardly seem to have seen anything of you lately. You've been dashing about all over the world with barely a pause for breath."
"Hopefully that's over for the time being." Marlena greeted Tony with a brief kiss. "With Stefano out of the way, things have been quite quiet lately. It's nice."
"It is indeed." Tony smiled ruefully. "Which leads me to suspect that he'll come striding in through the door at any moment." Everybody's eyes went immediately to the door, and he laughed. "Not that one. I don't think that even my father would try coming in here."
"He's done it before," pointed out Hope. Caroline set down some mugs in front of John and Marlena, and filled them up.
"He can always try it again," she said. "I don't think he'd much like his reception, though."
"Feeling fierce?" asked John. She smiled, and blushed slightly.
"Maybe. Oh, it's just that whenever I see that man, striding about the place looking all smug and happy, I just..." She sighed, and reached over to pat Tony on the shoulder. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't talk like that."
"Be my guest. It's less than a fortnight since he was pointing a gun at me." Tony finished the last of his coffee. "Although, if I'm honest, being threatened by my father is marginally more fun than attending board meetings."
"Quit business. Become a private eye," said John. Tony raised his eyebrows, apparently in genuine consideration.
"Not a bad idea. Had any car chases lately?"
"Mercifully not," said Marlena, who lived in constant hope of her husband one day managing to live a safe and steady life. Tony sighed.
"Ah well. Perhaps it's not for me, then. The life of a private detective is supposed to be about ludicrously flash sports cars, and high speed chases. I don't think I could settle for anything else."
"This from a man who complains if I go above forty," said Anna. Tony nodded.
"The crucial part of the equation being that it's you behind the wheel," he shot back, kissing her hand quickly before she could summon a suitable glare. "Oh, confound it. I really should be going." He frowned suddenly. "Hang on. No I shouldn't."
"He can do this for hours when he puts his mind to it," said Anna affectionately. "I think he has a gold medal in procrastinating."
"Several," he told her with a smile. "This time I do have a genuine reason, though. John, Nicole is hoping to move into your loft tomorrow. I said that I'd mention it if I saw you. Only we thought that it would be best to get it all done before you know who comes back."
"Sure." John nodded, taking a sip from his coffee. "I gave her a set of keys, so she'll be able to get in okay, and I had a cleaner go in there a couple of days ago. Should be all ready for her."
"Which rather brings me to my point." Tony flashed him a beaming smile. "Lucas is still walking with a stick, of course, and we all know how hopelessly lazy I am. So I may have slightly volunteered you for furniture-moving duties. Tomorrow morning? There will be refreshments, I promise. And if we're very lucky, there's a good chance that Eliana won't poison them." Marlena began to laugh, and John rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, okay. I'll be there. Actually, that might work out pretty well. I'm supposed to be helping Bo to paint the Fancy Face tomorrow afternoon, so if I bring him over to the mansion first, we can probably get Nicole moved out in a couple of hours."
"Perfect." Tony stood up, and gave the assembled company a small bow. "Then my work here is done. I'll see you tomorrow, John. Ladies." There was a varied chorus of goodbyes, and he took his leave, the door swinging shut behind him. Caroline smiled.
"He never does anything without a flourish, does he. If he could get away with wearing a cloak and a sword, I think he would."
"Don't suggest it," said Anna, before getting up as well. "It's been nice chatting, everybody, but I'm afraid it's my turn to dash off now. Nicole doesn't want to take anything with her that was bought by Stefano, so I'm meeting her at the baby store."
"Tell her she doesn't have to worry too much about clothes," said John. "The first few designs for the new Basic Black baby line that she's working on for us should be ready to go within days. That kid is going to have more clothes than she knows what to do with."
"I'll mention it." Anna smiled innocently. "Although a baby can never have too many clothes, you know, and there are some lovely things in the shops around here." She waggled her fingers. "Goodbye. And thank you, Caroline. The coffee was lovely."
"Goodbye, Anna." As the younger woman left, Caroline sat down in her seat. "Everybody seems to be so busy around here lately. Dashing here, dashing there. It's almost making me giddy."
"I'm not planning on dashing anywhere," said Marlena, who was very comfortable leaning against John. He put an arm around her.
"Glad to hear it. You're my favourite arm rest."
"I always like to be helpful." She managed to move a little closer to him. "Sounds like it's going to be a busy day tomorrow, though. I'd like to help with the move, but I have a patient first thing tomorrow. Perhaps I can come over and help for a bit later."
"Yes, I'll come by for a bit as well if I can," said Hope. "I have a meeting at nine, but I'm hoping that it won't go on for too long." She rolled her eyes. "Budget... things. I don't know. I try not to listen to the bits that get really boring, but I'm sure there was something about budgets on the agenda."
"It's always good to see our local police force being so conscientious," said John with a smile. She laughed.
"If it was police work I wouldn't mind. You have no idea of the sheer level of boredom there can be this high up in the force."
"Oh, I have a pretty good idea," he told her, amused. "I was a captain for a while, remember, and I watched Abraham go right up the ranks. I saw him do your job for long enough to know that I definitely didn't want it. Still, better you than some City Hall stooge."
"Yes." She nodded, clearly agreeing wholeheartedly. "It's a good opportunity to really help out the police force, especially since it means that I can work with Abe. We make a good team, he and I. It's just that whenever anybody says 'budget', I think my brain switches off."
"I know the feeling," said John with sympathy. His days in the police force were long behind him, but he remembered enough of the clerical side of things to know that he did not envy Hope in the slightest. "Especially when you're dealing with pencil pushers who think the force can get by on half the money it's currently getting, and probably with half the officers. You should try getting them to deal with the average DiMera crime wave. Let them see what you have to handle every day."
"If I thought that the city could survive the experience, I would." She laughed. "Oh, listen to me moan. I love my work really. It's just that I'd rather be doing it, and not having to go to meetings with people who think that golf is an interesting topic of conversation." She looked over at Marlena. "Your turn."
"Don't look at me." Laughing at Hope's outburst, Marlena shook her head. "I love my job. It's nice to be back doing it again, also. I think that some of my patients were starting to forget what I look like. I've had a wonderful day today."
"You had today off," pointed out John. She smiled.
"I know. And I spent it with you, which is why it was wonderful." She looked embarrassed suddenly. "Sorry, Hope."
"Don't apologise. It's always nice to see you two together." Hope finished her coffee. "I should be going as well, though. I left the kids at the park with Shawn Douglas, and they've probably run him ragged by now."
"He likes it," said John. She laughed.
"I know. All the same, I should probably liberate him. I did sort of promise ice cream, and then we were going to have a go at cooking something special for Bo, since he's off in court this afternoon." She looked rather rueful. "I think I may have bitten off rather more than I can chew there. With my cooking skills, and Zack and Ciara helping, it could be the biggest disaster ever."
"I doubt that," said Marlena, remembering some of her own efforts. John grinned.
"I'll say. You should have seen Doc in the kitchen with the twinners when they were little. Or some of the times when she, Brady and Belle were trying out a new recipe."
"It wasn't me who blew up the oven," said Marlena immediately. He winced, and nodded.
"True. That wasn't my fault, though. That was Brady. Honest."
"I think that's my cue to leave." Laughing, Hope rose to her feet. "I'll hopefully see you tomorrow, John. If I don't make the house move, I'll certainly see you at some point in the afternoon."
"Sure." He stood up as well. "Good luck with the cooking."
"I'll need it." She said her farewells to Caroline as well, and then left. John sat back down again.
"You know, I kind of miss cooking with the kids," he said. Marlena laughed.
"I don't think that the kitchen does," she told him. Caroline smiled.
"You could always borrow Zack and Ciara for an afternoon," she pointed out. "Just warn the rest of the Salem first."
"And the rest of the state as well." Marlena smiled at some old memory of past adventures in the kitchen. "You know, I never did find out quite what happened with the oven that time."
"Brady had made some cookies at kindergarten. He wanted to try making some more at home." John frowned at the memory. "As I recall, it was a pretty tricky recipe."
"It must have been, if it managed to destroy the oven," said Caroline. She laughed. "Honestly, and I thought that my cookery skills were a little suspect at times. I've never blown up an oven."
"You're not trying hard enough," he told her fondly. "Anyway, you're great in the kitchen. I don't know where we'd be if it wasn't for your cooking skills."
"Amen to that," said Marlena, who had long ago stopped fighting her own inability to do anything in the culinary line. Caroline looked faintly bashful at the praise.
"Well, maybe. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and see to some of my customers. I'll be back in a moment."
"Sure." John stood up again as she left, then sat back down to take Marlena into his arms. "Anyway," he said after a moment. "It wasn't as though we blew up the whole oven. It was just a bit of it."
"Goof." She rested her head on his shoulder. "Mm. This is nice. You have a very comfortable shoulder."
"Thank you." He brushed a wisp of hair away from her face, and kissed the top of her head. "Let's stay here a while."
"Mm hmm. Maybe for the next few days." She reached for her coffee, resisting the urge to close her eyes. "I feel so wonderfully relaxed. I know that Stefano won't stay with Kristen for much longer. I'm quite sure that we'll see him again by the end of the week. In the meantime, though, it's as though we can just put our feet up, for the first time in ages. It's such a nice feeling."
"I know what you mean." He smiled, pulling her closer to him. "I could get used to it. We've certainly earned a rest."
"We have. We shall probably need it, also. Goodness knows what he's got planned for us next."
"We'll find out." John recalled Stefano saying almost those exact words to him, less than two weeks before, and suppressed a frown. "Anyway, that's the future. Right now we have nothing to worry about, and I aim to make the most of it."
"Nothing to worry about." Marlena's smile grew warmer, and more content. "I like the sound of that. We should definitely try it more often." Beside her, John was not going to argue. Had either of them been looking towards the window, however, they might have been rather less relaxed, and rather less sure that there was no cause for worrying. Outside the pub, a figure was standing on the sidewalk, staring in at them through the window. She had her collar turned up, which largely hid her face, but the coldness of her eyes was unmistakable. She watched them for some time, her expression unchanging; then, much as though she did not want to be seen, she turned her back, and hurried off along the street.